Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

15/10/2019

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

Good afternoon, and shwmae to everyone?

I'm almost tempted to say 'Shwmae, Senedd?', but I'll leave that for another day. [Laughter.]

So, shwmae, everybody, this afternoon?

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on our agenda is questions to the First Minister. The first question is from Mohammad Asghar.

Local Authority Staff

1. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve working conditions for staff employed by local authorities in Wales? OAQ54508

Thank you for the question, and a happy shwmae day to the Member too. Today, we are encouraged to use our Welsh language no matter how much Welsh we have. This is everybody’s language. Thank you very much.

Thank you for the question. Of course, the workforce partnership council provides a forum in which the Welsh Government, trade unions and employers come together to address issues of mutual concern. Direct working conditions in local government are a matter for collective bargaining between employers and their trade unions.

Thank you, First Minister. The number of local government staff across Wales who took stress-related leave last year is 18 per cent higher than the previous two years. Caerphilly council saw 807 staff take stress-related leave last year, while in Merthyr Tydfil, the number was up more than triple, from 105 to 318. First Minister, do you share my concern at these figures, and what action will you take to reduce the pressure on council staff, which is seriously affecting their health and having consequences for the delivery of quality public services in south-east Wales?

Well, Llywydd, I agree with the Member, of course, that stress is a matter to be taken seriously. I hope that, somewhere in those figures, there is a reflection of the work that we have done and which has been supported across the Assembly, to make people more willing to report when they feel that they are suffering from any form of mental ill-health, including stress. But the figures are also a clear reflection of austerity. Time after time, I've argued on the floor of the Assembly that austerity is not simply felt in our ability to fund public services, but it's felt in the lives of people who provide those public services. Those people have had their wages held down while demands on them have gone up, and it's unrealistic to assume that they can simply park all those pressures at the door and go into work as though those things were not happening in their lives. 

The Member asks what we can do to reduce the stress in the lives of public servants who work for local government, and the answer is to have a UK Government prepared to fund public services properly, so that those people have people alongside them so that their numbers aren't reduced, and they will be better able to cope with the impact in their own lives and to provide services of a quality that we know they are committed to doing. 

Well, as you've said there, First Minister, we know that stress is increasingly becoming the reason for staff absenteeism in Welsh councils, and budget cuts initiated by Westminster, and passed on by this Labour Welsh Government, have led to significant job losses within our councils, meaning that staff are having to deliver the same service with less resource. Will you recognise that, in order to reduce the levels of stress on our local authority staff, the Welsh Government will need to provide sufficient funding to councils in the next budget round?

Well, Llywydd, funding local government has been a consistent priority for this Labour Government through the whole of this Assembly term and prior to that, too. But the Member recognises, I know, that, despite the point he makes, the money we have available to us is not the result of decisions that we make, that that money has to be stretched to provide services in the health service as well as local government, to do all the other things that we try to do as a Government, and for which Members around this Assembly Chamber every week stand up and advocate more investment in priorities that are close to their heart, that matter to local communities. We strain every sinew to put the maximum amount of money that is available to us as close to the front line as we can, in order to make sure that those services are of as high a quality as we can, and that the people who are challenged with providing them, that their welfare and well-being is protected as well. The single biggest constraint on our ability to do so is the fact that the amount of money available to us has gone down year after year after year, and will be lower in the next financial year than it was 10 years ago.

13:35
Housing Regeneration

2. What Welsh Government support is available for housing regeneration in the Ogmore valleys? OAQ54534

I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that. A series of programmes support local housing regeneration in Ogmore, including the Valleys taskforce empty homes grant scheme, social housing grant, Warm Homes, the Welsh housing quality standard, and the innovative housing programmes.

I thank the First Minister for that answer. I'm sure he'll agree with me that, when empty properties stand empty not just for months, but year on year on year, they're a blight on communities—they drag them down economically, they damage efforts at regeneration, and they do contribute to an air of despond in communities and on streets. Like broken teeth, they can stand ragged and broken on our high streets and our side streets, and, sometimes, some of these streets have more broken teeth than others. Yet these could be decent, affordable homes, brought back fit to life, fit to live in, bringing communities back to life as well. So, if landlords and owners are willing to work with their local authority and local communities, we can repair those gaping holes and help regenerate those communities. We can bring the smile back to our streets. So, the empty homes grant and the empty property loans, and other schemes to help landlords and owners do this, are very welcome. And we also need councils to use their powers when that fails. But can I ask the First Minister, how can we make sure that communities are directly involved in these decisions as well? Rather than it being a top-down approach, or something driven by individual landlords or owners, or even by a very proactive local authority, how do we make sure, and would he support the idea, that local communities themselves should be involved in identifying the properties that could be brought back into use, and maybe, in a spatial way, helping the local authority to bring these properties back into use?

I thank the Member for those points. Of course, he is right that empty properties are not simply a wasted asset that could be put to good work, but they have an impact on all of those around them. It's why we decided to invest £10 million as a result of a Valleys taskforce work in bringing more empty homes back into use. And there are hundreds of empty houses in the Member's constituency that, potentially, will be able to benefit now from the scheme began in Rhondda Cynon Taf, and its success has allowed us to spread it elsewhere. The whole of the Valleys taskforce programme has been predicated on learning from the experience of local communities and taking the priorities that they put to us. There was a public engagement event held at Maesteg town hall, in the Member's constituency, at the start of the taskforce engagement, and empty properties were raised as one of the key themes by people who attended that event. Now, the taskforce has been back to the Ogmore, Llynfi and Garw valleys in recent times, and, once again, we were able to explain to people how the new grant will be available and could make a difference to an issue that they raised with us.

So, I completely agree with the point that Huw Irranca-Davies has made, about the need for local communities to be the eyes and ears of our efforts in this area. And I was reminded, Llywydd, in hearing the question, of a conversation that I had with Irish Republic officials about the operation of the vacant land tax in the Republic, where they had had an anxiety to begin with as to how vacant land would get onto the register that they had created, and in practice what has happened is that it is citizens who have turned out to be the eyes and ears of the register. People phone up the local authority, knowing now that there is a register to report to, to make sure that empty land is put on the register and can be put to better use. And I think using local communities and their intelligence on the ground, and their concern for empty properties, now that we have the new scheme, will be a vital source of information.

Well, I'm very pleased to hear that there's a co-productive approach to this. I wonder what the local residents might say to the increase in the number of greenfield sites included in the local authority's replacement local development plan, including 19 hectares south of Pont Rhyd-y-cyff. On that, can you tell me what the Welsh Government's approach, now that it's recently declared a climate emergency—how its approach to a planning authority's view of greenfield sites may have changed? How are you influencing local authorities with that? And to help Huw Irranca Davies out with this, what thoughts have you given to Welsh Conservative policies of extending Help to Buy to first-time buyers to bring neglected houses back into the housing stock and create new homes alongside new-build homes?

13:40

I thank the Member for those questions. It's always been the policy of the Welsh Government that brownfield sites should be the first priority in terms of redevelopment. But she asks me what I think the reaction of local residents will be, and I think what local residents will say is that more houses are needed in their areas for their families and for people who don't have the housing that they need, and most people recognise that the house that they themselves live in was once a greenfield site itself. So, actually when you talk to people about the housing needs that are there in local communities, what they recognise is that we are talking about their friends, their neighbours, their families and the need for us to invest in housing here in Wales. 

I read the 10-point plan that the Conservative Party published last week in relation to homelessness, and there are some useful ideas in there, which will be common between us, in making sure that the Vagrancy Act 1824 is repealed, and some other practical measures. I've no sense at all of not being willing to take good ideas wherever they come from, and I've always felt that housing is an issue that is largely shared across the floor of this Assembly as a priority for the people that we represent. 

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price. 

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the Labour Party manifesto in 2011 committed to requiring GPs to make surgeries more accessible to working people so they can access local GP services in the evenings and Saturday mornings. Can you please update Members on the progress the Welsh Labour Government has made to ensure that patients can access services at a time most convenient to them? 

Well, I can certainly tell the Member that there were extensive experiments that were carried out after that commitment and detailed discussions with the General Practitioners Committee Wales. What the experiments showed, unlike as we may have anticipated here, was that the use made by patients of extended hours surgeries was not at a level that we believed, in discussion with the GP workforce, justified the extra expense that had been committed to them—that there were better ways. That is the view of the GP community—that there were better ways to make sure that services were available, including through diversification of the workforce, including through all the things that we do to use community pharmacies. And having tried a series of experiments with opening hours later into the evening, at weekends, we now have a pattern agreed with the GP community in Wales. It's not perfect, it doesn't operate as we would want it everywhere, but it is the result of discussions with the profession that we have the pattern we have. 

Well, let me go through the lack of progress that you have made, and you've admitted the lack of progress that you've made in detail. In terms even of core hours—core daily hours—last year showed a decline in the number of GP practices even being able to offer that within three health boards—Aneurin Bevan, Cwm Taf and Powys. Another aspect of your commitment focused on extending availability of appointments prior to 08:30 in the morning. No progress has been made on that, as almost four fifths of surgeries are not offering appointments before 08:30, and when it comes to evening appointments, not one surgery within Cardiff and Vale, Cwm Taf or Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health boards were open after 18:30 in the evening last year, and only 1 per cent of surgeries within Betsi Cadwaladr. Extending evening opening hours was meant to be achieved by the end of 2013 financial year, but two health boards have since completely scrapped their extended opening hours. Why make the promise at all when you failed to keep it so clearly? 

13:45

The reason for making the commitment was because of our genuine concern to make appointments available to more people, particularly working people outside the normal working day. We have a number of experiments that we've attempted in that field. For example, we had an experiment in Cardiff and Newport that allowed people who lived outside those cities, but worked in them, to register with a Cardiff or Newport GP so that they could have a local appointment close to work, rather than having to give up half a day, for example, to have an appointment closer to home. The truth of the matter was that those experiments did not deliver the outcomes for patients that were originally anticipated. That's why we've had those further discussions with the GP profession itself; why we have invested in other ways in which patients can have access to healthcare. It's not simply a matter of going to the surgery. That's a pretty old-fashioned way of thinking about healthcare. We've diversified the ways in which people can get the help that they need, and we'll continue to do that. We are very keen that people should have as convenient an access as is possible to the healthcare that they need. Doing that exclusively at the GP practice, doing that exclusively by extending hours, may not be the most effective way of doing that, either for patients or for the professionals who provide that service. That's what the history of the experiments taught us.

Patients who are seeking to access those services, who are unable to do so at a time that actually works for them, I think, may give a very, very different response to the one the First Minister has just given. But just to tease a little bit further his answer out: is he saying that part of the decision as to why you dropped this pledge was because it wasn't effective, not just in terms of its impact, but cost-effective, so the opportunity cost, the cost-effectiveness, of meeting the pledge was also a factor? Because what you said at the time, and I'm quoting your predecessor as First Minister here—. The previous First Minister said:

'There is no cost to extending GP opening hours. All that we are asking them to do is to re-jig their hours'. 

Now, my party has consistently argued one of the most effective ways to widen access to GP services is to have more GPs, and since you made this pledge about accessible hours, the number of GPs in Wales has gone down. No wonder you couldn't meet the pledge and then had to drop it.

Wouldn't you accept the need to adopt a policy of increasing GP training places to 200 a year, as the Royal College of General Practitioners has recommended, as part of a wider process of increasing our doctor numbers? In England, I noticed that—keen follower as I am of the Labour Party conference—you've committed to a 40 per cent increase in GP trainees. Isn't this another sign of Labour promising for England what it could already be doing here in Wales?

Well, Llywydd, two points, really: one, it's very important indeed that we focus our attention not narrowly on GPs, but on the whole of the primary care clinical team. Services that are provided to patients rely on pharmacists, on physiotherapists, on occupational therapists. All those people are members of the primary care team. They are clinically as capable as a GP of providing directly for patients in almost 80 per cent of cases. And a one-eyed focus on what GPs provide simply doesn't reflect the way in which primary care today, and in the future, needs to be provided.

But the Member will be pleased to know that this is not a matter of Wales following where England intends to go; it is a matter of England following where we have been already because he will, I know, be pleased to know that the number of GP training places filled in Wales this year is the highest it has ever been. It's not at 200 yet, but it is going up, and has gone up very significantly in the last few years. So, we have filled 155 GP training places in Wales and that's the most we have ever done. That's the result of lots of activity that has gone on in the field itself by the Welsh Government. It's a matter to be celebrated, and in that sense I agree with the point that Adam Price was making, that investing in training and bringing more people into the profession is a way of securing the long-term future of the family doctor service, where GPs lead these wider teams of clinical professionals able to provide face-to-face services in the community. And I'm sure he'll welcome the fact that we are doing better than we ever have before in having GPs in training here in Wales.

13:50

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, commuter satisfaction for train journeys in Wales stands at 71 per cent. As First Minister, are you satisfied that the people of Wales are getting the train services that they deserve?

I want to see train services in Wales improve further and faster, in line with the groundbreaking franchise that we negotiated. Transport for Wales has not been able to obtain the trains that they have ordered from companies at the speed that those companies promised. That means they have not had the rolling stock available in the first year in the way that was originally anticipated. But on 15 December this year, when the new timetable comes into effect, we will see 6,500 new places on trains in Wales, new services right across Wales, and people in Wales will see that the improvements that have started already will be accelerating fast from that day and into the rest of the franchise period.

First Minister, the big question commuters ask themselves each morning is not, 'Am I going to get a seat on a train?' but 'Am I going to be able to get onto this train, full stop?' Across the rail network in Wales there are posters proclaiming what is coming down the track with the promised changes to the network. In 2019, Transport for Wales have said there'll be more capacity on the Valleys lines, on-board infotainment launched, and that old Pacer trains will be phased out completely. I've raised this before—that, in order to increase capacity on the Valleys lines, Transport for Wales have actually brought back trains from the 1960s, and this week we hear that the old Pacer trains will not be phased out completely and that they will continue to run in 2020.

First Minister, now that we know that this promise has been broken—and we've heard earlier how you've broken promises in other areas—can you confirm—? [Interruption.] I can hear chuntering from your colleagues—. [Interruption.] I can hear chuntering from your colleagues, but you are responsible for train services here in Wales, and therefore can you confirm when these tired old trains will be finally taken off our tracks, or are you going to stick to the line that these things can't happen overnight?

I've already explained to the Member, Llywydd, that there will be a 10 per cent increase in capacity for service users from 15 December, that there will be 200 additional Sunday services here in Wales, which is a 45 per cent increase on current rates, and of course we want to see that new, modern accessible rolling stock made available here in Wales. It's why, Llywydd, I was very pleased last week to meet with the chief executive and the whole of the board of CAF, the manufacturing train company that has come and set up its manufacturing facility in Newport, who will be providing trains for Welsh passengers, on Welsh lines, as a result of the franchise that we have. I'm very pleased to say to Members here that, in that meeting with the whole of the board of that major company, they came to tell us how pleased they are with the development that's happened in Newport, at the state of the factory that they've been able to create, of the commitment of the workforce that they find here in Wales, and how much they are looking forward to seeing their trains operating on lines here in Wales. Trains made in Wales, running in Wales, that's what Welsh passengers will see.

First Minister, it's not just delays and cancellations that are afflicting train users in Wales, but some trains are not even bothering to stop at the stations they are meant to. On Saturday, a train full of people suddenly found themselves in Pontypridd after the train ran straight from Cardiff without stopping at any of the advertised stops. Despite getting up to 52 per cent more per month in subsidy compared to Arriva, Transport for Wales's overall journey satisfaction is the same as Arriva. Train punctuality, ticket price and cleanliness satisfaction are all the same, and the level of crowding remains a significant concern, with 45 per cent dissatisfied with the level of crowding on the core Valleys lines. First Minister, is it simply the case that Transport for Wales are on the wrong track when it comes to delivering train services across Wales? So, what is your Government going to do so that people can finally have access to a train service that is fit for the twenty-first century?

13:55

Well, Llywydd, the history of the last year demonstrates the legacy that Transport for Wales has had to pick up after the franchise that his party negotiated where there was no capacity at all within it for growth in passenger numbers, where rolling stock was run down and where the fleet that was passed on to Transport for Wales turned out not to be fit for the sort of service that we want to provide. Of course we want to see improvements, and the plan that we have and that Transport for Wales has, which will see those improvements happen from 15 December, will roll forward into next year and beyond, in order to make sure that people in Wales who are committed to a public transport solution to journey times here in Wales will have the service that they and we want to see.

Diolch, Llywydd. You pronounced yesterday that Spain should be suspended from the EU, so I'd like to ask the First Minister about his position. The Welsh Government has a Minister for international relations, although these are not devolved, and it’s a socialist Prime Minister in Spain who asked us to respect the independent judicial decisions of their Supreme Court. Here, we're told by Labour Members that our Prime Minister should be sent to prison for contempt if he seeks to deliver on our EU referendum in ways of which our Supreme Court might not approve. Isn't it about time we backed our democracy and our referendum result by voting to leave the EU, rather than looking to overturn constitutional and judicial arrangements in Spain and the EU?

I'm not quite sure which point the Member is asking me to address in that. I'll start with his first point, although I'm reluctant always to be drawn into responsibilities which neither this institution nor I as its First Minister exercise. But I think it is rightly a matter of concern to any of us to see democratically elected politicians who have gone peacefully about their responsibilities, whose response is not dialogue and discussion but the use of the criminal law. And I think we're rightly concerned about that. If that was the main point of his question, then I've expressed my view on it. In relation to his points about Brexit, we've rehearsed those exhaustively here on the floor of the Assembly, and he’s aware of my position on that.

I thank the First Minister for his partial response. What is extraordinary is the number of people in this Chamber and beyond who look to and expect the European Union to intervene as if it were a supporter of democratic national self-determination, when the reality is it will no more welcome a vote on national independence in Catalonia than it did our vote on 23 June 2016.

I would associate myself with some of the remarks that the First Minister made initially, and I think it is the case that our constitutional arrangements have worked better in respect of Scotland and the referendum they held there, than Spain’s have in respect of Catalonia. Unfortunately, not all in the Scottish National Party agree with the legal and constitutional approach taken so far continuing. Some want an SNP Scottish Government not to bother with a second referendum and just declare independence; others think they should hold a second referendum without a second section 30 order from the UK Government. Ultimately, if a Scottish Government were to seek to hold such an illegal referendum, or perhaps a future Welsh Government, isn't prison for contempt ultimately our last line of constitutional defence?

Well, Llywydd, there are so many stretches in the argument that the Member has made that I lost my way in it very early on. As far the European Union is concerned, many of us in this Chamber, because of the history of our membership, do look to the European Union for protections in the environmental field, for protections for workers, for protections for citizens and consumers. Of course we do, because it is through our membership of the European Union that we enjoy today so many of those rights that otherwise would not have been afforded to us. But does that mean that we think that the European Union is perfect in every way? Of course not.

In the week leading up to the last referendum, I shared a platform with the leader of Plaid Cymru here, where we both spoke on the platform of 'remain to reform', and the reform agenda for the European Union is real amongst those of us who support the European Union. Of course it doesn't do everything in every way as we would wish to see it, but that does not mean at all that we would be prepared to turn our backs on the very real gains that Welsh citizens have had as a result of our membership of the European Union and which now are very significantly at risk.

14:00
Brexit

3. What discussions about Brexit has the First Minister had with the UK Prime Minister over the last month? OAQ54536

Llywydd, no such discussions have taken place with the Prime Minister over the last month.

Does the First Minister share my concern that that shows a complete contempt for the people of Wales, for this institution and the Government that springs from it? Doesn't it show that the current Prime Minister is interested in England and in nowhere else? We know that the Conservative Party membership, if we believe the opinion polls, care more about Brexit than the union. And indeed, an essay question, I'm told, in Cardiff University now will soon be, 'Is the Conservative and Unionist Party still both of those things?' So, does he not agree that it shows contempt for this Government that the Prime Minister is not engaged with it? And does he also agree that the current constitutional settlement is broken? There needs to be a new relationship between the nations of these isles. We need to make sure that there is better and more equal respect, so that a Prime Minister of the UK cannot ignore the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the future.

Llywydd, I agree with Carwyn Jones that it is surely remarkable, now having been in office for a number of months, that the Prime Minister has failed to call a single meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee plenary. When Mrs May was Prime Minister, she held such a plenary here in Cardiff. The new Prime Minister, having embarked on his imperial tour of England, Wales and Scotland then, has never been seen since.

The point that the Member makes about the need for new relationships—better, equal, respectful relationships—lies at the heart of a document that the Welsh Government has published, and which I will make a statement on later this afternoon. Because that seeks to entrench those arrangements so that they are not at the whim of an individual, so that one Prime Minister respects them and the next Prime Minister takes no notice of them.

Given the state of our relationships with the European Union, given the fact that there are clear and significant devolved responsibilities at stake in those discussions, it is utterly remarkable that the JMC has not been called together, despite requests from me and from Nicola Sturgeon that that should take place. And it is, I'm sorry to say, a sign of the way in which the current Prime Minister is prepared to neglect fundamentally important responsibilities about the future of the United Kingdom, while he pursues instead the various chimeras that he has put in front of us in relation to a future arrangement with the European Union.

I heard the references to contempt. What about contempt for the views of the people of Wales who voted to leave the European Union and the neglect that your Government has shown to supporting the UK Government's efforts to deliver on the outcome of that referendum by supporting the UK Prime Minister in delivering Brexit by 31 October? And I have to say, what sort of advice would you be able to give the UK Prime Minister about Brexit, given that your party has got at least three positions on the matter? On the one hand, you've got Jeremy Corbyn's position, which seems to be, 'Let's have a general election, then a referendum, and I'll tell you how to campaign once we've gotten there.' On the other hand, you've got the Welsh Government's position, which seems to be, at least it was last week, that there should be a referendum and then you will campaign to remain, no matter what sort of deal a Jeremy Corbyn Government might bring back from Brussels. And you also, of course, have a division within the Welsh Government, with Jeremy, on your front bench—the other Jeremy, if we can call him that—your Brexit Minister, who has made it quite clear that his view is that there ought to be a referendum before the next general election. So, what position does the Welsh Government and the Labour Party actually have on Brexit, and how on earth do you think that that's useful in any sort of conversation you might have with the UK Prime Minister?

14:05

Llywydd, for months and months after the referendum of 2016, the Welsh Government worked with Plaid Cymru here to put forward a way of leaving the European Union that would have defended our economy and jobs. We published it in 'Securing Wales' Future'. It was predicated on leaving the European Union, but it showed a way of doing it that would not have sacrificed Welsh jobs, Welsh firms and Welsh communities. For month after month, we attempted to persuade the UK Government to agree with that prospectus, and it was only when it became completely clear that there was no chance at all of persuading the UK Government of a form of Brexit that would have defended Welsh interests that we decided that it was no longer possible to go on credibly advocating for that position.

The way in which we respect people who voted to leave the European Union—and it is very important to respect people who take a different point of view on this most divisive issue—the way that we respect those people's view is to say that the time has come when the decision should go back into their hands and the hands of other citizens. There is nothing disrespectful in a democracy about saying to people that we would like them to have the opportunity to resolve this highly divisive matter. And our policy as a Welsh Government has been clear since the early summer: the decision should go back into the hands of citizens. When that chance comes, the Welsh Government will campaign to remain. And we do that as well out of respect for people who take a different view from us, because we have come to the conclusion, from everything that we have seen, that there is no deal better than the deal we have now, which is the deal we have through membership of the European Union. That is the best way in which Welsh families and Welsh futures can be best fashioned. We will make that case, and we will make it in a way that is respectful, both of people who want to remain in the European Union and people who take a different view. But you don't respect people by not telling them the honest position that you have come to, and everything that I have seen leads me to that conclusion—difficult as it can be in some places, where people don't agree, but I'm not prepared to go out and say to people in Wales anything other than the truth as I see it. Other people will have other truths, and a referendum will allow them to express their view as well. That's why we have reached the position we have, and I think it is respectful of all views that exist on this matter.

Spending Priorities for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's spending priorities for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney? OAQ54537

I thank the Member for that. We are committed to investing in public services, businesses and communities across Wales, including Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. In Merthyr, we have invested over £2 million through the social housing grant in the current financial year, £225 million for improvements to Prince Charles Hospital, and we have committed £42.5 million to band B of the twenty-first century schools programme.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I know that a number of those core priorities are important to the well-being of my constituents, particularly in the areas of health, housing and social care, but can I focus my supplementary question on the needs of the local economy? We know that there has recently been some bad economic news about job losses in the town, but I also know of companies that continue to recruit and have plans for expansion. So, for example, we saw recently the opening of Sharp Clinical Services in Rhymney last week. General Dynamics Land Systems UK is now recruiting more staff, and we see the success of major tourist attractions like BikePark Wales and Rock UK. And in each of those cases, Welsh Government has been a big help in delivering investment and jobs in my constituency. But with some of the economic uncertainties that we're currently facing, would you agree that Welsh Government investment in our transport network, including the completion of the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road from Dowlais to Hirwaun, the new bus station now under construction in Merthyr Tydfil, reregulation of bus services and investing in the rail and metro system, must be amongst Welsh Government's spending priorities, because it's those transport solutions that will be the vital underpinning of the economy of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, and the wider Valleys communities?

14:10

Llywydd, of course Dawn Bowden is right that investment in infrastructure is fundamental to a modern and successful economy. That's why we are so committed to making sure that we get maximum value out of the current round of EU funding programmes, with everything that that will do for Merthyr and Rhymney. We are going to spend £21.1 million to improve the Merthyr railway line, we're going to spend £19.5 million to improve the Rhymney line, and all of that comes from the 2014-20 EU funding programme. Alongside transport infrastructure of that sort, we need a digital infrastructure, and that's why we're investing £7.6 million in the superfast broadband infrastructure for the constituency that the Member represents.

The economy is, of course, fundamental to the future of the constituency. We have mobilised all the help that we can for those companies that find themselves in difficulty, but as we've said on the floor of the Assembly before, every week in Wales thousands of jobs are lost but thousands of jobs are created, and Merthyr Tydfil particularly has been a place in recent years where the economy has been thriving and, with support from the Welsh Government, will go on doing so into the future.

First Minister, concerns have been raised that your Government has decided to cut spending on the free swimming initiative by £1.5 million from next April. As a result, some people aged over 60 may not be able to access their usual session and may need to pay a subsidised amount for swimming sessions. Given the health and recreation benefits of free swimming for over-60s, how will you ensure that these benefits will continue to be enjoyed, especially by people living in deprived areas and communities such as Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney? Thank you.

Llywydd, the Member may know that the most recent analysis of the free swimming scheme demonstrated that only 6 per cent of the population over 60 in Wales was taking advantage of free swimming. So, 94 per cent of the potential population were getting no benefit from it at all. That is why we have agreed with Sport Wales a new approach through local authorities to providing free swimming, which is explicitly directed to ensure that people in less well-off communities will have more opportunities to enjoy free swimming than in the past. That does involve some reform of the programme, but if you have a programme that is reaching only 6 per cent of its intended audience—if that isn't grounds for reform, I really don't know what would be.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, after the Plaid Cymru conference, what assessment have you made of the financial impact that—?

Ask the question on the order paper—the question you've tabled.

You need to read out the question you've tabled; that wasn't the question you tabled.

The Financial Impact of Independence

5. What assessment has the First Minister made of the financial impact that independence from the rest of the UK would have on Wales? OAQ54510

I thank the Member for that question. In 2017-18, the gap between taxes raised in Wales and public spending for the benefit of Welsh people stood at £13.7 billion. That gap is filled through our membership of the United Kingdom.

I thank you for that, First Minister. Given that the UK national debt is around £2 trillion, which, of course, is not an English-only debt—. So, with one in 20 people in the UK living in Wales, that would make Wales's share of that debt £100 billion, with a daily interest of £7 million. Does this not make the case for independence a little less desirable than that which was espoused so jubilantly in Swansea's Grand Hotel?

14:15

Well, Llywydd, what the Member does is to identify one in what would be a much larger and even more complicated pattern that would have to be addressed were Wales to be independent from the rest of the United Kingdom. The answer I gave originally shows the gap that is currently filled through UK resources here in Wales. There are fiscal transfers between the UK and Wales worth £4,000 per head of the Welsh population every year. That money would have to be found from somewhere. But the questions are not for me to answer, Llywydd. The questions are to be answered by those people who make this proposition, and, if they expect their proposition to be taken seriously, then they will be expected to provide serious answers to these questions.

Well, it's an interesting question by Dave Rowlands. I could hear supporters of Welsh independence clamouring that they don't care about the financial impact of independence: they just want their country back. Well, where have we heard that—[Interruption.] Where have we heard that before? [Interruption.] First Minister, your own statistics—[Interruption.] 

You don't need to listen to people—[Interruption.]—not on their feet. You carry on to ask your question.

I'm surprised they weren't more worked up listening to the original question, but there we are. First Minister, isn't the reality of the situation—? You gave some very good statistics there, but isn't the reality of the situation that, day-by-day, Wales is steadily growing increasingly financially autonomous as a part of the United Kingdom, and, when it comes to tax devolution and borrowing powers, increasingly so? We've come a long way, and, in fact, I don't think, 20 years ago, people would have imagined that the Assembly would have the powers that we do today.

But the important issue now—aside from grand issues of independence, the important issue is for us to get on with the job of using the tools in the toolbox, as your predecessor, Carwyn Jones, and, before him, Rhodri Morgan, used to say, and get on with making Wales a more prosperous place. So, would you agree with me that the important thing is to keep tax in Wales competitive, to keep income tax low, to make sure that borrowing powers are used wisely so that, at the end of the day, we have more money for public services in Wales so we can get on with the job of making Wales a more prosperous and, ultimately, a more independent part of the United Kingdom?

Well, Llywydd, my view has always been that the right way to use the fiscal devolution that we now have is within a UK fiscal framework, and that was a proposal that Plaid Cymru announced only this week. So, in that ecumenical sense of this afternoon, just as I agreed with some things in the paper provided by the Conservative party on homelessness, I agreed with what Plaid Cymru said about the need for a UK fiscal framework. But our prosperity is best secured, I believe, through continued membership of the United Kingdom and continued membership of the European Union. Both of those factors, I think, work to Wales's advantage and I think that our prosperity is best secured by continuing membership of both.

I stand in solidarity today with the imprisoned Catalan Democrats, and perhaps, from the comments we heard earlier, the Brexit Party would like to lock me up for what I'm about to say, but I'll risk it—[Interruption.] I'll risk it anyway. I find it always rather depressing when a fellow Welshman like David Rowlands shows such lack of confidence and such a low opinion of Wales and its potential, presumably believing that other countries smaller than Wales are inherently better than us, which is clearly not the case. The truth of the matter, is it not, is that the people of Wales are waking up to the possibility, just perhaps, that we can't afford not to be independent anymore.

You mentioned the fiscal gap: I'll draw your attention to the report by the Wales Governance Centre that said that this fiscal gap, which isn't correct as it is, is no reflection—is no reflection—on an independent Wales, but is instead a reflection of how the UK doesn't work for Wales now. The question is why Wales's economy is suffering as it is now. And would the First Minister agree with me that the way to build up confidence in what we can achieve as a nation is to have a constitutional convention, looking openly at the potential of independence for Wales, in co-operation and partnership with other countries, and looking at what we can achieve, rather than showing the staggering lack of confidence that the unionists in this Chamber show time and time again?

14:20

Well, Llywydd, it's not a matter of confidence at all; it's a matter of political choice. Now, the Member has his political preference, as does his party, and that's absolutely legitimate and of course there will be a campaign for that, but there are other possibilities for Wales as well. And, in the paper that we will discuss later this afternoon, I have set out the future for Wales as this Government and this party would see it. And it is not a matter of confidence; it is a matter about how people are able to articulate different possibilities for the future. For me, Wales's future is best secured as a successful member of both a successful United Kingdom and a successful European Union. I believe that both unions are right for Wales. Let's have the debate—the debate is the nature of politics, and of course we should have it.

In the document that we will talk about later, we propose, as the twentieth point of 20, that there should be a constitutional convention. I believe that the focus of the constitutional convention should be how to make the UK work better in the future—how to make sure that the UK goes on being a successful entity in which Wales plays its successful part. But, if you have a constitutional convention, and particularly if you have one that involves citizens, as well as those people who currently play a part in it, then there'll be that opportunity for people to contribute their ideas, to debate alternative propositions. To go back to the point that the Member made at the start: debate, discussion and democratic resolution is the right way to resolve these matters.

The Latest Population Projections

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of the latest population projections on Welsh public services? OAQ54558

Llywydd, the Office for National Statistics will publish the latest national population projections on Monday of next week, 21 October. Previous projections suggested a modest increase in the overall Welsh population but faster growth amongst older people, with impacts on a range of public services, including health, social care and housing.

Well, the First Minister will know that any projections to be published next week could easily be falsified if we had the misfortune to elect a Labour Government in the near future, because, at the Labour Party conference, the Labour Party voted, in effect, to abolish all effective control of immigration. In particular, they set themselves against any future form of immigration control based on quotas, caps, targets or incomes, and promised to get rid of the current rules that restrict access to accommodation and the national health service for many immigrants— also to get rid of the 'no recourse to public funds' policy that prevents some immigrants from claiming benefits.

He will remember that when the Blair Government decided to allow unrestricted immigration from eastern Europe, after countries like Poland and Hungary were allowed to join the EU, Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, said in 2016 that the effect of that was that it was a

'gigantic experiment at the expense of ordinary workers'

and led to

'sustained pressure on living standards'

and a systematic attempt to hold down wages and cut the costs of social protection for working people. So, is the First Minister saying that he is now in favour of continuing that massive experiment, which Len McCluskey says is against the interests of working people? Isn't the truth of the matter that the Labour Party, in the frantic pursuit to have migrant votes, has actually abandoned the working classes of Britain—in particular, the white working class?

Well, I think the final remark that the Member made is deeply, deeply offensive, and he ought to think about that. If I was—. If I thought there was any chance, I would ask him to withdraw it. It really, really has no part to play on the floor of this Assembly.

His—. I'll agree with the very first thing he said, and there's nothing else that he said that I could agree with. Of course population projections are not forecasts; they don't attempt to predict the future, they simply look to see what the future could be like on previous trends. I simply do not share the Member's, to my mind, deeply prejudiced set of views about people who we have been lucky enough to attract from other parts of the world to come and make their futures part of our future here. Our public services depend on them, our communities are richer for them being here, and I look forward to a future in which Wales goes on welcoming people from elsewhere and makes them know that they are valued members of our nation and the communities that make it up.

14:25
The National Infrastructure Commission

7. Will the First Minister provide an update on the work of the National Infrastructure Commission? OAQ54515

Llywydd, the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales will publish its first annual report on 27 November, as previously indicated. 

Thank you for your answer, First Minister. Two years ago, we were told by the Welsh Government then that the objectives of the commission would be to analyse, advise and make recommendations on Wales's longer term strategic economic and environment infrastructure needs over a three or five to 30-year period. I am pleased that some commissioners have now been appointed, but it does seem that little else has been produced or achieved. A scoping paper, we're told, will be available later this year. That's almost two years after the establishment of the commission. And a state of the nation paper won't be available before 2022. It seems to me that, certainly until recently, all we've had is one member of staff working out of a Welsh Government office. Do you believe that the commission has the correct resources to carry out its work, and when will we see some tangible evidence of progress?

Well, Llywydd, the resources available—the staffing resources available—to the commission have increased in recent times. The letter that the Minister, Julie James, sent to Russell George on 16 September sets out the increased research capacity that the commission will need as its work develops. I thought that the report that the committee provided was a useful report. I thought the way in which Russell George set out its conclusions in his letter to Julie James on 14 August was a constructive way of looking to improve the work of the commission in the future, and I hope that the Member will agree that the Minister's reply on 16 September was in the same spirit.

The first annual report of the national infrastructure commission was always scheduled for November of this year—there's no surprise in that. We have always followed the committee's advice in saying that reports would be published every three years after that, so 2022 ought not to come as a surprise to anybody either. We will also review the operation of the commission before the elections in 2021. But all of that is a matter of public record, Llywydd—all of that has always been the way in which the commission has been described, confirmed in the Minister's letter of September, in which she responded positively to other aspects of the committee's work, particularly in looking at ways in which the remit of the commission can be expanded to take in aspects of housing within its remit.

The Valleys Taskforce

8. How will the Rhondda benefit from the Valleys Taskforce? OAQ54529

I thank the Member for that. Amongst the benefits accrued to the Rhondda through the work of the Valleys taskforce are the Valleys to Work bus pilot, helping people in the Rhondda to get into work, and access to the £10 million to bring empty homes back into use across the taskforce area.

Of course, buses and housing are what you should be providing anyway. The last time I pointed out the lack of investment in the Rhondda to you, you mentioned the Skyline project as something that could boost the local economy. Now, this is something that I would support; it chimes with the notion of communities taking control of local land and their own destiny, which was the basis of my paper 'A Greenprint for the Valleys', which I published eight years ago. There are, however, some barriers to progressing what has the potential to be a very exciting project, and this was evidenced during the event that was held recently in the Pierhead building. The obvious question relates to funding, so can you tell me today what money the Welsh Government is providing, or intends to provide, to facilitate the Skyline project in the Rhondda? More important, however, is the unwillingness of Natural Resources Wales as landowners to be enablers for this project. At the moment, they look like their role is one of procrastination and obstruction. So, will you instruct this Welsh Government department to get behind this project as a matter of urgency to support it with practical actions, so that your warm words on this matter can actually mean something?

14:30

Well, I thank the Member for drawing our attention to the Skyline project again, and I share her enthusiasm for it. I enjoyed the opportunity to be at the Pierhead, and I particularly enjoyed the chance to go to Blaenrhondda in August, and to meet people directly involved in the Skyline project there, to go and see for myself some of the places that they hope to bring within its scope, and to hear from them what they thought the immediate next steps for them would be. And they did mention NRW to me, so Leanne Wood is absolutely fairly drawing attention to that aspect of the Skyline's work. 

I offered them a further meeting later this year, if the work that they were engaged in didn't come to fruition in the way that they wanted. They were content at that moment to continue with the efforts that they themselves were making to resolve some of the obstacles that they saw in their path. But I said to them then, and I'm very happy to repeat it again today, that if they reach a point where they feel their own efforts are not succeeding in unblocking some of the barriers, as they saw it, to progress, I'm very happy to meet them again, and I'm very happy to work with other Ministers here to make sure that we do whatever we can to help that very exciting project to come to fruition. 

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

The next item is question to the Counsel General on his responsibilities as law officer, and the first question is from Bethan Sayed. 

The Size of the Prison Estate in Wales

1. What legal representations has the Counsel General made on behalf of the Welsh Government relating to the size of the prison estate in Wales? OAQ54520

I have not made any legal representations on the size of the prison estate in Wales myself.

Sorry, I was just struggling to hear. You said you haven't—

I haven't myself made any representations in relation to that. 

Okay. I'm just asking in relation to the Queen's Speech, as we heard this week that there is going to be a movement by the UK Government to extend sentencing in the UK, and, of course, the Ministry of Justice has still not shelved plans for a supersized prison in south Wales. They may have shelved the Port Talbot plan, but the south Wales superprison plan has not been shelved. In light of the announcement with regard to sentencing that may bring this idea back on track, would you be able to make representations, in your capacity, to the UK Government to understand what their propositions are, and whether we would be able to have any input here in Wales, as we were not afforded that when they previously floated the idea of the Port Talbot superprison?

I thank the Member for that supplementary question. I, too, saw the proposals made in the Queen's Speech yesterday. I'm afraid I take the entire event yesterday as something of a political stunt in the broader context of the situation in which the Government finds itself. But on the substantive point the Member makes about the prison estate in Wales, and the possibility, as she refers, of the Baglan development in particular, she will recall that, following the issues with that proposed development, the Welsh Government issued a written statement in April of last year, indicating that we wouldn't facilitate any further prison development in Wales without meaningful discussion with the Ministry of Justice about the future estate, and that any new prison development in Wales should give due regard to the needs of Wales and should be done in full collaboration and co-operation with the Welsh Government. 

I do understand that the Ministry of Justice may be pursuing sites for a new male prison in south Wales. However, we haven't had yet any further details in relation to that, but we have been pressing for those details to be provided, and we will continue to do so. But I reassure the Member that the principles set out in the statement of 6 April remain the Government's position. 

There is a real crisis, I think, in terms of the secure estate in Wales. There's always a focus on large male prisons, but there's no focus at all on the nature of the estate, and the way in which particularly women and young offenders are treated within the system. Now, this is an area where we have an entirely broken settlement, where the devolution settlement prevents both the United Kingdom Government and the Welsh Government delivering any coherent or holistic policy. So, it's a matter of absolute importance that we're able, first of all, of course, to secure the devolution of these matters to enable this place to plan a system more effectively, but, more importantly, and more urgently, possibly, to ensure that we have the facilities in this country to enable women and young offenders to be held properly in secure accommodation, where that is necessary, but also to receive the services that they require in order to promote rehabilitation within that. None of those exist at the moment within Wales. Is it possible, Counsel General, for you to use your office in order to promote this case with the Ministry of Justice and to ensure that we are able to deliver holistic policy in this field?

14:35

I thank the Member for that question. With regard to the matter of the devolution of the justice system, he will know, of course, that the Commission on Justice in Wales intends to report next week, and we look forward very much to hearing what conclusions they have reached in relation to this. He will know from his own engagement with the commission that this is a matter that they have, obviously, been exploring. He will also know, of course, that the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip published the female offending and youth justice blueprints, which he of course was also engaged on in his time in Government, which seek to develop, despite the devolution settlement, innovative ways of allying the services that Welsh Government can provide with the interventions that the UK Government make. And, obviously, the focus of that is on diverting people away from the criminal justice system and supporting them in a holistic and rehabilitative way.

In relation to the point he makes about female prisoners, there is no female prison in Wales, as he obviously knows, and we do not want one. Welsh women need a safe and secure facility that is fit for purpose, whilst allowing them to maintain contact with families, and in particular with their children, where that is the case. The Welsh Government has welcomed the MOJ's plans to trial five new residential centres as part of their female offending strategy, and has already made a strong case for ensuring that at least one of those proposed centres is located here in Wales.

The Blue Badge Scheme

2. What legal advice has the Counsel General provided to the Welsh Government in relation to the appropriateness of the guidance issued to local authorities on the blue badge scheme? OAQ54531

The Welsh Government keeps the guidance it issues on a range of matters under review. There is, of course, a debate scheduled tomorrow, to discuss the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee inquiry into the blue badge scheme in Wales, and the Government looks forward to hearing Members' views.

Thank you for that. Well, notwithstanding any debate, I've had constituents saying that, while the guidance issued by the Welsh Government on the blue badge scheme says that it supports the social model, they find that the legislation is medically focused and is inconsistently applied. In Neath Port Talbot, for example, we find that the council have insisted on evidence being provided by a hospital consultant, even though the applicants aren't under the care of a consultant. Do you accept, therefore, that the current situation is a mess and that your guidance and legislation in this area is lacking?

I thank the Member for that supplementary question. The matters that he refers to are, of course, matters that are very live in the consideration both of the committee and in relation to which a number of its recommendations apply. I know that the Minister for Economy and Transport has been engaging with the committee in relation to a number of those recommendations on an iterative basis. And I reiterate that we look forward to hearing what Members have to say in the debate tomorrow, and my colleague will respond in relation to that point.

I recognise, Counsel General, that many of these matters under consideration are matters for the departmental Minister rather than for you, but my concern is the ability of the Welsh Government to ensure that its policy is followed across the face of the country. Because one of the issues that's just been raised by the Plaid Cymru Member for South Wales West—which I have faced in my constituency myself—is that the local authority concerned simply does not deliver the policy as it's set out by the Welsh Government. In terms of your role as Counsel General, do you provide, or have you provided, any advice to Ministers, or to others, about how they can ensure that the policy as determined by this place, as determined by the Welsh Government, is actually delivered fairly and consistently across the whole country?

I hesitate to assert the convention, which I know that the Member understands applies, about the nature of advice given in relation to these matters. Of course, the question of our competence is one that is very live for me, and, whilst part of my responsibility as Counsel General is to ensure that we always act within our competence, I also take it to be the case that we should also act to the fullest extent of our competence, and I can assure him that those considerations are very much uppermost in my mind in responding to these sets of issues. 

14:40
The Commission on Justice in Wales

3. Will the Counsel General make a statement on the work of the Commission on Justice in Wales? OAQ54513

The Commission on Justice in Wales is due to publish its report on Thursday 24 October, and I look forward to reading the report.

Diolch. The Commission on Justice in Wales has published its recommendation regarding the law council for Wales. Its intended aims are to be commended, especially the promoting of assisting students in their education and training as future practitioners. The details of the proposed council highlight that it will help Welsh law schools to provide their students with the necessary education and training to thrive in practice. Now, according to UCAS, this academic year 890 undergraduate students from Wales started law courses across the UK. For example, universities such as Chester, Birmingham and Bristol are key centres for students who then go on to practice in Wales. Will you clarify whether the commission will have an influence on education and practice outside of Wales, and, if not, explain whether you accept that this is potentially negative news for awareness of Welsh law that does need addressing? 

Well, as I say, in relation to the particular recommendations that the commission will be making, we await to see what those recommendations are. I think it would be inappropriate to prejudge the work of an independent commission in that sense. She makes an important point about where students study the law and where they end up practising. She'll also know, I think, that Welsh law schools teach law to students from all over the UK and across the world. So, this is a matter where people study inside and outside Wales and practice in a number of settings.

But the point in relation to familiarity with Welsh law, which I know is at the heart of her question, is one which I'm very seized of, not least given the discussion we've had elsewhere and in this Chamber on other occasions in relation to the accessibility of Welsh law generally, and certainly in discussions I've had with the law schools, since my appointment as Counsel General, I have sought to look for opportunities to impress upon them how important it is to ensure that Welsh law plays its full part in the syllabus and prospectus of university courses, not, as it were, solely from the point of view of constitutional aspects but also the substantive law. And, as we here legislate more and more, I'm confident that the proportion of law taught in law schools in Wales that Welsh law represents will increase.   

Both the Counsel General and I, of course, gave evidence to the commission during its consideration, and, like you, I look forward to hearing its report next week. There is a fundamental issue at stake here with its work, of course, and that is about the nature of the settlement within the United Kingdom. We have addressed issues during First Minister's questions and during this session of questions to you already on these matters. Do you agree with me that it is important that, in Wales, as we look towards developing our own jurisdiction and to ensure that we have access to law as a social justice issue, but also a coherent statute book in terms of constitutional law, we look across the world for examples of how that is being achieved?

I and other Members were fortunate enough to visit Jerusalem earlier in the year and to meet with a former chief justice of Israel, where he explained how the Israeli jurisdiction grew out of the British jurisdiction following the secession of the UK mandate in Palestine, and was able to develop a jurisdiction over time of its own and take on additional powers and additional responsibilities as time grew. It appears to me that that's a very good model for Wales and a very good model that we may be able to follow.

Without prejudging the report of the commission next week, Counsel General, I'd be grateful if you could ensure that Members would have an early opportunity to debate these matters, and also ensure that we have a richer appreciation of how a Welsh jurisdiction will help us to achieve our ambitions for social justice but also ensure that we have a more coherent United Kingdom at the end of this process. 

Well, I thank the Member for that question. I will be interested in discussing further with him his reflections on the meeting and discussions he had with the former chief justice of Israel. In my capacity as Counsel General, I've looked into the question of jurisdiction with interest, and discussed in Scotland and Northern Ireland how their arrangements work and differ from ours here. I do think that the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales will operate partly as a catalyst for a richer set of discussions in this institution than perhaps we would have had to embrace in the past about questions in relation to criminal justice, broadly, and how that sits within the devolution settlement. And, in particular, the point that the Member makes about the question of jurisdiction arrangements into the future, I obviously don't wish to prejudge anything that the commission may say, but these are very important issues for us as the body of Welsh law continues to expand as we do our work.

14:45
Safe Speed Limits

4. What discussions has the Counsel General had with Cabinet colleagues about developing legislative proposals to deliver safe speed limits across Wales? OAQ54514

The First Minister announced in May that we support 20 mph as the default speed limit in built-up areas and we have established, as a Government, a task and finish group to provide recommendations on how to implement this, including potential changes to legislation.

Thank you. Well, I, for one, on behalf of my constituents in Aberconwy, was really pleased to hear the First Minister make that commitment because it's a big issue in my mailbox currently.

Welsh Government guidance 'Setting Local Speed Limits in Wales' has a major influence, obviously, on speed-limit decisions when considering the provision of a speed limit or modifications in a rural area. Highway authorities are supposed to consider 12 distinct factors. I myself have published a report that highlights that almost all considerations seem to be focused primarily on the numbers and types of collisions when they happen. Now, due to a lack of reported collisions, countless winding rural roads are currently stuck with dangerous speed limits. The First Minister has, in correspondence to me, advised that some of my work will be considered as part of a review of guidance, but I am concerned that progress will only be achieved by legalisation of the factors to be considered on setting local speed limits in Wales. Would you be willing to liaise with your Cabinet colleagues, and indeed the First Minister, to assess the potential implication of legalisation of the guidance?

Well, I thank the Member for that supplementary question. I'm always happy to co-operate with my colleagues in Government in relation to these matters and, indeed, every other relevant matter.

The taskforce has now met, I think, on two occasions to investigate the evidence that I know she will wish us, as a Government, to take into account, and has begun to identify the range of matters that she alludes to in her questions. The recommendations of that group, which will cover this ground, will be presented to the Minister and the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport before summer recess next year, and I'm sure those considerations will be uppermost in their minds.

3. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Diolch, Llywydd. There is one change to this week's business: tomorrow's short debate on the importance of animal welfare to promote Wales's image has been withdrawn. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement that can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Can I call for two statements from the Welsh Government? The first one is from the Minister for Health and Social Services, and it's in relation to secondary breast cancer and awareness of secondary breast cancer. The thirteenth of October, last Sunday, marked Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day, and I don't know if you're familiar with details about secondary breast cancer, but the reality is that there are thousands of people in Wales who are living with secondary breast cancer and, unfortunately, many of those will have experienced significant delays in diagnosis. According to statistics, it suggests that about one in three patients have to visit their GP more than three times in order to secure a diagnosis; one in four have expressed concerns about access to treatment; and one in three are not allocated a clinical nurse specialist, even once they've been diagnosed. So, clearly there needs to be some action on this front, and it would be good to have a statement from the Welsh Government about what action is being taken in order to address those particular concerns.

Can I also call for a statement from the Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs in relation to Old Colwyn's sea defences? I know that I've raised this matter on many occasions over the years in this Chamber, but you'll be aware that Conwy County Borough Council are trying to revisit the situation and to evaluate the current state of those sea defences. They have warned that the sea defences are at risk of catastrophic collapse. We know that those sea defences are right alongside the A55 and the north Wales railway line, and, in addition, they protect a significant part of the sewerage network in the Old Colwyn area. I think it's absolutely essential that we get to grips with the issue that is there in Old Colwyn, so that we can have those sea defences properly reinforced rather than the patch repairs that are done on an occasional basis by the local authority at the moment. I know that the budget round is coming up, and I think that may give scope for a big infrastructure project in places like Old Colwyn in order to protect that part of the coastline from collapse. I wonder whether we could have a statement on the readiness of the Welsh Government to address this particular problem in my constituency.

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

14:50

Thank you, Darren Millar, for raising those issues this afternoon. On the first, relating to secondary breast cancer and the particular concerns that have been raised in terms of delays in diagnosis, access to treatment and of course access to a clinical nurse specialist, I will ask the health Minister to write to you outlining the Welsh Government's action on each of those areas.FootnoteLink

The Old Colwyn sea defences—I know that you've raised this a number of times over the years. Can I ask you to write to the environment Minister with your specific concerns, particularly relating to the sewage line and so forth, so that she can consider that?

The first matter I want to raise today concerns Barclays Bank's decision to take away the ability of its customers to use the Post Office to access their accounts. For people in some of the communities that I represent, this has caused great concern after the recent closure of Barclays Bank branches in the Rhondda. Indeed, the ability of customers to use the Post Office following the closure of the local Barclays branch was cited by senior management within the bank as a means of softening the blow when they closed those branches. Barclays are putting profit before the people who have stood loyally by them over many, many years. What happens when other banks follow suit and cut their ties with the Post Office network as well? This would jeopardise personal banking in isolated areas of the country, and it would jeopardise the sustainability of the Post Office branches. So can you tell me what representations have been made by this Government, or what representations can be made by the Welsh Government on this matter?

I want to express my deep concern at events in Catalonia. Nine Catalan leaders were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for having the temerity to represent in a peaceful and democratic manner the wishes of the people who elected them. I can scarcely believe that this is happening in Europe and in 2019. It is shocking that a so-called modern democracy could act in such an authoritarian way. It is shocking that the international community, and especially fellow European Governments, have been largely silent on this matter, and it is shocking that the UK press coverage has been so unsympathetic to the Catalan politicians.

So I wish to express solidarity with the imprisoned politicians and others, and in particular the Speaker, Carme Forcadell, who has been incarcerated for 18 months without trial and now faces another 11 years in prison away from her children and her grandchildren. Her crime? As Llywydd, she just allowed the debate to be held. So I want to express solidarity with the Catalan people who remain steadfast in their determination to achieve independence. Their courage in the face of such horrific state brutality and violence remains an inspiration.

Now, I'm not aware that the Welsh Government has issued a statement on this matter. It's not possible to be a bystander on a question like this. Will you therefore agree to allocate time this week for a Government-backed debate on this grave injustice that is happening so close to home?

Thank you very much. On the first issue, where you expressed concern over Barclays Bank not allowing their customers to use the Post Office for their banking needs, obviously we would share those concerns, because as you say, when banks decide to pull out of communities, we're regularly told that it won't have an impact on those individuals because they can use the local post office. And if the Minister hasn't yet made representations on that matter, I will ensure that we do so.FootnoteLink FootnoteLink

I think that the First Minister set out our approach in relation to the Catalan issue during his First Minister’s question time this afternoon. He said that as a general rule he is and Welsh Government is reluctant to be drawn into matters that aren't the responsibility of Welsh Government or of this institution, but took the opportunity to say that we are rightly concerned about the imprisonment of democratically elected representatives, and we would certainly be of the view that it is political dialogue and political discourse that should be the way forward.

14:55

I wanted to raise the matter of constituents who are having difficulty getting their ears syringed without having to pay considerable sums of money. They've got blocked ears through a build-up of ear wax and when they have been to their GP surgeries, they've been told that this facility no longer exists at their GPs and they've been referred to private businesses who are charging them as much as £95.

This is not the first time that this matter has been raised in the Assembly, because nearly three years ago Vaughan Gething, the health Minister, issued a statement saying that ear syringing is provided through the NHS and no-one should expect to have to pay for this service. So, given that this has been happening in more than one surgery, I just wondered if we could have a further statement from the health Minister to clarify whether the Welsh Government has changed their policy, and if not, what action is going to be taken in discussion with the health boards to ensure that this very basic service—being able to hear—is available as part of the NHS.

Thank you very much to Jenny Rathbone for raising that issue and there's been no change in terms of Welsh Government’s approach. Wax management is provided through the NHS in Wales and nobody should be expected to have to pay for those services. It's not explicitly part of the GP contract and, as such, some GPs have traditionally provided services whereas others have simply referred all of their patients with ear wax symptoms to hospital ear, nose and throat departments. And if a GP practice doesn't provide a wax management service, the practice should refer the patient to the health board's ear care nurse specialist. I will ask the health Minister to consider how we can recommunicate that to health boards so that there’s no confusion among GPs about their responsibilities for wax management.

If I could endorse the sentiments raised by the Member for Cardiff Central, I too have come across this in the Vale of Glamorgan, where surgeries have not so much withdrawn the service, but when their equipment has become antiquated and dilapidated, they haven't replaced that equipment and therefore they say that they cannot perform the procedure at the surgery. And the point that the organiser made to the Assembly just now in her response, that you can get thrown into the system of the local health board making arrangements and referred to the hospital, surely this is the very thing that the First Minister was talking about, which was developing more community-based solutions so that people don't go into the acute sector to have these basic problems sorted. It has to be done and I would hope that that communication between you and the health Secretary will reinforce what the Government expects.

Two things if I could ask from you today, organiser: one is Tomlinsons Dairies Ltd, which has gone into administration. I'm speaking in my role as spokesperson on rural affairs for the Conservative group on this particular issue. Whilst it is deeply, deeply troubling for the workers, the farmer-suppliers and everyone involved with this major employer in the area and production facility that it has gone into administration, it is slightly disappointing that a statement hasn't been forthcoming to date from the Welsh Government over what support is being afforded to the facility, and importantly what the Welsh Government knew about the precarious situation this dairy found itself in.

If press reports are to be believed, Welsh Government has been involved in a turn-around plan at this facility for 18 months, and yet, overnight, obviously supplies were withdrawn or suppliers were instructed not to send their supply in and employees were left in a very precarious situation with little or no information, as well as obviously substantial sums of money—I believe in excess of £5 million has been pumped in by the Welsh Government to support the expansion of the facility. So, it is very important on a number of fronts that a statement is forthcoming. In the immediacy that statement should deal with what support is there for the workers at the facility and the farmer-suppliers, but secondly, there should be clarification as to the level of involvement the Welsh Government had with this key facility in north-east Wales, which was a key supplier of Welsh milk. And as I understand it, in the short term, that milk now is going to be branded British milk, because, obviously, there aren't facilities to produce Welsh milk in the area at the moment, as Arla have indicated in the e-mail to Members today.

Secondly, I would hope that the organiser will make time available in Government time so that we can have a debate—a debate on the need for a general election, organiser. The First Minister said that we needed a general election in response to the first question today. You are very often organising debates so that this Assembly can speak with one voice. I would hope that Members around this Chamber want to speak with one voice and say that it's a matter of urgency that we have a general election and that you will commit to bringing forward a Government debate so that we can endorse the creation of an environment for a general election so that the Conservatives can endorse what we want to do for the country, with a manifesto that will be supported by the people the length and breadth of Wales and beyond.

15:00

I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for raising those issues. On the second, of course, I remind Andrew that he has an opportunity every Wednesday afternoon to bring forward debates of his liking.

But I will return to the wax management issue that he mentioned at the start of his contribution. A wax management task and finish group was set up in 2018, and that agreed a draft national integrated pathway for the safe and effective management of ear wax. The Welsh Government is currently working with key stakeholders to consider the draft pathway and ensure that it does provide for consistent patient outcomes across Wales. That pathway, then, will be considered by the Minister once the evidence has properly been analysed by policy officials, but, of course, if Members have experiences locally that they'd like to share with the Minister ahead of his consideration of that, I know he'd be keen to hear those experiences.

In relation to Tomlinsons Dairies Ltd, of course we are fully committed to the Welsh dairy industry and are very saddened by the news of the closure of Tomlinsons Dairies Ltd. It is the case that we've worked closely with the company and its stakeholders during the past 18 months to seek to resolve the ongoing business issues, and that support revolved around trade negotiations with the business and its stakeholders, and also supported the sale of an on-site packaging company to support the stability of the overall business. We've also worked very closely with the Development Bank of Wales by introducing additional support through the turnaround restructure options, which the Development Bank of Wales offers.

We are working with Wrexham local authority to help all staff who have been affected, and have set up an immediate taskforce to respond to the redundancy situation at the company. We're also fully supportive of all dairy farmers affected by the closure and we're in discussion with the farming unions and other stakeholders to consider the support that is required at this difficult time.

I want to ask for a statement on the future of the food processing sector more broadly in Wales. We’ve heard about the difficulties of Tomlinsons, of course, and the implications of that, and that comes barely 18 months after the loss of Arla in Llandyrnog too. There are issues, therefore, in terms of milk processing. But we heard last week, of course, about Randall Parker Foods in Llanidloes, which will now not be processing beef, and that is going to have serious implications for many producers in a sector that is already in a very difficult situation. So, there are questions about the role and the support available for the food processing sector more broadly in Wales. Because if we are serious about developing a viable food economy and a Welsh food brand that’s of value, then we have to have those processors in place in order to assist us to achieve that aim.

I, tomorrow, will be sponsoring a celebration of Welsh food and drink. It’s World Food Day tomorrow, and it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate what we have. But as we see the loss of processors like this, of course, it undermines the sector and undermines the opportunities that we have to build the rural economy on the back of that sector. So, I would expect the Government, hopefully, to have an opportunity to make a statement to outline how it sees the opportunities to grow, develop and support that sector in this difficult period.

May I also ask for a statement from the First Minister on the claims that the rural affairs Minister has broken the ministerial code by intervening, in her ministerial role, in a case related to a constituent, although that was beyond her portfolio responsibilities as Minister? They are claims, of course, but I am concerned that there isn’t sufficient transparency here. I don’t know whether the First Minister has carried out an inquiry or not. We need to know that. And once again, it does raise a question as to how appropriate it is that the First Minister should lead on processes such as this. Isn’t it now time, as many of us have suggested in the past, that there should be an external body or individual outwith Government inquiring into these issues—still bringing a report to the First Minister so that the First Minister should make the final decision, but we need that arm’s-length element in cases such as this that would bring greater transparency? I don’t think it’s right that the First Minister is judge, jury and executioner, and I would call for a statement, for clarity on this particular case, but also on any intention that the Government has to reform the process.

15:05

Well, Llyr Gruffydd is right that the food and drink industry is very much one of the jewels in the crown of our economy here in Wales, and I know that the Minister works extremely hard to provide the best possible support for the food and drink sector and that the importance of food processing is very much understood, especially with the challenges we face with Brexit. Of course, the Minister is here to hear your comments, and she will certainly take that into consideration in terms of considering when and how to best update the Assembly on the work that is being done in the food and drink sector here in Wales.

The second point in relation to the ministerial code—of course, the Member will be aware that there is a process that is set out, and the process is under way, and I wouldn't be able to say any more at this point today.

Can I add Swansea East as one of those places where people are getting referred to private practices to get their ears syringed—and Port Talbot? It's an all-Wales problem and, perhaps, one that needs addressing fairly rapidly.

I've got two requests for statements. The first one is: teachers in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot did not get their pay award at the end of September. I have chased this around lots of different places, including the councils, ERW and the Minister for Education. I am told that this is because the Welsh Government have not released the money for the award and not confirmed that the award, which has been made in England, is going to be paid in Wales. I don't know whether that's right or not, but that's what I've been told, so there is obviously confusion out there. So, can I request an urgent Government statement providing an update on the paying of this year's—2019-20—teachers' pay award?

The second statement I'm requesting is a statement to be made on the health delivery plans, such as the diabetes delivery plan and the cancer delivery plan. Again, I am told that the current plans finish in 2020 and there are concerns that they're going to end. I have no belief for a moment that they're going to end and that we'll have no continuation of the plan, but there's nervousness amongst some of the people involved that could be put to bed, as it were, if the Welsh Government can start making statements on those that are coming to an end in 2020.

Thank you to Mike Hedges for that contribution. I can confirm that there will be a statement very, very shortly regarding the teachers' pay award 2019. Of course, once implemented, any changes to teachers' pay for 2019-20 will be backdated to 1 September. So, I would expect that there will be a statement, either today or tomorrow, in respect of that.

Again, Mike Hedges is right that most major health condition delivery plans come to an end in December 2020, and we are currently developing the approach and the proposals for the successor arrangements to improve the quality of care for major conditions, such as cancer and diabetes. And the Minister for Health and Social Services does expect to make a written statement outlining the future approach before the end of the year.

May I ask for a statement from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on the links between poor housing and poor physical and mental health? A recent joint report by Public Health Wales, Community Housing Cymru and the Building Research Establishment states that poor-quality housing costs the NHS in Wales more than £95 million a year in treatment costs. Please, could we have a statement from the Minister on what action she is taking, in conjunction with the Minister for Health and Social Services, to improve the quality of existing homes in Wales in view of the findings contained in this report, please?

I know that there's a great deal of work going on in this area across Government, where we do recognise that housing does play a very important role in terms of people's physical and mental health. One example would be the additional funding that is going through the regional partnership boards, and that is about taking a housing-led approach to social services and health issues, and I think that's a really exciting piece of work. Of course, the Minister has recently said a bit more about the work that we would do in terms of retrofitting, because we know the importance of retrofitting homes not only for carbon reasons, but also in terms of ensuring people have warm and safe homes to live in. But I know that the Minister will write to you with an update on what we're doing in the wider context.

15:10

With regard to my first issue, you may have seen a very good article on WalesOnline in the last few days about the fact that Gwent Police were accused of covering up for a police officer who was domineering, controlling and physically abusive to several women who were also police officers. He was only given a warning, he wasn't arrested, the system protected him and not the women, and normal procedures were not followed. In fact, the women said that it was a boys' club and they closed ranks around themselves. Of course, the women are taking legal action now, but, unfortunately, they have to crowdfund because they're not rich enough to be able to fight the system. I'm wondering if we can have a debate in Government time on the Government's priorities in relation to domestic abuse, but also in relation to how you're dealing with the police in this regard, because of course you can't comment on legal action, but you can of course comment on the wider issue of how we can encourage the police and the police and crime commissioners to take these complaints seriously when they come to their attention.

My second request is for a statement from the Welsh Government on your support for asylum seekers in Wales. I've got two cases I'm sure you're aware of as well, Trefnydd, with regard to Otis Bolamu and also Michael Gebredikan—I hope I've said that right. One is from Congo, and you will know that he was detained over Christmas, who's having an appeal hearing tomorrow, and the other is from Eritrea, and if he's deported to Germany, where his family is, he may be then deported back to Eritrea. The UK don't currently deport there because they don't know what the situation is with regard to the support for asylum seekers there when they do arrive back, but we're continually seeing these propositions coming to us, with very vulnerable people being potentially sent back to terrifying situations. I would hope that the First Minister's comments earlier would echo how we in this Chamber should be supporting those people who need our support, and not vilifying them and pitting them against poor people in our society. At the end of the day, they need our support, and I would urge Welsh Government to bring forward a debate so that we can ensure that Wales is the nation of sanctuary that we purport to be.

Thank you, Bethan, for raising these issues. I will certainly discuss with the Minister responsible, actually, for both of these issues in terms of when we can best provide an update on the work that Welsh Government is doing in terms of domestic abuse, but specifically, really, how we're working with the police forces in order to do that. I know that work is ongoing, for example, in terms of training for trauma-informed approaches and so on, which are so important when dealing with people who have been through very, very difficult experiences.

And, again, I'll have the same conversation about the support that we are giving to asylum seekers, because it is important that we are that nation of sanctuary that we purport to be. I know Welsh Government, for its part, is doing a huge amount to try and make that a reality, and make people feel that they are welcomed here when they come here. We recognise again, very similarly, that lots of people who have sought sanctuary with us have been through extremely difficult circumstances, which many of us couldn't even begin to imagine. And I'm familiar with the cases that you described; I saw Otis just a couple of weekends ago, as I know you did as well. I know that he is particularly grateful for the support that he's had from the community in Swansea and beyond.

Over the summer, my office was inundated by residents who were upset by Stagecoach's decision to scrap the no. 25 bus service from Caerphilly to Cardiff via Thornhill crematorium and the University Hospital Wales, and merge it into an existing much longer and much more inconvenient route for residents in Caerphilly. Despite a number of residents' petitions, Stagecoach scrapped the service in September, and we held meetings with Stagecoach throughout September and October, and eventually persuaded them to reintroduce an hourly service from Caerphilly to the Heath, and also to the Thornhill crematorium, which mirrored the old no. 25 route, but it was an hourly not a two-hourly service. It's going to be trialled from January for six months, and we urge residents to use that service as much as possible, but the key issue here is that Stagecoach were able to make these unpopular decisions because they were commercial decisions. With that in mind, would the Trefnydd consider a statement or a debate in Government time on reforming bus services to make them more user-friendly to residents who need these services, and not just use them on a commercial basis?

15:15

Thank you, Hefin David, for that question. I know that your constituents will be particularly grateful for the work that you've done in terms of getting that replacement service. Even though it doesn't return the service to an hourly service, it certainly, I think, would be very welcome that you've made that effort on their behalf.

In terms of the problems you describe, they're very much the result of the failed deregulation of the bus industry, which has made it very difficult to have a service in Wales that meets the needs of people in Wales, which is one of the reasons why the proposals in the upcoming legislation that the Minister with responsibility for transport is leading on will be so important and I know that, in due course, he will be updating Members of the Assembly on those proposals within the legislation.

Minister, I note with great concern the UK Government's decision to increase the Public Works Loan Board interest rate by a full 1 per cent—in fact, moving from 1.8 per cent to 2.8 per cent with immediate effect. This has the effect to take away the ability of local councils to borrow at a lower rate than that provided by private lenders and will inevitably lead to councils having to reassess their business plans, with possible cancellation of projects in order to continue funding current projects, as well as giving grave concern for delivering infrastructure and front-line projects at all. Would you, Minister, or the First Minister, make a statement on the Welsh Government's position in regard to this announcement?

Well, our position is that this is a retrograde move and it makes things even more difficult for local authorities and is particularly concerning now because business cases for all kinds of things that local authorities have been planning on—for example, regeneration activities, social housing and other investment—will now need to be reassessed again in light of this development, in terms of trying to explore what is affordable locally and what they're able to plan for. But these are concerns that I will certainly be raising. 

Minister, I'm sure you would have been delighted on Saturday night to receive the news that the Cory brass band have again become the national champions of Great Britain, that they've now completed a grand slam of major brass band titles held in the same year, a feat achieved on only two previous occasions, one of which was theirs, and that this confirms their position now as the No. 1 brass band for the thirteenth consecutive year. I wonder if you think it would be appropriate for the Government to host an event in this Assembly to commemorate these incredible world champion ambassadors for Wales.

And the second point, Minister, is this: they are shortly off to America, to be followed by South Korea. I wonder if there could be a statement from Welsh Government to outline the way in which these cultural ambassadors for Wales can be connected with the Welsh Government's own ambitions in terms of promoting Welsh economic interests abroad, in countries like America and South Korea. And perhaps my final request is that I think it would be great if Welsh Government wrote on behalf of this entire Chamber to congratulate the entire brass band and all those from across south Wales who actually work and support the band on this stunning success.

Thank you, Mick Antoniw. Welsh Government will certainly join you in congratulating the Cory Band for being the best in the world for 13 years, which is a heck of an achievement, isn't it? I know that the Minister and I—the Minister with responsibility for music and I—will have a discussion about how we can best mark that incredible achievement here in the Assembly and also explore how we can better use these amazing cultural ambassadors that we have. 

Wales is a community of communities, and one community in Wales is the Catalan community. I welcome the comments made earlier by the First Minister expressing concern about what is happening in Barcelona and also what happened in Madrid in locking up democratically elected politicians. I support the call for a debate on what is happening in Catalunya and I'd like the Government to seriously consider this. But I'd like you to go further and express support for the Catalan community living in Wales and the people of Catalunya at this present time, because politicians out there have been jailed for keeping their democratically elected promises. There were 113 civilians injured yesterday at Barcelona airport, where they were fired upon by police and Guardia Civil, I believe. So, could we have a Government statement on these matters, please?

15:20

I certainly join others in putting on record Welsh Government support for the Catalan community here in Wales, because we have a long history of close relationships with Catalonia and obviously we want to see that continue. We enjoy some really positive international links through the European networks that we share, and around a third of Spanish-owned companies in Wales are headquartered in Catalonia. So, we do have these close important cultural links but also close and important economic links as well.

Can I call for two statements? Firstly, on the INTERREG Ireland-Wales 2014-20 programme, which, as you know, encourages regions to work together to address common economic, environmental and social challenges. In Wales, the two INTERREG regions are north Wales, with a population of just over 696,000, and west Wales, with 630,000—so, not dissimilar populations. But I've been given a freedom of information response from the Welsh European Funding Office, which says that there were 62 projects submitted but only 19 of these involved a north Wales partner, and only 12 were led by an organisation based in Wales. And, of 18 projects approved, only five had a north Wales partner—sorry, included a north Wales partner—and only two were led by a north Wales partner. So, only 28 per cent of projects approved included a partner in north Wales; only 11 per cent led by a north Wales partner. I call for a statement to reflect concern raised with me—it isn't my concern, although I do have concern if the answer is the wrong answer—that potential INTERREG projects have not necessarily received the support and engagement in north Wales that they have elsewhere, because I know that demand in north Wales, potentially, should be equal at least to that in west Wales.

Secondly, could I call for a Welsh Government statement on its developing revised policy on fuel poverty in light of two new reports? A report on 3 October from the Auditor General for Wales said that the number of households in fuel poverty in Wales had fallen since 2008, but the Welsh Government had missed its targets. It said that the causes of fuel poverty are complex, that Welsh Government have spent £249 million on its Warm Homes programme to reduce fuel poverty, but identified tensions between trying to eradicate carbon emissions from domestic housing and prioritising efforts and funding on fuel-poor households, which tend to use less energy, and made a series of recommendations to the Welsh Government, including lessons learnt from the failure to meet the current targets set in 2010, linking fuel poverty schemes with other work to tackle the underlying cause of fuel poverty, and considering how fuel poverty schemes could prevent costs in other service areas and contribute to wider policy goals.

And, secondly, in this context, the report on 7 October from the Bevan Foundation, which said that, although the Welsh Government had made some progress in reducing fuel poverty over the last decade, it noted that the richest households had benefited most. In 2008, of the 70 per cent richest households, over 83,000 were estimated to be living in fuel poverty, and that that's now 75 per cent lower, whereas the bottom 10 tenth, poorest, households have only seen a drop of 25 per cent. So, we now have only 21,000 of the richest households and 92,000 of the poorest households, perhaps, as they said, providing

'an indication as to why the Welsh Government has failed in its target to eradicate fuel poverty',

and proposing that, in future, the fuel poverty targets should instead be focused on the poorest households rather than simply across the piste. I call for a statement accordingly.

On the first issue, regarding the INTERREG projects and particularly the number of INTERREG projects that have been supported in north Wales, perhaps Mark Isherwood would write to me with the information that he was giving this afternoon in the Chamber and I'll be able to look at that and also perhaps then advise on work that has been done to support and promote projects in the north Wales region.

On the second issue of fuel poverty, Welsh Government is very familiar with the two reports that you have referred to, and we are considering those reports alongside the consideration that we're giving to the way forward in terms of our approach to tackling fuel poverty.

15:25

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Trefnydd, last year, the Children, Young People and Education Committee produced a report on perinatal mental health. The excellent work that they produced had a very positive response from the Welsh Government, and I know the Welsh Government have taken action on some of those recommendations. However, one of those major recommendations was the introduction of a mother and baby unit, and we seem to have no actual progress on that particular recommendation. Now, last week, we all, across this Chamber, recognised World Mental Health Day on Thursday, but here we have a situation where we still need to take action to address the mother and baby unit in perinatal mental health. Can we have a statement from the Minister for health to actually see the progress being made on those recommendations, and particularly on a mother and baby mental health unit?

Thank you, David Rees. I will certainly ask the health Minister to write to you with an update, but I can confirm that we are committed and remain committed to establishing a unit as a matter of priority, and that work is being led by the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee.FootnoteLink The implementation of such a specialised service is complex, and it must take into account factors such as location, suitability of premises and workforce capacity. But the management group has been working with Swansea Bay University Health Board to develop a business case for a six-bedded mother and baby unit to be hosted in the region.

There is concern, I know, that there might be a length of time before that unit might be open; I think that the indicative planning set out by the health board indicates a timescale of being operational by summer 2021. So, as a result of that, Welsh Government officials are working with the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee and Swansea Bay to explore options for an interim solution or to see if there are ways that we can accelerate that planning, and those discussions are being taken forward as a matter of urgency.

4. The Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 (Variation of Schedule 8) (Wales) Order 2019

Item 4 on the agenda is the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 (Variation of Schedule 8) (Wales) Order 2019, and I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to move the motion—Lesley Griffiths.

Motion NDM7158 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

Approves that the draft The Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 (Variation of Schedule 8) (Wales) Order 2019 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 24 September 2019.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I move the motion. The statutory instrument before you enables the Welsh Government to bring forward revisions to the legislation governing agricultural tenancies. Updating Schedule 8 to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 will bring legislation in line with modern day farming practices. Members are being asked to agree to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 (Variation of Schedule 8) (Wales) Order 2019. By agreeing this revision, Welsh Government will amend and update the 1986 Act to allow the application of manure, fertiliser, soil improvers and digestate to tenanted land in Wales. It will also amend the Act to disallow the spreading of third-party manure on a tenanted holding. Making these amendments will assist biosecurity on farms by contributing to the prevention of disease transfer between holdings.

I would also like to bring to Members' notice that this SI is part of a suite of three SIs, the other two being made under negative procedure: the Agriculture (Calculation of Value for Compensation) (Revocations) (Wales) Regulations 2019 and the Agriculture (Model Clauses for Fixed Equipment) (Wales) Regulations 2019. Both have been laid in the Assembly for the statutory 21 days, with a coming into force date of 1 November 2019. Bringing the three SIs forward together will remove complexity and ambiguity for the sector. The agricultural tenancy sector makes up almost 30 per cent of land farmed in Wales, so it is essential legislation is in place to ensure these businesses can be as efficient and effective as possible.

I have no speakers for the debate. Therefore, the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

5. Statement by the First Minister: Constitutional Policy

We now move to item 5, which is a statement by the First Minister on constitutional policy, and I call on the First Minister, Mark Drakeford.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I wish to make a statement on the constitutional policy of the Welsh Government. On Thursday 10 October, we published our new policy document, ‘Reforming our Union: Shared Governance in the UK’.

When the new Prime Minister came to Cardiff in July, I told him that Brexit represented a threat to the future of the union. I said that the union was under greater threat than at any time in my lifetime. But, in terms of the response by the UK Government, there is just silence. That’s why we are publishing this new document. If the UK Government is not prepared to give this issue serious thought, the Welsh Government must do so. We believe in a strong Wales within a strong United Kingdom. So, we are calling for fundamental reform, namely reform of the institutions, processes and culture of the United Kingdom.

And, Dirprwy Lywydd, there can be no question, I think, that Brexit poses a fundamental threat to the governance of the UK. But there is so little evidence of any serious thinking on this by the UK Government itself. That is why the Welsh Government is setting out our proposals for the fundamental reform that is required.

We propose a fundamental recasting of the way in which sovereignty is conceptualised in the United Kingdom; an entrenched constitutional settlement, with reform of the Sewel convention to secure much greater clarity in the relations between the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures. And we call for a reformed upper House of Parliament, with a membership, largely or wholly elected, that takes into account the multinational character of the union. So far as the devolved administrations are concerned, we argue that the allocation of governmental responsibilities within the UK should be based on the principle of subsidiarity; that relationships between the four Governments should be based on a partnership of equals in a spirit of mutual respect; and that there must be a root-and-branch reform of the existing inter-governmental mechanisms, including improved dispute resolution procedures and parity of participation in the way those mechanisms operate. We call for the involvement of devolved administrations in forming the UK Government’s policy on international relations and trade, and for fair funding across the four UK nations.

Dirprwy Lywydd, all of these proposals are based on a conception of the United Kingdom as a voluntary association of nations that co-operate together to advance our common interests. So, we are fundamentally concerned with how the UK as a whole should be governed, based on a recognition of our mutual interdependence. That requires a degree of shared governance. But the arrangements for that shared governance have to be radically reformed if we are to be able to serve our citizens well. And we must stop making ad hoc adjustments to individual settlements without regard to the wider UK context.

Dirprwy Lywydd, this is a time when traditional constitutional conventions and understandings are breaking down. So, in this document, we repeat our call for a constitutional convention to address the issues, with particular consideration of the future relationship between the devolved institutions on the one hand and Westminster and Whitehall on the other. Such a convention should not, we say, be confined to those who work already within these systems. It must be amplified and informed by the collective voice of citizens as well. And such a convention would need to consider, at this time of potential constitutional fracture, whether it is now right to move towards a written or codified constitution for the United Kingdom.

So, Dirprwy Lywydd, we are putting an ambitious agenda on the table. If the United Kingdom is to survive the challenges thrown up by the debate around Brexit, this is a debate we cannot avoid. I know that, here in the Senedd, there are Members who already recognise the seriousness of this challenge and the seriousness with which it needs to be approached. And of course, I welcome hearing all Members' views on these issues.

15:35

The Llywydd took the Chair.

But, Llywydd, let me make this final point: the format of this document is important. We want to stimulate an urgent debate, but we do not claim to have all the answers. So what we have put forward is a set of propositions, and we want the UK Government, and of course others, to engage with them. It is the proper purpose of politics to argue out competing propositions and different views of our futures. In this document, we say, 'Here is our version of how that future should be saved.' To others here in Wales and in other parts of the United Kingdom, we say, 'Please let that debate begin.' Diolch yn fawr.

Can I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon? Britain is now in an unprecedented constitutional process, and the UK's withdrawal from the European Union will change the relationship between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. As Britain moves further along this process, the inter-governmental relations between each part of the UK are profoundly critical in providing constitutional stability to the union. It is clear that the Welsh Government's 'Reforming our Union' report calls for a root-and-branch reform of the existing inter-governmental mechanisms, including memoranda of understanding, to meet the new challenges of a post-Brexit world. Therefore, my first question to the First Minister is to ask what immediate inter-governmental talks have taken place between himself and his counterparts across the UK on this specific issue, because effective inter-governmental relations are essential in order to achieve a smooth transfer of competencies from the European Union to the devolved administrations.

Today's statement on the Welsh Government's 'Reforming our Union' report rightly acknowledges that the principles underpinning devolution should be recognised as fundamental to the UK constitution. The UK Government currently has unlimited legislative competence across the UK, and I think there's weight to the argument that a new settlement could be introduced to ensure that future UK Governments do not legislate on matters within devolved competence. In outlining this cause, the First Minister has reiterated the concept of subsidiarity, acknowledging popular sovereignty in each part of the UK, and that concept was also favoured by the House of Lords' Constitution Committee in its inquiry into the union and devolution. However, that report also concluded that powers should only be devolved to a particular nation when doing so would benefit the people of that nation, and without detriment to the union as a whole. Therefore, in light of this, can the First Minister tell us his views on how the subsidiarity principle can be tested effectively when seeking to devolve further powers, so that future Welsh Governments, of any colour, can't simply seek the devolution of powers on whatever they want, based on their own political will?

There are also concerns over the development of common frameworks for when Britain leaves the European Union. There is still a wealth of discussions to be had over the nature of some of those frameworks—for example, whether they'll take shape in the form of legislation or perhaps by memorandum of understanding. Perhaps in his response the First Minister could take the opportunity to update Members on where we are in relation to the development of common frameworks.

Of course, no discussion on constitutional reform is complete without considering the fiscal responsibilities of devolved legislatures. Today's statement confirms that fiscal responsibility has become an increasingly important part of recent changes to the devolution settlements across the UK. And we, on this side of the Chamber, have long called for financial reform that would see the balance of power and resources more fairly shared across Britain. And so, I'm pleased that the Welsh Government is advocating the replacement of the Barnett formula with a needs-based system. The First Minister makes it clear that he believes the legitimacy of a UK fiscal framework can only be properly secured if it is jointly agreed and independently operated and assured. And perhaps the First Minister could provide some more specific information about this proposition.

At the crux of any constitutional reform must be a commitment from all legislatures, across the UK, to respect the devolution settlement. I agree with the First Minister that the relationship between the four Governments of the UK should be based on mutual respect, and I can certainly see the merit of a constitutional convention as a vehicle for bringing forward future constitutional developments. Of course, Wales must have a seat at the table when it comes to developing new constitutional policy, but we must be careful that any new constitutional set-up doesn't compromise the devolution settlement, and, indeed, the union of the United Kingdom. Therefore, can the First Minister tell us how he envisages this new convention operating? And how confident is he that the devolution settlement can be safeguarded by this new constitutional vehicle?

As Britain's constitutional future begins to change in the wake of withdrawing from the European Union, it's more crucial than ever that the people of the UK are engaged fully in a debate about the structure of the UK. I think it's fair to say that, on the whole, people are more concerned with the quality of their public services and the accountability of their governments, and so we, as representatives, must do more to engage with the people of Wales on its future. The First Minister talks about the voice of the citizen being involved in this process, and so perhaps he could tell us a bit more about the Welsh Government's consultation and engagement plans with the people of Wales on how they want to see our country's constitutional position in the future.

So, with that, Llywydd, we, on this side of the Chamber, share the First Minister's commitment to see Wales thrive in a strong United Kingdom, and I look forward to working constructively with the Welsh Government and Governments right across the UK to respect the devolution settlement and protect the union of the United Kingdom for the future.

15:40

Well, Llywydd, can I thank Paul Davies for that thoughtful and constructive contribution, and many points on which I think we have some agreement? I'll try and deal with his questions as best I can. He asked for an account of the latest state of play in relation to discussions on inter-governmental relations. And I'm sorry to begin with a less than positive note, but he will know that a review of inter-governmental relations was agreed at a JMC plenary 18 months ago—agreed between my predecessor, Carwyn Jones, and Prime Minister Mrs May and Nicola Sturgeon. Responsibilities were shared out amongst the nations to lead on six different themes within that review, and yet that review is still to conclude. And, without any JMC plenary in the diary, there's no mechanism for it being able to report even on the progress that has been made. And, to be fair, I hear through officials that some progress has been made in some of those strands—the principal strands that the Welsh Government has led on, and some more recent progress in relation to independent forms of dispute resolution, and that would be a genuine step forward, if we were to be able to make progress in that area. But the progress is desperately slow. It has nowhere near the sense of urgency that is necessary, given the fact that we may be about to leave the European Union within a matter of days. And it's a reflection of the frustration that we have felt that even when you get an agreement with the UK Government that work is needed to be done, it stretches out to infinity before you get any sense of resolution. 

Llywydd, I was very glad to hear what the leader of the opposition said about overlapping abilities to legislate, because at the heart of some of the proposals in our document is a separation of those responsibilities and a rowing back of the ability in the current settlement for a UK Parliament to override the legislative competence and responsibility, and indeed decision making, of devolved bodies.

We put forward proposals for the Sewel convention. Sewel is meant to be the defence against the UK Government legislating arbitrarily in devolved areas, but, as the Supreme Court said in the Miller case, it is an entirely political convention and it needs codification at the very least, in the way that we set out. Because, at the moment, the way that Sewel operates is that it is entirely in the hands of the UK Government to decide when a 'not normal' set of circumstances have been arrived at. They make that judgment; they decide how to act. They have to report to nobody on how they came to that conclusion, and we set out ways in which Sewel could be codified. It could be set out in a set of rules that at least would be challengeable by those who take a different view. We proposed that the House of Commons and the House of Lords would have separate responsibilities in having reports on the operation of Sewel, and where, if a UK Government decided to try to legislate in an area devolved to us, against the will of the National Assembly, we would have, or the National Assembly would have, rather, the ability to make representations to the House of Commons and the House of Lords to put the alternative point of view. That, I think, is a way of reforming the status quo, but we go beyond that in the paper and propose a future in which there is just clear separation of responsibilities and the ability of the UK Government to intervene would be removed.

I agree very much, Llywydd, with what Paul Davies said about devolution for a purpose. When we decide on the principles of subsidiarity, where powers should rest, it should be because there is a rationale behind that. There's a theme in the paper that he will have seen where some of the ways in which powers are dispersed across the United Kingdom lack any sense of coherence. And therefore, we argue for that sense of rationality in the way that powers are distributed, and powers distributed because there is a reason for them being located where they are.

In relation to fiscal responsibilities, we argue for a UK fiscal framework; we mentioned this earlier this afternoon. But if there is to be a UK fiscal framework, then its implementation has to be supported by a dispute resolution mechanism that is independent of any of the four parties. So, we're not asking for it to be in our hands, but nor should it be in the hands of the Treasury, and at the moment it is entirely in the hands of the Treasury—judge, jury, executioner: all the parts are played by just the one player. Now, we set out ways in which a new level of independence could be introduced to that.

In relation to how a new settlement could be safeguarded, well, we will look with interest at the report of Lord Andrew Dunlop, asked by the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, to carry out a piece of work about the future operation of the United Kingdom. I met Lord Dunlop here on 17 September, I enjoyed my conversation with him. He plans to report in November, and we will look at that report to see for a sense in which an entrenched devolution system that is genuinely safeguarded against depredations by others can be put onto the statute book.

And finally, in relation to citizen engagement, I think it's very important to say that the type of convention that we suggest in the final proposition in the paper is a UK-wide convention. It's not a Welsh convention in which we just rely on the Welsh Government or Welsh citizens. It has to be a convention that involves the whole of the United Kingdom—the four constituent parts—and where citizen engagement would take part right across the United Kingdom, we would want to play our part here, but it would rely on others beyond Wales.

15:45

First Minister, thank you for these 20 propositions on reforming the union, which make interesting reading, much as Luther's 95 theses nailed to the door of that church in Wittenberg did all those years ago. Many of the implicit or explicit criticisms of the union we would agree with; we agree on much of the diagnosis. We differ, of course, on the solution. Now, as Martin Luther even eventually concluded, we believe the dysfunction that is laid bare, actually, in the pages of this document is so deeply embedded that the subject of the propositions, really, is simply beyond reform. We have to start afresh.

Now, you quote, I think, in your foreword to the document that famous line from Lampedusa's The Leopard:

'If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.'

That line is actually spoken by Tancredi, an impoverished young aristocrat who joins the radical republican Garibaldi—possibly the Jeremy Corbyn of his day—in his uprising against the Bourbon kings who ruled Sicily in the lead-up to the unification of Italy. The problem that the novel hints at is, yet again, on the cusp of that externally driven change—the external rulers of Sicily change but, actually, nothing really changes at all for the people of Sicily. The leopard never changes its spots. 'Meet the old boss, same as the new boss', to quote an entirely different literary genre.

Now, I think there's much to welcome in the document in terms of some of the specific proposals. I would like the First Minister just to explain the interrelationship between what he sets out and the work that he's asked Alun Davies to conduct and the report that will be forthcoming, I believe in the spring, about the future of the United Kingdom. We obviously now welcome, as has been referred to, the proposals for a separate or distinct legal jurisdiction here in Wales to join those in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and for the devolution of policing and justice powers. I'm sure that the powerful, indeed unarguable, case will also be made for this by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd when his Commission on Justice in Wales reports next week, I believe.

We welcome your recognition that the population-based Barnett formula for the distribution of funding across the UK must be replaced by one based on an independently assessed basis of need, and indeed the wider changes in terms of the fiscal framework that you referred to earlier, and that this principle should be applied to non-devolved funding areas as well.

Above all, I welcome your opening proposition, really, that parliamentary sovereignty at Westminster, the idea of the supremacy alone of Westminster as a concept, as a principle, as a value, even, is long past its sell-by date, and that popular sovereignty rests with the people of Wales. Indeed, they have the right to assert their independence through a referendum, and you refer in section 3 of the document that it is

'the Welsh Government’s view, provided that a government',

in either Scotland or Wales,

'has secured an explicit electoral mandate for the holding of a referendum, and enjoys continuing support from its parliament to do so, it is entitled to expect the UK Parliament to take whatever action is necessary'

to ensure that it happens. In terms of its immediate and, indeed, long-term impact, I suppose that last principle of moving to a system of popular sovereignty, based on nationhood in our case, is probably the most far-reaching of all. But of course it's one thing to declare sovereignty and it's quite another to insist on it in the teeth of continuing Westminster opposition—a Parliament that still believes it's supreme. I remember when the devolution of policing was last proposed by your predecessor, he was given—I'm quoting the Western Mail—a 'roasting' by Labour MPs from Wales. So, there certainly was opposition there.

It raises another point, I think, because in some senses the kind of problem of London or Westminster centricity that actually bedevils the British constitution as a whole is also a problem, isn't it, within the British Labour Party? We've seen in the last few weeks, on this question of the right to hold, by Scotland or Wales, an independence referendum, which you're now supporting, that Richard Leonard, your counterpart in Scotland, has said there will be an explicit clause in the next UK Labour Party manifesto ruling out an independence referendum for Scotland under all circumstances. John McDonnell has said that he is minded to support it, whereas Jeremy Corbyn has said it's a case of wait and see. It was ever thus. What is the status, really, of this proposition within the Labour Party?

Though I would like to tempt the First Minister even further—you're not obviously with us in terms of the independence of Wales as a whole, but surely even to achieve this agenda for the reform of the United Kingdom, maybe one of the best things that you could do to achieve that is to declare independence as a Labour Party in Wales, in order, then, to actually create a new political dynamic within your own party and more widely. I know we disagree about the desirability of independence as a political end. We have a different interpretation, I think, of the effectiveness of the union as a means of redistribution. You referred to it as a framework for pooling reward and risk. I have to say, with some exceptions, most of the time Westminster has been more risk to Wales than reward, and I think the most powerful arguments I've seen made in favour of this sometimes are made weekly by yourself, First Minister, at the despatch box. We both share, I think, anger at a Government in Westminster that plays us like a puppet on a string, controlling us, denying us fair funding and treating us like second-class citizens.

Now, in some senses, as often happens, popular political culture is ahead of formal politics. We've seen it on the streets of Merthyr and elsewhere, and my one question is: on this issue of the constitutional convention, I think absolutely that's the way to engage properly with these deeper questions, but why can’t we lead the way? Why do we have to wait for Westminster to decide to create an UK-wide constitutional convention? Why can’t we be prefigurative? Why can’t we begin here to have the very kind of engaged discourse that he’s just laid out for us, beginning here in Wales, and hopefully acting as a catalyst for wider discussions across these islands?

15:55

I thank the Member again for a very interesting and engaged contribution. As he says, there are things in the document that we do agree with across parties. Let me agree with him that the most radical proposition in the document is its reconceptualisation of sovereignty. I don’t think there’s any doubt that 20 years ago, when devolution was first thought of, it was in the minds of the people who debated it a belief that devolved institutions existed to be able to flex national policy to meet local circumstances, and the default position was that powers rested in Westminster and that some of them had been let out on a conditional basis to others to exercise. Now, 20 years into devolution, I simply don’t think that that stands up to examination any longer. And that’s why in this paper we talk about popular sovereignty, dispersed in each part of the United Kingdom, endorsed by referendums, of course, from which devolved institutions obtain and retain their legitimacy. And that in future, what we need is not a sense of parliamentary sovereignty that has some apparently unlimited character in which Westminster is always able to exercise legislative competence in respect of the whole United Kingdom, but that idea of dispersed sovereignty where sovereignty is not handed down. Even the word 'devolution', I think, is misleading 20 years on, because it still has at its core that sort of sense of things being handed down—held here and handed down—whilst what we argue for in this paper is a sense of sovereignty located in the four nations and then pooled back upwards voluntarily for purposes that we agree are best discharged on that wider footprint. And I suppose the biggest disagreement between us is that Plaid Cymru doesn’t believe that there is a case for that pooling upwards—you don’t believe there is a set of common purposes that would be better discharged on a UK basis, while we continue to believe that that is the case, and that in order to be part of that greater club, you have to be a member of that greater club, as we have always argued in relation to the European Union. But that’s a proper matter for debate and difference of view and persuading one another and others of the merits of that case. But I agree with what Adam Price said in his contribution that that is the most radical change of the way we conceptualise, as I say, the way that the four parts of the United Kingdom operate with one another. And then we argue, as he knows, for that to be entrenched—for it to be beyond the ability of one part only of the four constituent parts to overturn that. It has to be entrenched in the four parts of the United Kingdom.

He asked about the relationship between this and Alun Davies’s work, and this, of course, is predicated on the continuation of the United Kingdom. It talks about the way the United Kingdom can continue to survive and thrive, but as I said in my statement, that survival is at greater risk today than any time in my political lifetime, and that other parts of the United Kingdom have choices that they can exercise. And what Alun will be looking at are the options that there would be for Wales in different circumstances than the ones envisaged in this report. That’s why this is a Government report, and that’s why he’ll be carrying out his work in the freer way that he will be able to do.

Thank you for the advice on the future constitution of the Labour Party. [Laughter.] Let me simply say here what I said in the speech that I made to the Labour Party conference, where I outlined, prefigured, some of the things here and said there that my views on devolution and its entrenchment in the United Kingdom are mirrored by my views about the way the Labour Party needs to operate. So, I don't believe in independence from the Labour Party, but I do believe that the principles that we outline here apply to the Labour Party, just as they apply to our constitution more generally.

Finally, to deal with the issues of risk and reward and the constitutional convention, I think the difference between us is simply this—that I think in Plaid Cymru's view of the United Kingdom it's never possible to have a calculation in which rewards outweigh risks. Whereas, for me, while there are times when I think that the calculation is adverse, I think the possibility exists for it to be otherwise, and that on the whole it has been otherwise, and on the whole that our membership of a United Kingdom, with a national health service, with a social security safety net, with a national approach to meeting the welfare needs of our people—that the calculation has been on the side of the people of Wales, and that the people of Wales have benefited from that calculation. It isn't always as clear cut as I would like it to be, and it's under strain, not just because of Brexit, but because of a decade of unparalleled austerity as well. But I believe the potential exists for it to be otherwise, and a Labour Government with the sort of prospectus that we would lay out would once again tip that calculus firmly in the direction of a United Kingdom where the rewards are far greater for Wales than they otherwise would be. 

I don't want to end on a negative note, but we are keen for a constitutional convention on a UK basis. It's what I said to Paul Davies—that to start it by ourselves is, in some ways, to undermine the whole purpose of the paper, which is to draw into the conversation others. Now, I don't want to sound like I rule out the idea that, if we cannot engage other people in it, if this attempt to draw other people in doesn't get us anywhere, we wouldn't still want to have some conversation of our own. But to start with one of our own I think starts at the other end of where this paper would like it to start. We need to draw others in, because, if we don't have others in, we won't achieve what we want to achieve in this paper, and that's why our efforts at this point are directed at trying to stimulate that wider conversation, because it is on the basis of that wider conversation that the future of the United Kingdom, which we want to secure, will be achieved.

16:00

I commend you, First Minister, on this document and your interesting propositions, and also your desire to engage in a UK-wide debate rather than narrow this to the specifics of Welsh devolution. You say Plaid Cymru will never see the risks as outweighing the rewards of independence—at least they do, potentially, to 2030, which I think is the date they vaunt for their referendum. But you've given a very full-throated defence of the United Kingdom today. I have felt some of your Ministers and certainly backbenchers have shilly-shallied on that issue, but you didn't today, and for that I would thank you. 

The body of your document starts by saying, whatever its historical origins, the United Kingdom is best now seen as a voluntary association of nations taking the form of a multinational state whose members share and redistribute resources and risks amongst themselves to advance their common interests. It's quite an instrumental description of the union, but also does it recognise the role played, at least factually now, however you might like it to be, by the UK Government and the UK Parliament and the extent to which they are redistributing financial resources, at least, from England to the other three nations? And isn't that a perspective that looms over the debate?

I find your document most convincing when you talk about the specifics and some of the frustrations that you have faced as a Welsh Government in dealing with the UK Government on the joint ministerial architecture that you faced, and in particular the promises 18 months ago on which there appears to have been little, if any, movement. But the document as a whole emphasises a convention, equality, and you speak from general principles. And I think that is much harder when you consider that the UK Government and UK Parliament are not just the equivalents of the Welsh, the Scottish and the Northern Ireland institutions, but speak both for a nation, England, which constitutes over five sixths of the population of these isles, and also for a United Kingdom Government that has all those non-devolved functions. And while I'm not arguing against you, I just wonder as to how realistic it is as an approach to demand equality from first principles, and wonder if you would be better advised to focus on some of the very persuasive arguments you have on the specifics of how the current system isn't working and could be improved. 

Could I also just slightly question, technically, one of the areas where you've been going? You refer to the Government of Wales Act 2006, and footnote the relevant bit. You say that our institutions

'are a permanent part of the United Kingdom's constitutional arrangements'—

that's stated in legislation. But you then say that this may not be the permanent protection that a simple reading of it might imply. And you go on to say:

'it is further declared that the devolved institutions "are not to be abolished except on the basis of a decision of the people of Wales/Scotland voting in a referendum".'

Can I just question: does that also come from the Government of Wales Act, and are you proposing to change that? Because, elsewhere in the document, the condition you put is not a referendum of the people of Wales, but the agreement of this institution. Does that reflect your experiences in the EU referendum? Is it an intentional move from allowing a referendum of Wales to decide on the future of this place to saying that, irrespective of what the people of Wales may think in a referendum, this place could never be abolished, except by its own decision?

Could I also just ask a little bit about the courts and legal parts you have—I think 18 and 19 of the paper? We have Lord Thomas launching his report at, I think, breakfast time next Thursday, and I very much look forward to hearing what he has to say. Do you prejudge anything of what he says in this report? Previously, and Adam referred to it just now, there was a debate on whether we should have a separate jurisdiction, and then there were people who referred to it as a distinct jurisdiction. In this report, you refer to a discrete court system and discrete jurisdiction. Is that an important distinction of meaning? Is it an adjective that is mid way between the previous two adjectives, or am I reading too much into that?

I also just encourage you to look not just at the outcome in terms of who the judges are. You refer, I think persuasively, to the case for having someone with knowledge of Welsh law as a member of the Supreme Court, but there is also the issue of how the most senior judges are appointed. We have a panel, I think, of five, and it will be two of the most senior judges, the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Supreme Court, and then the heads of the three judicial appointments commissions. So, there's just one for the whole of England and Wales, from that perspective, one for Scotland, and one out of the panel of five for Northern Ireland. It does seem to give an awful lot of weight to Scotland and particularly Northern Ireland and really very little weight to Wales, and I just wonder: as well as looking for that one Supreme Court justice, should we also be looking at reviewing the way in which senior judges are appointed?

16:05

Llywydd, I thank the Member for those points. I'll take his last point first. I believe that there is a wider case for a reform of the way that judicial appointments are made. I think it needs to come into line with the twenty-first century. It needs to look at the outcomes that it secures in terms of diversity of people who get appointed to these very important jobs. So, I think he raises a more general point than the specific one, which deserves wider consideration. 

I've tried to respect Lord Thomas's report by not trespassing too much into that territory today. I wouldn't read too much into adjectival exactitude and we'll only have to wait a week before we see Lord Thomas's report and we'll be able to debate these issues on the basis of it. 

He is right to say that there is a relatively instrumental sense of a union in this paper. I have very little sentimental attachment to the United Kingdom myself. I don't believe in the future of the United Kingdom from that premise. I believe in it because I think it works for Wales, I think it works for Welsh people, and that that's the case that we have to make for it. The politics of identity has moved a long way in my lifetime, and my sentimental attachment is to Wales. I've always thought of myself as Welsh first and then a member of the United Kingdom after that, but I also believe that being a member of the United Kingdom is right for Wales. So, you're right—it's the practical case for the union we make here, rather than an appeal to something as evaporative as British values or arguments of that sort. 

I think the Member made a very important point about the English question and how that gets resolved. It's beyond the scope of this paper, but it is a very real issue. We don't argue in the paper for equality on the basis of Wales having a vote, Scotland having a vote, England having a vote, Northern Ireland having a vote. We don't think that is credible in a union when five sixths of the population belongs to one of the four participants. What we argue for is equality of participation, parity of engagement, equality of respect—those qualities I think would go a great deal towards making the institutions of the United Kingdom work effectively in the future. It's all the things that we've rehearsed on the floor here before that get in the way of that—why our joint ministerial forums can only ever meet in London, can only ever be chaired by an English Minister, why a UK Government alone can set an agenda, can write the minutes, can—. You know, those are not parity of participation principles, and those are the things that we argue for in this paper as consolidating a sense of an United Kingdom in which everybody has an equal stake, while not arguing that everybody is of an equal size and can therefore expect to have, as I say, participation on the basis of one card in everybody's hand. 

As to how the National Assembly could be wound up, well, in the end that is in the hands of the Welsh people. That's how we were established—by a referendum—and, if we were ever to be undone, it would have to be by the decision of the people who put us here. This institution would have a part to play in shaping that decision, but the sovereignty, in the popular sense that we outline it here, belongs in the hands of the people. 

16:10

First Minister, can I very much welcome the paper and also the extent to which the paper also draws on, I think, considerable amounts of work and debate that's gone on within the various committees and this Chamber, and also the various constitution committees across the various UK Parliaments? You'll be aware of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee report, 'UK governance post-Brexit', where one of its key recommendations then was to advocate fundamental reform of the JMC and to recognise the need for collaboration not just between Governments but, importantly, collaboration between Parliaments as well. And, yesterday, we had a round-table, an open and public round-table, of some of the UK's leading constitutional experts to actually talk about many of these key issues that are before us.

One of the fundamental issues that emerges from the paper—and has been common, I think, in all the debates—is that, if there is to be any significant constitutional reform taking place, then sovereignty is at the core of it, and placing limitations on sovereignty and on the ability of Westminster to override or disregard the exercise of responsibilities devolved by Parliament. So, there must be a radical reform of the way in which parliamentary sovereignty can be exercised and, without that, it is difficult to see that there can be any substantive constitutional change.

One issue that is obviously of some concern is that we need to be careful that what we are not talking about are engagements between Parliaments, but we recognise that the issue of the constitution, as you have just said, is in the ownership of the people of Wales, and also the people of the UK as a whole, in terms of the nature of what reform may or may not take place. Now, the role of the committees and this Chamber is very important. I'd be grateful if you could make some comments as to how you see the nature of these debates and engagements developing to ensure that there is full participation of this Assembly within those processes as they develop.

And then, fundamentally, the key thing is we have made these points time and time again, often with very little response at UK level, and the question is: how do we make change happen? There was a very famous philosopher, an economist, who said philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways, but the point, however, is to change it.

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee has proposed a Speaker's conference, as happened, in fact, in 1920. So, not a new idea, but a means of starting and commencing a constitutional debate, perhaps outside the toxic atmosphere that exists within UK politics. And one of the obstacles to this has, of course, been that the current Speaker of the UK Parliament is regarded by some as a controversial figure, and movement in this direction has not been capable of taking place. But we are shortly to have a new Speaker in Westminster and the imminent appointment of the new Speaker may provide an opportunity for this to happen. So, I wonder what steps the Welsh Government will take to promote action and kick-start this necessary debate. Will you take seriously and consider the opportunity of, perhaps, representations being made so that the initiation of a Speaker's conference, as recommended by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, might be one means of actually starting this process? 

16:15

Llywydd, I thank Mick Antoniw for those comments. He's right, of course: it is not just the Welsh and, indeed, the Scottish Governments who are frustrated by our inability to get responses out of the UK Government. The House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee called for a clear statement from the UK Government on its policy for the union, and in September last year, 2018, the UK Government committed to producing such a statement, and they and we are still waiting for it.

I completely agree with what Mick Antoniw said that there's a real richness of debate and contribution to be found in reports both of committees here and in the House of Commons, and indeed in the House of Lords. A great deal of interesting stuff written there, and we are all struggling in a way to get purchase on a UK Government, as I often think of it, overwhelmed by Brexit and just unable to find any space—thinking space, time space, political, capital space—to grapple with the issues that we've been talking about this afternoon.

Mick said, 'How can we make change happen?' Well, I'm afraid that the question might be slightly different to that. Change is going to happen. Change is happening all around us. Leaving the European Union introduces enormous amounts of change. It's not how change should happen in the sense of, 'Should there be change?', but, 'How do we get a grip of change so that we are in charge of change, rather than being driven along by it and faced by its consequences without having made the necessary effort to make the change happen in the way that we have talked about in different ways across the Chamber?'

The Speaker's conference idea is, of course, a very interesting one. It started its work exactly 100 years ago this autumn. When the proposition of a Speaker's conference on devolution was voted for on the floor of the House of Commons, Wales was the only part of the United Kingdom where not a single Welsh Member voted against setting up that Speaker's conference. And as some Members here will know, when it reported, it advocated a strictly federal approach to the United Kingdom and even solved the English question in its own time as well. So, the precedent in terms of the effectiveness of the conference is not great, but in terms of some of the richness of its debate, it is worth revisiting, and I'm agnostic about how to get the conversation going. We suggested a constitutional convention. If a Speaker's conference could be got off the ground in a different way and could do the sort of engagement that we've talked about, I'd have no trouble with that at all.