Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

21/05/2019

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Mike Hedges. 

Public Sector Contracts

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the use of public sector contracts in Wales? OAQ53883

I thank the Member for the question. Innovation in public sector contracts is having a positive effect in Wales. The number of contracts awarded through Sell2Wales to Welsh suppliers in 2018-19 has more than tripled since 2014-15 and now stands at 84 per cent, compared to a baseline of 25 per cent.

I won't ask the question of whether that is in cash terms or by volume, but the question I want to ask is that I believe that if you want to give contracts to smaller local companies, then the size of the contract needs to be small enough for a local firm to tender. If the First Minister agrees with that statement, can he outline what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure contracts are written in such a way that these smaller companies can tender? If he disagrees, can he outline how the Welsh Government are going to ensure that smaller, local companies are able to tender for contracts?

I thank Mike Hedges for that supplementary question. I agree with his first proposition, but, of course, we look to contracts being broken up. That's what the joint bidding guide that the Welsh Government has produced advises large contracts to do, to break up those contracts, and, at the moment, 31 per cent of all contracts advertised on Sell2Wales last year were suitable for joint bids in that way. So, while there are large contracts, I agree with what Mike Hedges said about breaking them up so that they can be small enough for local firms to tender. 

Of course, many public sector contracts, Llywydd, are below the Official Journal of the European Community level in any case, and it's the OJEC level where joint bids are encouraged. We require all contracts worth over £25,000 to be advertised on Sell2Wales. Eighty per cent of all those contracts are below the OJEC level, and those contracts are more attractive to smaller and local firms. Of course, we are keen to support large Welsh firms as well. In the construction sector, 76 per cent of contracts or frameworks of over £0.25 million or more were awarded to Welsh contractors last year. 

Mike Hedges has pretty much asked my supplementary question word for word, so I'm thinking on my feet. But if I can use some personal experience—that's always a good way out of these problems—a few years back, a chief executive officer of a small engineering firm in Chepstow, contacted me and said that he found the Welsh Government procurement form system much easier to fill out than across the border, which was to the Welsh Government's credit, but at the same time he said it was more difficult for smaller firms, at that point in time at least, to procure the work, and they often went to larger firms that were able to put in more competitive bids upfront at the start, which might not necessarily have played out further down. So, he was working in Hereford and procuring there.

I haven't mentioned him by name, but I can get you the correspondence I had with that gentleman at another time. But since I received that correspondence, can you tell us what the Welsh Government has done to make it much easier, in line with Mike Hedges's question, for small firms to access procurement within Wales?

I thank Nick Ramsay for that question. Efforts have been made not simply to make the system easier to use, but to make sure that it is a more effective system so that small Welsh firms, particularly when they work with other firms in a broken down contract, to be able to win work here in Wales. I'd be interested, of course, to see the correspondence to which he referred. But to give the Member a different example of the way that things have changed, we are in the final process of letting a new framework contract for supply teaching here in Wales. We have moved from having one single supplier on that contract to now having more than 20 much smaller contractors, all of them able to compete and offer a service in schools, and the majority of those contracts are let with small Welsh suppliers.

Public Transport in the South Wales Valleys

2. What actions is the Welsh Government taking to improve public transport opportunities in the south Wales valleys? OAQ53886

I thank Vikki Howells for that. Amongst the actions being taken to improve public transport are the White Paper proposals, 'Improving public transport', which will provide the legislative framework to facilitate a better integrated transport system here in Wales. We have our long-term investment in public transport that begins with the south Wales metro, and specifically in the south Wales Valleys, of course, we have the work of the Valleys taskforce.

13:35

Thank you, First Minister. I was very interested to see the announcement on the out-of-hours bus service pilot from the Rhondda valley as part of the Valleys taskforce initiative, and I know lots of my fellow AMs from the Valleys were equally enthused to read about that. We know that current timetables don't meet shift workers' needs, which can be so important for tackling poverty, and in communities furthest from the railways, bus provision really is the key public transport lever. This initiative could make such a difference to communities like mine. Are there any plans to broaden out this pilot? 

Llywydd, thanks to Vikki Howells for that further question. I absolutely agree with her that what we are trying to do here is to provide more flexible and demand-led transport, particularly in those places where the bus network is the key provider of public transport and where there are shift work needs that the main timetable often doesn't supply. Vikki Howells is right to say that the first year of the pilot will operate in the Rhondda valley—towns such as Maerdy, Ferndale and Blaenllechau. And there, there will be links through this new service either east to Treforest and Nantgarw or west towards Pontyclun and Llantrisant. That pilot will run for one year, but there is an option for a second year, and I know that my colleague Ken Skates will be very pleased to discuss with you what possibilities there might be for including a wider geographical area as that first year experience becomes known to us. 

As a regular user of the Valleys lines from the Rhondda, I'm one of the many thousands of passengers left dismayed, frustrated, squashed and feeling short-changed on a regular basis. Overcrowding has become a major safety issue not just for commuters, but also for staff who bear the brunt of passengers' anger, especially when people are forced to endure cramped conditions. On behalf of staff, who I've received representations from, and on behalf of the many people who use the trains every day, I want to know when we can expect to see more rolling stock—new rolling stock—on the Treherbert line? And I also want to know if there's any truth in what was told to me by a member of Transport for Wales staff that new carriages will not feature toilets?

Well, Llywydd, it is because we recognise the points that the Member has made that the new franchise will provide an extra 285 services across Wales every weekday and on Sundays by December 2023, and an extra 294 services across Wales by December 2019. As far as I am aware, the new rolling stock that we are acquiring will, of course, have modern and up-to-date facilities including toilet facilities, but also Wi-Fi and other things that people travelling in a modern railway system have a right to expect.FootnoteLink

You will agree with me, no doubt, that the south Wales metro scheme is absolutely vital to connect our communities in the south Wales Valleys with the jobs and growth opportunities of the wider Cardiff capital region. Can you, First Minister, therefore tell us how the delivery of these two important projects are being co-ordinated, especially in relation to the development of the metro project going forward? 

Well, Llywydd, I certainly do agree with what Russell George has said. The whole purpose of the metro and the improvements that we look to make in public services is that it will allow people to move freely across the economy of south Wales, allowing businesses to move where there are skilled populations that can allow them to thrive and allowing people to move easily to where employment can be found. The purpose of our White Paper is to set out a form of being able to regulate bus services in the future that means they can be run in the public interest, and in that way we will be able to bring those two threads together: the public investment that we are making in the metro—a major investment—but also a way of planning and delivering bus services that means we have a genuinely integrated transport system across south Wales. 

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Diolch, Llywydd. Can you tell us, First Minister, if carbon dioxide levels in Wales are falling fast enough?  

13:40

Carbon dioxide levels in Wales are falling. We have plans set out and timetables set out that we will continue to review and keep up to date. We are considering the advice of the climate change committee in the light of the Paris agreement, and, as you've seen, it suggests that we need a 95 per cent fall in emissions within 30 years. The advice, Llywydd, was detailed. It was over 300 pages-worth of advice. It's right that we take time to consider it, but our first reaction to the advice is that falls of that sort over that time period are necessary and achievable in Wales.

Well, clearly, First Minister, emissions are not falling fast enough, and it is doubtful if your Government will actually meet the target of a 27 per cent reduction by 2020, given that, so far, only a 14 per cent reduction has been achieved. Now, since 2014, the estimated number of deaths in Wales, according to Public Health Wales, relating to air pollution has actually increased from 1,320 in 2014 to more than 2,000 in 2017. In a recent debate, the former Minister for environment stated that in order to fill the gaps in legislation, the possibility of a clean air Act was actually on the table. Now, Professor Lewis from Swansea University indicated that the collection of air pollution information is inconsistent and more needs to be done to ensure that the data collected is accurate and representative of the whole of Wales, because missing out on vital data can lead to areas being overlooked and forgotten. Given the seriousness of the situation, do you agree, First Minister, that it is time now to bring forward a clean air Act, standardise data collection and bring an end to this public health crisis?

Well, Llywydd, let me begin by agreeing with what Paul Davies has said about the importance of clean air. A decade on from when this debate started, I think we are all more aware today of the impact that air pollution can have on public health and its impact on other health conditions. So, I want to agree with him about the seriousness of the issue. I can tell him that I have already had discussions with Lesley Griffiths, my colleague, about a clean air Act, and the preparation inside the Welsh Government has begun to think about how such an Act might be developed. Of course, we will want to talk with all those experts and those interest groups that would want to contribute to such an Act, and having better data, having data that is properly comparable, having data that allows you to track changes over time would be a necessary part of any piece of legislation that we might bring forward.

Well, First Minister, I'm glad that you're actually looking at a clean air Act, but I would suggest that I think it is now important that you do actually bring forward that legislation in order to tackle this very important issue. Now, your Government has set targets to halve the 2005 carbon emissions by 2030, but, clearly, not enough progress has been made towards meeting this particular target, because figures from the UK Committee on Climate Change show that, between 2015 and 2016, greenhouse gas emissions increased by 5 per cent in Wales, compared to an 11 per cent decrease in Scotland. Air pollution is not just contained to the target areas. In England and Scotland, progress, clearly, is being made following Berlin's example, with cities including Leeds and Birmingham bringing forward plans for clean air zones. Now, as you know, we on this side of the Chamber have called for these zones to be put in place in Wrexham, Swansea, Newport and Cardiff, and it is disappointing that Cardiff has dropped its plans for a zone. This is despite the Welsh Government being taken to the High Court last year over its failure to bring forward a firm plan to improve air quality. So, First Minister, since the Welsh Government announced the air quality fund last year, what progress has been made on improving the nitrogen dioxide levels in the five target road areas and what specific action is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that local authorities also play their role and are actually tackling air pollution in their respective areas?

Llywydd, the Member neglected to tell the Chamber that, of course, it was the UK Government that was taken to the Supreme Court over this matter because of infractions in relation to the European law, and the Welsh Government was there because we are part of that UK system. But he didn't mention that the UK Government was primarily in the dock on that day. Now, as it happens, I agree with lots of what he has said, and I share the ambitions that he set out to make sure that we do more to make sure that we leave a legacy for future generations of non-polluted air that doesn't cause the difficulties that we are now more alert to it creating. In relation to the five areas that he identified, we have new monitoring arrangements in place there. They are more sensitive to levels of nitrogen dioxide. It will be September before we have a data set of the sort that he advocated in his earlier question—reliable and over a time sequence—and we will know, in September, the result of that additional monitoring. As far as the work we are doing with local authorities is concerned, of course we work closely with local authorities, including Cardiff, to make sure that the actions that they can take and the actions that we can take together support the ambition that Paul Davies has set out this afternoon.

13:45

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, life expectancy in Wales is falling faster than in any other nation in Europe. We're the only country in these islands where child poverty is rising, and in the first three months of this year, we were the only part of the UK where unemployment increased. A month ago, at the Labour Party conference, the general secretary of the Welsh Labour Party said that

'Wales is better placed than any other part of the UK to deal with Brexit'.

How can that be true when Wales, under your leadership, is doing so badly even before Brexit has begun?

Well, Llywydd, the Member never has a good word to say for Wales. He never loses an opportunity to choose the most dismal statistics he can find and then to run Wales down. He does it not just in this Chamber; he takes the opportunities he has to do that when he is on national broadcast media as well, while, on this side of the Chamber, we do our best to build Wales up. We do our best to attract businesses to come to Wales. He never misses an opportunity to paint Wales as the most dismal place he has ever come across. He does it even when the figures bear no relation to what he says. And when the Labour Party, with which he has an obsessive interest, Llywydd—I've offered before to send him membership applications given how often on the floor of the Chamber he wants to ask me questions about what the Labour Party does. At our conference, we set out a prospectus for Wales that offers hope for the future, but shows the way in which, even in the circumstances of Brexit, we can create an economy that thrives and we can create a society in which people have chances to thrive. And it would be nice if, just once, in asking questions here, the Member could put his shoulder to that wheel rather than forever trying to find ways to talk Wales down.

First Minister, you're often fond of saying how disappointed you are in me, and I have to say, based on that performance, it's not half as disappointed as I am in you. Hywel Ceri Jones, who has been an adviser to your Government, this week cited the fact that the leader of your party has been deliberately ambiguous in the question of a second public vote on EU membership as his reason for leaving Labour and joining Plaid Cymru. Seeing as Hywel was the founder of the Erasmus programme, perhaps it's fitting to remind ourselves of the words of the great man himself when he said, 'Humility is truth.' So, in that spirit, before tens—[Interruption.] Before tens of thousands—[Interruption.] You may be laughing now; I don't think you'll be laughing on Sunday. So, in that spirit, before tens of thousands of Labour supporters follow Hywel in abandoning you at the ballot box, why not humbly admit, First Minister, that on the question of the second referendum, in slavishly following the British Labour line—or rather, the absence of one—you simply got it wrong?

Well, humility may be truth, Llywydd, but irony is certainly not lost. If ever there was a figure who should have avoided that as a strapline, I think we've heard from him twice now this afternoon. The position of my party in relation to a second referendum is one that reflects the complexity of the position that faces the British people. The day is coming, Llywydd, when the House of Commons, which after all is where this decision will be made, will have to grasp that issue and make its mind up finally as to whether or not it is prepared to ask the people of the United Kingdom to vote on this matter again. I believe that that day is coming very quickly.

13:50

Two opinion polls in the last three days have placed your party in third place for the European elections. One has placed you third for elections to this Senedd on the regional list. If you do come third on Thursday, this will be the first time this has happened to the Labour Party in an all-Wales election since the year of the Labour Party's formation in 1900, when Keir Hardie was elected as the MP for Merthyr Tydfil. Do you feel some sense of personal responsibility for the depths to which your party has plunged? Some will no doubt view your personal loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn as an admirable quality, but many more will judge it to be at the expense of a greater loyalty, which is to the people of Wales. So, to quote another phrase that you should be familiar with, because you penned it, was this perhaps not a time for a drop or two of clear red water?

Llywydd, my interests are always on what matters to people in Wales. I spend every day that I have that opportunity trying to do everything I can to make sure that the future of people in Wales is safeguarded, and that the best prospects are available to them. I do that, I'll continue to do that, and when the time comes, I'll be judged like anybody else in this Chamber will be, against the efforts and the success of those efforts, when people come to make the choice that they will make about who is to be in charge in this Chamber.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, do you respect the result of the referendum? [Interruption.] You promised that you would. [Interruption.

The First Minister can't hear the question being asked. Can we have some quiet to hear the question, please?

First Minister, do you respect the result of the referendum? You promised that you would, but it's not clear that you do. Will your party let us leave, or do you want to make us remain? Do you agree with your Brexit Minister when he said that your Government had to balance the decision the people of Wales made in the referendum with his superior understanding of what he says is in their interests? First Minister, you face your first electoral test on Thursday, but no-one knows where you stand on Brexit or whether people should be made to vote again. Who do you expect to receive a mandate from the people of Wales?

Llywydd, it's an afternoon for irony on the floor of the National Assembly, clearly. The Member asks me about respect and mandate. Here is somebody who I shared a platform with during the run-up to the last Assembly election when he urged the audience in front of us to support the United Kingdom Independence Party. No sooner had he arrived here under that ticket than he flew across to the other side of the Chamber to be a cuckoo in the nest of the Conservative Party. Now the bird has flown again. This sort of peripatetic approach to politics is not one that I think leaves him in any position to ask others in this Chamber questions about respecting democratic mandates. The Welsh Government has always respected the result of the referendum. We have always recognised the way in which people in Wales have voted, and we've been focused, as we've said so many times, on the form rather than the fact of Brexit. Of course the Brexit Minister was right to say we have to balance what people said in that referendum against the harm we know would come to Wales from the sort of Brexit that he and his party now advocate.

The First Minister thinks that he knows better than the people of Wales. First Minister, I have consistently backed Brexit. Unfortunately, every party said that they were going to respect the result of the referendum. Unfortunately, you are doing anything but. You claim that you have always respected the result, but you haven't. You came out with a White Paper that you agreed with Plaid Cymru—who have an awful lot to say about who'll come third on Thursday, but very little to say about who might come first—and what they said with you was a Brexit in name only, but you still said you wanted to respect the result and deliver that Brexit, despite it being in name only.

Since then, as soon as you thought you could get away with it, you started shifting your policy to say that the people of Wales should be forced to vote again, because they got it wrong. Now, you may not have said that quite as clearly as Adam Price has, or quite as clearly as Kirsty Williams has, and it may be that many of the Labour voters who voted remain may vote Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru on Thursday in consequence, but the people I speak to hear that you are saying, 'They got it wrong—they need to vote again', because you know best. You promised to implement the result, your promised to respect it. You are doing anything but. Do you understand why it is now time to change politics for good?

13:55

I think I heard the Member use the word 'consistency' in the first part of his question. It's a pantomime turn that we're offered, but the trouble is, Llywydd, the Member is a lot more than a pantomime villain, and the prospectus that he offers people in Wales would, without a shadow of a doubt, lead people in Wales to be worse off in future. Their security would be undermined, their influence in the world would be diminished. I'm proud of the White Paper that we published with Plaid Cymru because it has stood the test of time. And unlike the meanderings of the Member around this Chamber, the things that we said then about membership of a customs union, full and unfettered participation in a single market, a sensible approach to migration that doesn't damage Welsh businesses and public services—those are the things that have stood the test of time. Those are the things that have been consistent throughout this debate. And it may be more complex than the Member would like to admit, but those are things that we will go on contributing to this debate. That's our consistency, and I think it's a consistency that people in Wales will come to recognise.

Creating a Feminist Government

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on progress towards creating a feminist government in Wales? OAQ53882

I want to thank the Member for that question. On International Women’s Day, Jane Hutt set out our ambition for gender equality in Wales, focused on equality of outcome for all. The statement was developed as part of a gender equality review, of course, initiated by Carwyn Jones in March 2018.

I welcome that gentleman's initiative. Thank you for that, First Minister. Could I ask you to outline what further changes you think will be needed in the future to realise our shared ambition of true equality in Wales? 

I thank Carwyn for that supplementary. He's absolutely right; it is the core ambition of this Government to create a more equal Wales. Llywydd, I'll mention just three brief ways in which those future changes will be shaped.

First of all, I know that the Member will have seen the report of the fair work commission—another initiative that was set in motion by him. He'll have seen its excellent report. He'll know that Julie James has already accepted the six key proposals of that report, and we've had discussions during last week and this as to how we will establish a fair work office inside the Government here in Wales to take forward that agenda.

Secondly, as the Member knows, phase 2 of the gender equality review is expected in July of this year. It will provide both a report and a road map. And that road map is really important in the way that the former First Minister said, in giving us a sense of those changes that will be needed to secure that more equal Wales.

And thirdly, Llywydd, as Members will know, we have made a commitment to enact Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010—the socio-economic duty—because, in the end, it is people's relationship to the economy that gives them the most fundamental chances in life, and this is a Government determined that people in Wales will have those chances fairly and equally across the whole of our nation.

I have to say, I think it's pretty brave of the former First Minister to raise this question. At the point of his departure, the gender pay gap within Government had gone up yet again and, of course, Chwarae Teg's—what can I call it—assessment of the work that he had done in the eight years of being in charge was this: current legislation and frameworks, such as the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, the gender equality duties, and the duty to have due regard to equality, which was in the Government of Wales Act 2006—

'should ensure that consideration of gender, and equality more broadly, is embedded at the heart of policy and decision-making. However, this framework is having limited impact so far, due to integration and implementation challenges.' 

I heard what you said about what's happening within Government, but implementation matters when it comes to policy, and I want to know what your vision is for this. Actually, I want to know what steps you're taking to make sure that all good intentions that find themselves coming forward to legislation and policy actually happen and have the outcomes that you're intending them to have.

14:00

Llywydd, the Member will welcome, I'm sure, the fact that the latest figures on the gender pay gap show that it is falling, not rising, in Wales. It fell from 16 per cent in 2016 to 15 per cent in 2017 to 14 per cent in 2018. Much too big, of course, but, unlike the way in which her question began, those figures are heading in the right direction and I know that she'll be keen to support them falling further and faster still. 

She asked for some specifics, things that we want to make sure that we see happen here in Wales. Again, I'm sure she will welcome the fact that the Welsh Government provides paid leave for victims of domestic abuse, as initiated by the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, and that we are taking steps to make sure that that entitlement is better known and better advertised amongst staff, and that we are discussing it with our trade union colleagues because we want to make sure that, beyond the Assembly, that paid leave is available more widely in our public services.

And we want to go beyond that as well, so we will be discussing with our social partners ways in which other forms of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence are recognised in the workplace, that managers are properly trained to be able to recognise the signs, that they know how they are able to signpost people to get the help that they need, and that the costs involved in all of that are recognised by employers here in Wales as part of our effort to create that more equal Wales that the former First Minister mentioned in his first question.

Revision Textbooks

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the availability of revision textbooks in our schools? OAQ53909

May I thank the Member for the question? Revision textbooks are produced by commercial publishers, and the Welsh Government works in partnership with the WJEC to secure Welsh language translations of these books. A list of available materials is circulated to schools.

The roll-out of the new curriculum will be an excellent opportunity for publishing all relevant materials in both languages from the very outset, unlike the situation as it currently stands. But the clock is ticking with that. There are some who are concerned that there won't be sufficient time for defining needs, administering tenders, commissioning, writing, trialling, designing, translating and publishing in both languages simultaneously. Will you today, therefore, give an assurance that your Government will plan carefully in order to ensure that textbooks, resources and materials will be available simultaneously in both languages, so that pupils who choose to conduct their courses through the medium of Welsh won't be disadvantaged in the future?

Well, may I thank Siân Gwenllian for that? Of course, I agree with the comments that she has made. It is not acceptable to me if revision textbooks aren't available in a timely fashion for those taking exams through the medium of Welsh, as we've heard over the past weeks. The new curriculum gives a new opportunity to plan for the future. To be clear, when the curriculum is rolled out throughout the whole of Wales, we will do it in a manner where the important materials for pupils in the schools will be available simultaneously in both languages. That is why we are doing the work in the way in which we are doing it. We will begin with the youngest children and the new curriculum will be developed year on year. That is why we are confident that we will be able to do things in the manner in which Siân Gwenllian has proposed this afternoon, and I know that the Minister has a new group that is supporting us to plan, prepare and do the important things that Siân Gwenllian has alluded to this afternoon. 

14:05

Question 5. No, I'm sorry: Darren Millar.

How could I forget you, Darren? [Laughter.]

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, I'm sure you'll want to join me in wishing everybody every success in the GCSE exams, which are currently under way—in particular, my own son, who is taking his GCSEs this year.

You'll be aware that the Children, Young People and Education Committee published a report last year on the availability of textbooks—or should I say the lack of availability of textbooks—at that time. And we were assured as an Assembly that lessons had been learned from the mistakes that had been made about the availability of text and revision books, and yet just last week, of course, we heard, as we've already said in the Chamber this afternoon, that there were two courses in particular for which Welsh revision guides were not available. What discussions is your Government having with Qualifications Wales to make sure that those young people who didn't get the revision guides that they should have had in good time to prepare for the exams this year will not actually have their opportunities to get the best grades undermined? And how will the Welsh Government make sure that this is avoided once and for all in the future, so that we don't end up in this sort of pickle that has been two years on the run now, and is completely unacceptable?

Llywydd, can I begin by, indeed, wishing all those young people who are sitting examinations the very best of wishes in that? I had the pleasure of meeting Darren's son when he attended with the two of us an organ donation event during the passage of the Bill in front of the Assembly, so I wish him well particularly.

The Welsh Government has made real efforts, Llywydd, to correct for market failure in this area, because that's what we are doing. We spend no money in supporting English language textbooks; we provide over £3 million a year to support the provision of resources to Welsh-medium learners in this way, and we've increased this grant funding this year. I know that the Minister has written to Siân Gwenllian today to confirm that we will provide £1.25 million in this financial year, and that that will allow another 50 new titles to be provided to support qualifications, over the 40 new titles that were published in the past financial year. We work very hard with the players in the field to try to accelerate the translation of these works and to make sure that they arrive in a timely fashion.

It's not for Government, I think, Llywydd, to interfere in the way in which examinations are either conducted or assessed, but the general point that the Member makes about the need to make sure that young people who are sitting examinations through the medium of Welsh have the same opportunities to study for them, to have revision guides, and so on, is one with which we absolutely agree. The new curriculum will give us a new opportunity, as Siân suggested, to make sure that those resources rise year by year alongside the roll-out of the curriculum, and we're committed to making sure that that happens.

The Childcare Offer

5. Will the First Minister provide an update on the roll-out of the Welsh Government-funded childcare offer? OAQ53887

Llywydd, I'm pleased to be able to inform the Chamber that the Government-funded childcare offer is now available to parents across the whole of Wales, and that is a year earlier than originally scheduled.

I welcome that news and the fact that we've got the delivery not just on time but ahead of time, and within budget as well, of this very ambitious and groundbreaking childcare offer, being taken forward very ably by my colleague Julie Morgan.

But, could I ask the First Minister whether his Ministers and Welsh Government officials will meet with the officers and cabinet members of Bridgend County Borough Council, who traditionally, historically, have over-provided the foundation phase to the tune of 25 or 30 hours a week, at great cost, but deliberately in order to benefit the lives of young people, to see the way that we can make this work within the Bridgend area as well? And could I also ask what is being done to develop that longer term—medium to longer term—thinking on a more joined-up, more comprehensive system of early years childcare and education, age-appropriate for all ages? We cannot do it overnight, but I championed this while I was in Government and I'll continue to champion it because I think it's what Wales should be doing in the long term.

Well, I thank the Member for those additional questions. Llywydd, on the issue of Bridgend, Huw Irranca-Davies will be pleased to know that there is already a meeting in the diary for Julie Morgan to meet with the leader of Bridgend council, Huw David, because it is a complex issue, and I know the Minister felt that it would be better to explore those complexities face to face. The foundation phase is a universal offer and the childcare offer is a targeted offer—how we bring them together is a matter that is best discussed in that complex detail in a face-to-face meeting.

Of course, I agree with what Huw Irranca-Davies said about the long-term ambition to make sure that we have high-quality and stimulating experiences in both care and learning settings. It's why we've provided £60 million in additional capital investment that will go into 115 childcare settings. Co-location of the foundation phase and the additional childcare offer provision is absolutely at the heart of what that £60 million is meant to bring about, so that we have affordable, available and accessible childcare and early years learning in a way that brings those two things powerfully together.

14:10

We welcome the fact that the Welsh Government has, in fact, pursued the Assembly Conservative group manifesto pledge of providing 30 hours a week of Government-funded childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds. Indeed, this should be helping parents across Wales to afford support and for them to be confident that they can remain in work. 

As Huw Irranca-Davies AM will know from the Children, Young People and Education Committee, however, whilst taking evidence, there has been some disappointment at the take-up of the childcare offer and concern about raising public awareness. Therefore, First Minister, will you explain what actions you and your Government are taking now to address this and ensure that parents across Wales are made aware of the free childcare that they are actually entitled to receive?

Well, Llywydd, by March of this year more than 11,000 children were already benefiting from the offer, more than 1,700 childcare providers were taking part in it right across Wales and 30 per cent of children taking part in it were receiving their childcare through the medium of the Welsh language. All of those seem to me to be very solid foundations from which we can now, with early roll-out available right across Wales, go on making sure that we publicise the offer; that we have the facilities there through the £60 million and other initiatives to ensure that there is an offer that is available that parents want to take up; and that we go on learning from the lived experiences of parents who are taking the offer up already. I look forward, during the rest of this Assembly term, to seeing more children, more providers and more integrated care to build on what is already a very considerable success.

Improving Agricultural Land

6. What plans does the Welsh Government have to improve agricultural land in Wales? OAQ53928

Llywydd, 'Brexit and our land' sets out the Welsh Government's proposals to support Welsh farmers in securing benefits from our land in a wide variety of ways. That includes sustainable food production and improving habitats and biodiversity.

First Minister, Labour's local development plan is concreting and trashing acre upon acre of prime agricultural land in Cardiff West. When we first said that this was going to happen, you said that our scaremongering was 'disgraceful'—WalesOnline, there.

We now have a situation where the wealthy Earl of Plymouth Estates Limited is trying to throw people off the land that they have farmed for generations. The Rees family on Maes y Llech farm won't just lose their livelihoods, they'll also lose their home. A question would be whether or not you've helped the Rees family. Since you choose not to answer questions, I'll give you the answer myself: you have done nothing. So, the question is: will you, firstly, apologise to the Rees family for misleading them by saying that the fields were not going to be built on? Will you apologise, secondly, to the Rees family for not helping them? Thirdly, will you undertake to assist the Rees family in staying on the land that the family has farmed for generations?

Llywydd, I agree that scaremongering is disgraceful, and it's disgraceful when it's repeated in the Chamber. The Member has no insight into the work that is done with individuals, nor should he. How is it that he thinks he is in a position to use individual people's data to make remarks on the floor of this Assembly? [Interruption.] 

14:15

Allow the First Minister to answer the question. [Interruption.] Allow the First Minister to answer the question. 

Llywydd, I say again: how is it that the Member thinks that he has access to data that is held by other people? The Welsh Government has a consultation on agricultural tenancy reform, which the Member may have known about. It's open for 12 weeks. It will close on 2 July. It will explore changes to regulations in the field of agricultural tenancies. It will look to update the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 and the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 to make sure that where people have rights that need to be upheld in law, the law in Wales is in a fit state for that to take place.   

First Minister, obviously the Government are considering the consultation responses from 'Brexit and our land'. It is imperative that, if we are to protect agricultural land, conservation and the productivity of that land to produce our food are held in equal weight. Can you confirm that Welsh Government look at both aspects as being important in the future of maintaining the quality of Welsh agricultural land and the viability of the Welsh rural economy? 

I'm very happy to confirm exactly that. Llywydd, 'Brexit and our land' sets out a future for Welsh farming in which food production remains a central part of what farmers are about, but also rewards farmers for the production of public goods as well. The work that farmers do to protect our environment, to improve agricultural land, to improve water quality, to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions—all of those are things that the future of farming will depend upon, and holding those two things together is part of what 'Brexit and our land' set out to do. Andrew Davies will know that the Minister is committed to a further publication before the Royal Welsh Show this year, and we look forward to going on having the very close and detailed engagement that we have had with the farming unions, and with other farming interests, as we take these proposals further forward. 

Improving the Environment

7. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve the environment in Wales? OAQ53929

Llywydd, the Welsh Government is currently consulting on environmental principles and governance should we leave the European Union. At the same time, we are refreshing our nature recovery action plan to tackle biodiversity loss and reviewing the urgency of actions in our low-carbon plan in light of the declaration of a climate emergency.

Thank you, First Minister. I'm sure you'll join me in welcoming the news that Monmouthshire County Council joined the Welsh Government last week in declaring its own climate change emergency, but, as I said to the environment Minister last week, declaring an emergency is one thing, but you need to actually see—I won't use the word 'concrete' in the answer; that would be inappropriate—positive steps on the ground. Electric charging infrastructure for cars is one positive way that this can be done. There are very few charging points in Wales at the moment. In my area, Magor services has got the main one in the Monmouthshire area, in John Griffiths's area. What is the Welsh Government doing to support local authorities such as Monmouthshire and others to build up that electric charging infrastructure?  

Llywydd, we've put £2 million into this as part of our budget agreement with Plaid Cymru. That money has been used in ways that allow local authorities to draw down money from a UK Government fund, so we're getting far more than £2 million-worth of benefit from it. Local authorities in Wales are increasing the number of charging points that they have available. I look forward to working with Monmouthshire County Council.

The Member asked about the specifics that we can do in relation to a climate emergency. I know that he was at the Bee Friendly Monmouthshire event at the weekend, where a Welsh Government project, Nature Isn't Neat, was launched—over £45,000 focused on the town of Monmouth to take particular action in relation to pollinators, and that's all part of a wider pattern of action we need to take in the climate field.     

Brexit

8. Will the First Minister provide an update on discussions with the UK Government regarding Brexit? OAQ53930

Llywydd, we continue to have regular discussions with the UK Government on Brexit-related issues. Following the JMC(EN) meeting held on 9 May, Jeremy Miles met with Stephen Barclay, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, and Eluned Morgan met with Liam Fox, Secretary of State for the Department for International Trade. Both those meetings took place last week and both of those meetings took place in Cardiff. 

14:20

When our European partners agreed to extend the Brexit deadline two months ago, the message from Jean-Claude Juncker was very clear: don't waste this time. Since then, we've had six weeks of fruitless talks between the Conservatives and Labour, and now, in an unparalleled act of self-absorbed navel-gazing, the Conservatives in Westminster are about to embark on a leadership contest, proving what many of us have known all along, that Brexit, for them, is about what's best for their party not what's best for the country.

In the meantime, manufacturing companies in my constituency are continuing to live with Brexit uncertainty every single day. Would the First Minister agree with me that we are now rapidly running out of road on this issue and that it is becoming increasingly clear that the only realistic way to resolve this impasse is to put this back to the people in another vote? And would you agree with me that this is not, as Mark Reckless has tried to claim, about disrespecting the views of the people. This is about giving everyone the opportunity to have a final say on a deal that would impact on us for years to come once we know what that deal looks like. This is about listening to the people. 

I thank Lynne Neagle for that. I agree with her that the outlook for Brexit is bleak, in the sense that having secured an extension from the European Union, we now look as though the Prime Minister is determined to put her failed deal back in front of the House of Commons again, with, as far as I can see, no prospect whatsoever of it succeeding. There will then be three months' worth of a Conservative Party leadership contest in which it will be impossible for any sensible Government business to be done.

It really is for the House of Commons to grasp this issue and to put a proper proposition in front of the House of Commons in relation to a second vote, so that, if that is to happen, we can have that decided upon early, so that preparations can be made during the period that we have left. Now, it's for the House of Commons to make that decision, but the day is coming when that decision really has to be made. If it is made, if that is what the House of Commons decides because there is no other way through this impasse, then, of course, it is not a democratic dereliction to return to people and ask them for a second view. Nothing could be more absurd in a place like this, where we all have to face a democratic decision regularly as part of our political lives, to suggest that going back to people and asking them for their view is anything other than to respect that basic democratic proposition. We will see—it is for the House of Commons to make that decision. If they decide—as we've said here many times, if that proposition is put back in front of people here in Wales, the advice of the Welsh Government will be, as it always has been, that Wales's future is better secured through continued membership of the European Union. 

2. Questions to the Counsel General and Brexit Minister (in respect of his 'law officer' responsibilities)

The next item, therefore, is questions to the Counsel General in respect of his law officer responsibilities. And the first question is from Bethan Sayed. 

The Inquest into the Death of Carl Sargeant

1. Will the Counsel General outline expenditure incurred to date by the Welsh Government’s legal services department into the judicial review of the coroner’s decisions in respect of the inquest into the death of Carl Sargeant? OAQ53900

The expenditure that has been incurred by the Welsh Government in relation to the judicial review of the coroner’s decision, including the costs of leading counsel, amounted to £18,732.18.

Thank you very much for that reply, and I'm glad I could get a reply on the floor of the Chamber because I did send a freedom of information request, and at that time I was told, on 1 May, that no information was held and that no budgets were set aside for these specific purposes. So, can I ask if there will be any additional expenditure in this regard and what that would be, and if an Assembly Member writes with that particular request in future that we will be able to get a reply that will be open and transparent as opposed to one that was not?

Well, I hope the Member feels that my response today has been open and transparent in giving the precise figure. I'm not in a position to comment on the particular freedom of information request that the Member refers to. I don't anticipate further substantive costs being incurred. The costs that were incurred were done with a view to minimising those costs, and so, although leading counsel was retained, she was instructed by the Welsh Government's legal services department, which will have had the effect of keeping those costs to a minimum.

14:25

Counsel General, I've had some correspondence with the Permanent Secretary in relation to the use of the transcript from the inquest and, in particular, special advisers instructing civil servants to look at diaries. Now, it was my understanding, and I've had that confirmed from the coroner, that the transcript should not have been used, other than for the specific purpose that it was requested for. The correspondence to me obviously wasn't the purpose that it was requested for. Do you therefore believe that, if that transcript was used incorrectly, the Permanent Secretary's in danger of being in contempt of court?

Well, I'm not familiar with the correspondence to which the Member refers in his question, but I'm happy to look into that matter.

The Creation of a Welsh Legal Jurisdiction

2. Will the Counsel General make a statement on the potential impact of the creation of a Welsh legal jurisdiction on Welsh lawyers? OAQ53897

We await the outcome of the justice commission, but the Welsh Government is advocating the creation of a Welsh legal jurisdiction for many reasons, constitutional and practical. We are also of the view that a Welsh legal jurisdiction would benefit Welsh lawyers or, at the very least, would have a neutral effect.

Thank you. None of us can deny the development of Welsh law and the ever increasing role played by the Welsh Government in the delivery of justice in Wales. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Commission on Justice in Wales is reviewing the system and looking at creating a long-term vision. The Law Society, however, has recently made its submission to the commission. In this, they have noted that complete separation of Wales from the current single jurisdiction could dilute the jurisdiction of England and Wales and curtail the ability of solicitors to maintain the current level of legal services activity in Wales. Indeed, it is explained that

'Wales could be perceived as a difficult place to do business.'

Their words, not mine. With the interests of the future of around 450 law firms and 4,000 law students here—[Interruption.] Will you give assurances that a jurisdictional solution is being explored in addition to simply pursuing complete jurisdictional separation?

I'm not entirely clear about the point the Member was making in her last question, but the Law Society's submission, I'm sure she will know, represents, I think, perhaps an evolution of their position and, although it does identify some of the concerns that are very well understood in relation to the jurisdictional issue and the existence of a separate jurisdiction in particular, my reading of it is that it probably moves further towards an understanding of some of the benefits and an acknowledgement of some of the benefits that that set of arrangements could bring. I would agree with the recommendation they make in their submission to the commission, which is that the Welsh Government should be proactive in developing a jurisdictional solution to the accommodation of Welsh law and the distinct needs of Wales. It goes on to talk about doing so without creating barriers and, clearly, we would wish to endorse that as well.

The Bar councillors, as I'm sure she will be aware, in Wales—the Wales and Chester circuit, indeed—made a submission that was also very supportive of the position that we have advocated in advance of the commission for justice. The point in relation to the barriers, which underlies the point in her question—there is no need in any of these jurisdiction discussions to assume that dual qualification would be a problem. Indeed, that is actually, I would argue, an advantage to lawyers practising in Wales, the ability to say that they are qualified in both English law and in Welsh law. Dual qualification is often regarded by lawyers as an advantage. But she makes points that absolutely need to be addressed. I have actually commissioned a review of how the Government works with the legal sector to ensure that it remains a robust sector and becomes more resilient for the future, and I'll be happy to put that in the public domain in due course when it reports.

I'm grateful to you, Counsel General, for your answer to the original question. It is important, of course, that we do see the creation of a Welsh jurisdiction to be able to establish a coherent and stable settlement in this country. You will have seen the report of the House of Commons select committee on Welsh affairs, published last week, and also recent announcements from the United Kingdom Government on the future of the probation service. All of these matters, of course, are areas where extreme difficulty is caused by having the current England-and-Wales jurisdiction, and where there are people suffering in this country as a consequence of that situation.

My question to you this afternoon is that the Welsh Government has already submitted its view to the Thomas commission: does the Welsh Government have any plans to submit any additional evidence to the commission, or does the Welsh Government stand by the evidence that was given by myself, and, at that time, himself, and the former First Minister?

14:30

Well, both those propositions are true. There are plans to provide further evidence. I myself, for example, have been to Northern Ireland and to Scotland to look at how matters work there. Some of the features that we would perhaps have to deal with in a future settlement here are ones that are already part of the daily life of legal practitioners in Northern Ireland. So, there will be the prospect of further evidence, but, the Welsh Government's evidence to date, we stand by that. 

The Enforcement of Legislation

3. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the enforcement of legislation across Wales? OAQ53896

The responsibility for taking action to enforce Welsh-made legislation through the justice system largely lies with the Welsh Government and a range of agencies. The Welsh Government’s approach is to promote behavioural change and collaboration rather than criminalisation, and we would like to pursue this approach through a devolved justice system.

Okay, thank you. Well, one way through which compliance with marine and fisheries related legislation is pursued by the Welsh Government is through the use of fisheries patrol vessels. Now, I've been undertaking an investigation on behalf of some constituents who raised this with me into the activities of those berthed in Aberconwy between January 2017 and February 2019. What I have found is that the FPG—FPV, in fact—FPV Aegis, FPV Cranogwen and FPV Lady Megan encountered a total of 108 vessels, equating to about one a week. More so, only a total of five breaches were discovered, and as a result no fines were levied during this 26-month period. Now, when considering those appalling enforcement and prosecution statistics, and bearing in mind that the Welsh Government has invested £2.6 million in a new FPV, taxpayers and local fishermen deserve answers as to what exactly is going on. Will you undertake a review of the activities of the FPVs as a means of enforcing legislation, and, generally, in more terms, would you look at where we do have legislation in place, where enforcement is needed, and where legislation is being breached, and actually ensure that, where there need to be prosecutions, they are in fact carried out? 

I'm surprised to hear the Member criticise our approach towards seeking to enforce the regulations that we are responsible for enforcing. I would have hoped that she would have supported the Government in practical and proactive enforcement of the regulations that we are responsible for enforcing here in Wales. And I think investment in fisheries patrol vehicles is a very, very sensible investment on the part of the Welsh Government, and they will be busier as a consequence of Brexit, if I may just point that out to the Member. 

Since I became Counsel General, I've been clear that the work around fisheries enforcement in particular is a priority, and I meet regularly with lawyers to ascertain the state of all the prosecutions that we have in relation to infractions across Wales. And the whole point of that is to maintain momentum and to ensure that people in Wales cannot simply disregard the regulations that are applicable and that are there to protect stocks of often very sensitive shellfish beds and so on, and other marine habitats, and we take that responsibility very seriously indeed. 

Counsel General, do you know of any other law officer who has backed changing rules enforced under legislation retrospectively to ban a political group he dislikes? 

14:35

I'm not aware of the point of the Member's question. 

Equalisation of Women's Pension Ages

4. How can the Welsh Government assist in the judicial review of matters arising from the UK Government's policy of equalisation of women's pension ages and the impact of those changes on women born in the 1950s? OAQ53905

The Welsh Government has consistently expressed to the UK Government its concerns about women who have had their state pension age raised without effective or sufficient notification. However, state pensions are a non-devolved matter and therefore the Welsh Ministers' powers are constrained in that respect. 

I appreciate the constraint that the Counsel General identifies, but in Plenary on 20 March it was agreed the Welsh Government would make representations to the UK Government in support of the Women Against State Pension Inequality state pension campaigners, many of whom are my constituents and have been in touch directly with me. The Deputy Minister and the Chief Whip also confirmed the Counsel General would consider what action Welsh Government could take in relation to the litigation against the Department for Work and Pensions for the alleged mishandling of raising the state pension age for women born in the 1950s. And the High Court hearing date for the judicial review is now fast approaching, because it's Wednesday 5 June and Thursday 6 June. I appreciate what he says about pensions being a reserved matter, but we have made a commitment. The Welsh Government has made a commitment to those campaigners. Therefore, can he satisfy this Chamber that the Welsh Government has taken the action that we discussed on 20 March and has put pressure on since? 

Well, I thank the Member for that supplementary question, and I know that this is a matter that he's been campaigning on in his constituency and is in close touch with his local 1950s women's group. He is right to say that in the debate on 20 March the Deputy Minister indicated an approach on behalf of the Welsh Government. As he says, the High Court has granted permission for that judicial review and the hearing will be heard on the fifth and sixth. 

The powers that the Counsel General has under the Government of Wales Act 2006 don't permit intervention in this particular set of circumstances, unfortunately. That's an assessment I've made subsequently, given the representations that the Minister made in the Chamber. However, the Welsh Government has subsequently written to the UK Government to press its concerns in relation to the UK Government's approach, and it concludes by urging the UK Government to take action to mitigate the negative impacts, which the women are enduring through no fault of their own, and to address the concerns in particular raised by Professor Alston and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and that letter has been sent to follow up the commitments made by the Deputy Minister in the Chamber. 

Can I thank the Counsel General for his response to Hefin David? I am sure he will understand that there will be a great many women in this category who will be disappointed to hear that he does not have—. And we must take his word, Llywydd, that he has given consideration to whether it was possible to take any action. Of course, the women bringing the case are optimistic about a possible positive result. If they are successful, there will, of course, then be an appeal. 

Can I urge the Counsel General and the Welsh Government to look again at whether there may be some way, if there is an appeal—? It's too late now I think to make any representations in the context of the judicial review hearing itself, but, if there is an appeal, I would submit to the Counsel General and to the Welsh Government, for example, that the Welsh Government has got a material interest in this case, because the Welsh economy has lost millions of pounds, because those women did not have that money to spend in their local communities. So, can I urge the Counsel General, today, while expressing a regret of my constituents and Hefin's and many others who I know will have been in contact with us—? I had a letter just today from a lady who had to lose her home—had to sell her home—because she couldn't afford to keep up payments and couldn't afford to pay the bills. Can I ask the Counsel General if he will, if there is an appeal, look again and seek some further advice as to whether, given the loss to the Welsh economy, that what I firmly believe has been maladministration on the part of the Department for Work and Pensions—? Given that potential loss, I would submit that there may be a material case for the Welsh Government to oppose an appeal if the women are found in favour of the week after next. I realise it's a very sensitive situation, because the matter is not devolved, but, on the other hand, if there has been maladministration, this maladministration has had catastrophic effects not only on those individual women, but also on the communities where those women did not have income to spend. 

14:40

Well, I thank Helen Mary Jones for her supplementary. She does identify in her question some of the tragic consequences of the actions of the UK Government in the lives of these women, and we all identify with the remarks that she's making in her question. With regard to the point about my powers to intervene and the powers of Welsh Ministers to intervene, that is the kind of thing that, of course, I keep under ongoing consideration and that will apply in this case as in any other.

Family Courts

5. What representations has the Counsel General made on behalf of the Welsh Government regarding family courts to ensure that they take a rights-based approach to working with children in Wales? OAQ53906

Through the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru’s delivery of the family court advisory service in Wales, and through its engagement on the family justice board, Welsh Ministers advance the best interests and the rights of children who are engaged in or who are affected by family proceedings on a day-to-day basis.

I thank the Counsel General for that reply. I have received a number of really concerning individual cases brought to me through casework, including a CAFCASS officer saying to a young child, 'You do realise that, if mummy doesn't want you to see daddy, mummy could end up in prison?' Those were the very words, and I do have the permission of the person affected to make that comment. I think other Members—I'm aware from other conversations—have had very concerning cases where, for example, perpetrators of domestic violence have been allowed to continue to see their children. Now, the Counsel General will be aware that the UK Government has ordered a review, today, I think, of the family courts, with a view to ensuring, amongst other things, that children's voices are properly heard in the proceedings. There is, of course, a big difference between what's in the child's best interests and what the child may say it wants, and nobody is arguing that CAFCASS officers don't have to make some very difficult judgments in that regard, but can I ask the Counsel General today to look to see whether there are representations that he can make on behalf of the Welsh Government in the context of this review? Because we have, of course, a particular duty here to ensure that, when children in Wales are dealing with officialdom, even if it's not officialdom that's directly under the Welsh Government's control, those children's rights are respected, and particularly the right to be kept safe and the right to be heard in matters that affect them.

Well, can I thank the Member for that important supplementary question? This is a really vital matter and I'm pleased the UK Government has committed to launching a review of how children are dealt with in the family courts. I think that's intended to be a review that lasts for three or four months and the call for evidence is, I think, imminent in relation to that. I have had a preliminary conversation with the Deputy Minister about how best we can engage with that review and will follow that up with a more substantive discussion in the coming days.

She will know, of course, that section 1 of Children Act 1989 includes a requirement that the child's welfare is the court's paramount concern and that decisions made by the court should have regard to human rights legislation. One of the critical aspects I believe the review may wish to address is the question of family procedure rules in court and how they work and how they can be strengthened to better protect children from the sorts of decisions that her constituent appears to have had first-hand experience of, unfortunately.

A representative appointed by the director of CAFCASS Cymru sits on the Family Procedure Rule Committee, which is responsible for developing and devising those rules of practice and procedure, but, as I say, I will be taking forward those discussions with the Deputy Minister to make sure that we can best feed into that review and reflect the concerns that we have in this Chamber, which are well-established, given our focus here in Government and in the Assembly on upholding the rights of children in all respects.

UN Human Rights Conventions

6. Will the Counsel General provide an update on recent talks concerning the incorporation of UN human rights conventions into Welsh law? OAQ53907

A stakeholder group has been established to consider how best to weave new legislation into the distinctly Welsh legal tapestry of human rights protection. As, for example, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 and our commitment to commence the socioeconomic duty in the Equalities Act 2010 show, this Government continues to bring rights home.

I appreciate, Llywydd, that I have been rather a lot on my feet in the last few minutes, and I entirely understand that one might have lost track.

14:45

Llywydd, I'm grateful to the Counsel General for his response and it is positive to hear that work is ongoing. Of course, the decision to delay Brexit does give us some little time to further consider the challenges that might be placed before us in terms of losing the protection that the European Union provides us in terms of enforcing certain aspects of human rights legislation. But as Lynne Neagle referred to in an earlier question to the First Minister, these extra months will roll by very quickly. So, can I seek assurance from the Counsel General today that in the midst of the many issues—shorter term issues—that he and the Government are having to face with regard particularly to Brexit legislation, the longer term commitment to taking a serious look at incorporating the conventions into Welsh law and how that might best be done does not get lost?

Well, I'm happy to give the Member that reassurance. This is very much a live discussion within Government. As I mentioned, the socioeconomic duty in section 1 of the equality Act, together with the work of the gender equality review, under the leadership of Dr Alison Parken, and the existence, obviously, of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, provide the landscape within which to consider the sorts of issues that I think she knows from our previous discussions I also set to great store on, as does the Government generally.

One of the critical aspects of our departure from the European Union is the loss of access to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which has delivered great benefits to the UK, and we will seek to make sure that we can, as best we can, ensure that people in Wales don't lose rights that they certainly didn't vote to lose during the referendum in 2016.

3. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Thank you, Llywydd. There is one change to this week's business. The Business Committee has agreed to the withdrawal of tomorrow's statement by the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the papers available to Members electronically.

Can I call for two statements, please, firstly on prostate cancer diagnosis and management in Wales? Twelve days ago, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, or NICE, updated their guidelines for prostate cancer diagnosis and management in England and Wales, recommending, amongst other things, that active surveillance should be offered as a primary option for men with low-risk localised prostate cancer. And the changes in the updated guidelines included the statement that men should be offered multiparametric magnetic resonance imaging, or mpMRI scans, before biopsy if they're suspected to have localised prostate cancer.

Prostate Cancer UK stated this breakthrough diagnostic technique should now be made available in all parts of Wales in the future, ending the current variation in access that has resulted in some men paying privately for scans. In March last year, NHS England announced it was launching a one-stop service using MRI techniques for timely diagnosis in England. Last December, NICE issued new draft guidance recommending pre-biopsy mpMRI for suspected prostate cancer. In January, the Welsh Government Minister for Health and Social Services, sitting to your right—Mr Gething—wrote to Assembly Members stating he'd asked all health boards to work with the Welsh Urology Board to ensure they have full implementation plans. In the same letter, he said that health boards confirmed that, at present, they deliver care in line with current guidance. However, when I had a meeting with Betsi Cadwaladr last December with a patient, they formally apologised for not having delivered care in accordance with NICE guidance for post-biopsy mpMRI and confirmed that they would be recompensing the men who had paid accordingly.

As Prostate Cancer states, mpMRI revolutionises prostate cancer diagnosis. The Welsh Government should therefore respond to their calls and those of others, including Tenovus Cancer Care, for the Welsh Government to ensure that mpMRI is now available across Wales. Although Mr Gething told the Assembly in March that when NICE recommends pre-biopsy mpMRI, he will expect all health boards in Wales to amend their pathways accordingly, he must therefore now go further and ensure that they do. I call for a statement accordingly on a matter that has occupied much time in this Chamber and generated a number of issues.

Yes, just as your request for it has occupied much time in this Chamber. Please can you come to the second one and do it as quickly as you can, because I have many, many speakers who also want to participate, including some from your own group?

14:50

Thank you for your perseverance. Secondly and finally, could I call for a statement on the Welsh Government's approach to justice for armed forces veterans who face prosecution and their engagement, if any, with the UK Government over this? This weekend, hundreds of protesters marched through Cardiff in support of veterans being prosecuted for historic offences in Northern Ireland, coinciding with protests by veterans across the UK. In 2014, it was discovered that Mr Blair's Government had done a secret deal as part of the Good Friday negotiations, in which letters were sent to known IRA members involved in terrorism, assuring them they would not face prosecution in the future. Last week, the defence Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, announced plans for legislation to provide stronger protection from repeated investigations into historical allegations for veterans in Iran and Afghanistan, but she also said, although this wouldn't apply in Northern Ireland, she intended to find a way they could be afforded similar protection—and I conclude here—saying that dealing with the treatment of Northern Ireland veterans was a personal priority for her. Has the Welsh Government taken a position on this, will it do so, given the protests in Cardiff and the impact on many people living in Wales, and what dialogue has it had, if any, with the UK Government? 

I'm happy to provide an update today with regard to your first question, relating to prostate cancer. Of course, patients should have access to investigations for cancer in line with national guidance, and this should be delivered consistently across Wales. Mark Isherwood outlined that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published updated guidance on the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer on 9 May. Health boards that do not currently provide care in line with this guidance are due to submit their implementation plans to the Welsh Government by 3 June, and then the Welsh Government will be meeting with health boards on 19 June to review these plans, and implementation timescales will depend on the content of those plans.

The issue relating to armed forces veterans is not an issue that is devolved to the Welsh Government, so I suggest that the Member takes it up with the relevant UK Government Minister.

Trefnydd, last Friday, I attended a public meeting in Cwmllynfell in Neath Port Talbot, along with other Members of this place, to discuss the closure of the medical surgery in the village—a decision that will ultimately be made by the Swansea Bay University Health Board. Although the surgery is located in Cwmllynfell, it’s part of the Amman Tawe partnership, which serves populations in Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot and Powys and encompasses three health boards, namely Hywel Dda, Swansea bay and Powys. Now, it’s clear that people in Cwmllynfell don’t want to lose their local surgery, with many concerned about the problems in accessing other locations using public transport, such as Ystalyfera and Pontardawe. Now, there’s a large population, of around 11,000 people, in this relatively rural area, from Cwmtwrch, Ystradowen, Cwmllynfell, Gwauncaegurwen and Brynaman, which are miles away from any urban centres. Although the Swansea bay health board will make the final decision, what has emerged is that the decision needs to have input from each of the three health boards involved. Would the Welsh Government therefore be willing to make a statement on this issue and review the process of deciding on the future of primary healthcare services when those services are provided across more than one health board, particularly where the location, as in this case, with a very high number of residents and a long way from everywhere else, crosses three health boards. Thank you.

Thank you very much for raising this issue, and I will ask the health Minister to write to you with regard to the Welsh Government's approach and the advice and guidance that we provide in terms of health provision that does cross boundaries, although you'll appreciate that, at this point, we wouldn't be able to comment on the specific example that you gave.FootnoteLink

I would like to ask for two statements. Firstly, as the business manager knows, it was May 2018 when the closure of the Virgin Media centre in Swansea was announced. Last August, Virgin Media said that the Llansamlet site would close by July 2019. Virgin Media said at the time,

'We will be meeting with the Welsh Assembly Government taskforce in the near future, as well as other employers in the area, to identify other opportunities for people impacted by this decision.'

Can I ask for a Welsh Government update on the work of the taskforce and on the number of employees who have found alternative employment?

Secondly, can I ask regarding Dawnus? I'm asking for a Government statement outlining what support has been given to staff who lost their jobs following the closure of Dawnus, which affects your constituents as much as it affects mine. What further help will be provided and, also, how many of the former Dawnus employees have found alternative employment?

14:55

I thank Mike Hedges for raising this issue and the concern that he's shown for some time about the workers at both Virgin and Dawnus. With regard to Virgin, I can say that, since the announcement of the closure, the employees at Virgin Media have been supported by Careers Wales, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Welsh Contact Centre Forum and the ReAct programme. The support has included careers advice, retraining support and the job fairs to which Mike Hedges referred. To date, of 192 leavers, 92 per cent have successfully been redeployed as part of the outplacement programme, the majority of which have been through those job fairs, and seven individuals have transferred to other jobs within Virgin Media. In terms of ReAct, 44 vocational training grants have been awarded, and two companies have been awarded wage subsidies in respect of Virgin Media workers, and there will be another series of job fairs in the second week of June, just coming up.

With regard to Dawnus, working with the official receiver, the taskforce have identified 430 direct former employees of the business and those who have addresses in Wales. The Welsh staff affected have been provided with the relevant redundancy information, and they've also been provided with advice on how to access support from the Welsh Government's ReAct programme, Careers Wales and the DWP's Jobcentre Plus. So, the kind of support that's been made available ranges from practical advice and guidance around CV writing to vocational training subsidies and also wage subsidy support for employers recruiting displaced staff. And also the taskforce is working with the Construction Industry Training Board to ensure that apprentices affected are found new placements with employers, where appropriate, to complete their training and also to find long-term employment.

Organiser, could we have a statement from the transport Minister, please, in relation to the train network and the new roll-out of the service that Transport for Wales are undertaking across Wales? I appreciate that it was only in October that the franchise was taken over, but, in evidence to the transport and the economy committee, James Price, the chief executive of Transport for Wales, said that there were going to be many changes this May that passengers would start to enjoy. We know, this year, for example, that there are going to be 160 new carriages coming on the network, yet 89 are going to be taken off, and anyone who looks at social media this morning can see the crammed carriages that are still in existence on the network. I appreciate Transport for Wales are doing their best within difficult circumstances, but an understanding of a timeline of when these new introductions will come, especially in the next 12 months, would be most appreciated, certainly by this Member and I'm sure by other Members, so that we can correspond with our constituents. Just blindly saying that 2022 is the eureka moment, because that seems to be when a lot of new rolling stock will be arriving, really isn't going to buy a lot of credit with the travelling public at the moment. So, if we could have an update on the proposals that were brought before the transport and economy committee and where we are at with those proposals, I think that would be most welcome.

Thank you very much. I do recognise that there's huge interest in terms of Transport for Wales, and I will ask the Minister with responsibility for the economy and transport to consider when would be the best time to update Members. I would point to a statement that Ken Skates is making this afternoon, on the Global Centre of Rail Excellence in Wales, which will certainly give an opportunity for Members who do have an interest in this area to ask some questions specifically related at least to that part of the agenda.

In these fractious political times, achieving the goal of 1 million Welsh speakers is something that can unite almost every Assembly Member. Reaching this target will take a lot of effort and determination over a number of different areas, and Welsh courses for adults are a crucial component. Unfortunately, Welsh learning is not treated the same as English learning courses, because English courses are exempt from VAT, whereas Welsh courses are not. This is clearly something that's very unfair.

Now, I was pleased to see that this injustice garnered attention and support on social media from Tory and Labour Members of this Senedd, including the Minister. So, can we present a united front to lobby the UK Treasury, through the Minister, to correct this anomaly so that Welsh language courses can have the VAT exemption enjoyed by their English language counterparts?

I want to bring up the issue of bowel cancer. Recent research has been conducted over a decade and found a sharp rise in this type of cancer among younger people. We all know too well on the Plaid Cymru benches the devastating impact of this concerning trend. Experts are now calling for the screening age to be lowered to 45. Wales does not screen for bowel cancer until the age of 60. I know that there are plans to bring Wales in line with Scotland, where people are screened from the age of 50, but this is not going to happen until 2023. So, can this Government please bring that target forward and consider lowering the screening age to comply with the latest medical advice?

15:00

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

Thank you for raising both of these issues. Certainly, setting rates of VAT is not a matter for the Welsh Government, but we were as concerned as you were when it was brought to our attention that whilst there was a VAT exemption in place for English as a foreign language courses that are provided on a commercial basis, the same exemption is not available for Welsh language courses, and that's why I wrote to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury setting out that, as an official language of the UK, there should be a level playing field for the Welsh language, and the same VAT exemption should apply in relation to the Welsh language. Clearly, there is cross-party support for this; I think that is very welcome indeed.

On the matter of the screening ages for bowel cancer, I'll ask the Minister for health to write to you with the latest progress, certainly, in terms of the first instance, moving towards lowering that age to 50, but then with information about wider plans for the longer term in terms of what we're able to do to support the bowel cancer screening agenda, particularly with regard to increasing our capacity in order to undertake those tests.FootnoteLink

The Open University is an example of what a Prime Minister can achieve if they pursue something with single-minded determination. It was Harold Wilson's Government that conceived the 'university of the air', and it was introduced in 1969, now approaching, this year, its fiftieth anniversary as the Open University. The Open University delivers distance learning to around 9,000 people in Wales, over 200,000 students in Wales have studied with the OU since 1969, and three quarters of students are working full or part time when they study. Almost 40 per cent of OU students begin studying without standard university entry criteria, and over 40 per cent come from widening access areas. The Diamond reforms that the Government has introduced to increase flexibility of provision have seen a surge of part-time students in Wales that hasn't occurred elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and I think it is therefore timely that we talk about where we go next. Therefore, would the Government, in Government time, have a debate on how part-time higher education can deliver more degree apprenticeships and address the skills shortages we will face in the future, with particular reference to that kind of part-time study that's supported by the university of the air, the Open University?

Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to compliment and thank the Open University for the work that it's undertaken over the last 50 years, and the important work that it's done in terms of opening up learning and qualification opportunities to people. The Minister for Education is here, so she will have heard your request in terms of an opportunity to debate the importance of part-time HE, particularly in terms of degrees for higher-level apprenticeships.

I'd like to call for two statements. Firstly, late last week we learned that the latest scientific thinking is that air pollution penetrates every single organ in our body, and the World Health Organization is calling this an air pollution emergency. I was very grateful to hear that the Conservative Party is supporting the call for a clean air zone in Cardiff, as well as in Wrexham, Newport and Swansea, and I will make sure that the leader of Cardiff council is aware of that. Pending the action that Cardiff council must take to protect its citizens, based on extensive UK Government research that shows that deterring polluting vehicles from city centres and towns is by far the most cost-effective way to cut nitrogen dioxide pollution, could we in the light of the latest scientific thinking on this matter have a statement from the Minister for health about what Public Health Wales is doing to promote the actions that public authorities must take to protect us all? For example, encouraging more walking and cycling for short journeys is one of the asks that the scientists are calling for.

Secondly, and in relation to this, Julie Morgan and I, amongst other elected representatives from Cardiff and Newport, went on a mystery bus tour on Friday on an electric bus, which was absolutely fantastic, with all the latest Wi-Fi, really comfortable—absolutely the opposite to the image that bus travel has. Cardiff is now exploring procuring large numbers of this particular bus, which is produced in Scarborough in partnership with BYD, which is based in China. It's very exciting, because they won this Welsh Government award to clean up their public transport—with £5.7 million from the Welsh Government. I wondered if we could have a statement from the Minister for Economy and Transport on how we're going to roll out electric buses across our cities in Wales, not just in Cardiff. Thank you very much.

15:05

Thank you very much. I am pleased to confirm that there will be a statement on clean air before the summer recess. I know the Minister for the environment will be making that statement. I hear that your particular concern is in relation to what contribution Public Health Wales and the health agenda can make to that, so I'll be sure that the statement does, obviously, have full input from colleagues right across Government.

With regard to the issue of electric buses, I will certainly ask the Minister with responsibility for transport to provide you with an update there. But I can say that we have had some recent success with bids for UK ultra-low emission bus services. So, Cardiff city council had a grant of £5.6 million, Stagecoach South Wales had £2.8 million, and Newport Transport had £1 million to develop their services using electric buses.

Can I call for a statement from the Minister responsible for heritage on Welsh religious buildings? I read with dismay in the media over the weekend about the potential alternative use of the Norwegian church here in Cardiff Bay, which, of course, is a historic church, not just for the Norwegian community, but also internationally because it's the oldest Norwegian church actually outside of Norway, and it's a very prominent part of life in the Bay, as all Assembly Members will know. I understand that Cardiff council are seeking to make the venue more commercially viable, but I am concerned that that's got be done in a very sensitive way, in order to protect what is an incredibly important part of Christian heritage for Wales. I wonder if we could have a statement on what work the Welsh Government is doing with Cadw and others to make sure that buildings like this are listed—because I understand that the Norwegian church isn't yet a listed building, which I find astonishing—in order to make sure that we can protect these sorts of places for future generations to enjoy.

The Minister with responsibility for culture and heritage is here in the Chamber to hear your contribution, and you're absolutely right that the Norwegian church is a very central and important part of life here in Cardiff Bay. I'll ask the Minister to provide you with an update on Welsh Government and Cadw's approach to protecting buildings of particular Welsh religious heritage and interest.

Trefnydd, on many occasions, I've raised in this Chamber concerns of my constituents regarding the remedies and support they seek as a consequence of failing cavity insulation. That cavity insulation has been installed under Welsh Government grants very often, and has been underwritten by the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency. Very often, those constituents have contacted CIGA and have received responses that are challenging the actual assertion that the cavity insulation has failed, and putting the blame back on the owner of the property. Now, many of those individuals cannot afford the remedies that are required. As a consequence, this is clearly a question of what are CIGA going to be doing about this.

The last time I raised it, the chief executive wrote to me indicating he'll be happy to listen to concerns of constituents, and he'll be getting a few letters from me in that response. But they were Welsh Government projects, and they have been underwritten by CIGA, which I'm sure Welsh Government supported. So, I want a statement from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to ask the question as to what Welsh Government will do for these individuals, because very often, these individuals shouldn't be in the position of coming to see me. The remedy should have been done by the underwriting guarantor. And if not them, perhaps the Welsh Government, who actually funded the initial work in the first place.

So, can we have a statement as to what the Welsh Government will be doing to help individuals who find themselves in this position? They end up in a battle with CIGA to say what's actually gone wrong. CIGA often say the wall has broken down and it's the fault of the cladding, and not the fault of the cavity insulation in the first place, when there's been a survey showing actually they're wrong, and that it is a fault with the cavity insulation. But, Welsh Government actually funded the project in the first place. Can we have a statement as to what Welsh Government will be doing to support those individuals to ensure that they get the remedies, they get the cavity wall insulation fixed and repaired, and that they don't have to find thousands of pounds, which they haven't got?

15:10

Again, the Minister for environment has been here to hear your contribution and the description of the challenges and the problems that your constituents and others have faced regarding cavity insulation work. Can I ask you to write directly to the Minister with information about particular cases you're concerned about? I'm sure that she will respond.

I received the Armed Forces Covenant annual report for Wales last week, and I do welcome that update. I've recently been working with Care After Combat. I had a meeting with them in my office. They have operations in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend, and they go into prisons and they actually do save millions of pounds to the Welsh Government and the UK Government for the work that they do with former veterans who are currently prisoners. So, I was a bit disappointed that there was no recognition in this particular annual report of any of the work that they do. I would like to request a statement from the Welsh Government on the work that they do with Care After Combat and whether the Welsh Government would be happy to meet with the charity, with the Minister responsible, to see how they can go about aiding them in their future work here in Wales.

My second question was with regard to whether we could have a statement on any specific actions the Welsh Government are taking in relation to street harassment experienced by girls. I know that the campaigners have asked for specific references as to how the Welsh Government are operating, but the Welsh Government has come back and said that the violence against women Act covers all elements of harassment. But that doesn't explain to us exactly what is happening in relation to street harassment. So, could we have a statement from Welsh Government, as this is a rising trend, sadly, on our streets here in Wales?

In relation to your first question, which sought Welsh Government recognition of the work that Care after Combat does with individuals who have served in the armed forces, I know Welsh Government has had a long-standing relationship with the organisation. I met with them in my previous role when I was responsible for housing, to talk about how we can best prevent people who have previously served our country from becoming homeless. I know that the Welsh Government has more recently also met with representatives of Care After Combat and there is an ongoing dialogue with that organisation. 

Moving on to the issue of street harassment, clearly it's something of concern to all of us. From the Welsh Government's perspective, part of the way in which we'll prevent this from happening, really, is about challenging those kinds of mindsets where people do think it's appropriate to harass—usually women—in the street. We're doing that through campaigns such as Don't Be a Bystander, and that demonstrates the positive impact of offering support to victims. Also there's the work we're doing through This is Me, which challenges gender stereotypes. And again, there's the work that we're doing in schools with children and young people to help them develop a strong sense of healthy relationships and a strong understanding of what is expected of them and what they should be able to expect from other people. 

Could I ask for one debate? I know we've recently had a debate on rugby, which mainly focused at the regional level, but I'd like to seek a debate at some point on community and grass-roots rugby, because it would allow us then to talk about the challenges, but also the successes, not least last weekend, when Maesteg 7777s, the Old Parish, of which I'm proud to be president, gained promotion into the next league above, and when Nantyffyllon on the same day gained promotion—my son was playing for them as well, I have to say—they gained promotion and won the Silver Ball competition of all the Welsh teams. These are two local Valleys teams with tremendous pedigree, real grass-roots champions. And the Valley Ravens, who do so much with mini and junior rugby in the Ogmore and Garw Valleys, where it was looking as if it was on its knees at one point, but they've really built it back up. And also to pay tribute to some of the longest serving champions of grass-roots community rugby as well—people like Mr Leighton Williams, the long-serving secretary of Ogmore Vale Rugby Club, who unfortunately passed away only very recently after years and years of service. 

Could I also ask for a statement on Government progress on the work streams that have flowed from the Valleys taskforce work? Because I think some of us would particularly like to speak up for the proposals there around a regional park. In fact, we'd probably like it to go further and to have some sort of national designation and look at what we can do in terms of—as we've just declared a climate emergency—biodiversity challenges and what that could contribute if we had real scale and ambition behind it. And also talk about, in the Valleys taskforce streams, how the wonderful pilot of the bus transport that is now looking at delivering people down out of their normal work hours by bus to Treforest and Llantrisant could be extended rapidly to other areas like Gilfach and the Garw and the Ogmore valleys as well. So, a statement on that and a debate on community grass-roots rugby would be very welcome indeed. 

15:15

Thank you very much for raising the issue of grass-roots rugby and, of course, the Minister with responsibility for community sport will have heard your request for that debate. I know that our colleague Jayne Bryant has a question specifically on the importance of community sport and active recreation in the Chamber tomorrow, and I know it's something that both of you champion very regularly. 

In relation to the Valleys taskforce, I can confirm that it is the intention of the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport to bring forward a statement to the Assembly on the Valleys taskforce, but, in the meantime, I can just provide a brief update on the Valleys regional park. The sites identified as discovery gateways for the Valleys regional park submitted bids for capital funding from the £7 million fund announced for 2019-20—so, £3.5 million and, in 2021, a further £3.5 million—on 10 May and officials are currently working through those grants and assessing the bids, and decisions for the investment will be hopefully made in June.

Trefnydd, I'd like to request three statements from the Welsh Government today. Firstly, I'd like to ask for a statement from you as Finance Minister on preparations to create a vacant land tax. This is something that I've welcomed, as it could be a key driver to tackle land banking, to promote regeneration and community well-being, so I wonder how plans for this are proceeding.

Secondly, I'd welcome a statement from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on the Welsh Government's response to the child poverty statistics that were released last week. It was no joy for me to see a ward in my constituency topping the list of areas with the highest child poverty. I'm meeting with the End Child Poverty coalition soon, and I note that, although there are lots of Welsh Government interventions taking place, the key levers that they have identified are not devolved. A statement or a debate in Government time could give the opportunity to take stock of this very important situation. 

Finally, I'd welcome a statement or a debate in Government time on the shared prosperity fund. We all know the promises that were made three years ago, that Wales would be not a penny worse off after Brexit, but there are many people who are very concerned about the future of the shared prosperity fund and how it will operate, especially considering that Wales has been a net beneficiary from the EU for all these years. The cross-party group on industrial communities has heard some particularly worrying evidence that we are no closer to seeing how any shared prosperity fund will operate. So, could we have a debate in Government time to discuss a response to this?

Thank you very much. Relating to your first query, which was on the status of the vacant land tax work, we are currently negotiating the devolution of competence with HM Treasury, and the timescales of this process are not entirely within the gift of the Welsh Government or the National Assembly. However, we do hope that powers will be devolved this year and a timetable agreed as part of the official discussions that are currently taking place. 

On the matter of child poverty, we are familiar with the End Child Poverty coalition's report and not surprised by what it includes, including the reported increase in levels of child poverty in Wales. Analysis by a range of respected organisations, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, have all predicted a significant rise in levels of poverty, including child poverty, in the coming years as a direct result of the UK Government's tax and welfare reforms. The impact of these is falling disproportionately on those vulnerable groups who are less able to manage the changes—this includes families with children and single-parent households. Of course, the two-child limit and the freeze in working-age benefits are particularly detrimental. So, as I say, we are aware of the report and it will certainly inform and challenge us, and will help us with our thinking in terms of how we respond or continue to respond to this challenge. I know that the Minister with responsibility for child poverty—the local government and housing Minister—is very aware of the report.

Your final request was for a debate in Government time on the shared prosperity fund. Our colleague David Rees made a similarly compelling case for it during the Plenary session last week, and I am more than happy to bring forward that debate in the coming weeks.

15:20

I can see we're pressed for time, so I'll jump straight into my request. Can I request a statement following a report from the Children's Commissioner for England, which has found that hundreds of children with autism and learning disabilities are admitted to mental health hospitals where they can suffer nightmarish failures of care? Albeit that that report is focused on England, we need to ensure that this doesn't happen in Wales to our future generations, like those who have just entered the gallery this afternoon.

That report found shocking evidence of poor and restrictive practices, such as sedation, segregation and the use of physical restraints. So, can I request an urgent statement, in oral or written form, from the Minister for health, updating Members on the services being provided, just to ensure peace of mind for all of us in here that our constituents—our future generations of Wales—are being treated effectively and well?

Thank you for raising this particular issue, which is, obviously, concerning. I will ask the Minister for health to write to you to provide the reassurances and the peace of mind that you are seeking in terms of the Welsh Government's approach to supporting children and the mental health of young people.

We do take a broad approach to improving the mental health of young people, from prevention and early intervention through to improving access to specialist services, and we've committed an additional £7.1 million this year to support this approach. Of course, we have our Healthy Child Wales programme and our investment in work on adverse childhood experiences, which forms part of the focus on our early years support. The Minister for health and the education Minister will be jointly giving evidence to the Children, Young People and Education Committee after recess, and that demonstrates, really, the whole-of-Government approach that we are taking here.

But, in relation to specialist child and adolescent mental health services, we do expect 80 per cent of children to be seen within the 28-days-of-referral target. To ensure that health boards are able to meet that target consistently, from March 2018 we've provided an additional £300,000 to improve access by running additional clinic sessions. Over the last two years, performance has improved significantly, with fewer young people waiting excessive times to access support, but, clearly, we all know there's much more to be done in this area.

With so many children using social media, gaming and messaging sites, children and young people are increasingly exposed to the threat of abuse or exploitation from both adults and their peers. Ofcom estimates that children and young people spend an average of 15 hours online per week, and 70 per cent of recorded offences of sexual communications with a child in Wales and England in 2017-18 took place on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. 

We know that groomers use social networks to target significant numbers of children, and new types of technology have provided opportunities for abusers to control and to coerce children into increasingly extreme forms of abuse. 

At last week's meeting of the cross-party group on preventing child sexual abuse, which I chair, we heard from a young person at first hand about their experiences of online grooming and the lasting effects it had. It's vital that young people have access to the support they need at the time and when they seek to deal with their experiences later on in life. 

I've tabled a statement of opinion on tackling online abuse and would urge Members to support this. I'd like to ask for a debate in Government time on what actions the Government can do to keep children and young people safer online.

15:25

Thank you for raising what is an incredibly important issue. The internet can be a wonderful place, but at the same time there are dark corners where serious dangers do lurk for children and young people. It's important that we work to protect children and young people online, but also help them to develop the kind of resilience that actually young people do need to face the kinds of challenges that we never faced when we were much younger people. But I will ask the Minister with responsibility for education to provide you with an update on the Welsh Government's work in what is an incredibly important area. 

I'd like a Welsh Government statement of congratulations for Jess Fishlock. She won a winner's medal in the UEFA Women's Champions League playing for Lyon against Barcelona. There are only five other footballers in Wales—she was born in Cardiff—but there are only five other footballers in Wales who have achieved such an honour at such an elite level. Speaking as a football fan, somebody who's played football from a very young age when I was younger, it's inspiring to see how well women are doing in football now in Wales—the national team. And seeing people like Jess Fishlock, it's great for her to encourage youngsters playing the game. And I'll put a plug in as well for Fairwater Junior Girls FC, who won the under-12s league as well locally. They're a great team and it would be great if you could formally congratulate Jess in this Chamber on behalf of everyone here. Diolch yn fawr. 

Thank you for raising this issue and, of course, I'd be more than delighted to congratulate Jess Fishlock on her significant achievements, and the role that she is carving out for herself in terms of being a real inspiration to young people, and young women and young girls particularly. Football is one of the fastest growing sports for young girls, and I think that's something really to be celebrated. Along with passing on our congratulations to Jess Fishlock, obviously we congratulate Fairwater girls for their under-12s win as well. I'm sure you'll pass on our congratulations.    

4. Statement by the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip: Justice Blueprints

The next item on our agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip on justice blueprints, and I call on the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, Jane Hutt. 

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd.

People who enter the criminal justice system in Wales are often some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. Too frequently, people are caught up in the criminal justice system because they have been failed earlier in their lives, suffering multiple adverse childhood experiences. Sometimes, these experiences continue well into their adult lives.

The Wales Governance Centre report at the beginning of the year highlighted that Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe. The report helped us establish a much clearer picture of sentencing and custody in Wales, and it is already influencing our current and future work around offending. In Wales, we are ideally placed, through our Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, to focus on the root causes of offending and to prioritise prevention through collaboration, integration and long-term planning.

The blueprints and implementation plans for youth justice and female offending being published today set out our approach to the delivery of justice services in Wales. This approach has a clear focus on early intervention and prevention, one that focuses on how we provide support to divert people away from crime in the first place, but also one which takes a holistic and rehabilitative approach to those who slip through that net. I would like to thank my predecessor, Alun Davies, for the work he carried out to bring us to this significant point of progress.

I wish also to recognise the work of the Thomas commission, which is considering the future operation of the justice system in Wales. I look forward to seeing Lord Thomas's report, which we are due to receive this autumn, and will, of course, factor that important work into our work on the blueprints moving forward.

While responsibility for the justice system in Wales rests with the UK Government, delivery of justice services here is inextricably linked to devolved services—health and social services, education, learning and skills, and housing. All of these services play a vitally important role in both the prevention of offending, but also in the rehabilitation of offenders. I welcome last week's announcement on the renationalisation of the probation service. This Government is fully supportive of the reunification of the probation service in Wales, which will take place before the end of this year.

We recognise, of course, the importance of working in partnership with the UK Government to deliver a collaborative approach to crime and justice. The Welsh Affairs Committee report on prison provision in Wales is very timely. We are moving forward with the implementation of the blueprints, whilst giving consideration to the issues arising from the report that relate to our responsibilities. I also welcomed David Hanson’s review of offender education in Wales, and will continue to work closely with Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service on the recommendations and seek to make improvements in those areas. 

We are working jointly with the Ministry of Justice to deliver improvements in a number of areas, for instance through our shared plan for prison health and well-being and the mental health crisis concordat, and the justice blueprints themselves. Over recent months, I have held a number of meetings with Edward Argar, Under-Secretary of State for Justice, former Minister for Prisons, Rory Stewart, and Minister for Policing, Nick Hurd. These meetings will continue to take place regularly as we move into the delivery phase of this important work.

Over the coming months, officials from across many departments within the Welsh Government, HM Prison and Probation Service and the Youth Justice Board will continue to work together with a range of stakeholders in the areas of justice, health and education. This continued engagement will provide an opportunity to further develop our new approaches to youth justice and female offending and to scope the views of stakeholders on proposed developments. 

I am grateful to the Youth Justice Board Cymru for its work and for its support in developing the youth justice blueprint, which builds on the key themes of the Charlie Taylor review of the youth justice system of England and Wales, but focuses on the system and support provided in Wales.

While the numbers of young Welsh people in custody has reduced significantly, many are in custody away from their homes, family and communities. The youth justice blueprint sets out a commitment for realising how devolved and non-devolved services can work together to realise children’s rights and develop a youth justice system in Wales that is based on rights-based principles.

The growing evidence of the impact of adverse childhood experiences—ACEs—is a key element in the Welsh Government’s approach, predicated on the basis of early intervention and prevention, a key feature of the youth justice blueprint. Welsh Government funding through the promoting positive engagement for young people at risk of offending grant is already offering preventative and diversionary support to young people at risk of offending in Wales.

As outlined in the implementation plan, it is our aspiration to develop a youth justice system that treats children with fairness and respect. We aim to help reduce the number of children in the system through effective diversion and prevention, and by addressing the vulnerabilities that often lead to a crime.

The female offending blueprint addresses the issue of women and the criminal justice system. I strongly endorse the principles set out in Baroness Jean Corston’s important report on this issue. Over 10 years have passed since Baroness Corston’s review, but the principles contained within it are as relevant today as they were then. It is clear that often women are sent to prison for low-level summary offences. The use of short-term prison sentences for women, and men too, who have not committed serious offences can have a catastrophic impact on them and their families. Short sentences do not enable rehabilitation in its fullest sense. Those handed short-term custodial sentences are often not in prison long enough to be able to complete programmes designed to achieve rehabilitation.

We need an urgent solution for female offending in Wales. There are around 250 Welsh women currently held in prison in England. The issues associated with being a long way from home facing Welsh women offenders and their families are considerable, and a very real concern in respect of the impact on children in particular, but also the rehabilitation of the offender. 

I'm exploring with the UK Government options for, and the implications of, the location of proposed new residential centres for female offenders. I've already made the case for at least one of these to be located in Wales, so that women can be in an environment that supports their needs, including rehabilitation and the ability to remain connected with family, friends and the wider community. I was pleased to see that the Welsh Affairs Committee’s report on prison provision in Wales highlighted concerns about the provision for distinct groups of people such as female offenders and made specific recommendations for residential centres for women to be established in Wales. I would like to thank our partners, particularly HM Prison and Probation Service for its work with us in developing the blueprint for female offending. 

The blueprints I am publishing today set out our key aspirations for women and young people in or at risk of entering the criminal justice system, and the guiding principles through which we aim to deliver these changes. Alongside the blueprints, I'm also publishing implementation plans that clearly and concisely highlight the issues and recommendations for each area, while also indicating, importantly, the work we are already doing. Together, these form the basis of a robust plan for action over the course of this Assembly and beyond. Over the coming months, each of the recommendations will be considered further, including and involving a full assessment of the impacts and feasibility of the proposals.

15:35

I thank the Deputy Minister for her meeting and pre-briefing on these justice blueprints on youth justice and female offending this morning, because when it comes to these issues, as well as wider offending, it is right to focus on early intervention and prevention. As we heard from the Deputy Minister, the Wales Governance Centre's report in January, 'Sentencing and Immediate Custody in Wales: A Factfile', found that Wales has the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe. It also found that, although the number of prison sentences rose in Wales between 2010 and 2017, they fell 16 per cent in England. I welcome the Deputy Minister's recognition of the importance of working in partnership with the UK Government and the Ministry of Justice to deliver improvements and the collaborative approach to crime and justice. 

When we debated probation service reform here last October, I noted that last August I attended the stakeholder engagement in Wrexham by HM Prison and Probation Service in Wales to discuss future probation services in Wales and the proposals contained in the 'Strengthening probation, building confidence' consultation paper. We heard that the proposals in Wales consulted on are that from 2020 all offender management services will sit with the National Probation Service, and that HM Prison and Probation Service in Wales will explore options for the commissioning of rehabilitative services, such as interventions and community payback.

The Deputy Minister referred to last week's UK Ministry of Justice response to the consultation, on 'Strengthening probation, building confidence', which confirmed that, in the future, the National Probation Service will have responsibility for managing all offenders on a community order or licence following release from prison. It also confirms, as we know, that the Welsh Government has legislative competence in respect of devolved matters, including health, housing, social welfare and education, and this presents a different delivery landscape for probation services in Wales. How, therefore, does the Deputy Minister respond to the statement by the Ministry of Justice in this response that they intend for the provision of additional services and interventions to be put out to tender to enable a range of providers and voluntary sector organisations to compete to deliver them? Very clearly, they have the expertise and connectivity on the ground to deliver that prevention and early intervention.

You state that we need an urgent solution for female offending in Wales, quite rightly. You refer to women currently held in prison in England—around 250. Your refer to the issues associated with being a long way from home facing Welsh women offenders and their families being considerable. But, of course, criminal activity doesn't always recognise national or regional boundaries, and 48 per cent of people in Wales live within 25 miles of the border with England, 90 per cent within 50 miles. And, where I live in north Wales, Styal is only 40 miles away, whereas a women's centre or prison in central or south Wales would be a far greater disconnection from family. So, how better does the Minister consider that we can ensure that the devolved services can reach offenders within Styal prison or other prisons where women offenders from Wales are currently held, alongside the wider reforms, which I support her in seeking?

As you said, the UK Government has rejected community prisons for women, and will instead trial five residential centres to help women offenders with issues such as finding work and drug rehabilitation across England and Wales. The Ministry of Justice is also considering banning short prison sentences in England and Wales. It is recognised these are less effective at cutting reoffending than community penalties.

You referred to last week's report on prison provision in Wales from the Welsh Affairs Committee. How do you respond, given your statement that you think we should have at least one, I think, women's residential centre in Wales, to the call of the Welsh Affairs Committee for women's residential centres to be set up in north and south Wales to enable Welsh offenders to be closer to home? 

You refer to adverse childhood experiences—ACEs. How, again, do you respond to the statement in the Welsh Affairs Committee report that the Ministry of Justice should tackle gang-related problems in Her Majesty's youth offending institution Parc, including a consideration of introducing smaller, custodial units to place younger people closer to home? I mentioned this morning in our meeting Neath young offenders' home, which I visited several years ago as part of a committee inquiry, and when the institution's child psychiatrist told me that a large number of young people who committed offences arrive medicated and it was only when he was able to detox them, get them off the medication, that they could start putting the early intervention and prevention in that had been missed before the crimes were committed. What action do you propose or will you consider to update us on that and establish whether that problem still exists and how we can better ensure that those young people are not simply medicated in future? 

Finally, and going back to the question about commissioning third sector services, again I mentioned this morning an example of a charity that I have taken Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service in Wales to meet during, or shortly after, the consultation event in Wrexham last year, which specifically works with these groups of young people, and which is currently doing great work with Jobcentre Plus in north Wales and was even hosted on their stand at the Royal Welsh Show last year. This was an example of how we can reach out to expertise that does exist within the Welsh community but which is not currently able to deliver the services it seeks to provide in preventing youth offending and supporting young people away from that route in life. Thank you.  

15:40

Thank you very much, Mark Isherwood. Thank you for those questions. And can I acknowledge your experience and interest in this field? In fact, I know, Mark, you've been involved in former committee inquiries in this Assembly and take a close interest, of course, in your region in terms of these services. I think your comment on the Wales Governance Centre findings are key to addressing these issues and enable us also to look at issues where we are looking for more assistance in understanding the nature of the need, for example, for more data-specific information as far as Wales needs, in terms of the criminal justice system, and that's something that, of course, I've discussed with the Ministry of Justice. But the Wales Governance Centre evidence is key to help us move forward with the development of these blueprints. 

We do welcome the future proposals for the probation service. They were announced last week, but obviously we already had, as you said, the specific proposals for Wales, which highlighted Wales's own legislative and policy landscape and the different partnership arrangements that exist in Wales. I spoke to the new Minister yesterday, Robert Buckland, and he acknowledged that we have got an opportunity here in Wales to do things differently by designing a better probation system, fit for purpose, that works for the people of Wales. Yes, the announcement did include the fact that there could be a continued role for the voluntary and private sector in the delivery of unpaid work and accredited programmes. That's something that we would want to discuss in terms of what that would mean. I know that there are concerns about that because the reunification has to be a reunification that gives the probation service and probation professionals a real opportunity to, again, re-embrace their role, particularly in this public service.

I think you also make key issues about the impact and the effectiveness of devolved services in reaching, for example, as you say, women in Styal prison. I'm visiting Eastwood Park next week, where we know that the reach, again in terms of devolved services and liaison, and the fact that, of course, many of those women, in both Styal and Eastwood Park, have got families, and circumstances, and engagement and liaison with their homes and communities is crucial—. I will be taking stock of the effectiveness of those devolved services. It's not just health and social services, of course; education, skills, learning, housing—these are crucial.

I also welcome the fact that you acknowledge the Welsh Affairs Committee's call for at least one—one in north Wales, I think they're saying, and one in south Wales—of the women's residential centres. I've said in my statement that I would like at least one. Obviously, they are suggesting that there could be five women's residential centres. What is very important also is that we can have an impact on the nature of those and scope of those centres. We are already having workshops between Welsh Government, Ministry of Justice officials and those partners who will have an impact and be able to shape those centres, and I look forward to an early announcement on this in terms of taking this forward.

Your points about youth justice are also important. I think Hillside, of course—and you commented on Hillside—I'd have to say that Care Inspectorate Wales have conducted a follow-up inspection of Hillside secure children's home and found that the facility's now compliant in all areas. The Youth Custody Service have set improvement standards for Hillside management, and also those have to be implemented. Of course, there were improvements required by Care Inspectorate Wales, and the Youth Custody Service will be monitoring progress on those standards.

I think the point you make about third sector organisations that have actually made a difference, and you told me about those earlier on, which actually are playing a part in terms of the diversionary, the preventative, the engagement, which, of course, acknowledges the impact of ACES on young people's lives—. It has been helped by the Welsh Government funding of the promoting positive engagement for young people at risk of offending grant. That's offering that kind of preventative and diversionary support to young people at risk, but it's also important that we acknowledge those third sector organisations as you've done today.

15:45

I welcome the reversal of the privatisation of the probation service. This money-making venture was widely criticised and warned against in the first place. But the private sector will still be part of the probation service; only 80 per cent of the probation work will be removed from privatisation. Now, Napo have raised concerns that the provision of unpaid work and accredited programmes still fall under the privatised system, and I share their concerns about that. Napo have said:

'We are obviously disappointed that there is an intention for some probation work to remain in the private sector. Napo will continue to campaign to ensure that all of these services and our members who provide them, are eventually transferred back into the public sector and that we will step up our efforts to secure pay parity for all probation staff.'

Would the Minister agree with me that devolving responsibility for criminal justice would allow us to take this issue out of the Tories' hands for good and operate a system that properly reduces offending as well as protecting communities from harmful offenders? And does she also agree that unpaid work and group work should be part of a united public probation service?

I'm pleased to see that the consideration for a Welsh women's prison is ruled out. Instead, a call for more community-based approaches is prominent right across the sector. The charity Women in Prison says that prison for women reinforces trauma, causes mental health issues and increases the risk of self-harm, whilst the Prison Reform Trust say that women released from prison are more likely to reoffend than those who are serving community sentences. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, says that distance from home and family is more acute for women prisoners and, therefore, a smaller community-based facility or facilities could produce better outcomes.

Clearly, there's a very strong case for new residential centres for women offenders in Wales. The Government's female offender strategy has called for 10 women's centres but for only one of those to be in Wales, and the Welsh Affairs Committee, to which my colleagues Liz Saville Roberts and Ben Lake contributed, have recommended that two are needed in Wales—one in the north and one in the south. Having just one centre in Wales wouldn't be good enough. There has to be provision at both ends of the country to mitigate the current issues that we have with distance.

So, what efforts are you making with the UK Government to emphasise the Welsh Affairs Committee's recommendation that at least two centres are located in Wales, and what can you do about the problem that was raised with me last week by one of the women offenders that our committee met in Eastwood Park Prison as part of an inquiry that we're doing, where the lack of approved premises for women means that some prisoners can't be released on tag, whereas others with a home address can? What can you do about approved premises for women offenders?

Whilst it's important to consider where and how best to deal with women offenders, it's also important to move the focus of the debate on to how we best tackle the underlying issues that cause offending. More needs to be done to take seriously the severe societal, family and personal consequences of placing women into prison, but, further to this, more needs to be done to tackle seriously the consequences and impact of a custodial sentence after release, and this goes for everyone, not just women prisoners.

Offenders are amongst the most vulnerable people in our society, and substance misuse, mental health problems, homelessness and reoffending are all by-products of entering the prison system unless we have schemes in place to support those people. Decent counselling for adverse childhood experiences is needed in order to combat traumatic effects on the family, health services in and out of prison are needed to combat addiction and mental health issues, and proper housing and prioritisation is needed to combat homelessness. So, I wonder if you can tell us, then, what can be done to tackle adverse childhood experiences, first of all when they happen in childhood, and, secondly, what can be done to help adult survivors of ACEs. Dealing with ACEs will undoubtedly reduce crime. Does the Minister agree with me on that point?

15:50

Thank you very much, Leanne Wood, also clearly speaking with your experience, coming to this Assembly with that experience and speaking up on these justice issues, and also recognising that the points that you have made today are very valid in terms of how we take forward the implementation of these blueprints. I also, in terms of the probation service and the fact that there was widespread welcome of the reunification of the probation service in Wales, when that was announced at an earlier stage, recognise the fact that there were also concerns raised about how that would play out in terms of some of the responsibilities that would remain with the private and third sector, and I spoke to Napo about that as well. But I think the proposed changes actually do provide an opportunity to revisit the national pathway and to look at re-examining the entire through the gate service in Wales to allow for differences in services, and they may be both voluntary and statutory, but I will be meeting with Napo again, and the prison and probation service, to look at how we can develop this bespoke approach in Wales.

You also make important points in terms of our criminal justice. The First Minister outlined three areas that we should begin a focus on in terms of crime and justice, with the devolution of the youth justice system and probation service to Wales and new powers in relation to women offenders. We know that the criminal justice system is currently the responsibility of the UK Government, but many of the services required to manage offenders and ex-offenders and promote rehabilitation are devolved to the Welsh Government, so we do look forward to the response of the Thomas commission. The fact that that was established in September 2017, taking evidence throughout last year, chaired, of course, by former Lord Chief Justice, John Thomas—it received 150 submissions from people with direct experience. So, that will be crucial to us when we receive this report in September in terms of moving this forward.

I think your points about female offending are key. I am pressing for more than one centre in Wales. I made that clear in my statement and I believe those centres have got to meet the needs of Wales. As I've already described, I'm meeting women offenders shortly when I visit Eastwood, and I'll look into that issue in terms of approved premises for women offenders, but I think it's interesting when we look at the kind of models that are being considered in terms of women's residential centres, because there have already been proposals made. There are, for example, discrete unit models, where women on the cusp of custody, who may struggle to comply with a community order, at risk of a custodial sentence—that would be referred through a community order with conditions attached to the centre, referred by probation on licence.

There's also the hub-and-spoke model, a sentence to community order with conditions attached to the centre, a phased support model, which also will—not only in terms of community order conditions, but other community orders and suspended sentence, referred by probation services on licence. So, there's a whole range of issues and options being looked at in terms of the potential for these women's centres.

We need to ensure that we look at those wider issues in terms of the preventative nature of the work that we're undertaking—that's where we have the devolved responsibilities—in terms of ACEs and the fact that this is about intervention and prevention at an early stage.

15:55

Can I start by saying how much I welcome the statement this afternoon and welcome publication of these blueprints? I should also say that I'm very grateful to the Minister for her kind words in her statement. The failure of the criminal justice system to take proper account and regard of the devolved settlement is little short of a scandal, and it is an unhappy fact that the price of this scandal is paid by some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our country. It is something that I hope the United Kingdom Government will pay proper attention to in the coming weeks and months, and I hope that the publication of these blueprints ensures that that debate takes place.

I welcome also the points that have been made by the Minister on the announcement made last week on the future of the probation service. I very much agree with the criticisms made of that that have been made this afternoon by Leanne Wood. I think she's absolutely right, and what we would all like to see, I think, on different sides of this Chamber, is a return to decent public provision and public management of that service to ensure that the needs of the offender and the community are put first and that we don't go down the route, inadvertently, of putting private profit as the motivating factor for the delivery of that service.

Like others this afternoon, I read the Welsh Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons' report with some interest. The select committee was able to identify all the problems facing the services, but unfortunately weren't able to agree on any solutions to those problems. And such is the life of select committees in the House of Commons. But I think it's incumbent upon us this afternoon to understand that the identification of the problems is an initial first step, but it is our role, and certainly your role, Minister, as Government, to find those solutions.

I hope that we can move quickly, first of all to establish a system to deal with women who are in, or are at risk of being in, the criminal justice system. That means that we need to approach the sentencing policy as well. I hope, Minister, you've had the opportunity to discuss these matters with the judiciary to ensure that sentencing policy takes account of the wider development of policy in this field, and I hope that we will make the case. I do agree with the points that are being made about a women's centre that is local to women across different parts of the country, and that does argue in favour of more than one centre and not simply a centre that is built for the convenience of the service and not the convenience of the people who are receiving that service.

And I hope also, Minister, that we can agree that this women's centre will be managed by the Welsh Government. It's absolutely critical, I think, that we move away from discussions of a women's prison, which we've had in the past, and that we ensure that a women's centre is a fundamentally different institution and that it is managed by the Welsh Government, and the services provided there are provided for women as individuals and also for children and for women as heads of families, and that we ensure that we're able to deliver the services that they require not simply in a punitive way, but in a way that enables them to reach their potential and live the lives that they would choose to live. 

In terms of young people, I think it's an absolutely screaming disaster the way that we treat children and young people today. The youth offenders centre in Parc prison is staffed by people who work extraordinarily hard to do their very best for the people who are there, but we know that we need specific facilities for young people, and we also need to ensure that the young people who are within the criminal justice system today have an opportunity to forge different lives in the future, and that means training and an education that enables them to do so.

Finally, let me say this, Minister: I was very pleased to hear the statement you made earlier, but also your commitment to devolution of the criminal justice system. We're in the absurd position today where the United Kingdom Government is unable to deliver its own policy in Wales, but neither is the Welsh Government able to deliver its policy. So, we have two Governments that are unable to deliver policy in a single field. It is time—and it is incumbent on the United Kingdom Government to take responsibility for this—that the people of Wales were well served by those elected to take decisions on these matters. The failure to address the devolution of the criminal justice system is a standing rebuke to parliamentarianism at present. The people who are suffering the consequences of that are the people who are probably least able to effect change. I hope, Minister, that when you meet UK Ministers, you will make it absolutely clear to them it is their responsibility to ensure that we have a system that is fit for purpose, and that means the devolution of the system in its entirety to allow us to pursue the holistic policy that we and others want to see delivered for the people of this country.

16:00

I thank Alun Davies very much for his questions and for his continued commitment to moving forward. I've paid tribute to the work that you undertook. I remember always Alun Davies has demonstrated his commitment to this policy area, and it is his commitment to this policy area that has helped bring us to this point where I can announce not only blueprints for young people, youth justice and female offending, but also the implementation plans. Because I think that's what you will have wanted to see from me as your successor—that, actually, this was about implementation.

I published those implementation plans so that yourselves, Assembly Members—and I would hope to take this forward in terms of scrutiny and opportunity with our partners to see how this—. It has to be delivered. Of course, it involves ministerial commitments across the Welsh Government in terms of health, social care, housing, learning, education—all have got a role—and also our partners. I'm very pleased that the children's commissioner, for example—I've met with her to talk about the youth justice blueprint—is anticipating engaging with that in terms of taking this forward.

Yes, I think it's important that we look at how women's residential centres can actually meet the needs—not only meet the needs of the women in the communities that they serve, but also that the devolved services that we're responsible for play that full and important role.

You make key points about youth justice. Non-custodial community-based sentences are entirely dependent on devolved services in terms of not only youth and female offending services—and we have to look at the sentencing issues, which came over very clearly in the Cardiff University governance centre report. We are acutely aware of the impact that short-term sentences have on providing any meaningful resettlement services—for example, there are particular issues at Cardiff prison—but also recognising, in terms of youth justice, the fact that we have such a key role to play.

This is partly responding as well to the former questions from Leanne Wood about adverse childhood experiences. We have to work together to implement the models of service set out in the blueprints. There's potential to achieve reductions in ACEs as well as create powerful and innovative preventative approaches. So, we have so much within our powers and responsibilities, which is why I look forward to the recommendations that I think, in this territory, will be coming forward from the Thomas commission in terms of the future operation of the justice system in Wales.