Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd


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

1. Statement by the Llywydd

Before I call upon the First Minister to answer questions, I wish to make a statement to the Assembly.

On behalf of the National Assembly for Wales, yesterday I accepted the resignation of the Commissioner for Standards, Sir Roderick Evans. Members will be aware of commentary on the circumstances surrounding the resignation of the former commissioner, and I don't intend to comment on these matters here today. However, I want to make it clear that the covert recording of private conversations on the Assembly estate is a serious breach of trust. I understand that sound recordings were made that included confidential evidence by a witness during a formal investigation into the conduct of an Assembly Member. It is particularly egregious that the covert recording was done by the Assembly Member under investigation. On the matter of covert recording, South Wales Police have been asked to investigate how such recordings were made, and their legality. A search of the Senedd estate for recording devices, starting with meeting rooms and other commonly used areas, is already under way.

In relation to the complaints procedure, in accordance with section 4 of the National Assembly for Wales Commissioner for Standards Measure 2009—[Interruption.] I advise Neil McEvoy to be quiet and to listen to me at this point.

In relation to the complaints procedure, in accordance with section 4 of the National Assembly for Wales Commissioner for Standards Measure 2009, the process for appointing an acting commissioner is under way. The acting commissioner will take over the investigation of ongoing complaints in relation to the conduct of Assembly Members. I wish to make it clear to complainants that no complaints will fall as a result of the resignation of the former commissioner. Steps will also be taken to protect information now in the public domain but obtained through interference in confidential standards cases.

The essential purpose of the code of conduct for Assembly Members is, and I quote,

'to uphold the reputation of the…Assembly…and to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in the integrity of Members....This Code applies to all Members'.

Undermining the statutory, independent standards process to which all of us as elected Members are accountable is, in my view, a serious matter. I have decided that I will be making a complaint to the acting standards commissioner, once appointed, regarding the use of covert recording devices by an Assembly Member and the unauthorised releasing of confidential information.

2. Statement by the Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee: Integrity in Standards

I am now asking the Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee to make a statement. Jayne Bryant.

I've asked the Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee to make her statement. Jayne Bryant.

Diolch, Llywydd. Thank you for the opportunity to make a statement today as Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee.

The National Assembly for Wales Commissioner for Standards Measure was passed by all Members of the third Assembly, in 2011. This was a key piece of work for the National Assembly, and followed recommendations made in the Woodhouse report in 2002, the passing of the Government of Wales Act 2006, two consultations, and an inquiry by the then Committee on Standards of Conduct. The conclusion of all of these was that there was a need to create an independent statutory post of Commissioner for Standards, with important powers to carry out rigorous investigations of complaints made against Members. The aim of this was to give increased confidence to the general public in their elected representatives, by enshrining in law the powers and independence of the Assembly’s Commissioner for Standards.

Part of this process is the cross-party Standards of Conduct Committee, which was elected by the Assembly to consider the complaints brought forward by the independent commissioner. We do so with impartiality and consensus. As a committee, we have reflected on the developments around dignity and respect, and are using this as an opportunity to ensure that the code of conduct, and associated processes, are sufficient to deal with an evolving parliament. We will endeavour to make sure that our proposals are in place to inform the incoming Commissioner for Standards.

An effective standards regime cannot function without integrity and trust from all those involved in the system and process, and I would like to remind all Members of our need to maintain the confidence in this independent system.

I have received a number of requests to speak or to make points of order at this time. I have decided to accept none. Our reputation as an Assembly, at this point, is best served by continuing our business.

3. Questions to the First Minister

I ask the First Minister to respond to questions. 

The first question is from Llyr Gruffydd. [Interruption.]

I'm accepting no points of order. I've told Mark Reckless and all Members that I am not accepting any points of order. So, I ask the Member to sit. The First Minister is on—[Interruption.] Mr Reckless, your microphone is not switched on. You are not being recorded for this point. I am not accepting a point of order. I have moved to next business. [Interruption.] My job is to retain the reputation of this Assembly in its entirety. I believe that that is best served, being done, at this point, by us continuing with the work that we are elected here to do. So, it is the questioning of our First Minister, and the first question will be asked by Llyr Gruffydd. 

The Climate Emergency

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the practical steps the Welsh Government is taking in North Wales to respond to the climate emergency? OAQ54687

Llywydd, thank you very much. We are taking a number of practical steps in north Wales in order to address climate change and the climate emergency. These steps vary from very local steps, such as giving funding to community councils to use energy-efficient street lighting, to investing in marine energy schemes such as Morlais and Minesto, in order to create a new industry for Wales.

The hydro energy sector has been in touch with me, expressing concern about non-domestic business rates. You will know that a grant has been given by the Welsh Government over the past few years in order to assist with paying those rates and safeguarding those projects from the possible substantial increase in non-domestic rates. It’s over a year now since the Government commissioned and published a report that looked at the situation and which proposed alternatives, but we’re now reaching the point where, of course, there will be a budget that will be delayed before its publication this year and the sector still doesn’t know whether the grant will exist for next year or whether there will be more far-reaching changes to the way in which they are taxed. They are in limbo. They need to know exactly what’s happening, because if they are not safeguarded from this rise, then obviously a number of them will go out of business. So, when will they learn what’s happening next year?

Well, may I thank Llyr Gruffydd for that supplementary question? Of course, we, as a Government, have been eager to support the sector, particularly the local and community sector. As Members have heard from Llyr Gruffydd, because of the general election we have deferred our budget until after the election in December. I can speak to the Minister and officials so that they can have a discussion with the sector in the interim so that we can give them the latest information.

First Minister, one of the biggest risks for north Wales, as a result of climate change, is, of course, rising sea levels and flood risk. Last night, like many people in my constituency, I received a flood alert because of the vulnerability of flood defences along the coast in my constituency, including in Towyn and Kinmel Bay, where, 30 years ago, in February next year, we will be commemorating the anniversary of the devastating floods that occurred in that community. The flood defences are insufficient in Towyn and Kinmel Bay at present to the extent that no new residential house building has been allowed in the area for over a decade. What action will your Government take in order to improve the defences in Towyn and Kinmel Bay so that my constituents don't have to live in fear every time they get an alert on their phone about potential flooding in their area? 

Well, I thank the Member for that important question and recognise, of course, the anxieties that are faced by people whenever flooding is a risk to their property. The Member will know that we have an ambitious £350 million programme of flood defences during this Assembly term, and I know that the Member himself, in previous debates on this matter, has acknowledged the work that has been done in other parts of his constituency to alleviate flooding. He knows as well that, in some parts of Wales, there are commercial interests that themselves have to bear part of the cost of providing the defences that are necessary. The Welsh Government will play our part, but other organisations cannot simply look to the Welsh Government to bear all the costs when there are clearly business and commercial interests at stake as well. But I want to give the Member an assurance that the position that he has outlined is known to the Minister, is considered actively by her, and the Welsh Government does want to look to find a solution in that part of the north Wales coast.

The Impact of a UK/US Trade Deal on the Welsh NHS

2. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government about the impact of a UK/US trade deal on the Welsh NHS? OAQ54664

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. The Welsh NHS is not for sale in any negotiations between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. That point has been made repeatedly by Welsh Ministers, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to restate it again this afternoon.

First Minister, senior UK Government officials have met with representatives of US companies to discuss the NHS in post-Brexit trade negotiations on six occasions. On five of these, US drug companies were also in attendance. It is clear that the NHS is up for grabs for a US-style privatisation under the Tories. The Tories and the Brexit Party are ready to sell off the NHS to the highest corporate bidder. In Wales, the NHS is devolved, but international trade deals are not. First Minister, what concerns do you have about the future of our Welsh NHS under a UK Tory Government? And secondly, First Minister, can Boris Johnson be trusted to protect the NHS?

Well, Llywydd, anybody taking a serious interest in this topic would do well to look at the USA negotiating principles, published by the Trump presidency in February of this year. It sets out that all services—all services—in the United Kingdom should be open to competition unless they appear on a list of exceptions. And in the list of exceptions published in that document, neither the health service nor social care services appear. In other words, it is absolutely plain that the United States regards our NHS as up for sale, and a desperate deal that would be done by the current Prime Minister, determined to demonstrate that he is able to strike free trade deals across the world, would undoubtedly put our national health service up for grabs. That's why we are anxious about it here in Wales, and is the current Prime Minister to be trusted not to do that? Well, ask the people of Northern Ireland, where he went and gave them an absolute commitment that there would be no border down the Irish sea, only to find a few short weeks later that he'd signed exactly that deal. We can expect the same level of reliability in what he says about the national health service.

I've never heard such codswallop in all my life, First Minister. At the end of the day, you know full well your Labour campaign is failing and you're putting these scare stories around. The Prime Minister has given an unequivocal assurance that the NHS is not up for grabs. It's not up for grabs. But what we do know is, when it comes to the NHS here in Wales and US manufacturers of drugs, Orkambi, which is made by a US pharmaceutical company, is not available. Why don't you pull your finger out and start making drugs available that would greatly improve the outcomes for Welsh patients rather than running scare stories in the Welsh NHS, First Minister?

Llywydd, Members don't have to worry about what Andrew R.T. Davies has said because they could listen to what Donald Trump has said. Because Donald Trump, when he came to this country—[Interruption.] I see Members with their heads in their hands. They don't like it when the truth is told to them. Donald Trump came to this country in June of this year and told newspaper columnists that he expected the NHS to be part of a deal struck between this country and the United States. The US ambassador came to this Assembly in July and told me exactly the same thing. They expect the NHS to be put up for sale. We know that that party would have no problems in doing that. And the cost of drugs in the Welsh NHS will rise enormously because they are determined that we must pay the prices paid in the United States to pharmaceutical companies. They will put barriers in the path of generic drugs that have supported our NHS over so many years. The truth of the matter is, Llywydd, in this election, the future of the NHS is at risk like it never has been before, and the sort of noise that we hear from across the Chamber here is simply an attempt to draw attention away from the risk that they pose to the national health service here in Wales.


I thank the First Minister for his answers to the two preceding questioners. I think we may perhaps conclude, given the noise from the Conservative benches, that—I quote from Shakespeare—'Methinks, my Lord, he doth protest too much' and maybe they're not quite as confident in their leader's words. But, given the seriousness of the situation, as outlined by Mick Antoniw and as outlined by yourself in your responses to him and to Andrew R.T. Davies, do you agree with Plaid Cymru and the SNP that, regardless of the outcome of this Westminster election, in order to protect our NHS, what will be needed is a strong legislative statutory framework setting out in law that no UK Government could impose on the devolved administrations trade deals that would be, as he has pointed out, disastrous? Is it not time, instead of putting our trust in any UK politician, to actually put this into law so that we cannot, here in this country, be overruled?

Well, I thank the Member for the points she makes, and I have looked with interest at the proposal that the Scottish National Party has made for legislation in this area. As I understand it, that is legislation that they intend to move on the floor of the House of Commons, rather than in the Scottish Parliament itself. So, I look forward to seeing further details of it. I look forward to seeing how they intend to make progress with that Bill. Anything that puts a barrier in the path of those who would seek to change the nature of our health service, alter the basis on which people have been able to enjoy it over the last 70 and more years, has to be worth considering. And she's right, of course, the sounds that we hear from the other side of the Chamber are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, how many of the infrastructure commitments in Welsh Labour's 2016 manifesto do you intend to actually deliver?

We will deliver the investment that we promised in our manifesto of 2016. Llywydd, we have already succeeded in delivering more of them and more quickly than we originally anticipated. If his Government had been prepared to invest in investment, if they hadn't turned off our capital investment programme, we would have achieved even more. But with the imaginative approach that we have taken to capital investment, using local authorities' borrowing possibilities and inventing the new mutual investment model that colleagues in Scotland have since adopted as well, we have managed to fill some of the worst gaps that his Government has left for us to deal with.

It's always somebody else's fault, isn't it, First Minister? It's never your fault, is it? You need to take some responsibility. But let's look at one of the commitments, shall we, in your manifesto? Your party's manifesto in 2016 claims that you've already delivered the Heads of the Valleys road dualling, and yet the completion date for widening part of the Heads of the Valleys road has been pushed back for the second time this year, and with an eye-watering overspend, it's hardly something for you to be championing, is it, First Minister?

And, let's look at the other proposals for infrastructure in your manifesto. Improvements to the A55 in north Wales: whilst repairs have been made, I think you'll find it hard pushed to find anyone who would agree that significant improvements have been made. Improving the A40 in west Wales: I know as someone who regularly travels on this stretch of road just how little has been done to tackle this problem. And, the M4 relief road: well, First Minister, your Government's dithering has left communities in south-east Wales without a solution to its congestion, and in the meantime wasted millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. First Minister, is it not the case that your Government is simply on the road to nowhere when it comes to delivering road improvements across Wales, and will you now apologise to those communities you've badly let down?

Well, Llywydd, I think we've heard the title of the Conservative Party manifesto in this election: 'on the road to nowhere' seems to me to be a fairly succinct summary of their campaign in Wales over the last few days. I notice that the Member began by admitting that it is somebody else who is to blame, and that is true; that is certainly true in relation to the budgets that this Government has had to deal with.

Let me take the first of his erroneous accusations. As far as the A465 section 2 is concerned, my colleague Ken Skates made a statement in April of this year to this Assembly and that position remains the position today. We said in that statement that it would now be into 2020 before the dualling of that section of the Heads of the Valleys road would be completed. A steep-sided environmentally sensitive Clydach gorge, where the company responsible for the work has reported that there have been environmental reasons why it has taken them longer to complete the £1,000 million that this Government will invest in the Heads of the Valleys road, and which would never ever—never ever—have been a priority for his Government. If they don't want to see it, they should say so. We are very proud indeed of the record that we have, and if I thought there were any lessons to be drawn from a Government responsible for the HS2 fiasco, I now know where I can go—on the road to nowhere—to find them.


First Minister, you can spin this in any way you like: your Government is failing. Communities across Wales are frustrated by the lack of genuine progress in tackling Wales's road infrastructure in their local areas. The Federation of Small Businesses have recently said that there is still no clarity as to how infrastructure elsewhere in Wales will benefit from the Welsh Government's decision not to go ahead with the M4 and that 63 per cent of Welsh businesses have been affected by infrastructure, including roads, public transport, digital infrastructure and utilities. Given the serious economic impact that your Government's failure to deliver significant road improvements is having on businesses and communities across Wales, what immediate steps will you now take as a Government to address this as a matter of urgency before the next Assembly elections?

Well, Llywydd, the Member would be well advised just to keep up with the announcements that are being made by this Government. Within the last two weeks, my colleague the finance Minister has published an £80 million-worth of investment in infrastructure here in Wales. Only last week, she published the latest version of the Welsh investment infrastructure plan. All of that sets out the millions and millions of pounds that this Government is spending on infrastructure here in Wales: £1.8 billion to deliver 20,000 affordable homes, which we will deliver during this Assembly term; major investment in the twenty-first century schools and colleges programme—the biggest programme of investment in education infrastructure for 50 years and the biggest programme anywhere in the United Kingdom. This Government has a proud record of investment in the services and in the infrastructure that make a difference here in Wales. The Member could follow it if he chose to, because we announce it every single week.

Thank you very much, Llywydd.

During rush hour, again, this week, Transport for Wales has been under fire for cancelled trains, missed stops and overcrowding. I don't think it's acceptable to hear passengers—including one telling a story of setting out early for a new job and reporting having to watch four or more trains pass through Queen Street station before finally finding room to get on one. These are problems people are facing day after day after day.

Given this, I'm sure you'll understand the alarm at recent reports that if Transport for Wales don't get the go-ahead from the Department for Transport to continue using old non-compliant Pacer trains before the end of the year, when new accessibility requirements kick in, the train operator will lose up to 30 trains or 60 carriages. This is half of their rolling stock on Valleys lines services. Around 19 Sprinter trains could also be taken out of action for the same reason, with implications for the Cardiff-to-Holyhead service. First Minister, can you confirm that Transport for Wales have robust contingency plans in place to deal with the potential loss of up to half their fleet and the chaos that that would clearly cause for passengers?

Well, Llywydd, Transport for Wales remain in discussions with the Department for Transport, reluctantly seeking a dispensation to operate trains beyond the 15-month deadline that Transport for Wales were offered by the Conservative Government in order to bring about compliance, after many, many years in which that Government had taken no interest in compliance at all. Transport for Wales are not unique in this position. There are other franchises in other parts of the United Kingdom that are having to seek similar, temporary derogations. Those discussions go on, and Transport for Wales are fully engaged in them.


The Welsh Government was warned by an Assembly committee in 2013, I think, that it must address rolling stock issues as a matter of urgency, especially in light of compliance deadlines that we knew were coming. Can you tell us why it is that the transport Minister left it until this autumn before requesting the dispensation to continue using those trains?

Officials warned as far back as May last year that you wouldn't be able to replace the non-compliant trains on time. You say that Transport for Wales isn't in a unique position in needing dispensation. You're quite right. Northern Rail in England is facing similar problems and has been granted dispensation on the basis that it will couple Pacers with compliant trains. Transport for Wales have indicated that they're looking at doing the same, but it appears that they don't have sufficient compliant trains in order to do that. So, where does that leave us?

On Northern Rail, several prominent Labour politicians have been asking for a fare reduction for passengers forced to endure the Pacer trains past the promised date for their removal. The calls have come from the Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham; the Sheffield city region mayor, Dan Jarvis; the leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake. Can you confirm that this Labour Welsh Government will ensure similar fare reductions in Wales for the misery endured on your watch?   

Llywydd, advice to the Welsh Government in 2013 would not have been advice that any Government could have followed because, at that point, we were tied into a franchise over which we had no influence at all. That's why I said that we've had 15 months when we have had the ability, through Transport for Wales, to respond to this issue. That has not proven long enough because new rolling stock promised to Wales by private construction companies simply hasn't been delivered by them. That's not the responsibility of Transport for Wales. It is the responsibility of those companies who contracted to provide that rolling stock and who now tell us that they're not able to deliver, on time, the stock that was promised to us.

Llywydd, from January 2020, there will be fare reductions across the Transport for Wales network. There was no need for any politician to ask for it to happen here in Wales because it was already part of our planned programme of action with Transport for Wales.

The issue on the dispensation, as you know, is that action wasn't taken on time by Welsh Government. But, if I could turn, for my third question, to something that I want to pursue in a non-confrontational way, if that's allowed during election time.

I wrote to you yesterday, asking the Welsh Government to support amendments that I've tabled for discussion in Stage 3 of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill tomorrow, supported by a number of Labour AMs, calling for this institution of ours to be given the name 'Senedd' or 'Senedd Cymru', as I agreed as a compromise to get a legally agreed wording for the amendment. 

Because we have that agreement and the amendments are in order, now it is just about your will as a Welsh Government. You've already expressed personally your preference for using the term 'Senedd'. We're about to agree, hopefully, on calling us 'Members of the Senedd'. This building is already called 'the Senedd'. Now, all that's needed is the small but significant step of giving the institution that official name.

We are agreed, as a marker of the progress and of the journey of devolution, that this new legislation should describe this institution as a Parliament, and it does. But we're talking about giving our indigenous, unique Parliament an indigenous and unique title, like so many other Parliaments do worldwide. Will you take this one-off opportunity to back that statement that our Senedd, whatever our choice of language, Wales's Senedd is our Parliament?

Well, in a similar spirit, let me thank the Member for all the work that I know he has been doing over recent weeks to talk with others and to bring forward proposals. It's an issue on which many Assembly Members have strong views, and it's not a matter for the Government. This is an Assembly Bill, not a Government Bill, and different Assembly Members will take different views on the right answer to this question. The Government took the view during Stage 2, Llywydd, that as a bilingual nation we ought to have a bilingual name for the institution that we operate within, and that will be the position that we will reflect in Government voting tomorrow, while Members of the Labour Party who are not in the Government will be able to express their view in the way that seems right to them.


First Minister, is it acceptable for a Welsh Minister to lie if their objective is to smear the Brexit Party? Further, did Rebecca Evans notify you or the Counsel General, under paragraph 7.16 of the ministerial code, before making a standards complaint judged to be wholly without merit and in respect of which the outgoing standards commissioner said her actions were, and I quote, disgraceful?

Llywydd, every week the Member has an opportunity to ask me questions about the many responsibilities that I exercise as head of the Government here in Wales. Week after week he chooses to ask me about things that are not part of my responsibilities as head of the Government at all. The choices that Members make in their individual AM capacities are for them to make, and where they have complaints to make, it is absolutely right that they should pursue those complaints, and should do it without any sense of being answerable to the Welsh Government.

No, no—no points of order on this issue. Carry on with your questioning of the First Minister.

First Minister, Rebecca Evans sits on the Business Committee as a Government Minister. [Interruption.] I raised with you last week—

The First Minister doesn't require, and neither do I, any support from the Government backbenches.

I raised with you last week one of your Members telling one of my Members to 'eff-off'. You told me that I should refer it to the standards commissioner to be properly raised and investigated. Now, the remark he makes about 'disgraceful', about your finance Minister, is about her politicisation of the Business Committee minutes, on which she serves as a Government Minister. He also said he wants to talk to her about her attitude:

'She seems to assume that if she says that she's saying one thing, that I start from the basis of accepting what she says, I have to look at the complaint to see whether she is a liar.'

It is clear to me that Rebecca didn't know the full facts of the case before she tweeted this—

You need to come to your question, Mark Reckless. We don't need quotations read ad infinitum by you. You are afforded the privilege to ask the First Minister of Wales questions on his responsibility on public services and the economy in Wales. I would suggest that you take that responsibility seriously and discharge it as the leader of the Brexit Party.

Of course, the line of questions of your role are out of order, are they not? I of course accept your judgment in that matter, Llywydd.

Last week, First Minister, we spoke about the justice commission, and you said the justice commission report showed the way forward for the devolution of justice in Wales. Lord Thomas said that a team of just 10 civil servants could be relied upon to support that devolution of justice, because we could lean on the judiciary and the law schools in Wales. Yet the person who was, for almost 10 years, the leading judge in Wales said about women lawyers:

'You'll come across it all the time, especially with, in particular, young women lawyers, barristers, who get emotionally involved with their clients. It's the kiss of death.'

You are not coming to a question. I've asked you to come to a question.

What, Llywydd, does that show about the judiciary in this country, and about law schools, when he concludes:

'You fancy doing law, she's a Plaid Cymru supporter—'?

If you choose to respond to that, you may do, First Minister, but if you choose not to, you will have my sympathy.

Llywydd, I regard that question as an abuse of the opportunity that the Member has here in the Chamber and I don't—

I have been accused of bias by a Member of this Assembly here today. I will ask that Member to withdraw that accusation, and I'll ask you to kindly do it now.

Notwithstanding the truth or otherwise of the allegation, I withdraw it.


Question 3—David Rowlands. [Interruption.]. Question 3—David Rowlands.

I'm moving on. Cwestiwn 3—I'm asking you to ask your question, David Rowlands. David Rowlands, ask your question.


3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the number of quangos in Wales? OAQ54654

Llywydd, the Welsh Government has 52 arm’s-length bodies of various kinds, 15 of which are wholly owned companies. Arm’s-length bodies undertake various functions on behalf of Welsh Ministers, but operate independently of them.

I thank the Minister for his answer. I'm not dismissive of the good work carried out by the third sector, but it is obvious, even to a casual observer, that there is a great deal of duplication in the organisations involved in alleviating some of the most pressing problems faced by the Welsh public. For instance, I believe there are some 50-plus organisations looking after homelessness. Whilst I understand many are purely voluntary and receive no funding from the Welsh Government, what measures are in place to ensure there is no duplication where they are in receipt of Government funding? And there are over 30,000 third sector organisations in Wales—one for every 96 people. Surely, this begs the question, 'Is public money being spent wisely in this sector?'

Llywydd, I had understood the question to be about the number of quangos in Wales, and the 30,000 third sector organisations are not quangos in any sense of that word. There are so many organisations in Wales because Wales has such a rich culture of community action and so many people in Wales determined to make their contribution in that way. They often range from tiny charities, set up to resolve very local issues, often to reflect individual experiences that people have had in their own lives. I think there's plenty of room in our life in Wales for those people and those organisations, and I think it's more a matter to be celebrated, that we have so many people and so many bodies who, in Wales, want to make that contribution, and I'd rather have that problem than I would of having too few people and too few organisations willing to step up to help us with the things we face today.

First Minister, the Government, quite properly, has a range of sponsored public bodies that carry out vary specific tasks, and they're hugely important ones like the delivery of massive public services. What especially the latter needs, I think, is excellent governance at the board level, so that, in particular, the non-executive directors can ensure that the executive of those bodies are: one, fulfilling the mandates laid out in terms of policy from the Welsh Government, but also doing it effectively, and efficiently so we best value for money.

Llywydd, I entirely agree with the point David Melding has made. Jobs that people appointed to our major public bodies do are often very significant, and the ability of non-executive directors to play their part in the way that we would want them to do, so that they are critical friends of that organisation, never afraid to ask difficult or challenging questions, is exactly the role that we would wish to see them discharge.

We've recently set up a new public bodies unit inside the Welsh Government to be able to give additional training and additional support to those people in those very important jobs, and I'm very pleased that we are to have a larger number of pre-appointment hearings by committees in this institution, so that when people are appointed to head those bodies, Assembly Members will have an opportunity to question them and to be satisfied that they are capable of discharging those responsibilities to lead a team of non-executive directors, and to do it with the rigour that we would expect of them.

The Living Wage

4. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the percentage of the Welsh workforce earning the real living wage or above? OAQ54662

I thank the Member for that question. We publish an assessment in our annual well-being of Wales report, which sets out our progress against the seven well-being goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that, in 2019, 77 per cent of jobs in Wales were paid the living wage or above, and that is an increase from 74 per cent in 2018.

I'm grateful to the First Minister for his answer, but I'm sure that he will agree with me that we can none of us be pleased that almost a third of our children are living in poverty, and that many of those children have parents who are working—many of them more than one job.

I was pleased to participate yesterday in the launch of the Living Wage Week in west Wales, sponsored by the Burns pet food company in Kidwelly. I was really interested to hear how this relatively small company, with just over 120-odd workers, used contracting to ensure that all staff on their site—not only their directly paid workforce, but all staff on site—are paid the real living wage. And they simply won't contract with a subcontractor unless they do that.

What further steps can the Welsh Government take to ensure that public bodies in Wales follow the example of this innovative small company, and also that support is given to private sector organisations that may wish to do the same?


I thank Helen Mary Jones for that additional question. It was great to have the opportunity yesterday, here in Cardiff at the start of the day, and I know in Kidwelly later in the day, to mark real Living Wage Week here in Wales. And just as she was able to celebrate the success of a company in west Wales, so those of us from around the Chamber who were here in the Pierhead yesterday morning were able to celebrate the announcement of Cardiff as the first major urban area in the United Kingdom to be awarded living wage city status. That's a real testament to the leadership of the city council on the one hand, but also private sector companies who spoke at that event as well.

One of the main ways we have been taking this forward, of course, has been through the code of practice on ethical employment in supply chains—exactly the point that Helen Mary was making. Two hundred and eleven organisations have signed up to the code to date; 58 of those are from the public sector, but 153 are private organisations. And in many ways, we rely on the missionary spirit of firms such as the one in Kidwelly that explain to their peers why the actions that they are taking are not simply good for employees but are good for employers as well. That was the point that was being made in the Pierhead yesterday by employers.

Employers who pay the real living wage have a bonus of additional loyalty and commitment from their workers. Those people spend longer with them, they build up their success, they make an additional contribution to the success of that firm. So, it's not just altruism that we are asking for from the private sector, it's enlightened self-interest as well. And companies explaining that to other companies has been the way in which we have had the success we have had in getting those 153 private organisations to be signatories of the code already.

First Minister, I agree with much of what you've just said there with regard to the importance of private companies signing up to the code and their role in delivering the living wage. Can I also add my congratulations to those that other Members have given to Cardiff as the first living wage city? That's important not just for Cardiff but also for the city region area.

However, Cynnal Cymru have found that one in five jobs in Wales are still paying below the living wage of £9.30 an hour, and Welsh workers still have some of the lowest weekly wages across the UK. You mentioned Cardiff, and I've mentioned Cardiff—there's also disparity between the north of Wales and the south of Wales. So, given the powers that this Welsh Government now have at its disposal, but particularly tax powers, for instance, how do you envisage using the new tools in the toolbox, as they're often called, to make sure that, over the months and years to come, the situation between the north and the south of Wales can be evened up, so that all parts of Wales can benefit from more people living above the living wage?

Llywydd, some of the best wages in Wales are paid in north Wales, particularly in north-east Wales. What we want to see is an economy that is growing, where there is therefore more money to spend on public services, but where the growth in our economy comes from those jobs that offer people an opportunity not simply to survive but to thrive in their own lives. That certainly means paying at least the real living wage.

I pay tribute to Monmouth council which, although not yet accredited, is a payer of the real living wage. There is leadership to be shown by our public services here in Wales in order to encourage more companies in the private sector to follow suit. All health boards in Wales pay at or above the real living wage. Transport for Wales announced yesterday, and was part of the Pierhead celebration, that they too are now a real living wage employer. The universities are already, our national parks are already. We are creating a critical mass of organisations committed to this agenda, and then we want to use their experience to pull the rest of the Welsh economy in the same direction.

Tackling Modern-day Slavery

5. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's actions to tackle modern day slavery? OAQ54686

I thank Dawn Bowden for that. Wales remains the first and only UK nation to have appointed an anti-slavery co-ordinator. Cases of modern slavery in Wales are reviewed by a national group, including the Crown Prosecution Service, relevant law enforcement and support agencies. 

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I will be careful what I say in my question, because there are current police investigations in my constituency on this matter. But such investigations highlight the importance of everyone remaining vigilant to the problems of human trafficking and modern day slavery and to the horrible exploitation of vulnerable people that can happen in a wide range of everyday situations. First Minister, the current investigations in my constituency focus on the residential care sector, which I believe to be part of the care system that is subject to our regulation and inspection. So, can you assure me that, at an appropriate time, all the relevant evidence will be reviewed to see what further actions might be possible? For example, should we be looking to ensure that inspection bodies are more alert to the issues around modern slavery and what they should be looking out for as a further way to help tackle this problem in the care sector in Wales?

I thank Dawn Bowden for that important question. Llywydd, because we have the only UK anti-slavery co-ordinator here in Wales, we have been able to use that post to ensure that we have joint and consistent training across Wales on this matter. I want to give the Member an assurance that all cases of modern slavery are reviewed by an all-Wales anti slavery casework group, which goes through them to make sure that we learn the lessons from them. And it is a sobering thought, Llywydd, isn't it, that, in 2018, there were 251 cases of modern slavery reported here in Wales. As the Member suggested, this isn't something that happens somewhere else, it isn't something that somebody else sees but you never do. That's why training our inspectors, training people who come across circumstances where this might be the case, is so important to us.

And we as Assembly Members have opportunities here as well. Llywydd, I myself had cause to report an example, following a street surgery that I carried out in my own constituency over the summer, where local residents were alarmed at what they saw going on in a building at the far end of their own street. And, on investigation, it turned out there was something that badly needed to be looked into there. So, we all have responsibilities, just as others who are the eyes and ears of public services in Wales. 

That 251 figure, Llywydd, while it's shocking in its way, is regarded in the sector as a success, because it means that more people are willing to come forward and identify instances of this sort. We began this journey in 2012, led very much by my colleague Joyce Watson and everything that she's done in this field. There were 34 cases reported in that year. Six years later, it was up to over 250. And that, I think, does show us that there is a greater awareness, a greater alertness, and therefore a greater ability to do what Dawn Bowden suggested, which is to gather the evidence and learn the lessons. 

In your response to Helen Mary's earlier question, First Minister, you mentioned the ethical employment Welsh Government code of practice. I'm assuming that's the same code that we're talking about here. So, I was pleased to hear the number of both public and private organisations that had signed up to it. I hear your response to Dawn Bowden's question, which was very full, to be fair, but I'm wondering whether it's time to perhaps have a bit of a publicity relaunch on this, because, if there are 150-odd private companies or private organisations that are observing this code, first of all, I'd like to know how many of them are actually following it fully, and not just concentrating on the living wage and perhaps not concentrating on the anti-slavery element. And, actually, we have thousands of companies here in Wales—perhaps more of them could learn more about it and be prepared to sign up to it. 


I thank Suzy Davies for that. I'm very keen we take every opportunity there is to promote the code. We're doing it through the economic contract; we'll be doing it this week. This is Wales Safeguarding Week, and my colleague Julie Morgan will be attending events—already has in south Wales, and will be in north Wales later this week publicising the actions we're taking as part of that. And, of course, Suzy Davies is right: the code of practice in ethical employment is about terms and conditions and circumstances in which people are employed, but it's more than that. Procurement is an important part of it, and the way in which people are brought into the workplace in Wales is at the forefront of that code. So, I'll think carefully about what she said. We take whatever opportunities we already have, and maybe in the new year there will be a case for having another event that highlights what has been achieved already and draws more people in support of it.   

Child Poverty

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on efforts to reduce child poverty? OAQ54648

I thank Mike Hedges for that. The Welsh Government’s efforts to reduce child poverty focus on those practical mitigating measures that lie in our hands and which leave money in the pockets of families who most need it.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. Every summer, children go hungry. many parents lose 10 free meals per child per week when schools are closed. I would commend the work of my colleague Carolyn Harris, who fed well over 5,000 children during the summer in Swansea East, but that certainly was not getting to all those who were losing out on the free food. Will the First Minister cost a continuation of free school breakfasts across the summer holiday, and then look to fund it? This would be probably the best way of dealing with child poverty in Wales. 

I thank Mike Hedges for that very important question. It's a sobering fact, Llywydd, that we can hear a sentence in this Assembly that says 'every summer children go hungry here in Wales'. We surely ought not just to be willing to hear that as though it were a matter of course and something that we shouldn't do something about. Of course, I commend the work of Carolyn Harris in Swansea, which gained a lot of interest and attention over the summer of this year.

Llywydd, there are over 61,000 children in Wales who are receiving a free breakfast in our primary schools at the census date at the start of this year. The funding has long gone into the revenue support grant, as we would expect it to do. In this Assembly term, our focus as a Government has been on the school holiday enrichment programme, SHEP. We funded it to the tune of £0.5 million in the first two years of this Assembly term. That rose to £900,000 in this financial year, and, when money is so scarce, it really is an indication of the priority that this Government puts on dealing with the practical impact of poverty in the lives of those children who need our help the most. The SHEP programme provides a meal for children, but much more than a meal. It involves parents in the preparation of that meal. It involves a focus on nutritional standards. It provides physical activity for children as part of the programme. It deals with holiday learning loss. It's been now rolled out to 21 of the 22 local authorities across Wales, and that additional funding—£100,000 of that has gone to third sector organisations, and some of that for the first time will be used to relieve holiday hunger during the recent October half term.

So, I absolutely agree with the points that Mike Hedges has made about the importance of this subject, and want to celebrate something of the achievements of those organisations who are working, with our support, to make such a difference in the lives of children. 

According to the report recently published by Great School Libraries, only 67 per cent of schools in Wales have access to a designated school library space. Schools in England, however, are up to a third more likely to have a library. Now, the disparity indicates again the inequality of opportunity of pupil space in Wales compared to England. A lack of libraries is hitting our poorest children the hardest. Now, schools with a higher proportion of children eligible for free school meals are also more than twice as likely not to have a designated library space on site. So, we do have a long way to go, First Minister, to improve the situation in Wales because only 9 per cent of schools are thought to even have a library budget. So, will you work with school leaders and the library community and, indeed, your Minister to develop new investment in school libraries with the aim of balancing inequality of access and provision?


Llywydd, lack of food is hurting our poorest children hardest in Wales, and that includes the 50,000 additional children who will end this decade in poverty compared to when her Government came into power in 2010.

I'm sure my colleague the education Minister has heard what the Member has said about libraries, but this question began with children who go hungry in the holiday, and that's where I think my thoughts have been focused this afternoon.

Improving Transport

7. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's priorities for improving transport? OAQ54655

I thank the Member for that question. The Welsh Government's priorities include the promotion of active travel, investment in public transport, and a transport infrastructure that supports prosperity and accessibility for all.

Thank you for the answer, First Minister. The Department of Transport projects that traffic along the M4 in Wales is set to increase by nearly 38 per cent over the next 30 years. In 2015, accident rates on some sections of motorway were still above the national average in spite of introducing variable speed cameras on some dangerous spots on the M4. Some sections of the M4 have alignments that are below current motorway standards, lack a hard shoulder, and have frequent junctions, causing vehicles to change lanes over relatively short distances. First Minister, you and your Government haven't fulfilled its commitment of its manifesto for the last election for the relief road. When will you take the action required to improve the safety and congestion on the M4, please?

Well, given what he said, the Member will be pleased, Llywydd, to welcome the additional traffic officers who are already working on the M4 in the Newport area, reducing the response time to accidents from 20 minutes to 10 minutes. He will be glad to welcome the free recovery service, which we instituted over the summer, in an informal arrangement at that time with Gwent Police, but which is now solidified into a plan for high-visibility patrols of heavy recovery capacity for major events and bank holidays and so on. He'll be glad to know that there is journey-time variable message signing now completed and utilised between junction 23 and junction 29, and that we are making much greater use of social media to make sure that drivers are aware of issues on the network and the need to take action to avoid those accidents that can cause delays to others.

As we heard earlier, First Minister, after 31 December, we could lose the Pacer trains from the Valleys lines. Now, losing the Pacers would normally be a cause for celebration, because they're so old and so awful, but, because of the lack of planning from yourselves, we face an unprecedented reduction in rail services overnight. Earlier on, you blamed private companies, yet you were warned about this six years ago. And the report from 2013 called on the Welsh Government—not on private companies, but on yourselves—to develop and publish a rolling stock strategy as a matter of urgency. That recommendation was not acted upon and angry passengers, including myself, will want to know why. We cannot accept an even poorer service than we have now. My train was cancelled just this morning, and this is occurring more and more regularly. First Minister, what is your plan B if you can't use Pacers after 31 December?

Well, as I explained in my earlier answer, Llywydd, we want to lose the Pacer trains from the network and would have been able to have done that had the companies who had contracted to supply new rolling stock to the Welsh network delivered on the promises that they made. That is not a failure of the Welsh Government. Those orders had been placed, those plans had been made, but the companies, having contracted to deliver the rolling stock, have now failed to do that. We remain in conversations, as I said, with the Department for Transport, to go on using Pacer trains in the short run until that new rolling stock does become available. But it has never been the long-term plan of Transport for Wales or the Government to go on relying on Pacer trains far into the future.

Resilience in the Health Sector

8. How does the Welsh Government plan to improve resilience in the health sector? OAQ54675

I thank the Member. Health boards, local authorities and the ambulance service have developed joint resilience plans for this winter. Final versions will be agreed this week. Managing peaks in pressure remains a challenge, but health and social care staff go on providing vital services every day.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. As you said, once again, our health professionals are gearing themselves up for the winter pressures. So, what steps have you taken to ensure that all areas of good practice identified over the years are embedded into the plans for this coming year?

I thank the Member for that important question. We have worked over many years to make sure that the lessons that are learnt in one part of Wales are spread to others, too. Funds that have been established over the last decade have always had that at the heart of them. It's why, on 1 October, when the Minister for Health and Social Services announced £30 million for winter resilience—announced earlier than ever before—£17 million of that has gone direct to the regional partnership boards, because learning the lessons in the health service, in a winter period, has to involve the social care services, as well as the health service. Now, up until now, the money has gone direct to the health service, and the health service makes the decisions. Now, £17 million will be jointly decided upon in those regional partnership boards, allowing the lessons that have been learnt over the recent past to be applied more widely across local authorities, and that there is learning between health boards as well.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Of course, another way of building resilience is to look at the health service in the round. And you will know that, in west Wales, we have struggled to be able to deliver sustainable, resilient health services for the whole of west Wales. And there is a plan to perhaps build a new hospital, and there is continued uncertainty, of course, therefore, over the future of Glangwili and the future of Withybush. And I would like to know, First Minister, whether you are able to tell us whether or not the Welsh Government has in fact received any form of bid or inquiry from Hywel Dda University Health Board as to the potential of having funds going forward in order to move this forward. We have people who aren't coming to west Wales at the moment because the whole area is in a state of flux, and we need to know whether the ideas really have legs and possibility, or whether it is just a candle in the wind.

Well, Llywydd, I congratulate those clinicians in the Hywel Dda area who have led the conversation about the changing nature of demand and provision in that part of south-west Wales. And we look forward to receiving the next iteration of proposals from the health board, so that we can look for ways in which we will be able to support them in that endeavour. But the Member began by making, I thought, an important point—that the health service needs to be seen in the round, and that cannot mean a focus just on hospitals. For too long, the debate in south-west Wales has often been bedevilled by thinking that the health service equals a hospital. What we mean by 'in the round' is a reliance on the interface between primary care and secondary care, but also the interface between the health service and social care services. And some of the most imaginative proposals—thinking of Caroline Jones's question—and some of the most imaginative ways in which the money that we provide to primary care clusters in Wales have been found in Pembrokeshire, where use of that money in primary care, involving the third sector as well, seems to me a pretty good example of what we really ought to mean when we talk about a service 'in the round', rather than a service that is always focused just on one, and probably the most visible, part of what the health service does.

Point of Order

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I raise a point of order under Standing Order 13.9, Maintenance of Order, and I do so to support your position, Llywydd. If we look at Standing Order 13.9(i), Members are required to be called to order if they engage 

'in conduct which would, in the opinion of the Presiding Officer, constitute a criminal offence or contempt of court'.

I remind Members that privilege does not apply to the commission of criminal offences in this Chamber. It applies only when it comes to civil matters and not to do with criminal matters. I have heard from Mark Reckless today, and I ask him to reflect on this, a question that was put to the First Minister about the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans, about data that could only have been obtained in a way that had come from a covert recording. If data from a covert recording, which mentions a third party, is made public, that is potentially an offence, and I ask you to reflect on that and to rule on that. 

I also draw your attention to 13.9(iv): a Member who 

'is guilty of discourteous or unbecoming conduct'.  

We are all in this Chamber, from time to time, pushed to behave in a way that we wouldn't otherwise. It's part of the normal workings of democracy. We know that this Chamber is a lively place, but it is not becoming, nor is it discourteous, to accuse the Presiding Officer of bias and then offer weasel words—weasel words—and fail to withdraw that allegation. SO 13.9(v) deals with

'using disorderly, discriminatory or offensive language'. 

Well, disorderly language, I think, was implicit and explicit in what was said by Mark Reckless. 

SO 13.9(vi):

'refuses to conform to any Standing Order or other requirement for the conduct of Members'. 

He did not comply with the request that you made to him that he should withdraw the allegation of bias. He would not have been allowed to do that in any other place, and I do not want this Chamber to be seen as somewhere where people can get away with things. Otherwise, that is a road to complete chaos.

And, finally, 13.9(vii): disregarding the authority of the chair. I've seen two Members do that in this Chamber this afternoon. I saw the Member, Neil McEvoy, who incidentally is not here, and I wouldn't refer to that otherwise, but I think it's worth referring to the tweet he's just sent out. A tweet sent out by Neil McEvoy: 

'@yLlywydd should have declared an interest today, before discussing the recordings I made. She was mentioned in them. Questions to answer.'

Not even in the Chamber, but he's attacking you, Llywydd, and I saw him effectively shout you down or try to shout you down this afternoon, and that is behaviour that all of us in this Chamber, I know, would utterly condemn. And I have to say, Mark Reckless, in what he said when he failed to withdraw on your specific request an allegation of bias in a way that was unconditional, and again I ask him to reflect on that, that I thought was a complete disregard, almost a contempt, for the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales. And I say all these things to support you, Llywydd. I ask you, then, to look at Standing Order 13.9(i) and consider your powers under that Standing Order to deal with a situation, the like of which I have not seen in 20 years in this Chamber.

I thank the—[Interruption.] No. I thank the Member for the point of order and, just for the record, no Member has succeeded to shout me down in this chair this afternoon. I will look at the record and review the record, on what has been said during the contribution by Mark Reckless earlier on during First Minister's questions, and whether that was within Standing Orders and was in any way a breach of those Standing Orders or any criminal proceedings that may ensue. Members will be aware that I said earlier on this afternoon that South Wales Police and an acting standards commissioner are now the appropriate organisations to pursue many of these matters further.

But just to reflect on this afternoon and, indeed, some of yesterday, I'm very angry at times at how Members behave in this Chamber or undertake their elected work. I'm not angry today; I'm deeply saddened by much of what I have seen and heard in this Chamber and much of what is happening outside of this Chamber. And I will say that Wales deserves better from some of its elected Members, present and not present. And I will now—[Interruption.]. And I include myself in the expectation that Wales deserves of the behaviour of its Members. All of us here, those present and those not present, are expected to do our work in good, orderly conduct, and I'm saddened that some of us, some of you, today, have failed to reach that standard that I would expect Wales deserves of us.

Questions to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip

I am moving on to questions to the Deputy Minister, and the first question in this session is from Mark Isherwood.

The Equality Act 2010

1. How is the Welsh Government monitoring the implementation of the Equality Act 2010 in Wales? OAQ54657

We work closely with the Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales, who are the regulator of the Equality Act 2010. The commission published sectoral briefings of their latest monitoring exercise earlier in the summer.

Thank you. The Equality Act 2010 requires—and I'm quoting here—that service providers must think ahead and take steps to address barriers that impede disabled people. In doing this, it says it's a good idea to consider the range of disabilities that your actual or potential service users might have and that you should not wait until a disabled person experiences difficulties using a service. It also says that those to whom the provisions apply are required to take such steps as is reasonable to take to avoid putting disabled people at a substantial disadvantage, where failure to comply with this duty is a form of discrimination. And this reflects the social model of disability, requiring changes to the environment, as well as attitudinal and behavioural changes. And yet, every day, I'm having to write, currently, casework relating to child safeguarding, access to education, exclusions from schools and colleges, access to care and support from social services and access to health services in Wales, and having to repeat the content of this legislation to the same service providers I've repeated it to previously. This is a failure of monitoring. How are we not only going to manage the change to ensure that these public bodies at the top floor understand what this means, but then also monitor to ensure that they actually implement it?

Well, I thank Mark Isherwood for that question, because it is for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to regulate the public sector equality duty, and work was commissioned last year, in 2018, to monitor that compliance. The findings of the exercise, as I said, were published earlier on this year, and, actually, we note in the main finding that none of the public bodies in Wales fully met all of the requirements of the public sector equality duty—the specific duties that were monitored. I'm sure that you have seen the summary of the common issues that have been identified. So, clearly, very significant challenges are there.

I've discussed this with Ruth Coombs, the director of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and I attended an event in July this year. I'm encouraged now that organisations are coming forward and we will back the Equality and Human Rights Commission in taking this seriously, because we are proud that we have got those Welsh-specific duties and we need to make sure that they're implemented. But, I do think that the Member will have been encouraged by, last week, the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services committing herself particularly to those affected by learning disabilities to enable them to lead active and fulfilling lives in caring and stable environments, and I know that the framework that she announced was very much welcomed in terms of the new three-tiered framework for education and training that's going to be developed and will roll out next year.

But also, finally, I'd say that the framework for independent living, 'Action on Disability', is crucial to make sure that we move forward with an action plan that involves all Ministers in this Welsh Government, and, of course, that is to be delivered at local level and by the health sector.

Diolch, Llywydd. I'm sure that the Deputy Minister will agree with me that, when addressing issues in the Equality Act 2010, it's important that the appropriate language is always used. I'm wondering if she shares my concern that there has been an increasing tendency in public discourse to use the terms 'sex' and 'gender' interchangeably. Now, as things stand at present, gender is not a protected characteristic, and I wonder if the Deputy Minister would agree with me that it may be time to update the Equality Act to catch up with the current language. I think the Act, as it stands, refers to people who are transsexual; it doesn't refer specifically to people who are transgender. So, in our view, that Act does need to be modified to accept current good practice. But will the Deputy Minister also agree with me that, in the meantime, it's very important that when referring to discrimination between women and men, public bodies use the term 'sex discrimination' and not 'gender discrimination' because it confuses two separate but very important equality issues?


Well, I appreciate Helen Mary Jones has got a view, as others have, on this issue. I am very content with the advice that we have been given, not just in terms of the Equality Act and how it's been delivered by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but also by organisations like the Women's Equality Network, who represent women's organisations across Wales, and also by Stonewall Cymru, particularly in terms of their advice in terms of transgender. In fact, not only are we funding Stonewall Cymru, but we are funding them to employ a transgender worker as well. I'm very committed to the outcome of the gender review from Chwarae Teg, which I think has to be the way forward, and certainly the Welsh Government will be reporting soon on our response to that.

White Ribbon Day

2. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for white ribbon day? OAQ54653

The Welsh Government was, and remains the only Government in the UK to have been White Ribbon accredited. We're renewing our accreditation and I encourage all men, all male staff members and Assembly Members to consider becoming White Ribbon ambassadors and women to become champions.

Can I thank the Minister for that response? Perhaps I should declare I am a White Ribbon ambassador, thanks to my friend Jack Sargeant, who sent me all the information to become one. But when I speak on issues like these, it is much more as the father of a 21-year-old woman than as a politician. Violence against women is always unacceptable. We all need to stand up and speak out when we see it. I wear my White Ribbon with pride. How can the Welsh Government promote White Ribbon Day across the whole of the public sector in Wales?

Well, I thank Mike Hedges for bringing this question and standing up and speaking as an ambassador, and also, obviously, reflecting on Jack Sargeant's impact and influence on this. We, of course, will be very shortly working towards the day where we acknowledge White Ribbon Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. That's on 25 November, and I also look forward to joining Joyce Watson, and I'm sure many of you will, on the twenty-fifth, when we have a cross-party stakeholder event. I hope this is very much recognised cross-party in this Chamber today. But also recognising that the Welsh Government has a national strategy in terms of implementing our pioneering Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. I think it's so important today that we take on board that message of, 'Don't be a bystander,' in terms of domestic violence and violence against women. Wales won't stand by. That's linked very closely to the White Ribbon campaign message.

But in terms of the public sector, there are four local authorities, two fire and rescue services, two police forces and one town council in Wales that are accredited, as well as the Older People's Commissioner for Wales. I think we can use this year to, again, strengthen recognition and awareness raising amongst the public sector to ensure that we move on from the 28 White Ribbon ambassadors that we've had, many of whom are in key leadership roles within the Welsh Government.

4. Business Statement and Announcement

And that brings us to the business statement and announcement. I call on the Minister and Trefnydd to make the statement. Rebecca Evans.

Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the papers available to Members electronically.

Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for Education on examination results in Wales? According to Estyn, the proportion of pupils who do not move from year 10 to the final year of GCSEs has already doubled in the last six years. They went on to say the data suggested that the majority of pupils repeating year 10 were not doing so for genuine reasons. In the light of Estyn's concerns, can we have a statement from the Minister on what actions she intends to take to ensure that schools are not moving pupils off their registers as an easy way of improving exam data in Wales?


Thank you to Mohammad Asghar for raising this important issue this afternoon, and I'll be sure to ask the education Minister to write to you with information as to what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure that young people are taking the exams at the appropriate time.

Trefnydd, last year, and earlier this year, we actually had reports from the NHS delivery unit and from Healthcare Inspectorate Wales relating to adult mental health services in the community. Both highlighted the care and treatment plan aspect of that delivery plan that the Welsh Government operates, and the need to actually strengthen it. I have met with Mind, and Mind have also done some work on care and treatment planning, again highlighting the need for this area to be strengthened, for people to understand how they can be involved and how they can actually build it themselves, and not simply be given a tick box.

I fully understand that the Welsh Government will be publishing its 'Together for Mental Health' plan very shortly. But, can we therefore have a debate in Government time on that plan, once it's published, so that we can have a discussion as to the aspects that it is addressing, to ensure that people who need the service understand the care and treatment planning, to ensure that we can have that discussion? We can help people who are vulnerable. We can make sure that they are getting the best advice possible, and that they are involved in their care and treatment plan.  

David Rees is correct that the Welsh Government has recently been consulting on its new mental health delivery plan, and I know that the health Minister is keen that Members do have the opportunity to discuss it in the Chamber. I'm sure that he'll be putting forward a motion to be tabled in due course.

Trefnydd, could I ask for a statement on the safeguarding of schoolchildren at locations that are used as polling stations, please? There is a concern regarding the safety of pupils due to school facilities also being used as polling stations on the general election day. I give one example here of a headteacher who has contacted me, unable to secure the school safely for the pupils as the general public would share access, and security fences would have to be kept unlocked for public use. This particular headteacher is, of course, reluctant to close the school on this day, and I would expect that this example is not an isolated situation across Wales. In light of this, can I ask for a statement and can you liaise with the education Minister about whether or not there is funding available that would enable schools to relocate to teach their pupils at another facility or location? This isn't just relevant to this general election, but also council and Assembly elections in the future.

The safeguarding of children within their school environment is clearly a top priority for Government. I would suggest that, in the first instance, the headteacher of the school to which you refer discusses his specific case with the electoral returning officer for the local area, but also potentially democratic services within the council as well. But, I would encourage you to write to the Minister with responsibility for local government in order to solicit a wider response to the issue that you raised. 

Could we have a statement on the support for primary school children with additional learning needs in Welsh-medium education? Now, obviously, this Welsh Government has prioritised the growth of Welsh-medium education as part of its ambitious targets for 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050. But, one of the challenges of growing Welsh-medium education in areas that start from a low base is that there will also be children in those areas attending Welsh-medium primaries that come from Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh-speaking families who will require additional learning support in Welsh, which may not be in place. It would be deeply unsatisfactory—I know that the Trefnydd would agree—if, at the age when diagnosis supporting additional needs is often made, in years 9 and 10, that there was not adequate support for these children in Welsh-medium primary education, as well as in English. So, I would welcome a statement on this important matter, which could highlight then the support that's available and also any gaps in provision in different local authority areas across Wales.

The Welsh Government recognises the importance of supporting those children with special educational needs within Welsh-medium education. The SEN code of practice for Wales makes it clear that local authorities are under a legal duty to have regard to meeting the needs of SEN pupils in accordance with parental preferences, and that includes the preference for Welsh-medium education. The Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 aims to create a bilingual system of support for learners with ALN. Under the new ALN system, local authorities and education settings will be required to consider whether additional learning provision should be provided to the child or to the young person in Welsh, and where a learner has need for that provision in Welsh, it must be specified in the individual development plan and the body must then take all reasonable steps to ensure that the support is provided in Welsh. But I will ask the education Minister to provide you with a more detailed update in terms of the particular questions that you asked about potential barriers to ensuring that young people are getting this kind of support.


Organiser, could I seek two statements if possible, please, and the first on ash dieback? The Tree Council recently did a survey and made a report on that survey across the whole of the UK, and the potential financial costs and environmental costs. In England in particular local authorities have faced bills of tens of millions of pounds. I appreciate that those local authorities are bigger than local authorities in Wales, but the magnitude of this cannot be underestimated. As you drive around you can see far more tree work being undertaken because of ash dieback, which is now taking hold across the whole of Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, this particular report identifies the potential loss of 2 billion trees. Dutch elm disease, which many people are familiar with, lost us 150 million trees, so you can see the scale of this. I'd be grateful if we could have a statement from the Government as to how—and I'm not quite sure which Government Minister it would be, whether it would be the Minister for local government or the rural affairs Minister—it is engaging with local authorities and other public bodies as to (a) the liabilities and (b) what work is being undertaken to try and obviously mitigate any fallout from such a massive impact on our tree canopy across the length and breadth of Wales.

Secondly, could I seek some clarification from the housing Minister, who very kindly agreed to go to Celestia residents up the road here and meet with them and discuss their problems? I met with them on Friday and they were anxious that they were able to meet with the Minister and, as I understand it, in committee the Minister indicated that she'd be prepared to meet the residents. I do accept that ministerial diaries are very busy and it takes time to plan these things, but it would be very helpful if the residents could get an understanding of when such a meeting would be furnished so that they could obviously plan accordingly.

Okay, so the first issue you raised was the important issue of ash dieback, and the impact that that can have on our tree population here in Wales. I will ask the Minister for environment to provide you with an update on what Welsh Government is doing in this regard, but also the considerations, and an update on discussions that have been had with local authorities in terms of the impact that they might feel.FootnoteLink On the issue of the request for a meeting with the Celestia residents, can I ask you to write to the Minister's office to seek to make those arrangements?

5. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government: Marking Remembrance Day and supporting our Armed Forces community

The next item is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government marking Remembrance Day and supporting our armed forces community. I call on the Deputy Minister to make the statement. Hannah Blythyn.

Diolch. In November of each year we rightly take the opportunity to honour and mark the debt of gratitude we owe to the fallen, to our veterans and to our armed forces communities across Wales as part of the annual remembrance period. The year 2019 sees a number of significant anniversaries.

In June we commemorated the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day, a momentous moment that we now know marked the beginning of the end of war in Europe. Major commemorations took place both here in the UK and along the Normandy coast, as communities and countries reflected, recognised and remembered. My own great-uncle Tommy—Thomas Edward Oldfield of the Royal Army Service Corps—served in Belgium and France before D-Day. He was at Arromanches during the landings where he saw his uncle Arthur Brockley getting off a boat onto the shore. His uncle asked him, 'What are you doing here?' and he replied, 'The same thing as you.' Now aged 83, Tommy still attends his local cenotaph annually on Remembrance Sunday.

Last month also marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of ‘s-Hertogenbosch by 53rd (Welsh) Division. The First Minister represented Wales during commemorative events there on 26 and 27 October. A hundred and forty six Welsh soldiers were lost during that one engagement. 

This August also marked the fiftieth anniversary of the UK armed forces' deployment on operations in Northern Ireland—the longest continuous operation in British military history.

This year, the Royal British Legion is inviting communities across Britain to 'Remember Together' the service, the sacrifice, friendship and collaboration of the men and women of Britain, the Commonwealth and allied nations who fought together in 1944.


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

And through our Cymru’n Cofio Wales Remembers programme, we continue to mark the centenary of the first world war. The programme works in collaboration with national and local partners, providing a fitting tribute to those touched by that terrible conflict, and I was pleased that funding has been provided to extend the programme until 2020.

In May I launched the Welsh Government’s first ever armed forces covenant annual report. This report captures the progress we have made and is testament to what can be achieved when working collaboratively across all sectors. Today, I would like to take the opportunity to share with Members the progress made in providing increased support for our armed forces community.

This Welsh Government remains fully committed to supporting the health and well-being of our armed forces community, working to ensure healthcare provision meets their needs. We provide Veterans NHS Wales with nearly £700,000 annually to help treat mental health conditions. This is a unique service—the only national service of its kind in the UK—receiving over 4,500 referrals since it began.

At last month’s covenant conference, I was pleased to help launch the veterans trauma network in Wales. This is an extremely positive development, which, in collaboration with a network of specialists throughout Wales, will provide ex-service personnel, who suffered severe physical injury as a result of their service, access to timely and appropriate care for their injuries, regardless of where they live in Wales.

We recognise the impact transition may have on the well-being of our armed forces community. Having the right support in place on return to civilian life is critical, and is something that we are actively addressing, working with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that service leavers and their families returning to Wales have access to information on the support available at a local level.

To ensure consistency in the delivery of policies and procedures that support our armed forces community, we have allocated £250,000 per year for two years, from 2019 to 2020, to fund the armed forces liaison officers—AFLOs. Working with local authorities, the liaison officers are making considerable progress, helping to increase engagement, upskilling front-line staff and raising awareness of the covenant.

There are numerous examples of best practice. In north Wales, for example, training for front-line service providers is under way to raise awareness of the covenant. Whilst in south Wales, local authorities in Gwent have amended their housing policies to take account of time served in the armed forces when it comes to waiting lists.

At the armed forces expert group in September we heard about the development of the defence transition services. Aimed at those service leavers and their families with complex transition needs, DTS will provide support and information in key areas such as housing, finance, health and well-being. We will continue to work together with key partners to ensure we have a seamless support system in place for those who need it.

The Minister for Economy and Transport and I recently wrote jointly to all Members regarding our employment pathway and employers toolkit. These important resources inform and provide options for service leavers and veterans to get into decent work, applying the many invaluable skills that ex-service personnel have. We’d very much welcome support from Members to raise awareness of these particularly helpful tools within the business community.

Periods of separation and the mobile nature of service life can also lead to employment challenges for spouses. The new Forces Families Jobs website provides a forces-friendly facility that helps support service families in accessing jobs and training opportunities.

Launching the website at our covenant conference, I heard first-hand the unique challenges facing service family members. A number of businesses across Wales have registered with the site, including people like General Dynamics, the University of South Wales and Pembrokeshire College.

Service children with experience of parental deployment can face very real educational challenges. Launched in 2018, the supporting service children in Wales fund has been made available for the 2019/20 academic year. The bespoke fund of £250,000 aims to mitigate the effects of deployment or mobility, supporting schools in embedding practices that can benefit the service children and their school.

I'm aware that some veterans struggle to secure housing, so let’s be clear, this is not acceptable. In recognition of their service, service personnel, who have been seriously injured or disabled in service and who have an urgent need for social housing, should be given high priority within local authority allocation schemes. The Welsh Government is currently reviewing priority need arrangements, and a report on this is due in April next year.

Deputy Llywydd, in the last statement of this kind, my predecessor spoke about our armed forces scoping exercise to identify gaps in service delivery for the armed forces community. This important work is moving forward, and I would like to place on record my thanks to the veterans, families and organisations who have engaged with this work. Issues raised include inconsistency of support during transition, the need for greater family support, help for those in prison and with substance misuse issues, and uncertainties on accessing help and advice.

We are now working in partnership with members of the armed forces expert group to take forward plans to tackle the issues raised. We also continue to work closely with a number of UK Government departments on the delivery of the UK veterans strategy. Our scoping results have fed into that work.

I do know, though, that challenges and concerns remain for members of our armed forces community, and I've heard these first-hand myself. We are listening, we are acting, and we are committed to meeting these challenges. By working well together, we will continue to make a positive difference, ensuring that challenges are not faced alone or in isolation. Our armed forces community deserve our support and they will receive it.

We will not forget the sacrifice—for some, the ultimate sacrifice—our armed services personnel have made. Deputy Presiding Officer, what more fitting way to close this statement today than with the words of John Maxwell Edmonds:

'When you go home, tell them of us and say / For your tomorrow, we gave our today.'


Thank you for your statement. It's actually a decade now since I led a short debate here calling on Wales to adopt the armed forces covenant, and what a long way we've all come in the decade since. But, of course, as the Royal British Legion states, remembrance itself does not glorify war, and its symbol, the red poppy, is a sign of both remembrance and hope for a peaceful future.

Last Friday I was honoured to attend and speak at the armed forces covenant signing by businesses from across north Wales at the Adventure Parc Snowdonia. And on Sunday I laid a wreath, alongside Lesley Griffiths, at the remembrance service in Wrexham, attended by thousands and thousands of local people.

You refer to the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-day and your uncle Tommy. Well, my stepdad Mack, as we called him, sadly no longer with us, flew a glider on D-day and never wanted to talk about his experiences afterwards, but I think that was the reality of the experience so many faced on that occasion.

You referred to training for front-line service providers to raise awareness of the covenant, which is clearly critical, and to the employment pathway and employers toolkit. Again, early this year, I was pleased to host the launch of the first national veterans awards for Wales, celebrating ex-forces personnel and the contribution they had made to civilian life after transitioning from the military, going above and beyond and excelling in their relevant fields.

Moving on to specific points, SSAFA have said that 74 per cent of veterans experience problems in the first three years of transition, 80 per cent in the first five years. And of the 15,000 men and women leaving the armed forces each year, it's expected that nearly nine out of 10 will transition successfully, utilising the skills they've acquired during their military service, but a small minority will encounter serious problems after they leave. And there's some evidence that this number is growing—whether it's mental health or emotional well-being problems, difficulties finding or keeping employment, relationship difficulties or breakdown, physical health problems or others, but those were amongst the most serious reported.

In Wales there are approximately 48,338 veterans, we believe, of working age living here, but veterans themselves are far more likely to be older, with a significantly higher percentage aged over 75, and almost two thirds aged over 65, putting more pressure on support services for those older veterans with complex needs. Male veterans of retirement age are more likely to report experiencing, for example, heart, blood pressure and/or circulatory problems. So, what consideration is the Welsh Government, in terms of its health provision, giving to the specific complex needs of veterans—not just giving them the entitlement to priority treatment, but to acknowledging the need to perhaps engage with them in a practical and sympathetic way when they do access services?

We know that the Army Families Federation has raised concerns about the trend of some local authorities not giving the appropriate discounts on the council tax reduction scheme for armed forces families. Could you therefore provide an update on how the Welsh Government is engaging with that concern and ensuring it's providing adequate signposting to help and support armed forces personnel who are able to apply for that?

We know that in Scotland there's an independent veterans commissioner giving impartial advice to the Scottish Government on how to support the veterans and ex-forces community in public authority provision in Scotland and promoting veterans as valuable assets in their communities. The Scottish Government has also established a Government Minister with specific responsibility for veterans. In the UK Government, the Prime Minister has established an office for veterans' affairs within the Cabinet Office and appointed a Minister for defence people and veterans. But the cross-party group on armed forces and cadets's inquiry into the armed forces covenant found that

'There is insufficient accountability to ensure that those organisations that have subscribed to the Covenant are actually fulfilling their obligations'.

In the absence of the specific officers and roles existing in other parts of the UK, how will the Welsh Government address that specific concern?

You referred to education and the pupil level annual school census. The Welsh Government said it's committed to changing the pupil level annual school census to include a question on service children. Can you provide an update on the timeline for that?

In terms of mental health needs, we know that the Royal British Legion has stated that one in 10 in the ex-service community have reported feeling depressed—equating to 31,000 individuals in Wales. There's also the prevalence of common mental health disorders in the UK armed forces, estimated at 20 per cent, alongside alcohol misuse at 13 per cent and post-traumatic stress disorder at 6 per cent. The Help for Heroes grant for Veterans NHS Wales, providing support for that community for three years, of £517,000 to employ three full-time veterans' therapists, ends next September, 2020. And I'm told that the service will need funding, additionally, of approximately £160,000 each year to retain those posts, if they're to keep waiting time for treatment under Welsh Government targets of 26 weeks. So, what consideration will the Welsh Government therefore be giving to funding those veterans' services in its forthcoming budget? I appreciate you can't tell us how much, but what consideration will you be giving to that?


Can you wind up, please? You've had nearly as long as the Minister's taken to introduce the statement. So, one final question, please.

Finally, the Royal British Legion make reference to rough-sleeping and homelessness. They note the majority of veterans manage the transition into new homes successfully and that a relatively low number of veterans experience difficulties and therefore become homeless and end up rough-sleeping. But how do you respond to their recommendation that the Welsh Government extend priority need so it encompasses not just those leaving the armed forces, but those who left up to five years ago also, to allow for their adjustment into civilian life?

Can I start by thanking Mark Isherwood for sharing his own family stories of Mack, who flew a glider in the second world war? There are so many tales of tremendous bravery in service that I'm sure that we're all able to share ourselves now as we reflect and remember and also learn from the past.

I'll do my best to try and address a number of the questions that the Member raised. Just to start with the final point with regard to priority access in terms of housing allocation and homelessness, as I referred to in the statement, there is currently an independent review of priority need in housing, which is due to report back in April next year. And, of course, the impact on veterans and the work of our scoping exercise will be a part of that as well.

Alongside the talk of transition, the scoping exercise has picked up that there is support there and it's about the signposting as well and making sure that people are aware of this support, but also, actually, the scoping exercise does highlight transition as one of those areas where we might need to look to see how we can, perhaps, plug some of those gaps. So, I hope, possibly, early in the new year, to be in a position to further update Members on that and the work that the armed forces expert group is now taking forward in order for us to be able to deliver on that.

You raised a very significant point in terms of older veterans in particular, and perhaps the complex needs that they may have. It was my pleasure to be part of the Age Cymru Project 360 and to contribute to that, as well as speak at their conference—to work collaboratively with them and other partners to ensure that, as we move forward, we make sure we are providing the necessary support and assistance for all of our veterans and particularly people as they get older as well.

In respect to another issue, the application of council tax reduction was raised in this Chamber by a colleague of yours last week in business questions, and it's certainly something that I and the Minister for Housing and Local Government can take forward with colleagues in local authorities to ensure that people are being made aware of these reductions and they are being applied where they should be applied as well.

In terms of the question on PLASC, I'm working closely with officials across Government, both in the DES department and with the Minister for Education, with regard to actually taking forward that recommendation. We recognise that having that data would be incredibly beneficial in order to support service children in education and that work is ongoing. I hope to be in a position to update Members shortly.


Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and may I also thank the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government for her statement on Remembrance Day and supporting our armed forces, wherever they may be? Of course, in remembering the sacrifice of those lost, as the Deputy Minister has already mentioned, we also remember the suffering of those who have survived, and we all, of course, think of our own family members who have been involved in conflict. But, as I am so much older than many people who have spoken already, my grandfather fought in the battle of the Somme in the first world war, and, incredibly, he survived—or I wouldn’t be here, of course—but survived facing great suffering until his untimely death, when I was a very young boy. So, of course, we remember the sacrifice of those lost, but we also remember the suffering of those who survived—suffering that goes on to this very day.

And, of course, you mentioned in your statement the health impacts, and the mental health impacts specifically, and looked at the broad range of work happening with various organisations. But, of course, veterans and members of our armed forces have seen appalling things and it’s very difficult to cope with that and they need ongoing support. We need a substantial improvement in our mental health care across the board, because, as doctors and nurses working in the health service, we’re facing an increasing wave of mental health challenges, and, with veterans being at a high risk of being among those thousands of people who are suffering, they’re not all diagnosed as of yet, of course.

The health committee in this Senedd produced a report last year on suicide, and, of course, one of the high-risk groups for suicide are veterans. And I see what’s happening in terms of all of these organisations, but, naturally, there are people who fall between the cracks between the various organisations, what everyone is doing and so on. Essentially, what we want to know is what is the Government going to do to ensure that there is ongoing consistent funding, particularly of those charitable organisations working in our communities that provide mental health support across the board, as well as those organisations that you’ve named here who provide support for veterans. There are other charitable organisations too that are doing laudable work and they would be doing more of that work if they were resourced to the proper extent. That is, more resources, and that resource provided on an ongoing basis and in the longer term—the kind of thing we’re always asking the Government to provide.

And the only other question I have is that when someone who is a veteran returns and comes into contact with our health service, then, on occasion, there is a gap in their medical records. It isn’t always possible to get hold of any sort of information about their medical history whilst they were serving in the armed forces, and when we see them as doctors and nurses out in the community, then there’s no information about any former illnesses that they may have suffered. So, repeated demands have been made, and there are changes happening, but, again, there are some examples when that information simply isn’t available to the health service, and that information relates to the time they spent in the armed forces, and that’s where the information remains. I would hope that there would be some means of transferring that information, that necessary information, about the state of our veterans' health to the proper authorities who look after them now. Thank you very much.


Thank you for your questions, Dai Lloyd.

You're obviously right in what you say in talking about your grandfather in terms of, actually, you know, we commemorate the sacrifice of those lost but also remember the suffering of those who survived as well, which is why it's so important, as a community, as a country and a Welsh Government, that we support those who have served and who continue to serve as well.

In terms of the challenges, there is support there. We are proud to support Veterans' NHS Wales—a unique service of its kind in the UK—but, clearly, as our scoping exercise has identified, there are gaps and, unfortunately, some people do, and, as you say, can sometimes fall through those gaps. So, it's a matter now of actually how we close them and work with those partner organisations to ensure that, actually, if the support is there, people know where to go to get the support as well, and it's signposted effectively and in the right places.

Like I said, I've heard, very movingly on some occasions, on some of the visits I've been on in this role, particularly to organisations such as Woody's Lodge, from veterans themselves of actually the challenges they faced when they left the services and feeling that they were let down. It really did move me, spur me on to make sure that we do, in the next stage in the work of Welsh Government, make sure that we close those gaps to the best of our ability as well, and, actually, how we best support those charitable organisations that, as you say, do wonderful work. And, actually, it would not be possible to do this work without the partnership and without the people who have that expertise. Because we know, in many cases, actually, a lot of these organisations are peer led as well, which makes a huge difference to a veteran if they know they can go and talk to somebody who has shared those similar experiences as well and will understand where they're coming from. So, whilst I'm not able to go into budget figures, as the Member would expect today, I would like to place on record assurances that this Government is committed to continuing to build on the work of supporting veterans and our armed forces communities in Wales.

Diolch yn fawr, Deputy Minister, for this very important statement today. I was privileged to be able to join veterans and members of the public at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, something which I have very fond memories of doing as a young child, hand in hand with Dad. And, again, I was privileged to join members of the public and veterans yesterday at the cenotaph in Connah's Quay.

Yesterday saw the unveiling of the commemorations stone for an additional 23 names of people from Connah's Quay and Shotton who fought in world war one. It was also, once again, an opportunity to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms we all cherish. And, Deputy Llywydd, let me say: we will remember them.

As we pass the hundredth anniversary of the ending of world war one and mark the 80 years since the start of world war two, it is incumbent on my generation to do all we can to remember those who fought in these conflicts and all conflicts since. That is why I'm extremely proud to declare today that I am an honorary member of the Royal Welch Fusiliers Shotton and Connah's Quay branch, something which my late Uncle Mark served under.

Remembering is not just about these events, it is also about making sure that our veterans are given the support that they deserve. Deputy Minister, in the same line as Dr Dai Lloyd said—my colleague from across the Chamber—it is extremely difficult even to begin to imagine what the service personnel have seen while on active duty. So, please can you outline what mental health support is available to veterans but also available to serving personnel, as well as their families, and any areas that she feels this provision can be improved?

And finally, Deputy Minister, will you join me in saying in this Chamber 'lest we forget'?

Thank you. Absolutely. Lest we forget—I think there's always consensus on that right across this Chamber and beyond, across the country. As well, may I start by congratulating you on becoming an honorary member of the Shotton and Deeside branch? You started by talking about Connah's Quay cenotaph, and I must admit, Deputy Presiding Officer, I actually have fond memories of Connah's Quay cenotaph myself growing up, not least as the standard bearer for 1st Connah's Quay Brownies during one remembrance service. And actually, just to indulge myself a little bit further, the Great-uncle Tom I mentioned, he was actually at the cenotaph in Connah's Quay on Remembrance Sunday, as well, as he has been every year.

In terms of, actually, the serious points that you raise there with the support for mental health—absolutely, we know that is a priority that needs to be supported, which is why we are proud to have invested in the Veterans' NHS Wales service. As I said previously, clearly, there are people who may not know that the service is available, might not feel able to go and get that support, which is why that peer-to-peer support is so, so important, but also the work that we're doing in the scoping exercise, making sure that we're speaking to those people, veterans organisations, where they feel there may be gaps in services. And, of course, if the Member ever has things raised with you locally with regard to the provision of support, then please do write to us and write to me, because then that can actually feed into how we build on the work we're already doing.


Thank you, Deputy Llywydd. I welcome your statement today, Deputy Minister, and I wish to pay tribute to all of those who gave so much in various conflicts over the years. I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of war in 1914 or now. I am glad that I cannot. We must acknowledge the sacrifice of millions of lives, but also the sacrifice of mental and physical health, of lives planned and imagined but not lived, of marriages that never happened, sweethearts, parents and siblings lost, and all of the civilian lives lost and affected by war.

We can all recall a member of the family who fell—that name said with pride, and who we cry for every November, however long ago they died. I hear from veterans that they perceive an increase in crowds at the services over the last few years and this is very, very welcome. You all know that my son is currently serving in the army. He has done five tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, plus many more. He has seen friends and comrades die in battle in front of him—they were my sons too. He serves his country and his Queen with pride. He's willing to risk his life for us; my heart bursts with pride at the man and the soldier he has become. 

One of the most touching things about this Remembrance Sunday for me was standing next to a lady who was telling her five-year-old son why we were there. She mentioned a fallen relative and the millions of others who gave their lives and she just said, 'So we can lead a better life'. It is vital that we continue to tell our kids about war and conflict and about reconciliation and tolerance, and my only ask today is that we make sure that our schoolchildren are taught about armed conflict and its place in the development of our democracy. The only political point I feel is appropriate today is that, while a railcard for veterans is very welcome, I know that serving soldiers, sailors and the air force would much rather see homelessness tackled, housing provided and prosecutions stopped. We will remember them.

Thank you for that incredibly moving contribution, which was absolutely from the heart. And I hope that the Member won't mind me placing on record our thanks, on behalf of the Welsh Government, to your son and his fellow soldiers who serve, for all they do in their service to our country and for keeping the world safe.

Just to refer to the comments you made in terms of increasing crowds this year, and many veterans saying that—I think we've probably all seen that in the evidence of photos from the services at cenotaphs right across the country. And I saw it myself in two of the services that I attended this Sunday as well. That is to be welcomed, because it is right that we remember and actually that we learn from that too, and we recognise the great sacrifice and service that people have made previously and continue to make on our behalf, and that that is taught to—. What I found particularly—. You talked about that schoolchildren are made aware of the role that people who serve play. I thought it was quite wonderful to see—and I'm sure that other Members will share similar stories about schools taking part now in remembrance services—local secondary schools, and primary schools, even, laying wreaths on behalf of the children. And the field of remembrance in Cardiff Castle—there is a section there where schoolchildren across Cardiff have been involved in actually paying their own tributes, and, if you go and look at some of those crosses, there are some lovely, moving tributes from the younger generation, remembering the current generation and the older generation and what they did for us.

6. Statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs: The Welsh National Marine Plan

Item 6 on the agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on the Welsh national marine plan, and I call on the Minister for or Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I am pleased to announce the publication and adoption of the first Welsh national marine plan, setting out a 20-year vision for clean, healthy and productive Welsh waters. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, whose recommendations have helped to inform the plan, and the many interested stakeholders and partners who have contributed their time, expertise and ideas.

The publication of this Welsh national marine plan is our opportunity to develop a distinctively Welsh approach to the management of our seas, in line with the goals and ways of working enshrined in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The plan we are publishing today shows the proactive approach we are taking as a Welsh Government to preserve the immense value of healthy seas to Wales's environment, economy and society. If we manage our seas wisely, they can play a vital role in regulating the impacts of climate change, and protecting our most precious species. Economic activity in our seas contributes millions of pounds and thousands of jobs, which benefit our coastal communities and our economy as a whole. Our iconic coastline is fundamental to our cultural heritage and identity.

This plan is published at a time when our seas and coastal communities are under immense pressure, and action is needed to preserve the value of our seas for future generations. The plan puts into place more robust requirements on developers and public authorities, giving Welsh Government a stronger basis for determining and licensing activities in accordance with our values. The foremost threat to our seas is that of climate change and species extinction. It is vital that we take the signs seriously, and we take action before it is too late. The impact of climate change is already upon us, with Welsh communities experiencing the impacts of intensifying patterns of flooding, coastal erosion and extreme storms. The plan strengthens the requirements for all developments to demonstrate they are resilient in the face of the flooding and coastal erosion we expect as a result of climate change.

The plan sets out our intention to expand the network of marine protected areas, and strengthen the protections that apply to other designated areas. Stronger requirements have been introduced, to enable firm action against marine litter and other forms of pollution arising from activities in our seas. Taking a planned approach to the management of our seas provides opportunities for sustainable economic development, enabling the creation of jobs in a way that contributes to the protection of the marine environment. Our plan, therefore, sets out the ways in which our policies will encourage a wide range of economic activities, from fishing and aquaculture to tourism and shipping. Central to both our environmental and our economic agenda is the role our seas can play in supporting the transition to a low-carbon energy system.

We already have in Wales some of the most substantial marine energy infrastructure of any country in the world, including large-scale offshore wind developments, and marine energy demonstration zones, in which Welsh businesses and academics are creating the technologies for the future. I hope we in this Assembly can all agree that the development of a vibrant marine energy sector has to be one of our most important long-term strategic goals for the Welsh economy.

The plan also includes references to UK Government policy where matters are reserved to UK Government. Inevitably, there are areas in which there is a contrast between Welsh Government and UK Government policy. One such area is in relation to the extraction of oil and gas. Welsh Government policy is designed to avoid further extraction and consumption of fossil fuels within all areas for which we have responsibility. We completely oppose any extraction of fossil fuels in the seas surrounding Wales. In the plan, we have gone further than this to say that where offshore fossil fuel extraction has land-based elements—that is, any elements that would fall into the responsibility of Welsh Government—we will apply our policy to avoid continued extraction of fossil fuels, using all powers available to us.

In our plan, we've also included details of the UK Government policy, insofar as it applies to the seas surrounding Wales. Their policy is to maximise fossil fuel extraction in the offshore areas surrounding Wales. The contrast between the policy of Welsh Government and UK Government could not be more stark. For the avoidance of any doubt, I would like to place on record the view of Welsh Government that any policy to encourage the continued extraction of fossil fuels is a policy we would emphatically reject.

Now that we have published and adopted the Welsh national marine plan, our efforts will focus on implementation. A marine planning decision makers group has been formed and detailed supplementary guidance is being finalised in collaboration with stakeholders. We have now released an updated version of our Wales marine planning portal, providing freely accessible and interactive online evidence maps.

As the evidence base develops we will continuously refine the plan and how it applies to specific activities and specific regions of Wales. The publication of the first Welsh national marine plan forms an important part of our response to the climate and ecological emergency as it affects our seas. It is equally a demonstration of our commitment to coastal communities and our support for the industries that we believe will underpin Wales's future prosperity.

This plan sets out our vision for a prosperous and resilient Wales in which our seas are abundant with wildlife, are sustaining a vibrant renewable energy sector, and are enriching the lives of the people of Wales in so many other ways. 


Minister, thank you for your statement this afternoon. Obviously, as a committee, the environment committee, we've looked at this in great detail and I thank you and your officials who've come before us as well. So, I'm grateful to see the conclusion of the work brought forward in the plan and in particular the statement outlining the Government's aspirations for this plan. 

It's a 20-year plan, as it states. One thing is sure, all plans tend to get revised. So, the opening gambit, the opening question is: how durable do you think this plan actually is? We've seen it on many schemes that Welsh Government have brought forward with the best of intentions and with industry and sector-wide support. The woodland scheme is most probably the most obvious one in the field of environmental improvements and protections, where 100,000 hectares was the goal, and precious little progress has been made in that particular area. What confidence can we have that in four, five, six years' time this particular plan will not be subject to a massive revision, because maybe some of the goals you've set or some of the objectives you've put into this plan just aren't attainable, or the capacity isn't there, in particular from NRW, because we know, sadly, that in certain areas their ability to regulate and deliver has been found wanting since its inception? How confident are you that NRW have been at the forefront of delivering this plan with you, so that you haven't put too stretching a goal into it, and actually the structures that are out there to help deliver it just can't work with the Government aspiration in this particular area?

The economic use of the seas is of critical importance, because we're a coastal community. If you look at the population of Wales, predominantly around the coast is where the population exists. And that can be defined into three areas that this plan talks of: tourism, fishing and energy. We know, when it comes to tidal energy, there is huge potential, but much of the technology is very much still in its infancy. How will this plan enable the expansion of tidal power and tidal capture to obviously increase this particular area, because I think that's a very important area to focus on? But tourism as well, because many towns and cities—. Let's not forget that Cardiff is a coastal city. It can be measured very profitably as a city—it's a vibrant city Cardiff is—but then when you go further away from Cardiff, you find many coastal areas struggling and they rely on the tourism sector, which you touched on in your statement, and yet we know that between 2017 and 2018 there was a 12 per cent decline in tourism numbers here in Wales, as opposed to obviously Scotland, which saw a 29 per cent increase in tourism numbers. So, we have a great asset around the shores of this great country of ours. How will this plan enable other departments to use it as an economic promotional tool, so that those communities that do feel they have been left behind can benefit from the expansion of tourism? 

I'd also like to understand how the economic department more generally has been involved in the development of the plan. You touch on shipping and ports in particular. We have huge opportunities to expand those particular areas and especially with so much responsibility now, when we leave the European Union, coming back into the Assembly or to a UK level. What level of engagement has been undertaken with the UK Government in developing this plan, because tides ebb and flow? They don't respect borders or boundaries, they don't, and what maybe is going on in England shouldn't necessarily be adopted here in Wales. That's entirely up to the Government to determine whether it wants to, but there does need to be a collaborative approach to managing our seas, and it would be good to understand exactly the level of engagement, and in particular the development of the plan as it's developed forward that you've worked on with the DEFRA department in London.

I do note, obviously, the extensive referral to fossil fuels. I think it occupies five/six paragraphs in the whole statement, it does. That's a Government position, and I would most probably disagree with it to a point, but I understand why the Government are making that view known.

I understand from one paragraph that it would seem, if you read between the lines, that you would be using the planning system, because you talk about areas that are within your control on the land to develop your policy, even though the fossil fuel extraction could be going on at sea. Could you be more explicit as to what type of measures you might be looking to exercise? As I said, is it as simple as you would be using the planning system and you'd be giving direction to the Planning Inspectorate and to local authorities to refuse such planning applications? Because I think that's important, that people understand the signals that are coming from Government and the use of the planning system to obviously carry out Government policy.

But, on the whole, it is vital that we do maintain a balance between what we look at as an economic asset and an environmental asset, and the conservation levers that we have around our magnificent coastline here in Wales are something that do need protecting and do need enhancing. I look forward to this plan being exercised by the Government with the new powers that will be coming back from the European Union. For the first time for many decades now, you will have direct say over many areas that, historically, have been made from outside this building.


I thank the Member for that series of questions. I do think it's a durable plan. As you say, it's our vision for the next 20 years. It's been a long time coming. I've been working on this, along with officials, since I first came into post three years ago, and I think it was important to get it right. It was something that I thought was very necessary, for us to have our own marine plan, particularly with, as you say, the new powers that will be coming forward. Will it need refining at times? I guess we have to be flexible in relation to that, but I certainly would not want to see a wholesale look again or another consultation in this area over the next 20 years.

You asked about NRW and their regulation capacity and capabilities, and I met this morning with the chair of NRW and other officials from NRW, where regulation is often a standing item, as I'm sure you can imagine, but we specifically spoke about regulation and the importance of their ability to be able to regulate new policies and plans that we're bringing forward, along with the current ones. Certainly, I am assured that that is the case.

You asked a series of questions, one being around involvement with the UK Government, and you're quite right about cross-border arrangements, if you like, in relation to the sea. So, we have engaged with all our neighbouring marine planning authorities to support the development of effective cross-border planning, because I think that's very important within this plan. Certainly, my department has had close and regular liaison with the Marine Management Organisation on marine planning matters to ensure we do have that joined-up approach. We've also engaged with Scotland, with Northern Ireland, with the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man, and we've also put in place a ways-of-working agreement with the Marine Management Organisation around collaboration.

There is an economic focus to the plan, and I think it's about balance in relation to—you mentioned tourism and ports and shipping, and, certainly, officials have engaged right across Government. But there are clearly many jobs already in relation to our coastal communities and our marine life. Obviously, I've worked closely with Ministers in relation to bringing forward this plan. We are absolutely committed to making Wales a more prosperous, sustainable and equal society, so the seas play a crucial role in our economy and particularly the economies of our coastal communities, and as I said in my opening statement, they're under immense pressure at the moment. So, I think it's really important that we recognise the wealth of assets our seas offer and the need to plan for them in a sustainable way.

You also mentioned renewable energy, and, clearly, a lot of the technologies coming forward are novel. I attended the marine energy conference in Dublin last month, or maybe the month before, and some of the technology that was on show there—there were many developers for floating wind, for instance. Clearly, over the coming years, that's going to be an important part. So, again, it's really important that we work very closely with developers, with our consenting organisations and with our regulators too, to make sure that we are able to take the opportunities that these new technologies are coming forward with.

You specifically mentioned fossil fuels, and I thought that it was really important to have that in the plan. I hope I made my views very clear in our opening statement alongside—the differing fossil fuel policies that we have between the UK Government and the Welsh Government.

I am very clear that our land planning policy can be used. That should be able to avoid the continued extraction and consumption of fossil fuels on land, and that must be applied in any considerations related to shore-based infrastructure associated with offshore oil and gas activity.


May I thank the Minister for her statement this afternoon? Clearly, we will need some time to digest the substantial document before coming to a final conclusion on my views on it. But, certainly, there are a few points arising that I need to ask some questions on.

I’m pleased that you’ve acknowledged the impacts that we’re already seeing in terms of the climate emergency, and the impact that that’s having on our communities. You make reference to flooding and coastal erosion, for example, and we are aware that there are communities across Wales facing that very real challenge today. I want to ask, therefore, what the Government’s intention is in terms of creating a system or creating a specific process—proactively, perhaps— a statutory process, in order to ensure that all the stakeholders who are going to have to be part of that process, of perhaps relocating communities, even, who face the greatest level of threat, can come together.

We can talk about what needs to be done to safeguard those communities, but, at the end of the day, there will be some communities that will have to relocate, and people are looking to Government, I think, to give leadership in this area. We may be talking about one or two over the next decade, but after that there will be more. So, we need some sort of process in place and a clear regime in order to have that discussion and then to take action when necessary. So, I’d be eager to hear your comments on that.

The fact that I’m asking this question perhaps leads me to my next question, namely, of course: we have a national development framework, and we have this marine plan, and they overlap, don’t they? That is, the issue that I’ve just discussed could fall into one or the other, or both, as it perhaps should. Renewable energy likewise: it is included in both documents. Why, therefore, not have a marine and terrestrial plan merged in a co-ordinated way that is dovetailed properly? Why have two different documents?

In expanding the network of the marine protected areas, the MPAs, how will you ensure that all of the voices are heard and are listened to, of course, in that discussion? We all remember the efforts of the last Assembly in expanding the number of marine conservation zones, and I do think that it was a problem in jointly developing those proposals with a broad enough range of stakeholders that led to the conflict that emerged as a result of that. It’s important that everyone comes on that journey together. So, where will those voices be heard, and how will you ensure that everyone can participate in that discussion?

I want to expand on marine energy, of course. I agree with you that this is certainly one of the most important long-term strategic aims for Wales. I would argue that, in order to achieve that to its full potential, we need further devolution—for example, Crown Estate responsibilities, which they already have in Scotland. I would ask you whether you agree, for example, that developing Crown Estate powers for this place would support us in delivering that potential, as it is, as you say, one of our most important strategic long-term aims?

I’m pleased to see the reference to the extraction of fossil fuels from our seas. I’ve raised this with you previously, of course. Plaid Cymru opposes that, and I’m pleased to see a statement making your view on that issue clear. The challenge now, of course, is to ensure that this plan is implemented and that it is used by regulators, developers, and the users of our marine environment, and that it doesn’t just gather dust on a shelf. And the key question in that regard is: will this plan be given the necessary resource and investment? Because there is a feeling, I think, that the marine policy has been a poor relation for far too long, and therefore, perhaps as a result of this plan, the time has now come to invest to the necessary levels in order to ensure that change does occur.


Thank you very much, Llyr Huws Gruffydd, for those series of questions and comments. I hope you agree I've been very unequivocal in relation to the fossil fuel extraction. I thought it was really important to set that out in the statement and also in the national marine plan.

For the first time, we've got a statutory strategic policy framework in place to help guide marine decision making, and I think it's really important that we have that there to support all those who wish to use our marine environment, for whatever reason, to ensure that we have the resilience of our marine ecosystems and that we are able to protect the very rich and varied maritime heritage, as I'm sure you will agree. I think the main thrust in relation to development, and to renewable energy development in particular, is that the right developments are encouraged in the first place, and that they come forward in the first place, and that unnecessary conflict is avoided, which I don't think has happened previously. I think there have also been delays when there are applications for consent in the first place. So, I think it's really important that the plan assists in that way.

I think you can see that sustainable development is absolutely at the core of this plan. So, it includes policies to confirm the need to protect our environment, as well as setting out the strategic framework that I think will be needed as we bring forward more renewable energy.

One point I would want to make is that this plan doesn't reduce existing environmental checks and balances. I think it actually goes further, and it does provide that policy encouragement for actions to protect and restore and enhance our marine ecosystems.

You mentioned the national development framework, and, obviously, this plan and the NDF will work alongside each other. I thought it was very important to bring forward this marine plan in its own right. You'll be aware from when I've been in front of committee that it is later than I planned it to be, but that little thing called Brexit I think got in the way. I'm not making an excuse, but you will appreciate this was a significant piece of work that I was absolutely determined we would get right, and I think it's a really important day. The launch of this plan is something that I think is very important for Wales.

In relation to marine protected areas, the plan does contain policies confirming protection for the MPA network of sites. An extensive habitats regulation assessment has been undertaken so that we could understand and manage any potential effects of policies in relation to that within this plan. It's vital that we keep stakeholders involved, and I mentioned two groups, I think, in my original statement who will assist us in relation to the implementation of the plan, because, as you say, it's really important that it's not put on a shelf gathering dust. Certainly, the focus of this will now move to implementation, and guidance is just being finalised and will be going out to interested parties.

I had a meeting last week or the week before with the Crown Estate, and, certainly, my officials are working very closely with them to see what more we can do to support the development of offshore wind industry in appropriate locations. I personally haven't had a conversation about the devolution of further powers, but what I think is really important is that we do work closely with the Crown Estate. All the officials I met with the Crown Estate, interestingly, had all worked on Gwynt y Môr, probably 10 or 15 years ago, and they certainly recognised the opportunities that we do have in Wales in relation to offshore wind.

The Llywydd took the Chair.

I very much welcome the statement by the Minister, and the plan. We have to look at it all against a background of global warming and rising sea levels, and, unless we act quickly, further global warming and further rising sea levels. It's important that Welsh seas are clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse. I welcome that the Welsh Government recognises the economic potential associated with our marine resources, as well as the role our seas play in supporting well-being. Through an ecosystem approach, natural resources are sustainably managed, and our seas are healthy and resilient, supporting a sustainable and thriving economy. I note that this plan will be supported by supplementary planning documents and related planning tools. When are they likely to be produced?

I welcome low-carbon objective 1 to contribute significantly to the decarbonisation of our economy and to our prosperity, by increasing the amount of marine renewable energy generated.

I support further commercial deployment of offshore wind technology at scale over the lifetime of the plan. In the NDF, it is suggested that areas are designated as suitable for wind energy generation. Is it intended to designate areas at sea, or have I missed it in my quick glance through the document?

Supporting the development and demonstration of wave energy and tidal stream technologies in the short to medium term is something I very much welcome, and I'm amongst those across parties who represent the Swansea bay region who are absolutely and utterly disappointed that the Swansea bay tidal lagoon has not been given the go-ahead.

Finally, we have the Welsh national marine plan and a national development framework. Whilst I agree with what Llyr Gruffydd said—they should be in one document—if they're not going to be in one document, can they cross-reference each other in such a way that people can move between the two? Because the sea comes into land, and anything that happens on land, such as nitrates going into rivers, ends up in the sea. So, you can't treat one as dealing with one area, and one dealing with the other—they're all about our environment.


Thank you, Mike Hedges, who, obviously, is the Chair of the climate change committee. In relation to cross-referencing, it's certainly something that I can look at and speak to the Minister for local government about, because, obviously, the NDF hasn't been brought forward yet, but I think that would be, obviously, very helpful for people to be able to access both of those documents in the way that you suggest. So, I'm very happy to speak to her and look at that.

I should have probably said in my answer to Llyr that we've had a new consenting strategic advisory group. What that does is provide a forum for open and honest discussion, I think, about key consenting challenges, for instance. That's not unique to Wales, but I think, again, that will help in relation to the points that Mike Hedges raised.

I too share your disappointment about the tidal lagoon. Clearly, it was something that the UK Government chose not to take forward. But I do think there are many opportunities for renewable energy in our seas around Wales.

I also didn't answer the question to Llyr around coastal communities and, clearly, I'm aware of which community you are discussing. This is something that's going to have to be looked at very carefully over the coming years, and you'll be aware, for instance, that we supported Gwynedd Council with funding to undertake research. It's a discussion that the UK Government are also having, because, as we see, the effects of climate change—it's clearly a very sensitive discussion that needs to take place. But I think in the first instance, it's really important that our local authorities discuss it with the local population.

May I thank the Minister for this statement? I think it is important that we now have a marine plan for Wales, although, as one who has been pushing for some time for some kind of Welsh plan that corresponded to the 'Harnessing our Ocean Wealth' Irish plan, which has been published for some years now, I do note, of course, that Welsh Government had to produce this plan, and that was as a result of Westminster legislation. But, of course, it’s a good thing that there is some kind of an outline of this Government’s intention as regards the seas.

I will refer to something I’ve alluded to many times in the Assembly, namely the continuous need to get a better understanding of the seas around us, and the role that the oceanography department in Bangor University, in my constituency, has in that work of understanding how to map the seas. I’m pleased that there was an affirmative response to the debate to the debate that I tabled some time ago, about the need for the Government to come to an agreement on the use of the Prince Madog as a research vessel. I’m very pleased about the way in which the Minister responded to that concern that was expressed to her by myself that possibly there was an uncertain future facing that vessel, and I’m looking forward to seeing a strengthening of the agreements as regards the use of the Prince Madog.

But, if I could talk specifically about the plans in relation to marine energy, of course, there are exciting schemes around the coastline of Anglesey as regards tidal energy—the Morlais scheme, the Minesto scheme. And also there are schemes that have been mentioned for many years and are now coming back on to the agenda to produce more wind energy. But I have to say that I am concerned about the lack of collaboration, so it appears, between what needs to happen and what could happen in the seas and what needs to happen, and what doesn’t need to happen too in some areas, on land.

We have had an outline through the draft plan, the national framework plan, as regards the intention of the Government on terrestrial wind energy. It’s a great concern to me to see these 15 areas, corresponding to 20 per cent of the surface of Wales, being identified as priority areas for the production of solar and wind energy. The idea of having such a huge area of Ynys Môn identified as an area ready for turbines of 250 ft high, which is higher than any land on Ynys Môn, makes me feel that not enough thought has gone into this, and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales says that what we have in the NDF is not fit for purpose.

But another thing that struck me with the NDF, of course, is that there’s no reference to what could be done in the sea. You can’t plan for the future of marine energy without thinking of the land, and vice versa. So, I’d like to hear from the Minister about what intention she has to assimilate both elements, and why the Government decided to split their plans for the future of our renewable energy into land and sea, when, surely, we should be thinking in just one unified way.

There are plans—if you tally them up, it corresponds to about 10 times the energy needs of Wales, if you tally them up between both plans. I like being ambitious and planning for the production of more electricity than we need, and we could, of course, export it. But something makes me think that the Government has failed to think about the kind of scale that we might need for energy production. And I would like an explanation of why there aren’t any real targets as regards how much energy needs to be produced from the sea and how much we can actually achieve from the sea so that we don’t have to then push for the more unpopular schemes that create more of an impact on the environment and so on on the land.

And, finally, I don’t think you answered Llyr’s question on the resources that the Government is willing to invest, in financial terms and in human resources, in order to be able to succeed in delivering these plans.


Diolch, Rhun ap Iorwerth, for those questions. Just in relation to the Prince Madog, I remember when you—I think it was a short debate that you had around the Prince Madog, and that's when I looked into that for the first time in the level of detail that was needed. I think it was quite right to ensure that we secured the future for the vessel. And the First Minister and I visited—. I'm not sure if you're aware that the First Minister and I visited it after the Anglesey agricultural show, on a very wet day, to see for ourselves the work, world-leading work, that is being undertaken on the vessel. So, I'm very pleased that, between us all, we managed to secure that. 

In relation to the NDF, obviously—I think I'm right in saying that it's still out to consultation; I think it finishes this week. Clearly, it's something that we can look at in detail around the targets, for instance. I think I was the Minister that started the NDF process, as well as doing the marine plan. Obviously, it now sits within the portfolio of the Minister for local government. But I was very keen to bring forward this document, because we were playing catch-up. I think we were desperately in need of a marine plan. I wanted it to be very ambitious and I think it is a major step forward in the way that we're going to manage our seas and secure their sustainable future. And, certainly, I think the publication of this plan today gives a very clear message that we are planning for a much more prosperous and resilient Wales and our natural resources do need to be sustainably managed in the way that we've outlined. But it's certainly something that I can look at with the Minister to make sure there is more—. I think the cross-referencing suggestion from Mike Hedges is certainly something we can look at. 

You're quite right, there are lots of opportunities, and, clearly, you represent a constituency that is completely surrounded by our seas and all the benefits that that brings. And I've visited Morlais, for instance. I've had discussions with developers. I mentioned the conference I went to in Dublin—there were a lot of people interested in that stretch from Ynys Môn right across the north Wales coast. I think collaboration is very important and it is there. I mentioned new advisory groups we've brought in. There has been a huge amount of stakeholder engagement as well, but we recognise the importance of marine renewables. Again, it's about recognising the key consenting challenges that there have been, and I think this plan will go a long way to addressing those. 


With apologies, if I can just quote the words of John F. Kennedy:

'all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt...that exists in the ocean...we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea...we are going back...whence we came.'

Not only are those words quoted here today in this Chamber, but actually 10 years ago, with Hilary Benn, my boss at the time, as we introduced the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 in Westminster. A few months later, in October, I was introducing the final stages of the 320-clause Bill and, on 12 November 2009, 10 years ago to this day, we introduced the legislation that underpins now what the Minister is proudly and rightly bringing forward in terms of Welsh planning in our marine environment. It is a landmark moment, I have to say. And I welcome this and the scrutiny of the committee as well. 

Could I ask just a few questions? First of all, what is the Minister's view on the ongoing campaign by the Marine Conservation Society and others for highly protected marine conservation areas, as a sort of gold standard zone? It's being explored currently in England and Northern Ireland. Is the Minister open to looking at this and at whether there's any potential within Welsh waters for those gold standard zones, or not? How does this plan today contribute to the reality around the whole of the UK, to this ecologically coherent network of marine conservation areas, especially in light of accelerating warming of the oceans, when species migrate but also even habitats can have soft and fluid edges? Could she reiterate, put on record again, that decisions going forward, particularly on implementation, balancing the economic and social activities and conservation, will always—always—be based on the most sound evidence, including the very best environmental baseline analysis?

And, in respect of fossil fuels—and I welcome the clarity given here very much in this statement here—can I ask what are those powers that Welsh Government has at its disposal to reject fossil fuel extraction in these precious waters, but not least in the offshore waters? Powers over, for example, onshore and near-shore facilities used to support and service extraction—we could use those— powers to influence the Westminster Government in line with the overarching Marine and Coastal Access Act, which has duties upon the four Governments and administrations of the UK to talk together and plan together properly. What is the Irish Government's position on fossil fuels, and can we work with them? What does the marine Act enable Welsh Government to do in having a say in these offshore waters? And, at this present moment in time, what's the EU's position in terms of the extraction of fossil fuels there?

And, finally, noting the establishment of the marine planning decision makers group, which I really welcome, to take forward implementation, can I ask how the Minister will ensure that all stakeholders are fully involved in the implementation, including, yes, fisheries, renewable energy, transport, ports and all those other stakeholders, but also expert environmental and ecological organisations, because they also have to be an integral part of the way forward?

But this is a landmark day. I welcome the statement, and now it's getting on with it and balancing, as it was originally 10 years ago, those interests on the living seas that we have around our shores. 


Thank you very much. That's the second time I've heard that quote today; it's obviously the quote of the day. As the Member said, it's 10 years since the UK Labour Government brought forward their legislation, and I did say—I held my hands up—we are playing catch-up and that's why it was so important, I think, that we have brought forward this Welsh national marine plan. I do think it's a landmark day, certainly for my officials, who've worked on it for a long time. They see this as a really important step for the future of our seas. 

Huw Irranca-Davies talked about the marine protected areas, and whether I would consider a gold standard. I certainly haven't had that raised with me that I can remember, but, obviously, we've had significant stakeholder engagement on this plan, and I'm always happy to look at anything that will continue to protect our seas. The plan clearly states that the development of strategic resource areas, for instance, shouldn't hinder the future designation of MPAs, and that certain human activity may not be appropriate within MPAs, for instance. It's really important that we have those protections within this plan, because, as I say, it's there for 20 years, so it's really important that we make the most of our opportunities.

Regarding the fossil fuels and the oil and gas, I did want to be very clear about the differences between the two Governments. However, oil and gas consenting is a reserved matter for the UK Government across most of our Welsh seas, as the Member knows, but we are responsible for nature conservation, we're responsible for environmental protection, and that's why we've put in place a wide range of measures to ensure that those safeguards are in place. I met with the Minister for climate change mitigation in Ireland when I was at the marine energy conference. This was an issue that we discussed generally, but I think we do need to ensure that, all the countries that I spoke to about those cross-border arrangements, we know very clearly where we have the powers and what we are able to do with those powers. As I say, the licensing of offshore petroleum exploitation is a reserved function, but I think the UK Government are in no doubt as to our position.     

The national marine plan is the culmination of a great deal of consultation and collaboration over a number of years, and I think that reflects the importance of our seas both in terms of the number and the range of interests, industries, that they support, and also the national sense of self that is appreciated by anybody who has lived near or alongside a coastal community. So, I do welcome the first national plan to manage and to develop our seas in a sustainable and far-sighted way. 

I want to pick up on the approach to fisheries and habitats. The relevant policies recognise the importance of sustainable capture and the need to sustain fish life cycles and also the ecosystem upon which they depend. We all know that the vast majority—and it's around 90 per cent of our fishing fleet—is made up of smaller vessels that mostly stay inshore. And they mostly use static gear like pots and traps, and do not tend to fish for species that have been allocated a quota. So, for example, they look for shellfish. Now, currently, pot numbers—and you won't be surprised that I'm mentioning this—are not capped but, going forward, Minister, will you continue to consult the marine stakeholders and assess and evaluate the case for quotas on pots and limits on catch, depending on the changing health of those shellfish stocks? 

And again, working with the fishing industry, will you consider the merits of tagging pots and moving to the use of biodegradable materials, as we are now acutely aware these days of what plastic pollution does to the sea? That is particularly created by lost pots and fishing tackle, and it does do significant harm. The other form of harm, of course, by untagged pots and not keeping check of them, is the danger and the threat that they pose by ghost fishing. And I'm sure you know that all the people who are engaged currently in fishing, in that particular type of fishing, would be really receptive to doing these things, because many of them already are doing them.


The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair.

Thank you. Joyce Watson raises some really important points, and one of the things I was very keen to have reflected in this policy was around the small vessels, which, as you say, make up the majority of our Welsh fleet. They're very, very sensitive to displacement, for instance, and I thought it was really important that we safeguarded established activities within this plan.

In relation to continuing to work with stakeholders, obviously I work with stakeholders around this. I've worked with fisheries and marine stakeholders around Brexit—they've very much been around the table—and I will continue to do so. I think the point that you raise around plastic pollution and fishing litter, for want of a better word, we recognise, for instance, that fishing gear that's lost at sea has the potential to then obviously pollute and causes major impacts on the marine environment. So, that's very much a piece of work that we've been doing with the fisheries sector around that.

You'll also see that the plan includes policy provision to protect areas of importance to our fishing industry, and that includes the key habitats and the fishing grounds, as well as encouragement to develop the underpinning evidence base, which is absolutely essential. I think it was Huw Irranca-Davies who mentioned that. That evidence base is so necessary in order to be able to facilitate positive fisheries management decisions.

7. Statement by the Minister for Economy and Transport: The Proposed Future Delivery Model for the Business Wales Service

Item 7 on our agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Economy and Transport on the proposed future delivery model for the Business Wales service. I call on the Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates.

Diolch, Dirprwy Llywydd. As Minister for the economy, I have always been clear that small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of the Welsh economy. Not only are they important in number—of almost 300,000 currently active businesses in Wales, more than 257,000 are micro, small and medium sized—they are all so critical to the way our economy and the way our communities operate.

Through the supply chain, on the high street, in our public services, small and medium-sized businesses make up so much of the vitality and the energy of the Welsh economy and Welsh communities. And from the young tech start-up to the growing artisan brewer, to the locally owned construction firm or the family law practice, how we as a community around them, in turn, support and help those firms to grow, to access finance and to plan for their futures is, in itself, critical to the future of the Welsh economy.

I'm proud of what the Welsh Government has done over the course of devolution to support those small and medium-sized firms. Through Business Wales, we have been able to fill in the gaps and provide high-quality information, advice and guidance to support entrepreneurs and businesses with their plans to start up and grow their businesses through all cycles of growth.

Since 1999, and through the crash of 2008 and beyond, the Welsh Government has proactively supported community-based and locally owned firms at each stage of the business lifecycle—from idea generation, through those often tricky few years, and on to accelerated growth. And I'm proud that, since 2013, Business Wales has dealt with over 126,000 inquiries through its helpline and had over 3 million visits to its website. It's provided business advice to over 71,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and SMEs. It's supported SMEs to create over 28,000 jobs and it has safeguarded a further 45,000. And it has supported entrepreneurs to create 10,500 new businesses.

A feature of its work that I am particularly proud of what has been done has been the inspiration for the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders. Through the 406 Big Ideas role models across Wales, over 219,000 young people across all of our schools, colleges and universities have been engaged to think about how they could start their own business or become a successful entrepreneur. It’s what has helped 57 per cent—57 per cent—of young people under 25 to now have aspirations to work for themselves and to be their own bosses, to start their own businesses.

The impact of Business Wales can perhaps be most clearly seen i