Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

07/01/2020

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

May I begin by wishing all the Members a happy new year? 

1. Questions to the First Minister

We will start this new year with questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Gareth Bennett. 

Supporting Businesses in South Wales Central

1. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to support businesses in South Wales Central? OAQ54892

Llywydd, the actions of Business Wales, the Development Bank of Wales and the establishment of a dedicated regional office are amongst the steps taken by the Welsh Government to support businesses in South Wales Central.

Thank you for that update. One factor that has caused a lot of uncertainty for businesses in Wales is Brexit. Now, your party has just contested a general election on a policy of opposing Brexit. You have may have noted, First Minister, that this strategy did not work out very well for you. In fact, let's be honest, Labour got hammered. You weren't just beaten; you were annihilated. But, I see that, despite this, you are still talking about opposing Brexit here in the Assembly. Surely, for the sake of Welsh businesses, you now need to do your bit to end the uncertainty and support the UK Government's Brexit Bill. 

Well, Llywydd, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 31 January, and businesses will then find that Brexit is far from over, because, for months and years to come, we will continue to see the need to negotiate free trade agreements and other arrangements, both with the European Union and with other parts of the world. Anybody who believes that on 1 February, certainty will have replaced uncertainty, I'm afraid are going to be in for a very sad awakening. 

First Minister, I'm sure you'll join me in welcoming yesterday's news that Lloyds Banking Group expects to support firms in Wales this year by up to £1.1 billion in lending. This is part of their pledge to invest £18 billion in UK businesses in 2020, and they're looking at new businesses, microbusinesses seeking to upscale to small businesses, and those considering then trading internationally for the first time. 

When I speak to my constituents and business people, they do highlight the need to access reasonable commercial sources of funding. What are you doing to ensure that, where appropriate, Welsh Government sources and programmes are also taking into account the opportunities that exist for commercial partnerships in these programmes?

I thank David Melding for that question. It is interesting, isn't it, and I would expect he's had some of the same experience, that when you talk to commercial lenders, they tell you that there is no shortage of liquidity, and they set large sums of money aside for investment in businesses, and yet, when you talk to businesses, they often complain about how difficult it is to obtain the investment that they need to carry out the plans that they say would expand their business. 

So, part of what we do as a Government is to talk to the big lenders to try and persuade them that they have to find different ways of having conversations with people who are looking to borrow money to persuade them that their services are genuinely available to them.

Where big commercial lenders are not prepared to enter the market, that's why we have the Development Bank for Wales—£5.2 million spent in the last 12 months, Llywydd, helping 240 Welsh businesses with micro loans, of the sort that commercial lenders are not prepared to provide. So, the Welsh Government operates to try to be a broker between those who are looking for investment, and those who can provide it on a commercial basis, because where it can be commercially provided, that's what should be done, and where a commercial loan is unlikely to be forthcoming, then we try and use the instruments that we have available to fill those gaps in the market. 

First Minister, I recently met with the Federation of Small Businesses to discuss their report 'Are We There Yet?', which looks at how infrastructure spending in Wales can be best used to support the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises. How is the Welsh Government prioritising this within its capital spend?

I thank Vikki Howells for that. It's an absolutely integral part of our capital expenditure programmes that we try and make sure that as much business as possible ends up in the hands of local suppliers and indigenous enterprises. To give you just one example, the twenty-first century schools and colleges programme has a track record of working with local suppliers, and has developed discrete sets of targets for local supply chain engagement in that programme—the biggest programme of investment in schools and colleges for 50 years, and a deliberate bias in favour of making sure that that Welsh public money ends up in Welsh businesses, creating further Welsh jobs.

13:35
Suicide

2. How does the Welsh Government intend to respond to the recent review of deaths of children and young people by suicide or suspected suicide? OAQ54862

I thank Lynne Neagle for that question, Llywydd. Part of the Welsh Government’s response to the review was set out in our draft budget, published on 16 December, with additional investment in suicide prevention services, a doubling of our investment in the whole-school approach to mental health, and an extension of the pilot child and adolescent mental health service's In-Reach to Schools programme.

First Minister, the loss of every one of the 33 young people included in that review is an immense tragedy, which will have devastated families, schools, friends, and whole communities. I believe that review is the closest thing we have to hearing the voices of young people who have died by suicide; the nearest thing we have to retrospective recommendations from those young people about what could have helped them, and how we could prevent future deaths. First Minister, will you make a commitment that you will look at this review very carefully, and, on behalf of your whole Government, ensure that all the recommendations in it are driven forward with urgency and vigour?

I thank the Member for that. I've had an opportunity already to read the review, to read her own foreword to it, and the foreword by the Children's Commissioner for Wales, and to look at its recommendations. And of course Lynne Neagle is right, Llywydd, that a death by suicide leaves a ripple of effects that reaches out into the lives of people who are left, not simply in the immediate family, but in friends and other organisations who will have known that child or that young person.

Amongst the recommendations of the report, I think a really important one is that the 33 young people whose cases are reviewed in the report, a third of them were known to mental health services. And yet, many more of them were known to other public services, who may not have had suicide and suicide prevention at the front of their minds when they were working with that young person—whether that's in youth custody, where we know that there has been a really alarming rise in suicide in custodial settings; whether that's contact with the police; whether it's young people who are known to social services in different ways. So, of course the Government will be committed to absorbing the recommendations of the report, right across the Government. Because it is not a matter for the health Minister, although Public Health Wales was part of the production of the report; it is a report for the whole of the Government, looking to see that, wherever vulnerable young people are in touch with public services—devolved and non-devolved—the signs that may be there, the causes that may be identifiable, are recognised and acted upon, in line with the recommendations of the report.

Well, of course, this report is part of a bigger picture of reviews that have been taking place over many years. For those families and friends of the young people who killed themselves in Bridgend in 2007 and 2008 and beyond, obviously, for them, those events don't feel so very long ago. And of course, the use of the internet implicated in that suicide cluster, which is now so embedded in the lives of our young children and young—well, young people generally—for me, it feels almost impossible to try and protect against those evils, when we have so little control over its positive use.

In 2015, the University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research recommended measures for those local services, to deal with suicide contagion—not a very nice phrase, but I think you know what I mean. It was an England document, but I'm sure Public Health Wales will have seen it as well. Can we attribute the drop in the occurrence of these suicide clusters to local services acting on research of that nature? Because if we can, that gives us greater confidence in local services taking up the recommendations that we've just been talking about today, and seeing that they do actually make a difference.

I thank Suzy Davies for that. There were lessons derived directly in Wales, and partly by the authors of the report to which Lynne Neagle referred as a result of the Bridgend cluster, and one of them was in responsible media reporting of such events. And I think that we have been lucky here in Wales that we have had a local media who have been prepared to absorb the lessons of that suicide cluster and haven't subsequently reported events in a way that draws alarmist attention to them that ends up affecting vulnerable young people to take action that otherwise they may not have contemplated.

And Suzy Davies is surely right, Llywydd, that it is very difficult to build complete protection into any system dealing with human beings. But we know that there are factors that help and we know there are factors that hinder people who are vulnerable and who are contemplating drastic action in their own lives. I think we have learned some of the lessons here in Wales and part of the reason that this report does not refer to a cluster phenomenon amongst the 33 young people whose cases it reviewed is partly the result of some of those lessons being absorbed. 

13:40

As part of the Programme for International Student Assessment report recently when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development asked pupils about their feelings about life experience, it was discovered that 54 per cent of pupils in Wales occasionally or always feel down. The average internationally is 39 per cent. Sixty three per cent of pupils occasionally or always feel anxious. Now, these are results that are quite frightening, I'm sure you would agree with me on that. You have committed to make well-being and mental health a national priority, but where is the sign that we are moving in that direction in a significant manner in your draft budget?

Well, there are many examples in the draft budget, Llywydd, which demonstrate what we're doing to respond to the contents of the PISA report and what we're doing in the schools in particular to strengthen the services that are available on a daily basis to respond to those children who do feel down and don't feel that they have the future that they would wish to see. And that is why, in the draft budget, there is more funding—I will turn to English.

There's more money in the draft budget for suicide and self-harm services, to strengthen further the services that we have in schools through school counselling. And the school counselling service is a good example of how intervention of that sort can assist young people without them then needing to be referred on to further and more intensive services. Eighty seven per cent of the 11,365 young people who received counselling services in our schools last year needed no further intervention; 3 per cent of them only needed a referral on to a specialist mental health service, and that's why the draft budget invests more money in that whole-school approach, exactly for the reasons that Siân Gwenllian quite rightly points to. 

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, given the problems we've recently seen, which appear to be growing and not getting better, will you agree with me that Transport for Wales is not delivering for the people of Wales? 

Well, I don't agree with the Member that the problems are getting worse. Thousands more seats for commuters are available in Wales today since 15 December when new capacity was introduced into the service. Fares for passengers in Wales at the start of January fell by 1.1. per cent where they rose by 2.8 per cent across our border. It has been a challenging first year for Transport for Wales, but I believe the corner is turned already and that passengers will continue to see the difference over 2020.  

Well, quite clearly, we are not turning that corner. Let me give you some of its failings: performance in terms of passenger time lost in cancellations was worse between July and November last year than the previous year; it has struggled to secure long-term rolling stock; it's failed to meet the Welsh language standards on several occasions; and we've seen chaos over the renewal process for bus passes. So, it's clearly failing, First Minister.

Now, talking about transport failures, let's look at another of your transport failures: Cardiff Airport appears to be going from bad to worse. The airport has posted a loss of nearly £19 million for the last financial year. This is nearly three times higher than the previous year, and yet your Government continues to extend the loan facilities. And now the value of the airport has dropped significantly to £15 million, barely a third of what it was valued at back in 2014, the year your Government took control of the airport. Now, in contrast, Bristol Airport added more than 400,000 passengers last year, just under a third of Cardiff's total passengers for 2019, and actually posted a profit of £35 million. First Minister, with the outgoing chairman saying that the airport is expecting to lose 150,000 passengers next year, how much more taxpayers' money are you willing to throw at the airport before you say enough is enough?

13:45

Well, Llywydd, it's good to see that, at the start of another year, the Conservative Party in Wales continues to attack one of Wales's essential assets. Since the airport was taken into public ownership, its passenger numbers have increased by over 70 per cent, its turnover was up by £2.9 million last year over the year before. I know that any evidence of success comes as a disappointment to the Conservative Party, but those are the facts of the matter: passenger numbers are up by over 70 per cent, and a revenue growth of over 34 per cent. Now, let us hope that we now have a Secretary of State for Wales who will speak up for Cardiff Airport, just as Bristol MPs have spoken up for its airport. Now we have a Deputy Minister in the Wales Office who believes that air passenger duty being devolved to Wales is the right answer; let's hope that he can persuade his Government to do the same. Then we will see the sort of airport that we want to see on this side, whereas his party has only, absolutely only ever, sought to run down the airport, to deny its importance to the economy of Wales, and never has a single constructive suggestion to make about it.

First Minister, clearly you are not listening. But it's not surprising that you're not listening to the people of Wales: you're not listening over Brexit, you're not listening when it comes to this airport. The people of Wales don't want a national airport regardless of cost; they want an airport that offers them a stress-free getaway. They don't want you wasting their hard-earned cash with no end in sight.

Now, once again, First Minister, commuters face a miserable start to the new year, with trains being delayed, cancelled or even, unusually, leaving early. This time, Transport for Wales blames staff shortages and training for the delays, but, First Minister, it's the same problems, just a different excuse every time. Like Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, when are you going to get to grips with Transport for Wales, which is failing the people of Wales?

Llywydd, the Member doesn't have a good word to say for Wales at all. You name it—he wants to run it down. He talks about what the people of Wales want from their airport. I'll tell you what he wants: he doesn't want an airport at all.

As we embark on a new year, I'd like to begin, apart from wishing you blwyddyn newydd dda, with your end-of-year video. No, not the infamous James Bond one, but the one in which you set out your biggest achievements in your first year as First Minister. You highlighted, as one of those achievements, building almost 480 houses a month in 2019. Are you able to tell us what proportion, roughly, of those homes would qualify as affordable, and can you say whether that figure of almost 480 a month is higher or lower than the corresponding figure for the preceding three years?

Thank you very much, and a very happy new year to him too.

It's flattering to know that he views my videos in all their different dimensions. [Laughter.] What I will tell him is this: this Government has a commitment to build 20,000 affordable homes during this Assembly term. That is twice the number of affordable homes that were built in the last Assembly term, and we are confident that we will reach that figure before we come to the elections in May 2021.

13:50

Well, as we normally say under these circumstances, I can assist the First Minister, as the Assembly Research Service, quoting your own Government's statistics, say that the corresponding figures for 2016 and 2017 of homes built per month were 552 and 574 a month respectively. You were even marginally down on 2018, so it doesn't seem that that's something, First Minister, to crow about—you're going backwards.

One of the other achievements that you reference in that video is that of planting 14,000 trees a day. Now, I've hauled you over the coals about the Government's poor record in this area in the past, so any progress is welcome, but that is the combined figure, isn't it, for Wales and Uganda? While we obviously welcome the innovative work of the Wales for Africa programme, are you able to say, roughly, what proportion of these 5 million or so trees were planted within Wales? And did you meet your target last year for 2,000 hectares of new woodland per year?

Well, Llywydd, I just want to go back to the housing figure for a moment, because I do not accept for a moment that doubling the number of affordable homes built in Wales in an Assembly term is, somehow, a deterioration of the performance over the last Assembly term—it's not, and that's a target that we will reach.

We need to do more in planting trees. The trees we plant in Uganda are very important—very important as our contribution to global warming and very important in the contribution we make to the efforts that local people in that part of Uganda are making. But we need to do more. We need to do more here in Wales—that's why we're committed to the national forest and that's why the national forest has significant investment attached to it in the draft budget. It's an important contribution that we can make here in Wales to decarbonisation and to biodiversity, and we will do better and more in the future.

In relation to houses, I was merely asking you what the position was over the last year, the first year of your tenure, compared to the previous three years under your predecessor. What I have to say to you is that you've gone backwards, in terms of the last three years.

In terms of trees, you've been unable to confirm it, but I suspect that, once again, you haven't met the target for new woodland in Wales. Nothing happens in a hurry under this Government. The national forest—yes, it's been announced, but it hasn't been realised yet. The National Infrastructure Commission won't be publishing its state of the nation paper until 2022—four years after it was created; the new national curriculum will be implemented a year later than planned; and new trains, originally promised to be in service last spring, have yet to appear.

As we begin our twenty-first year of devolution in Wales, Wales is tired of being run at a snail's pace. Wasn't Alun Davies speaking for most of us when he said, referring to you, 'I clearly wished he was more radical'?

Well, Llywydd, any idea that you can announce a national forest and it simply grows in front of you is farcical as a suggestion. The national forest is a 20-year programme and will require investment over that long period, and will be a major national asset to Wales.

The National Infrastructure Commission's reporting framework is the one recommended to us by the committee of the Assembly who investigated it, so we are simply reacting to the advice that the Assembly itself has given us.

This is a Government, Llywydd, with a radical programme that will keep this National Assembly fully and actively engaged throughout the rest of this year in a very challenging way. As we move to legislate to bring buses under public control, to put the new national curriculum on the statute book, to give private renters new protections here in Wales and to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement, right across this Government we will be taking action that this National Assembly will be involved in taking. It's a radical programme, it's a very, very committed and busy programme, and I look forward to working on it right through the year to come.

First Minister, as well as wishing you a happy new year, may I thank you, your Government and your party for what you have done to bring about Brexit? You put forward a plan for Brexit in name only, but when Theresa May offered it to you, including a customs union, you voted against it. Instead, you chose to gamble that you could engineer a second referendum by persuading the British people to elect Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. With hindsight, do you regret that?

13:55

Llywydd, the Member will have his own version of history. It's certainly not mine. While there was a moment when it was possible that we could have put the decision about Brexit back into the hands of the people who made it in the first place, I thought it was very important indeed to demonstrate once again what we said as a party in our manifesto in 2016, and said as a Government in 2016 in the referendum—that Wales's future was better off inside the European Union. While there was a possibility that that could have been put back to people in a referendum, it was very important indeed that we supported that possibility. That possibility is over. The new UK Government will take us out of the European Union at the end of this month and will bear the responsibility for the consequences.

I'm not sure whether the First Minister has an alternative history there, but I think the closest it came in the Commons was a vote where it was defeated despite the whole Cabinet abstaining on it. I recall your Counsel General here saying he was broadly content with the withdrawal agreement, and might just perhaps like a couple of changes and a non-binding political declaration, but nonetheless, Labour voted against that. You were offered the customs union negotiations by Theresa May and you decided to gamble, and my party won the ensuing European elections and the Conservatives won the ensuing general election. We are now going to have a Brexit, and not the Brexit in name only that you said you wanted. So, again, I thank you for what you've done to assist in that cause.

Despite the referendum result, despite last month's election result, and you didn't answer this question earlier—I thought you had yesterday, but can I just confirm for the record it is your intention to carry on voting against Brexit when we consider the legislative consent motion on the withdrawal Bill later this month? And as you set your continuity Corbyn course, do you intend to change anything because of how people voted? Have you learnt any lessons from the vote last month?

Llywydd, the Member will have seen the legislative consent memorandum that was published yesterday. It analyses not Brexit, it analyses the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. It comes to the conclusion that the Bill is not in a state that would allow the Government to recommend to the National Assembly that it should give its consent to that Bill, for the reasons set out in it. There will be an opportunity to debate that here on the floor of the National Assembly and we will see where the majority opinion in this Chamber rests.

The Shared Prosperity Fund

3. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Prime Minister regarding the Shared Prosperity Fund? OAQ54889

I thank the Member for that. I take every opportunity to raise the shared prosperity fund with the Prime Minister, both orally and in writing, and have done so again since the outcome of the 2019 general election.

I thank the First Minister for that answer, and he's rightly stood very firmly on the principle of 'not a penny less, not a power lost' in respect of the shared prosperity fund. Yet, over the last year, there has been little if any real engagement by the UK Government with the Welsh Government, and little detail beyond that headline. Meanwhile, quietly but assiduously in the background, the regional investment Wales steering group, which I've got the privilege of chairing, has been scoping future funding proposals for Wales that would respect the distinct policy framework within Wales, respect the principles of devolution and subsidiarity to and beyond Cardiff Bay and this Senedd, and also respect the need to be responsive to local and regional priorities. But it also notes the need to work in a cross-border way on funding and initiatives across the UK and indeed across Europe in the future. So, the First Minister will not be surprised to hear that the steering group would welcome a much more open, transparent engagement from the newly elected UK Government, and the new Secretary of State for Wales, on the shared prosperity fund. Would he and the Brexit Minister now seek constructive and urgent engagement with the UK Government on these matters, but on the very clear terms as well of not a penny less, as was guaranteed to us, and not a power lost?

I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that, and can I begin, Llywydd, by thanking him and Members of the steering group for the very engaged piece of work that they have been involved in over the whole of last year? I know the group intends to meet again in February, and that we will have a formal consultation drawing on its proposals again in March, because the can that is the shared prosperity fund cannot go on being kicked down the road by this Government in the way that it was continuously kicked down the road by its predecessor.

Now, I've had a conversation with the new Secretary of State for Wales, Llywydd. He assured me that he was committed to working in a consensual way with the devolved administration, that he will be looking for ways of agreeing practical ways forward on key policy issues, and I take those assurances at face value and look forward to meeting him to discuss the shared prosperity fund and other matters of mutual interest. But, when we come to those discussions, it will have to be, as Huw Irranca-Davies has said, on the basis of the principles that we have already articulated here.

People in Wales who voted to leave the European Union were promised that Wales would not be a penny worse off. That must be delivered through the shared prosperity fund. Regional economic policy has been devolved to the National Assembly for Wales since 1999. It is not a new addition to the repertoire of responsibilities that this National Assembly holds, and when the shared prosperity fund is brought into the daylight and we all have a chance to be able to look at it properly and to debate it, then it must deliver that as well. But, the responsibility for deploying that money should be as close as possible to the place where the difference can be made.

That's what all the literature tells us about regional economic development, it's what the OECD, which we are working with on this, tells us too, and it's why the work of the steering group that Huw Irranca-Davies has chaired has been supported by the FSB, the WLGA, Universities Wales, HEFCW, the WCVA, as well as think tanks outside Wales like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the all-party parliamentary group at Westminster. Our principles are principles that are widely shared beyond this Chamber and we look for them to be honoured in the shared prosperity fund.

14:00

EU structural funds are, of course, only available to certain parts of Wales, and given what you've just said in your previous answer in terms of being aware that money's being spent and being decided here in Wales, I wonder, First Minister, if you would agree with me that the shared prosperity fund provides a new opportunity to invest in parts of Wales outside of the Valleys and the west of Wales—indeed, available to spend in such areas of Wales such as mid Wales. 

Well, Llywydd, done properly, a shared prosperity fund would have the potential to offer new flexibilities in the way that regional economic funding could be spent in Wales, and maybe that is geographical—although those parts of Wales that benefit from those funds now would certainly have something to say if they thought that the future was one in which the help that they have had to date was to be diluted.

But, there are other ways in which flexibilities could be applied were the shared prosperity fund to be properly designed, so that money from Europe has been available for certain purposes. And then maybe there are other purposes that would have a bigger regional economic development impact that we could use funding for in a different sort of fund. It's been difficult under European funding sometimes to combine funds that are in the hands of the Welsh Government for other purposes with European Union funding, and a shared prosperity fund, properly designed, could be more flexible about the way in which different funding streams could be brought together to have the impact that we need.

So, I don't disagree with the basic premise of Russell George's question, but done properly, there are new flexibilities that we may be able to find. They would have to be carefully thought through and agreed with delivery partners here in Wales to make sure that they didn't have unintended negative consequences as well as potentially new positive impacts. 

If I could push you a little further on that, we are moving towards life outside the European Union now, and we do have to look at safeguarding Welsh interests in that new context, and we are all agreed that it's not just how much money comes to replace EU funding that's important, but how those funds are spent. You mention there that new flexibility that could emerge in certain areas, but what assurance have you received so far and what threats have you identified to date in terms of that principle that priorities should be set and decisions on expenditure should be made in Wales under this new fund?

14:05

Well, we haven't been given any assurances about any aspect of the new fund, and there are no details in the Conservative Party manifesto, and we haven't heard anything yet from the new Government. And that is why I said that it's crucial that the new Government publishes the details and talks to us about those details. We here in Wales—and not just in the Government, but with everybody that's been such an important part of the way in which we've spent the European funding—we will all have to be clear about the new Government's proposals, to give us an assurance about the principles that we've mentioned today, and also they must collaborate with us to plan an effective strategy for the future.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

4. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the implications for Wales arising from the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill? OAQ54890

I thank Delyth Jewell for that, Llywydd. The Welsh Government's position on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill was set out in the legislative consent memorandum published yesterday. It does not recommend that the Senedd gives its consent to this Bill.

I thank the First Minister for that answer. We had an interesting discussion in the external affairs committee yesterday about the LCM for this Bill, where you explained your thinking on that very clearly. Now, I've since read the LCM, and I broadly agree with your analysis. Plaid Cymru accepts that Brexit is going to happen, but that doesn't mean that Boris Johnson should be given carte blanche to impose damaging impositions on Wales, dilute workers' rights or remove parliamentary scrutiny.

I'm particularly concerned about the lack of restriction on the power that the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol gives to the Secretary of State, since it would allow them, in theory, to amend the Government of Wales Act without this Senedd's consent. So, First Minister, can you give me your assurance that your Government will make categorically clear to the UK Government, in this Thursday's meeting of the JMC(EN), that this is wholly unacceptable and demand that the Bill be amended so that this specific power can never be used?

I thank Delyth Jewell for that. I was asked in the committee yesterday, Llywydd, whether I had any sense of hierarchy amongst the objections to the Bill that are set out in the memorandum. I was reluctant to put them in that sort of order, but it is quite certainly unacceptable, and ought to be unacceptable to every Member of this Assembly, that the withdrawal agreement Bill provides a power to the Secretary of State to amend, by secondary legislation, the primary legislation that has established this National Assembly for Wales, and could do that without our consent at all. Now, that is a completely unacceptable power. It ought not to be in this Bill. It's not there because of the National Assembly for Wales; it's there, as Delyth Jewell explained, because of the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol. It would be at no cost to the UK Government to make it clear that it does not intend to use that power in relation to the National Assembly for Wales, and that is what it should do.

Now, my colleague the Counsel General and Brexit Minister has written on more than one occasion on exactly this matter to Mr Barclay, the Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union. It will be a subject for conversation at the JMC(EN) on Thursday. Any Government that has won an election has a mandate, Llywydd, and that's why we accept that we are leaving the European Union, but a mandate is not a blank cheque or a carte blanche, and it is not right that a Government should believe that it is beyond scrutiny or beyond challenge. Certainly, we will be making sure that that challenge is firmly put to the UK Government at every opportunity.

Do you accept that we now have a UK Conservative Government with a majority, a decent majority, and a clear mandate to get Brexit done? And on that basis, instead of carping and trying to have the old arguments that, frankly, were taking place before the general election, isn't it about time that you and your Government moved on, joined team UK, and batted on the same side as the UK Government to get the best Brexit deal possible as we leave the European Union? I'm glad that we're leaving the European Union on 31 January, that's what the people of Wales voted for and it's about time we implemented it and we had a Welsh Government that got behind that vision too.

14:10

Well, Llywydd, of course I understand that the Member is in favour of leaving the European Union, and he now has a Government that will deliver for him what he has wished for. That doesn't mean, surely—that, surely, does not mean that he believes that his Government in Westminster is beyond questioning? That it is somehow wrong that we should say to them that giving the Secretary of State the power to amend the devolution settlement by secondary legislation is something that is not acceptable to the National Assembly for Wales.

On this side, we certainly say that the protection for workers' rights that was in his Conservative Government's last withdrawal Bill—and no doubt he supported that Bill at its time—the fact that those workers' rights protections have disappeared from this Bill is not acceptable to us. It was acceptable to him when it was in the Bill, it's acceptable to him when it's not in the Bill—anything that his Government does will be acceptable to him, but it won't be acceptable to us.

The fact that we reached an agreement with his previous Government on the independent monitoring authority to make sure that there would be somebody on the monitoring authority who would understand and represent Welsh interests—we were glad to reach that agreement. But the new Bill allows a Secretary of State to hive off the responsibilities of the independent monitoring authority to another public body without any safeguard for Welsh interests at all. That is not acceptable to us. That's why we will be scrutinising this legislation, trying to get it improved, so that it works better for Wales. And there is absolutely nothing wrong in us carrying out our democratic duty in that way.

First Minister, as you just said, we discussed this matter at length in the committee yesterday when you asserted that, by recommending to the Assembly that its legislative consent is not given, you are not expecting a constitutional crisis. If the Assembly does refuse its consent, as you want, what do you think the consequences will be?

What I said in the committee, Llywydd, was that this is not a Government that is looking for a constitutional crisis. We are not objecting to the European withdrawal agreement Bill in order to pick a quarrel with the new UK Government. We are simply exercising the democratic rights that this National Assembly has to consider the Bill and to vote on it. And if a majority of Members of this National Assembly choose not to provide consent, that will be a very important statement of the democratic decision that this body will have come to. There will be consequences, Llywydd, of that of course. The UK Government will have to decide whether, for the first time in 20 years, it overrides the democratically expressed view of the National Assembly for Wales. That is a really important decision and it can't be expected to be consequence free.

First Minister, we all know that the withdrawal agreement that the Bill is there to implement actually was negotiated in October by the Prime Minister with the EU. Nothing's changed since that negotiation. We had a Bill put forward by the Prime Minister in October that failed, and he no longer decided to proceed with that particular Bill. He came back with a Bill, following his victory in the December election, with major changes to that Bill. Do you agree with me and have concerns that those changes have actually weakened the rights of people in this country as a consequence, and also weakens the scrutiny of the future negotiations with the EU that the UK Government intends to have?

Well, Llywydd, David Rees makes a really important point. The changes are to a Bill that the Prime Minister himself put in front of the House of Commons only in October—the Bill he was then prepared to support. The changes in the most recent version of the Bill make things worse from the point of view of Wales and not better. Why has the Prime Minister reneged on the commitment that he made in October on unaccompanied child refugees? Why has that been taken out of this Bill? Why has the parliamentary oversight that he was prepared to agree in October, why has that been taken out of this Bill now? Why when there was an agreement with his predecessor that a transition period could be extended if the United Kingdom believed it was in the United Kingdom's interests for it to be extended—nobody was imposing an extension, it was if a UK Government believed it was the right thing to do—why is he denying his own Government the ability to do that? On so many points set out in our legislative consent memorandum, this Bill is a worse Bill than the same Prime Minister produced in October.

14:15
Welsh-medium Social Care

5. Will the First Minister provide an update on the provision of Welsh-medium social care? OAQ54864

I thank the Member for the question. Thirty-eight per cent of social workers that are regulated by Care Inspectorate Wales have the ability to speak Welsh. The Welsh Government is working to encourage more Welsh speakers to work in this important sector.

The fact that a health board operating under Welsh language standards could even consider moving a dementia patient who is Welsh speaking to England where care through the medium of Welsh would not be available, that is undoubted proof that Welsh language standards in health are entirely deficient. This is what happened over the Christmas period in the case of an elderly dementia patient from Ynys Môn. Plaid Cymru and others have argued from the very outset that the health standards are far too weak. Doesn't this case mean that we must introduce new standards that are firm and robust, and to do so as a matter of urgency? And doesn't this case also prove that there is a lack of understanding of the importance of Welsh-medium care? The case demonstrates that the Welsh language is seen as something that is peripheral or desirable in terms of care rather than being a central part of that care in terms of the quality of life and safety of those individuals involved. So, what do you intend to do in order to ensure that this important principle is rooted in our health and care regime in Wales?

Well, Llywydd, it's one thing to say that there is a case to do more in terms of regulating how the Welsh language should be used in the health sector, and it's up to each one of us to agree or disagree with that, but what I don't agree with the Member on is trying to reflect the general situation from the specific case of a patient in Ynys Môn. As I understand it, he still resides in Wales; he hasn't moved. And the reasons were clinical reasons. That was why the decision had been taken. Now, the situation has improved and the patient himself has improved and it's possible to treat him here in Wales.

The patient, as I understand it, and I'm relying on the most recent information I have, the patient himself remains being looked after in Wales, and the reason that it was considered that he might need to be cared for outside Wales was for clinical and safety reasons. But the individual's condition has improved to the point where it remains possible, as is of course preferable, that he should remain looked after here in Wales. That individual case does not give rise to the general conclusions that the Member tried to draw from it.

The general case she makes is different and there's a proper debate to be had there about whether the current state of the regulations we have are sufficient to guarantee—. And let me say that I agree entirely with the final things that Siân Gwenllian said: that receiving a service through the language of your choice is not an optional extra in Wales. It is a fundamental part of you receiving the care that you need. Sometimes, there will be clinical reasons why care outside Wales is required for somebody and then an individual decision has to be made. But the general point that Siân Gwenllian made is one that I believe in and that Government believes in: that the ability to receive a service through the medium of English or Welsh, of your choice, is a choice for the patient to make and it should be honoured.

14:20
Nurse Staffing Levels

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on nurse staffing levels in Wales? OAQ54861

Llywydd, the number of nurses and midwives on the professional register in Wales grew by 500 between April and September last year—the strongest rate of growth of any of the four UK nations. 

Thank you for the reply, Minister, but recently, the Royal College of Nursing in Wales produced a report on the implementation of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act, and the report states that the nursing workforce in Wales is facing a national crisis with a high number of vacancies and the prospect of significant losses of nurses to retirement over the next five to 10 years in Wales. The RCN also called on the Welsh Government to focus on improving nurse retention through ensuring safe nurse staffing levels, access to professional development and implementation of measures to support well-being, good rates of pay, flexible working hours and opportunities. First Minister, what action is your Government taking to develop a retention strategy to alleviate the crisis in nurse staffing levels in Wales, please?

Llywydd, it is because we understand the age profile of the nursing profession in Wales that we have increased the number of training places in Wales by 89 per cent since 2014, and when it comes to retention, Llywydd, we have retained nurse bursaries here in Wales, while his party abandoned them across our border and is having to reintroduce them again to make good their mistake. Now, the Royal College of Nursing, of course, has welcomed the announcement made just before Christmas by my colleague the health Minister that we will, in this Assembly term, extend the scope of the nurse staffing levels Act here in Wales from the acute medical and surgical adult wards, which is where it began, to inpatient paediatric wards before the end of this Assembly term, and the Minister has extended as well funding for the work that is going on for further extension of that Act to adult mental health inpatient wards, to health visiting and to district nursing. That's why having 500 more nurses and midwives in the Welsh NHS in a six-month period between April and September last year is so important. That's part of the reason why we are able to move ahead with extending the scope of that very important Act.

Fair Funding for Wales

7. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Prime Minister in respect of ensuring fair funding for Wales? OAQ54876

Llywydd, repeated assurances have been sought from both the Prime Minister and the Treasury that his Government will distribute spending power across the United Kingdom in a way that allows an equivalent level and quality of public goods and services to be provided in each of the four nations.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. If the spending of this Assembly had been increased by the Conservative Government in line with growth of the economy since 2010, we would be £4 billion better off than we are now. Effectively, the Tory austerity programme has robbed this country and the people of Wales of £4 billion. First Minister—[Interruption.]—First Minister, if we had been given that £4 billion that we should have been given, what difference might it have made to the lives of the people of Wales and the quality of our public services?

Llywydd, of course, had the spending available to the National Assembly still maintained the share that we had back in 2010, we would have had an enormous additional scope to invest in the public services that make a difference every day in the lives of people here in Wales. Had that Conservative Government been able to match the level of investment in public services managed by Mrs Thatcher and by John Major, we would have been over £6 billion better off by this point in the Assembly's history. That's the level that previous Conservative Governments believed—[Interruption.] Well, I can understand why Conservative Members are shocked to learn that, during the period that they've been involved in the stewardship of public services, we have fallen so far behind what was achieved by their own predecessors. That investment would have made a difference, wouldn't it, in every aspect of the responsibilities that this Assembly discharges. It would have allowed us to have done even more to provide affordable housing for people in Wales. It would have made sure that the investment that we could make in education, in health, in social services, in our economy—. Think what we could have done here in Wales if we hadn't been robbed of that £4 billion by the flawed and failed policies of austerity that the party opposite is now turning its back on, and no doubt we will hear cheers from them as they stand on their heads to celebrate the latest turn of their policy wheel.

14:25
Priorities for the Health Service

8. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's priorities for the health service over the next twelve months? OAQ54880

I thank the Member for that. Amongst our priorities will be the deployment of our record investment in the Welsh NHS—an extra £342 million set out in the draft budget published on 16 December to strengthen primary care, to build further on the highest number ever of doctors and nurses we have in Wales and to respond to the challenges of an older population.

First Minister, yesterday, you confidently claimed at a press conference that plans for hospitals and health boards to cope with pressures for the winter period were holding up. You even highlighted that your Government had provided £30 million—very welcome—earlier than ever in the year to help health boards prepare for winter. However, I think within about half an hour of your press conference, my local health board, Hywel Dda, announced they'd experienced a level of escalation not seen before—we've been there before, haven't we, team—and that they would be canceling all inpatient operations across all of their hospitals in the interests of patient safety. This is shocking. This is the end of elective surgery in Hywel Dda at the moment.

First Minister, it's blatantly clear that the spin you provided to the press was not based on fact, or that you yourself are fully abreast of the current situation in our hospitals here in Wales. First Minister, when will your Government accept that there's a need for strong leadership of the Welsh NHS because these winter pressures happen—guess what—every winter? And we've been through this before. Yet again, the people in my constituency are having to wait endlessly for knee operations, hip operations, all manner of elective surgeries. There never seems to be an end to it.

Well, Llywydd, the Member is sadly badly informed about plans in Hywel Dda, because alongside all other health boards in Wales, there were very few operations scheduled for this week because this week is always the busiest week for unplanned admissions to our hospitals. Every year, as she says, it's entirely predictable, and because of that, it was planned for by that local health board.

Now, it has been a very busy and very challenging two weeks in the health service here in Wales, but the system has proved resilient to it because of the plans that local health boards, supported by the Welsh Government and that additional investment, have put in place. My understanding is that today, some planned surgery will have recommenced in Hywel Dda, and I want to put on record my gratitude to the staff of that health board and to staff right across Wales for the enormous efforts that they have made while this Assembly has been in recess, working right across Christmas and the new year to deal with the unprecedented demands, and to their colleagues there in social care in the Hywel Dda area who, yesterday and across the weekend, worked flat out to make sure that wherever they were able to provide help to move patients into the community, that they went well beyond what would normally be expected to help to do that. That's why the system has proved resilient, because of the enormous commitment of the people who work in it, and I think it's very good to have had the chance to put our appreciation of that on the record here this afternoon.

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

The next item is questions to the Counsel General in respect of his law officer responsibilities, and the first question is from David Melding. 

Strengthening the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

1. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers in the UK on ways to strengthen the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? OAQ54884

I frequently have discussions with others about our relationship within the United Kingdom and strengthening our place within it. We believe Wales's interests are best served by being a part of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom is better and stronger for having Wales in it. 

Can I just say how much those sentiments are supported on this side of the Assembly as well? You may have heard the First Minister in evidence yesterday to the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee saying that the Prime Minister will be taking the Dunlop review's findings as seriously as the Government that commissioned that review. And I notice that this review, of course, is looking at ways to strengthen and sustain the union. And one of the things reported as a likely finding—and I quote the great authority of the Scottish Herald, which I'm sure colleagues opposite will find very reassuring—is that there will be a recommendation to replace the Joint Ministerial Committee system with a new inter-governmental structure, serviced by an independent secretariat, to command greater confidence from the devolved administrations. This has been a core appeal of the Welsh Government, and I, in this Chamber, have commended much of the work in terms of strengthening the governance structures within the United Kingdom that have been made by the Welsh Government, and much of that has been enthusiastically supported on this side of the Chamber.

So, can you now assure us that you will continue to work in this vain, as we're in new constitutional ground because of the fact that we will be leaving shortly the European Union, and that's the spirit in which you should co-operate with the UK Government, and use your leverage to the maximum and achieve productive results like the one you are seemingly likely to achieve when we hear the recommendations of the Dunlop review?

14:30

I thank the Member for that further question. I've been following with interest his series of postings on Twitter about the future of the union. The key is that the constitutional arrangements for a union of four nations need to respect the identity and aspirations of each of those nations, while preserving the collective interest of the whole. I know that he will have read the publication of the Welsh Government in October of last year, 'Reforming our Union: Shared Governance in the UK', which describes, I think, the kind of positive engagement that the Member identifies in his question, which has always been the approach that the UK Government has taken to this set of challenges—challenges which have become even more intense in the context of the pressure that Brexit has put upon the relationships within the United Kingdom.

We do need an acceptance—and I will say, perhaps particularly by the UK Government, which has not always accepted, despite the points he's made in his question—the need for a more shared vision of the governance of the United Kingdom into the future, and a new culture of mutual respect and parity of esteem in the kind of inter-governmental relations that have often been challenging.

We have identified on a number of occasions the shortcomings in the JMC arrangements, and have a very positive and constructive alternative to that. If the proposals that come out of the UK Government's recommendations reflect those kinds of principles and proposals, clearly we will welcome that. But alongside that approach, there needs to be a recognition on the part of the UK Government that we need to operate in a rules-based system, not one that invests them with considerable discretion to operate in the way that they choose. And the challenge will be, and the test for the UK Government will be, its readiness, or otherwise, to engage on a rules-based system, agreed between the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom. That is the only way for the union to remain sustainable into the future.

Now that the dust has settled on the general election, it is clear that the separate nations of the United Kingdom have once again chosen different paths, and only in England do the Conservatives have a majority. Wales will once again be under the rule of a Conservative Government even though it did not vote for one. Once again, Wales gets the Government that England wants. For how much longer will the Welsh Government allow this situation to continue? Do you agree that you have an opportunity to forge a different path? And why do you therefore not commit to demanding significant constitutional changes, to demand more powers for this Senedd along the lines of the referendum of 2011, to ensure that a range of policies can be delivered by a Government that we in Wales actually elected?

Well, the Member may have not followed the debate that the Government has been leading here in Wales, which has been calling for further devolution of powers to this Assembly, principally, and most recently, in the area of justice. And I know that he shares that aspiration very strongly. There is a need, in the context of the changing union, for there to be an ongoing debate, and the publication that the First Minister issued towards the end of last year seeks to contribute to that debate, and to lead that debate. And I think evidence suggests that we have been successful in moving the perception of the debate here in Wales, and, to some extent, with the UK Government, and we will continue to do that in the interests of the people of Wales.

14:35

Regardless of the historic development of the union of the United Kingdom, the modern union is a union of consent, and that consent requires respect among the national and regional governments and the Parliaments of the United Kingdom. But this union is also fluid and full of stresses, which can hold it together but equally can threaten to pull it apart, in response to social and economic and political tensions, across different parts of that United Kingdom. And the process of Brexit, and the recent elections, have heightened those tensions. So, as we see that the process of Brexit and the recent elections have heightened those tensions, would the Counsel General and Brexit Minister give us his informed assessment of the implications for Wales, and the United Kingdom, of these tensions, not least the demand by the Scottish nationalist party for another referendum on independence in Scotland, and the continuing absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive? From his lofty viewpoint, having just marked the end of one decade, and looking forward to another, can he tell us: what is the future for Wales in the United Kingdom? I thought I'd start the new year with an easy question.

Well, as his question implies, we were the first Government to draw attention, over two years ago, to the constitutional challenges presented by Brexit, which he highlights in his question. And the 20 propositions in reforming our union describes the UK as a voluntary association of nations. Wales remains committed to that association, but it must be based on the recognition of popular sovereignty in each part of the UK, and not the outmoded version of parliamentary sovereignty, which we often have cited. I hope very much that the constitution, democracy and rights commission, which the UK Government has committed to establish within the next 12 months, will consider those proposals, rather than focusing on narrower interests. The UK, as his question implies, was constructed really not through any conscious plan, but as a result of pragmatic and politically expedient decisions. But the devolved institutions of Wales, and other parts of the UK, were established on the basis of popular endorsement, through referenda, which bring with them their own source of legitimacy, and that will be essential for the UK Government to recognise in any future discussions and negotiations over the future of the union.

The Wales Act 2017

2. What discussions has the Counsel General had with counterparts in the UK Government in respect of the Wales Act 2017? OAQ54877

My discussions with counterparts often cover our respective devolution settlements. As the Welsh Government's constitutional policy, 'Reforming our Union: Shared Governance in the UK', notes, as a result of the Wales Act 2017, the reserved-powers model is now the preferred model for legislative devolution. But, importantly, unhelpful asymmetries remain.

Counsel General, what was important about the 2017 Act was, of course, that it did enshrine the Sewel convention. However, it enshrined it in a way that leaves it open to interpretation and to uncertainty about its actual status. Now, in the post-Brexit environment, where we see increasing strains on the incursion into devolved areas of responsibility, it seems to me the whole status of the Sewel convention is now seriously under jeopardy. Do you belive that now is the time for serious consideration to be given to a disputes procedure to be established between the nations of the UK, in respect of what is devolved and devolved powers of responsibility? And do you agree also with me that it is now time to consider that the Sewel convention should be put into a format that makes it justiciable?

I thank the Member for that further set of questions. On the point about the resolution and avoidance, ideally, of course, of disputes between the Governments of the UK, that has been a long-standing call of the Welsh Government, and has been a matter that we have been pressing in discussions, both at ministerial and official level, with the UK Government and with other devolved Governments across the UK.

The Sewel convention remains a very, very important convention despite not being justiciable. But it provides the UK Government with considerable discretion about what circumstances are normal or not normal, which is the key to the application of the convention. That, in our view, as a Government, is not a sustainable way forward and we want to see a clear specification of the circumstances under which the UK Government could, in extremis, take forward legislation in defiance of this institution's lack of consent. We should consider setting that out in statute, which would then provide a platform for judicial oversight of the operation of the convention. But that, on its own, isn't going to be sufficient, it seems to me, to fix the problem that we face.

When the Scottish Parliament refused its consent in 2018 to the EU withdrawal Bill, neither House of the Parliament was given any real opportunity to consider the implications of proceeding without consent. So, we want to see a more explicit parliamentary stage for consideration of the implications of going forward without the consent of a devolved institution involving, perhaps, statements by UK Ministers to the House. There is, of course, a clearer and a more radical solution as well, which is simply to provide that Parliament simply will not legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the democratic devolved institutions.

14:40
Equality in the Law

3. What discussions has the Counsel General had with the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip regarding equality in the law, in light of the Thomas Commission's report? OAQ54863

The First Minister announced in this Chamber the creation of a Cabinet committee on justice to take forward the recommendations of the Commission on Justice in Wales. The Deputy Minister and Chief Whip and I are members of that Cabinet committee, and access to justice and equality before the law will be key issues as we deliberate how to take forward the report's recommendations.

It is clear that a weak justice system does lead to inequality throughout, and inequality can be identified in Wales, according to the Thomas commission report, and it mentions the over-representation of people from minority ethnic communities within the justice system and the lack of services for women and health and mental health within the system. And the report does mention that the current legal system could lead to grave disadvantages for the people of Wales, and that that is actually happening as we speak—things that people in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland aren't experiencing. So, what is your long-term vision for the future of the justice system in Wales in terms of creating equality? I've heard about the first steps that you are taking, but what's your long-term vision?

Well, we as a Government, of course, are calling for the devolution of powers on justice here to Wales, so that we can provide a justice system that is fair for all sectors of society here and ensure—Siân Gwenllian mentioned the role of women and ethnic minorities in the justice system—that we have an alternative system available to address issues for both cohorts. For example, we've been very clear as a Government that we don't believe that there are sufficient facilities for women here in Wales. We don't want to see a women's prison, but we want to see alternative provision in centres where it would be possible for women to keep in touch with their families and their children, for example. There are too many women in the prison system generally, and having this alternative provision here in Wales would help us to deal with some of those important challenges.

There are also important recommendations in the report, by the way, about the access to the law through the medium of Welsh. Chapter 11 deals with bilingual provision in our courts, in our legal education, in the coroners' courts and so on. That's an important part of the commission's agenda, and one of the things that the Cabinet committee that the First Minister has established will look at early on.

14:45

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

The Future Role of the UK Supreme Court

4. What discussions has the Counsel General had with counterparts in the UK Government on the future role of the UK Supreme Court? OAQ54885

Well, I've not had discussions on this specifically with UK Government law officers, but they should be in no doubt as to the Welsh Government's strong commitment to the independence of the Supreme Court. I also welcomed the court's first sitting in Cardiff last summer, and look forward very much to future sittings of the court here in Wales.

You will no doubt have heard the former leader of the Conservative Party, less than two weeks ago, claiming that the judiciary 'distorts' the law, quote, 'to reach the result they want to achieve'. This has been echoed, unfortunately, by other Tory politicians apparently flexing their muscles to try and undermine the independence of the judiciary—I'm sure it was unrelated to the Supreme Court decision that Boris Johnson's Government's proroguing of Parliament was unlawful. But, what discussions has the Counsel General had with UK Ministers about the idea that the appointment process for new Supreme Court justices should be changed to make them more political and therefore less independent of the executive?

Well, the 2005 Act that established the Supreme Court sets out very clearly the basis on which Supreme Court justices are appointed. That was revisited by the Conservative Government in 2013, and they wisely chose not to pursue the course of action that those like Michael Howard has been advocating in the press. I was struck by his remark that he said the law should be made by elected, accountable politicians, forgetting the fact, of course, that he sits in the House of Lords and is unelected. Also forgetting that, having made the law, it's incumbent on politicians, perhaps particularly, to obey the law, which is exactly the situation that the Supreme Court's intervention—to which she refers in her question—was intended to address. The whole point of the intervention of the Supreme Court was to enable Parliament to sit until properly prorogued, giving elected, accountable Members, in the language of Michael Howard, the continuing entitlement to make law and hold the Government accountable.

I want to be very clear that we are committed as a Government here in Wales to the absolute independence of the Supreme Court, and do not regard the sorts of proposals that Michael Howard was flagging as anything other than a very, very retrograde step. That isn't, by the way, to say that there are no reforms of the Supreme Court that we would support. Again, I've referred on a number of occasions to the document 'Reforming Our Union'. That sets out changes we think would be helpful to see in the Supreme Court to ensure that Welsh law interests are reflected on the court, and I'm pleased to say that the Commission on Justice in Wales reaches a similar conclusion in its set of recommendations.

Leasehold Tenures on Houses

5. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the Welsh Government's legislative powers in relation to leasehold tenures on houses? OAQ54883

The Welsh Government is currently considering options to reform leaseholds. The Law Commission's report, following its consultation on leasehold reform in England and Wales, is expected in the spring of this year and will help inform the Welsh Government's course of action in respect of legislative options.

Counsel General, I'm sure that answer will be very reassuring to many householders throughout Wales, including in my region. For instance, at St Edeyrns Village in Cardiff, many residents there have been in dispute with the housebuilder Persimmon and feel very aggrieved that leasehold tenure is introduced on sites that formerly would have been freehold. Sometimes, you can get a mix of both on the same site, creating a most remarkable difference in liabilities. I do note that the Law Commission's consultation paper on the reform you just referred to said, and I quote:

'The extent to which leasehold enfranchisement is devolved to the Welsh Assembly is unclear. Aspects of enfranchisement have, in the past, been treated as a devolved issue.'

Are you expecting the report to clarify this situation? And once clarified, and assuming that you can act, will you act quickly?

Well, I will make my own assessment of the competence on behalf of the Government in relation to any legislative options coming forward. The Member will know that—. I won't enter into prolonged analysis of the questions of competence, but I think, perhaps obviously, on one hand, whilst housing is expressly devolved, the law of property, broadly speaking, with exceptions, is reserved. And so, it's a question of navigating the boundaries of the relevant parts of the Government of Wales Act.

I think the report of the Law Commission will be important in setting that context for considering legislative options. And I know as well also that the Minister for Housing and Local Government is considering the report of the task and finish group that reported in the summer of last year, and intends to make a statement, I think in the coming weeks, in relation to her reflections on the work of that report, building on the non-legislative measures that we as a Government have been able to take, at least in the short term, which seem to have had some impact in terms of a reduction in the number of new build leasehold houses, specifically. But, obviously, we would share the objective of making sure that that is reduced to the barest minimum possible.

14:50
The Shared Prosperity Fund

6. What discussions has the Counsel General had with the legal sector regarding the impact of the Shared Prosperity Fund? OAQ54872

As the UK Government has been deliberately vague on its shared prosperity fund plans over the last two years, discussions with the legal sector themselves have not been possible. Last month, the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister to reinforce our positions for replacement funding in full and for devolution in Wales to be respected, and I echo the First Minister's remarks in his earlier question in relation to that. 

Thank you, Counsel General, for that reply, and I think it's clear from the questions to the First Minister that we do continue to have a specific interest in the role of devolved nations in the delivery of the long-promised shared prosperity fund. I do think it's interesting that we've already seen Tory priorities, with Russell George actually suggesting moving support out of the Valleys—as we actually warned on the doorstep would happen if the shared prosperity fund is not devolved to us in Wales. However, I'm one of the many Valleys Members of this Senedd who fully appreciate the importance of capital investment in our infrastructure and investment in the skills of our people and will be looking for that to continue. So, bearing in mind what you've already said, when do you anticipate legal arrangements for the new funding arrangements are likely to be available for scrutiny?

Firstly, I know how important this is for the Member, as she indicates in her question. Since 2007, projects supported by EU structural funds in Merthyr Tydfil, for example, have created over 1,000 jobs and over 300 new businesses. I know the Lawns industrial estate in Rhymney, for example, is being supported, as we speak, by over £1 million-worth of EU funds. That's one example of the benefit that EU funds have delivered right across Wales.

As the First Minister indicated in his reply earlier, we are still waiting for proposals from the UK Government to come forward. This is not a matter on which we are going out of our way to seek conflict with the UK Government. We are keen to find a way to work with the UK Government on replacement EU funding for Wales, but that needs to be on the basis of real participation and genuine agreement across the four Governments of the UK, not on the basis of a solution that the UK Government seeks to impose. The devolution settlement must be respected in relation to that, a view that this Senedd has, on more than one occasion, voiced itself.

There is a consultation we intend to bring forward, informed by the work of the committee that Huw Irranca-Davies has been chairing in relation to this, and all I will say is: I hope that the UK Government will take up the offer that the First Minister, I and others have made to put forward the proposals they would wish to see and then to work together with us so that the devolution boundary is observed and the commitments made to people in Wales are fulfilled—that they should not suffer a penny lost as a consequence of leaving the European Union.

3. Business Statement and Announcement

Item 3 on the agenda this afternoon is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans.

There is one change to this week's business: the time allocated to tomorrow's questions to the Assembly Commission has been reduced. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

14:55

Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for health about the cost to the NHS in Wales of pest control in our hospitals? According to information obtained by the BBC, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board has paid nearly £94,000 over the last four years to its contractor to deal with infestation, Swansea Bay University Health Board spent more than £52,000, and Powys Teaching Health Board over £51,000, while Aneurin Bevan University Health Board did not hold any record of their data regarding pest control there. May we have a statement from the Minister for health on what he's doing to ensure the consistency of record keeping across health boards in Wales, and what action he intends to take in view of cost keeping in our hospitals for cleaning and keeping free of rats and insects, please?

I think investment in ensuring that hospitals, particularly, are clean and safe is money well spent, and I know that pest management strategies are really important in terms of the proper upkeep of public places, and particularly those places where members of the public will gather, such as hospitals. I would encourage you to write to the health Minister, because that is quite a specific question, perhaps, not something for an oral statement, but certainly I know the health Minister will be keen to respond to you in correspondence.

I'm sure many Members here will share my concerns about the situation in Iran. Whilst I would in no way defend the general that was killed, or the regime that he represents, a long and bloody war is a real possibility as a result of the actions of the President of the United States. With the UK Prime Minister so keen to strike a free trade deal with the United States, there is little chance of the UK avoiding being drawn into a clash that could well have bigger consequences than the disastrous decision to invade Iraq, in terms of casualties and further destabilisation of the middle east. Wales provides over and above our share of personnel to the armed forces. The impact of any conflict that involves boots on the ground will therefore be felt very hard in Wales, as it was with the Iraq war and the military action in Afghanistan. We are still dealing with the consequences in terms of PTSD and homelessness from previous conflicts. So many former troops have not had the help that they need to have from their Government. I'd like a statement from the Welsh Government outlining what representations are being made to the UK Government to argue against involvement in conflict. What is needed now is cool, calm, collected diplomacy. The actions of Trump, which don't appear to be part of any plan, also have the potential to kick start a war, and that should be condemned. So, I'd like to see the Government's statement condemn the impulsive and reckless actions of the United States President and put the case for peaceful solutions as strongly as you possibly can.

Further, a British teenager convicted of lying about being gang-raped was sentenced today to four months in prison, suspended for three years. She was also fined €140. Her barrister said the family will fight to overturn the conviction, and will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. This situation arose because her complaint to police that she was gang-raped was retracted in a signed statement after eight hours of questioning in a police station. During those eight hours she had no legal representation nor were her interviews recorded. It is strongly suspected that her statement was dictated to her. The multiple bruises on her body were said to be consistent with a violent assault, according to one expert. I believe an atrocity has been committed against this young woman. It is a potential miscarriage of justice. It's no surprise that she has been diagnosed with PTSD and is reported to be mentally fragile. In short, I believe her, and I am outraged at what has happened. The UK tour operator behind the working holiday that this teenager was on has now ceased all trips to this Cypriot resort. In a statement, they said:

'The safety of our customers is of paramount importance.'

So, given the legitimate concerns about the Cypriot justice system and the signal that this whole episode sends out to would-be attackers, does the Welsh Government plan to issue any advice to Welsh citizens who may be thinking of visiting that island?

15:00

I thank Leanne Wood for raising two crucially important issues in the Chamber this afternoon. The First Minister had the opportunity in his monthly press conference yesterday to set out his initial views on the situation that you see in Iran, and he was very clear that a peaceful solution and talking and dialogue and discourse should be the way forward. We have been in contact with the UK Government and with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office because, obviously, foreign policy is a responsibility of the UK Government. The Chamber will be aware that the Prime Minister issued a joint statement yesterday with President Macron and Chancellor Merkel regarding the action taken by the US and the death and the associated situation in Iran. The joint statement condemns the recent attacks on the coalition forces in Iraq and states concerns about the role that Iran has played in the region. They are now calling for an urgent need to deescalate the situation in the region and for all parties to exercise restraint and responsibility. They call on Iran to refrain from further violent action or the proliferation of violence. So, I think that it is important that we look very much to be promoting a peaceful solution to what is a very serious issue.

On the second point, of course we would want to see women, wherever they are in the world, being able to go to the police and to all of the appropriate authorities should they find themselves in a situation where they had been attacked in any way and particularly the victim of a sexual attack. And we would want the same for women wherever they are in the world as we want for them here, and that is that they are believed and that they are treated with respect and dignity. I think that it is quite right for the woman and her family to avail themselves of the opportunity to take their case forward now to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Could I ask just for one debate today? It's great to see the Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism in his place as well, because the debate I want to ask for is on the incredible musical cultural heritage of the south Wales Valleys. I was delighted some years ago to unveil—it must have been about 13 years ago—a plaque commemorating the first ever public performance of 'Hen Wlad fy Nhadau' in the old Tabor chapel in Maesteg, which is now long-demolished. It's now Maesteg Workingmens Club. We unveiled the plaque there commemorating a young 16-year-old who first sang 'Hen Wlad fy Nhadau' in the vestry of the chapel there. And the plaque is there.

Actually, more importantly, very shortly there's an exciting commemoration coming up that my colleague Mike Hedges will know all about: it's of Daniel James 'Bad Boy' Gwyrosydd, who of course was the author of the lyrics for 'Calon Lân'. It's fascinating of course, because of its heritage as one of the favourite songs and hymns within Wales. Many people will know it. It was sung at my father's funeral as well there. But what most people will not know is the spell that Daniel James Gwyrosydd, known as 'Bad Boy'—. Why 'Bad Boy'? Because he was as fond of the public house as he was of the pulpit. It was composed, myth has it, but there's no reason to doubt it, on the back, literally, of cigarette papers in the Blaengarw Hotel across the road. So we are commemorating that very shortly and there'll be a choir coming in and a social event that Daniel James Gwyrosydd would have loved, alongside the commemorations in Swansea as well—his place of birth, the place where he passed away as well—to recognise that.

But wouldn't it be great to have a debate here that could celebrate that deep rich history that is still with us? They're things that we take for granted now when we stand up in the terraces and we sing these songs, whether it's anthems or songs, and to recognise that these came from working-class people in working-class communities and the threads go deep into those communities still. Let's have a debate on that.

Well, I always thoroughly enjoy Huw Irranca-Davies's interventions in the business statement because they're always so full of passion for the heritage and the communities that he represents. I know that there is a lot of interest, especially in the 100-year anniversary with regard to 'Calon Lân'—I know Mike Hedges has had some discussions locally about how it can be recorded and how it can be celebrated locally as well. As you say, the Minister is here to hear your request for a statement, and I'm sure he'll be considering it.

15:05

Could we have a statement from the Minister with regard to the wilding of upland grazing land? I've been contacted by members of the farming community who are seriously concerned at the degradation of areas that were previously grazed, often for many generations, by cattle, sheep and other livestock. These areas were farmed under proven, traditional management methods. Can the Minister also make a statement on why we are losing cost-effective farming practices such as those used in places like Rhayader, where livestock has been grazed all year round for over 40 years without interruption, and where, far from degrading the land, it has resulted in a record number of plant species of over 130, it has supressed damaging, unpalatable moorland grasses like Molinia and Nardus, and has also restricted the spread of bracken in these upland areas?

I'll certainly ensure that the Minister with responsibility for farming and rural affairs is aware of the request for a statement today, and particularly that she hears your concerns about support for uplands in Wales.

I've had raised with me a number of concerns regarding litter, especially over the Christmas period. Can I ask for a Welsh Government statement on actions being taken to discourage littering? Two suggestions I have received are that first-time offenders attend a litter awareness course similar to the speed awareness course and that fast food restaurants print the car number plate on the packaging of the food bought at a drive-through takeaway.

Can I crave your indulgence regarding Daniel James and Calon Lân? In March this year it's the hundredth anniversary. I've been in contact with the Commission here to ask about it being sung on these premises. Will the Welsh Government consider having it sung on Welsh Government premises the length and breadth of Wales? Because it truly is probably—well, it probably is—Wales's best-known hymn.

Well, they don't call me Rebecca Evans for nothing. [Laughter.] I do like to exercise the vocal cords occasionally, so I'll be happy to join in any of the singing.

But I will say, on the serious point of the litter and the littering, Welsh Government's working really closely with local authorities and communities across Wales in terms of tackling littering, and this does include the development of a new litter prevention action plan. We're working really closely with third sector organisations such as Keep Wales Tidy, and I know that the Minister will be really keen to explore those two particular suggestions as part of that action plan. I know that she's also planning to meet with representatives of the fast food packaging industry, and again, I think this is an opportunity to explore that issue with them.

Trefnydd, can I please ask for a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services on the delivery by health boards of elective surgery over winter months? Not just elective surgery, but actually an update on how they're managing winter pressures. It's not just Hywel Dda, we've got pressures at Betsi and we've got pressures in Cwm Taf. And I think we have to say—because we're here every single year—there've been endless committee reports by the Health and Social Care Committee. We acknowledge there's an extra £30 million that has gone into winter preparedness planning, but it's obviously not getting to the front line, and the issue's either poor workforce management or the delayed transfers of care of people who shouldn't be in hospital being able to go back into their homes with support, and therefore ensure that hospital beds are available.

So, I think we need to have a debate on this, because we need to discuss things like: should there have been that £30 million actually just given straight into social care? Would that deployment of that money have been better, and therefore freed up our hospitals as a consequence of sorting out some of the backlog that we have in getting people appropriate social care? So I'm basically just asking for a really serious update, because the First Minister rightfully made the point in response to my question that front-line staff work their socks off, and it must be so dispiriting, because it's not just this winter—it was last winter, it was the winter before, in fact I think we've discussed this almost every winter since I've become an AM.

Winter plans are always put in place early on in the year, and then they are submitted to Welsh Government, and Welsh Government provides an element, then, of robust challenge to ensure that those winter plans are further developed to learn the lessons of the previous year, and also to consider challenges that might be forthcoming through the course of this winter. This winter, we were able to provide that additional funding earlier on in the year than we've ever been able to do before, and I think that has helped although the First Minister did set out the challenges that there are, nonetheless, in terms of winter pressures. Obviously, I will make sure that the health Minister hears the request for the debate or the statement, as you described.

15:10

I'd like to reiterate the points that Angela Burns has made about the urgent need to have a full—I would argue—debate, but if that's not possible, a statement in Government time about the state of winter pressures. We all know what the position is in Hywel Dda and the point the First Minister made about front-line staff is, of course, absolutely correct, but he and others may very well have heard the director of the Royal College of Nursing on the radio this morning asking the Welsh Government to—her words were—'Get back in the room', to talk to people about why this situation happens year-on-year. As Angela Burns has said, in the whole term of this Assembly, and, indeed, probably before, winter comes every year, people get flu every year, we have norovirus every year, and we really do need Welsh Government to explain how it is going to get back in the room, as the nurses are asking us to do, because this situation can't be allowed to continue year-on-year. I think we also need to ensure that this is a discussion about health and social care, because one of the things that the nursing community are certainly putting to me is that one of the big issues at this time of year is that if social services departments, for example, have closed down for long periods in the winter because of staff leave, they can't then discharge patients, they can't get assessments made.

I did read with interest the Welsh Government's press statement on this matter, and I have to say that I found it a bit self-congratulatory. Of course, the £30 million is welcome, but unless it's used properly, it's not going to solve the problem. So, I would reiterate the request for a statement—at least a statement, preferably a debate—in Government time urgently. I am aware that we have questions to the health Minister, I think, next week, but those will not give us a sufficient opportunity to examine in detail what's going on around what is certainly in Hywel Dda a crisis, and I know from colleagues is a real problem in Betsi Cadwaladr health board as well.

I know that the RCN, along with other clinical leads, are meeting with the chief executive of the NHS tomorrow to discuss the winter pressures that are being felt across the NHS. So, that will be an opportunity for those particular individuals to have that conversation, and I know, as I say, that Welsh Government is in constant contact with all of the health boards with regard to their winter plans and the pressures that they are feeling, but, again, I've heard the request for the statement. I will make sure that the health Minister is aware of it. 

I'd like to ask for three statements this afternoon. Firstly, before Christmas, the M4 commission announced three fast-track measures to be implemented. As of today, they're still not in place, and one of those was to lower the speed limit to 50 mph. I think many people who regularly use this stretch of the motorway would feel it was an unusual day to get up to 50 mph. However, could we have a statement about when these measures will be implemented and how will they be measured for their effectiveness, both in isolation and in relation to other changes proposed?

The Ebbw Vale to Newport rail link has long been promised and is eagerly anticipated by my constituents and others in the surrounding Gwent Valleys. In June last year, the Minister for transport committed to introducing an hourly service between Ebbw Vale and Newport in 2021. As that date is fast approaching, I would like a statement on the progress of this service. With the importance of public transport and a desire to remove more traffic from our roads, it's incredibly frustrating that if you live in Rogerstone or near Pye Corner, to get to Newport by train you have to go to Cardiff and back.

Furthermore, I would like another statement on the recent changes in rail fares by Transport for Wales. While people travelling from Newport station to Cardiff Central have received a very welcome reduction on a return ticket from £5.40 to £4.80, those who travel from Pye Corner or Rogerstone to Cardiff are faced with an increase from £7.40 to £7.60, and Rogerstone and Pye Corner are closer geographically to Cardiff and the difference in price just seems to many people illogical. 

Thank you to Jayne Bryant for raising those three issues today. On the first, with regard to the 50 mph speed limits, I do know that the Minister for Economy and Transport has been having some discussions with the police about how this might best be enforced, and I hope that those discussions will come to a successful resolution as soon as possible.

With regard to the Ebbw Vale to Newport train line, I will ask the Minister to provide you with a written update that you can share with your constituents, but I can say that Transport for Wales introduced more modern class 170 trains on the Ebbw Vale line as part of their new timetables from December 2019. Those trains provide a better customer experience, including electronic passenger information, air-conditioning, power sockets and increased capacity. They'll also be introducing brand-new trains to Blaenau Gwent from 2022, as part of an £800 million investment that will feature level boarding and more space for bicycles. I know, also, that Transport for Wales have undertaken a study of the Ebbw Vale line on behalf of Welsh Government, and that's focusing on increasing the frequency of those services and also delivering a new service between Ebbw Vale and Newport. But, as I say, I'll ask the Minister to provide you with a more detailed written update.

With regard to rail fares, I know that a number of different factors do play into these disparities, such as the track access fees, differing maintenance costs and customer demand for their services. So, then, it's very difficult to make those direct comparisons across the routes on the network, but the Rail Delivery Group, representing all British train operators, has recently undertaken a consultation on how rail fares can be made simpler to benefit passengers, and Transport for Wales did fully participate in that consultation, and support many of the recommendations that have come out of it. We are now awaiting the formal response from the UK Government, which ultimately holds responsibility for the UK rail fare system. So, again, I'll ask the Minister to provide you with an update when we do have those details.

15:15

Trefnydd, can I ask for two statements from the Welsh Government? The first from my colleague to my right, sitting next to me, in relation to the contemporary art museum that's been talked about and the progress there is on that. Clearly, before Christmas, we celebrated one year since the Banksy appeared in Taibach and has now moved into a shopping centre in Station Road in Port Talbot, opposite the railway station. It's not yet visible to the public in the sense of opening up, because we still have a process to go through, but it is important we understand where we are with the progress in relation to the contemporary art museum and where we can be fitting into that.

The second one is on steel, following the interview that was published in The Sunday Times with Mr Chandrasekaran, the chair of Tata Sons, which is the parent company of Tata Steel, in relation to, clearly, a statement there where he feels that Tata have given over-and-above support to Port Talbot and that it must make itself self-sufficient in the future. Understood—the workforce understand that; they've always been part of the transformation programme, but for it to so clearly made and bluntly made by the chairman of the parent company does therefore cause concern as to the future that Tata will see in the business in Port Talbot. Now, many of the levers, as has been said, actually, are outside the control of the workers themselves. They have put in the effort to making them as productive as possible. They have reduced jobs, they are making productivity improvements, but global markets are difficult at this point in time.

But, also, the UK Government seems to be failing to actually take any action in relation to helping the steel industry in the UK. Can I have a statement from the Minister as to what actions he has taken with the UK Government, particularly the steel sector council that failed to meet last year? I don't know if it's met yet. Where are we on that? It is important, it's a foundation industry in the UK. Welsh steel making is critical, it is therefore critical that we have an assessment as to where we are with Tata and Welsh steel making, where the UK Government sees Welsh steel making and what they will do to improve it, particularly in energy costs and other aspects, which they have responsibility for and they have levers for.

I thank David Rees for raising these issues, and, of course, the Deputy Minister has heard your request for the update on the contemporary art museum, and I know he'll be able to either provide you with a verbal update or he'll certainly write to you with the very latest on that.

You're absolutely right that the workers at Tata have certainly done their bit. Ken Skates had the opportunity to meet with the new Secretary of State for Wales just yesterday, and he was very clear that now it's time for the UK Government to step up to the plate and support Tata and its workforce as well. Dai recognised that energy prices are one of the key issues, and, again, was something that I know that Ken had the opportunity to put home to the new Secretary of State that is one of the levers that the UK Government does have at its disposal, and its support for Tata and the workforce there will be one of the key first challenges that the new Secretary of State will face.

15:20
4. Debate on a Statement: Draft Budget 2020-21

Item 4 on the agenda is the debate on a statement on the draft budget of 2020 to 2021, and I call on the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans.

I'm pleased to have this opportunity to make a statement on the Welsh Government's draft budget for 2020-1.

On 16 December, I laid the Welsh Government's draft budget before the Senedd. The decision to lay the draft budget in recess was taken with the agreement of the Business Committee and Finance Committee, and I'd like to put on record my gratitude for the co-operation of both committees in agreeing the exceptional arrangements.

The failure of the UK Government to deliver on its multi-year comprehensive spending review means that we do not have a budget beyond 2020-1. Instead, we were presented with a 'fast-tracked' spending round in September, setting plans for 2020-1 only. As a result, I'm only able to lay one-year revenue and capital plans.

Despite claims that austerity is over, the Welsh Government budget in 2020-1 will be nearly £300 million lower in real terms compared to 2010-11. Following months of uncertainty and a cancelled budget, the UK Government has announced today its plans for a budget on 11 March, a week after we are due to debate the final budget in this Chamber—another example of the UK Government's unpredictability when it comes to managing the nation's finances. But, despite this chaos, I plan to press ahead with our plans to publish the final budget on 25 February in order to deliver the certainty and stability that Welsh public services, businesses and communities need, and I will look to reflect any significant changes to our plans in an early supplementary budget.

Before Christmas, I wrote to the Chancellor calling for the UK Government to provide the sustained increase in funding that our public services require. The budget is an early opportunity for the UK Government to make good its promise to end austerity.

I will now turn to the major building blocks of this budget and the fiscal decisions that are now made in Wales. From 2019-20, some £5 billion of devolved and local tax revenue is raised in Wales and stays in Wales. This gives us the ability to consider how our tax policies can contribute to our wider ambitions for Welsh public services. In line with our manifesto commitment, we will not raise Welsh rates of income tax in 2020. I do not intend to make any changes to land transaction tax rates and bands, but I will keep them under review. Landfill disposals tax rates will increase in line with inflation.

For the first time, and in line with the longer term forecasting arrangements, the Office for Budget Responsibility has produced its independent forecast of revenues from devolved taxes for the Welsh Government's budget. I thank them for their work, and Members will have the opportunity to hear from the OBR directly at a briefing session on Thursday.

Turning to reserves, I have looked to make maximum possible use of the new Wales reserve. I plan to draw down the maximum annual amount of revenue from the Wales reserve of £125 million in 2020-1.

I now turn to borrowing for capital expenditure. Our approach to borrowing has been well rehearsed in this Chamber by myself and by previous finance Ministers. We will always look to use the least expensive forms of capital before moving on to other sources. In setting firm capital plans for next year, we are maintaining previously published plans to borrow £125 million of capital.

I'll now set out how our combined revenue and capital resources are to be deployed across Government. The draft budget will take this Government's investment in the Welsh NHS to £37 billion since 2016, proof of the priority we continue to give to Wales's most cherished public service. This is a budget that also delivers a new level of ambition in the fight to protect the future of our planet, which includes support for low-carbon housing and transport and the development of a national forest for Wales.

I am proud that this fifth—and final—budget of this Assembly term delivers on the key spending pledges we made to the people of Wales in 2016 on all-age apprenticeships, school improvement, childcare, help for small businesses, quick access to new treatments, affordable housing and much more. We are bringing our total investment in health and social care to more than £8.7 billion in 2020-1, with an above-inflation increase of more than £400 million.

15:25

The Llywydd took the Chair.

We have always looked to protect local government from the worst impacts of austerity. Delivering on the commitment for the best possible settlement, local authorities will receive an extra £200 million through the revenue and capital settlement next year. This brings total investment from the Welsh Government in core revenue funding and non-domestic rates to spend on delivering key services, including schools and social services, to nearly £4.5 billion. This means a real-terms increase for every local authority, acknowledged by the Welsh Local Government Association as an exceptionally good finance settlement. I am grateful to the WLGA for the positive engagement that they've had with Ministers and the co-operation shown in managing a challenging timetable for this year's budget.

Through the local government settlement and through our £1.8 billion education budget, the draft budget supports the national mission for a world-class education system, which includes more than £200 million for our educational infrastructure. Llywydd, with the new money for local government and the additional funding we are providing for schools and social care through other funding streams, we have matched the additional funding we received in the spending round in relation to schools and social care in England and we've gone further.

We have achieved this despite the burden of funding shortfalls delivered by the UK Treasury. I've previously updated Members on the £36 million shortfall that we received this year as a result of the UK Government failing to meet in full the increased public sector pension costs that we face. That shortfall will rise to around £50 million in 2020-1. It is entirely contrary to the UK Treasury's own principles set out in the 'Statement of funding policy', and removes £50 million that I could have otherwise allocated to our public services.

We recognise the vital role that local authorities provide in delivering preventative services. Prevention has been at the heart of the work in relation to our eight cross-cutting priorities of early years, social care, housing, employability and skills, better mental health, decarbonisation, poverty, and biodiversity. These are the areas where early intervention pays dividends, and where it's essential to delivering long-term outcomes. Through the new approach, we worked across Government, and outside traditional ministerial boundaries, to maximise our collective contribution to these priority areas. As a result, we're allocating new funding on top of existing measures, to help protect the future of our planet and to tackle poverty.

We know that there is no greater challenge facing Government, public bodies, businesses and third sector organisations and communities across Wales than climate change. That is why, in the first budget since our declaration of a climate emergency, we are allocating a new £140 million package of capital funding to support our ambitions for decarbonisation and to protect our wonderful environment.

Drawing on the advice of the UK Committee on Climate Change we are investing in the areas where we can have the greatest impact for our environment. This includes investment in active travel and an electric bus fleet, new ways of building homes, enhancing our most ecologically important sites, and the development of a national forest to extend the full length of our country. As recognised by WWF Cymru, this additional investment is a positive step on our journey to a greener Wales.

Llywydd, this draft budget also protects the significant ongoing investments we're making in support of our low-carbon delivery plan. This includes investments in our flagship £738 million investment in the south Wales metro and the additional £20 million we're investing this year in the north Wales metro. We're also making improvements in energy efficiency in 25,000 households through the Nest and Arbed schemes. By investing £240 million in this programme since 2010, we have been able to lift thousands of low-income households out of fuel poverty.

The greatest physical risks posed by climate change are increasingly intense storms, flooding and coastal erosion. In this budget we're committing £64 million to protect communities from the most severe impacts of climate change.

In terms of broader measures, we are also considering a public communications campaign around the climate and ecological emergency and a citizens' assembly, and we'll say more on this as our plans are developed in-year.

Building on existing cross-Government action totalling more than £1 billion, we are allocating an additional £19 million in a package of measures that are specifically targeted to help some of the most vulnerable people living in poverty in our communities. This includes new funding to extend pupil deprivation grant access for uniforms and other school essentials, ongoing funding to tackle period poverty, as well as extending funding for the school holiday enrichment programme.

Our mental health and early years priority work has also delivered extra funding for the whole school approach, to provide counselling and emotional support at school, as well as additional funding for Flying Start, allowing the programme to reach 3,500 more children.

Good-quality housing is central to supporting people in poverty. Together with an extra £175 million capital this year, we will have invested more than £2 billion in affordable housing over this Assembly term. And that is major investment welcomed by Community Housing Cymru.

Building on the steps we have taken in recent years and the 'journey checker' developed by the future generations commissioner, we have published for the first time a budget improvement plan, which sets out how we intend to take continuous steps to embed the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 into the budget process. I welcome the commissioner's statement that Wales should be commended for being at the forefront of a movement towards well-being budgeting.

Despite ongoing austerity imposed at a UK level undermining our ability to deliver the investment our country truly deserves, I am proud to introduce a budget that continues to invest in our vital public services while supporting our ambitions for a more equal, more prosperous and greener Wales. Thank you.

15:30

Well, I have to say, we had some great hopes for this budget, because, of course, we know that Boris Johnson has already started to deliver on his promise to end austerity and to enable significant extra investment in the Welsh economy and public services. [Interruption.] And I can hear the cackling, but as a result the Welsh Government has received an additional £600 million, which brings the Welsh block grant to a record high level.

And, of course, in addition to that, the Welsh Government now also has the power to vary income tax levels, which of course could be a powerful tool, we believe, to create a low tax economy, to encourage businesses to set up here, and to create the well-paid, skilled jobs that people need. So, in the words of a former Prime Minister, 'You've never had it so good.' You've never had it so good. We've got a golden opportunity in this budget, a golden opportunity to invest in people's priorities, to drive a more dynamic economy, to deliver for working people, and to build on opportunities for Wales as they are presented to us as we leave the European Union. 

But, I'm afraid it's an opportunity that the finance Minister has, of course, missed. Where there was an opportunity to be imaginative, you've opted for the mundane. Where there was an opportunity to rise to the challenge and be ambitious for our country, all we've seen is you sitting back. Where there was an opportunity to be radical, you've stuck to the tried, tested and failed approach of Welsh Governments of the past.

Now, on the economy, one of the biggest barriers to growth and investment, particularly in south Wales, is the lack of capacity on our road network. Last year, the First Minister scrapped the M4 relief road, against independent advice, having already spent £144 million of taxpayers' money, and he did so without any alternative to the chronic congestion and air pollution that we see in south Wales. And as another Prime Minister recently said, the Brynglas tunnels are like the blocked 'nostrils of the Welsh dragon'. They deter investment west of Newport, dragging down the whole of the south Wales economy. The First Minister has even said that if the UK Government made the finance available to fully fund the project, at a cost of over £1 billion, he would decline to accept that money. It's shocking. 

And, of course, we don't just have problems in south Wales. We also face them in the north, and indeed in the west. The opportunity to upgrade the A55, to invest in dualling the A40, have been missed. Now, we're told that some of the reason behind not proceeding with the major investment in road capacity is because of the climate change emergency. And yet we're on the brink, First Minister—I can see you're paying attention—we're on the brink of an electric car revolution, ignored by your decision when you made the decision to scrap the M4. And of course, we all know that the evidence actually suggests that if you reduce congestion you also reduce air pollution. And ironically—. Yes, I'll happily take an intervention.

15:35

I wonder if he could clarify something from his own party's manifesto, where it said if there was a Welsh Conservative Government it would deliver the M4 relief road. But, on the A55, the manifesto just said, without any qualification, 'We will upgrade the A55' in north Wales.

We were very clear that we wanted to work with the UK Government to deliver improvements in various parts of our road network, including on the A55 and the M4.

But, in spite of the rhetoric that we hear from the Welsh Government on climate change, when you look at where they are investing in transport, it's actually in the most polluting form—air travel. Ironically, we will see that, this year, a further £4.8 million has been given to the state-owned Cardiff Airport, on top of a loan in excess of £21 million, and that's in addition to the £36 million loan that has already been given. And of course, last year, we saw the biggest ever losses that that airport has ever made—over £18.5 million, compared to the less than £1 million during the airport's last full year in private ownership back in 2012. And of course, we already heard during First Minister's question time that the net book value of the airport has fallen to well below the £50 million-odd that was paid by the Welsh Government for the airport.

I listened to what you said—I always listen to your contributions with great fascination, as you know. What is your alternative on the airport?

We produced a very detailed blueprint for aviation back in 2013, which set out our position on what to do on the aviation industry. I'll send you a copy of it.

Here's the reality: Ministers here in this Chamber should face facts—you don't have the expertise required to make a success of this venture and it should be returned to the private sector as soon as possible. It's further evidence in support of your own Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport's claim that the Welsh Government does not know what it is doing on the economy. [Interruption.] I'll happily give way to the former First Minister.

I'm grateful to the Member opposite. Just two things. Firstly, to remind him that when the airport was in private ownership it was on the verge of closure, and I was told that by the owners at the time. The only way of dealing with it was to buy it—take it into public ownership. Secondly, if he is saying the Government should not invest in air travel, does that mean he thinks that the airport—and of course Anglesey airport, which is now part of the same group—should close?

I think you paid over the odds for an airport if you thought it was on the brink of closure, frankly wasting tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

Now, if I can just turn—because I've got to make some progress—to business rates. Of course, we've missed an opportunity to address the fact that Wales has the least competitive business rates environment in the whole of the UK, taxing businesses off our high streets. It's no wonder we've got the highest high street vacancy rate in the whole of the United Kingdom. And of course, we believe that, instead of doing that, you should be taking the opportunity to reduce taxes on businesses, to coax them back onto our high streets, in order that we can improve opportunities in our town centres.

With regard to the NHS, the finance Minister described it as our most cherished public service. We absolutely agree, and that's why we're very pleased to see some additional investment finally coming through to our NHS. But, we must never allow the public to forget that it was a Welsh First Minister who presided over the only cuts ever seen in an NHS budget ever in the history of the United Kingdom. It is shameful that it was a Labour Government, a Labour Government—no Conservative Prime Minister has ever cut an NHS budget—it was a Labour Government here that took the decision to do that. And of course, the health Minister at the time is now the First Minister sat before us in this Chamber today. Is it any wonder that the performance of the NHS in Wales is behind that of England on many, many different measures? And is it any wonder that we have so many health boards in Wales in targeted intervention? And of course, we've got the classic example in my own area of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which has been in special measures for almost five years now and is showing only limited signs of improvement. In fact, in some areas, it's showing signs of getting even worse.

Now, if I can turn to education, just for a few moments. According to the NASUWT—not the Welsh Conservative briefing office, the NASUWT, a highly respected teaching union here in Wales—schools in Wales continue to be underfunded at a rate of around £645 per pupil per year compared to schools in England. [Interruption.] I know you dispute it, but you've never sent—. I'll happily take an intervention, yes.   

15:40

[Inaudible.]—this £300 million a year that we've been deprived of by the Tory Government amounting to a total of £4 billion, if we'd had that, do you believe that money would have rectified some of the flaws that you have identified? 

I think what I find extraordinary is that Wales receives £1.20 for every £1 and yet it's spending £645 less per pupil per year. There's no excuse for this underfunding at all. You might want to defend it, Mick, but I am not going to defend it, and I will challenge your Government all the way so we have a level playing field between England and Wales so that our children can have the same opportunities that children have over the border in England. 

Local government—we know that we've seen local government settlements that smack, frankly, of cronyism. We've seen local authorities in north Wales getting lower settlements than local authorities in the south, and it seems to be that the political colour of your local authority has a bearing on the proportion of additional cash that you might receive. [Interruption.] Again, I can hear the carping and I'm very happy to give some information to the Chamber on this.

Let's compare this year's settlement. Let's compare this year's settlement. I've taken plenty of—. I've got not much time left—[Interruption.] If I can just make a reference to this year's settlement, the proposed draft settlement. The funding increases vary from 3 per cent in Conservative-run Monmouthsire to 5.4 per cent in Labour-run Newport right next door—two local authorities right next door. And we know that the average increases for north Wales are far worse than they are in the south. 

So, can I urge the Government to consider introducing a funding floor so that we can even out some of these differences? Because, frankly, it's unacceptable that some parts—[Interruption.] There's not a funding floor in place for this year. If I can just correct your Cabinet colleagues, you haven't announced a funding floor for this year, as you well know, finance Minister. But, it will be interesting to see what that funding floor might be and perhaps you can put some more meat on the bones and tell us a little bit about it. 

You mentioned some of the pressures on the social care issues. You've talked about the integrated care fund, for example, in your statement. What you haven't done is ruled out any kind of social care tax, which we know that your party was sort of contemplating before. Perhaps you can give us some more information as to whether you're wanting to tax people in respect of social care, because we'd like some assurances that you're not going to increase the tax burden on the people of Wales in order to pay for that. 

In terms of the environment, we've heard that this is one of your priorities and yet you can't even get a decent network of electric vehicle charging points up and running here in Wales. We've got the worst record in the whole of the United Kingdom. What on earth are you doing? You've had some money as a Barnett consequential to improve the network and yet you can't plug in between north and south Wales sufficiently in order to get an electric car up and down our roads. It's not acceptable and we need to get things improved. 

So, in conclusion, Llywydd, if I may, I regret that, despite the great opportunities presented by this record-breaking budget that you have at your disposal, you are still failing to address the people's priorities here in Wales. We're failing to see the improvements in the performance of the NHS that people and patients need to see. We're failing to see you address the underfunding in our Welsh schools and we're failing to see you close that gap between England and Wales in terms of the per pupil spend per head. We're failing to see the ambition that we need to support businesses to improve the growth and the wealth of our nation. And we're seeing a complete inertia, frankly, in terms of the climate change agenda. I hope very much that you'll reflect on these things and change this budget before it comes back to this Chamber so that we can deal with people's priorities as we get Brexit done as a nation. 

What we have in this budget quite simply, I fear, is an opportunity missed. Yes, there is more money available to be spent on public services. Yes, we are in a position where every expenditure heading has seen an increase, I believe. And after a decade of continuous cuts in most areas, that is something of a relief. But, what disappoints me and us on these benches more than anything is the lack of any sign that this Labour Government is willing to take this opportunity to change direction in a meaningful way, to change culture in any significant way or to think in the longer term. What we have here is another budget that is managerial but demonstrates no innovation or imagination if truth be told.

This budget does see a loosening of purse strings, but there's no loosening of the apparent unwillingness of this Labour Government to think differently, to think innovatively about how today's budget decisions really impact on our tomorrows, and by that, I mean the medium to long term.

Now, recent announcements from UK Government have been hailed by some as the end of austerity. We've heard that claim again today, although, sadly, most assessments I've read suggest that this is more likely temporary relief. But if this is to be even a temporary step away from the kind of ideologically driven austerity, the deep cuts—let's give it its real name—of the past decade, then what we should be seeing with this budget is a pouncing on that opportunity to invest now for more sustainable services in future. I'll look principally at three areas: health, local government funding, and, in fact, the way health and local government funding should be interacting together better, and climate change.

For the life of me, I can't see in this budget a sign of a Government really tackling the climate crisis that it declared, and this Assembly declared—the first Parliament anywhere in the world to do so—with the real urgency it deserves. In fact, the signs were a bit worrying immediately after that Government declaration when the First Minister said, he doesn't believe that the declaration of climate emergency is a new policy for this Government or, indeed, for this National Assembly, because the environmental principles that have been important across this Chamber and across the period of devolution are summed up in that decision. But surely, such a momentous declaration, if it means anything, has to be seen as a significant turning point. And while later in the same session, I think the First Minister said he would support certain innovative responses to climate change—water quality and management, protection of biodiversity and unique local habitats and so on—the truth is, if we're serious about stepping up in our determination to address our environmental responsibilities, that should be seen running clearly right through this budget, and it isn't.

I've already mentioned that there are increases in departmental budgets across the board, but looking at the environment, energy and rural affairs budget, the increase in real terms is a measly 0.7 per cent—I think an issue that Mike Hedges from the Labour benches pursued the Minister on in a special meeting of the Finance Committee prior to Christmas. And looking at capital spending, committing just £140 million to environmental projects like the £29 million earmarked for electric buses, for example, is, whilst welcome in itself, clearly not going to drive the kind of wholesale change of direction that so many are looking to Government for leadership on at this point in time.

I'd ask the Minister: where is the evidence of a real step change? Do you have a formula, even, perhaps you could answer that, for working out the impact of spending decisions in the area of climate change? Do you even know what impact you will get from the elements of climate change prevention spend you do have in there? Where's the evidence of a culture change in Government that's running through, cross-departmentally, of climate change prevention measures? And whilst Government says the welfare of future generations Act is used as a guide in its budgeting process, since when has legislation been merely a guide? Preventing catastrophic climate change as much as we can, while playing Wales's part to its maximum in that job, is about as serious as it gets in terms of a need to focus on preventative measures rather than just short-term management spend. And just as this budget is lacking in its emphasis on the preventative in relation to the environment, I believe it's still woefully lacking when it comes to preventative spend in other areas too. I met members of the National Association of Head Teachers union this lunch time, as other Members did too, I know, highlighting an inadequate uplift, in their view, for education, and especially additional learning needs. I agree: funding special schools adequately, for example, has a huge preventative potential on wider education budgets, on social care, even on the health budget. I'll ask if I can, at this point, what assessment Welsh Government has made of consequentials that may be due to Wales from recent spending announcements for primary education in particular in England? That's a question coming directly from the NAHT representatives as they seek new funding for this sector.

But I'll turn to health now if I may.

It is a serious concern to me that the attitude of this Government toward health funding focuses too much on the sum of money provided to the NHS today, despite the importance of that, of course, and isn't sufficiently focused on how to make health and care services more sustainable for the longer term. There is an intention to substantially increase the revenue funding provided to health, and on the face of it, who could disagree with that?

The problem, of course, is that most of the additional money available for 2020-21 is going to the NHS—an increase of £341 million, 2.6 per cent in real terms. We cannot ignore the fact that increasing the health budget continually at the expense of other areas does weaken those areas, and that, in turn, can add to the costs of the NHS ultimately. It is a vicious circle. Indeed, health expenditure has increased over the years of austerity by some 16 per cent in real terms, whilst other budgets have shrunk by a similar amount. And if we continue without making the investments and without making policy decisions that are innovative and preventative, as we should do now, then the part of the cake that needs to be given to health will continue to grow and now, surely, as the financial shackles are loosened slightly, then now is the time to make that innovative change.

So, when I see minor amounts praised in the budget in the statement made in December—£2.7 million to help primary school children become healthy and fit; £5.5 million for 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales'; and diabetes, much of it relating to obesity, costing some 10 per cent of the whole NHS budget—then I can't help but think that we are missing a trick in failing to invest health and welfare budgets in infrastructure for physical activity and sport to make us a healthier nation in the long term.

I see references to £190 million for preventative health measures in this budget. That is only something over 2 per cent of the total expenditure on health. The warmer words that we hear on the preventative agenda must be matched by funding too, and the same is true of mental health. There is still a lack of preventative spend in this budget, particularly for younger people. Also, we can't think in the longer term by continuing to sufficiently support the social care service and the services provided by our local authorities. Yes, there's a proposal to increase local authority budgets by £184 million, but the WLGA itself said that some £254 million would be required for a standstill position. Costs related to salaries weigh heavily, there are pressures from social services and children's services have also increased greatly, and we know that if local government doesn't receive the necessary support for providing social care, then it's the NHS that picks up the bill, ultimately—a vicious circle once again.

I could go on to talk about so many different areas where short-term management is the theme here rather than long-term innovation. The Welsh language is another example. We can all agree on the target of one million Welsh speakers, why, therefore, reduce the budget for the Welsh language specifically?

Llywydd, although we've heard today that we're expecting the first new Conservative Government budget on 11 March, I will make a brief comment on that. It's another example of us having to change our arrangements because of the whims of a Government in Westminster. A budget there decides on expenditure here after we've completed our budgetary process here. There is an alternative way of dealing with that and that is by taking responsibility for this ourselves. But we do know, because of the forecast of a slowdown in the economy and a pledge not to increase income tax, national insurance or VAT and so on and so forth, that there is very little scope for increasing public expenditure further. The economic uncertainty related to leaving the European Union is part of the problem, of course.

But to conclude, today, we are not talking about proposals from Government to change tax rates in Wales, but with the public purse likely to be under significant and increasing pressures to provide the kind of services that people require and insist upon in an uncertain economic context, the discussion on how we can use our limited taxation powers is going to have to become a more prominent issue of budgetary discussions in oncoming years.

15:55

I congratulate the finance Minister on her budget and the process she's used. I'm noting, just from Rhun just then, that his remarks were quite gentle in admonishing the UK Government for the shifts in timings of its budgets and how those have been communicated, which contrasts what we heard earlier in the Scottish Parliament, where there seems to have been a serious ding-dong about the complete disrespect for the Scottish Parliament, apparently and profound consequences and catastrophic risks that the change in timing will lead to for them, which appears to be that they expected their budget to come after the UK one but before 11 March, which is their legal date for the local government funding. So, I don't quite know how they're going to sort it out, but what we seem to be doing here seems to be more sensible and with somewhat less drama than what we're seeing there.

I note that the finance Minister says that she'll deliver the certainty and stability that Welsh public services need through doing this, and we then get the UK budget on 11 March. Given that she's bringing down the £125 million from the Welsh reserve, can I ask, is that a standard approach going forward or is that informed by her knowledge that the UK budget is coming later and, perhaps, an expectation that there may be further Barnett consequentials coming through following 11 March? 

I've criticised the finance Minister before for her emphasis on complaining about austerity when she's not complaining about Brexit. There was a bit less of that today. I did, though, note a tweet from BBC Wales Politics at 11 o'clock last night saying,

'The UK government must take responsibility, says @fmwales',

and I sort of clicked through it to see what story he was commenting on or what he thought they should be taking responsibility for, and there was no story behind it. It was just a general comment of applicability. I wasn't even sure what it was meant to relate to.

But I think what people in Wales want to hear is what is the Welsh Government doing with the levers at its disposal. Of course, it doesn't have all the levers. Of course, there's been a period where public spending has been less than the completely unsustainable trajectory that it was on previously, but given the cloth we have, how are we cutting it and what are our priorities? And I'm not sure whether I saw a slightly wistful look on the First Minister's face in terms of the budget that his finance Minister's got to present is giving a lot more money to a lot more different areas than he was ever able to when he had that role. 

I think we need not just to look at the comparison to 2010, which the finance Minister is always so keen on making, but what's the increase we're having this year. There's a complaint about the £36 million or £50 million that's not coming through for pensions, but where in this statement is the reference to what is the overall Barnett consequential, the extra money we have to spend in Wales next year because of the decisions that have been taken by the UK Government and by the relative improvement in the economy compared to the unsustainable trajectory that we got on to spending before? 

I don't see in this budget what the Welsh Government is communicating on its core priority, particularly on the biggest spending areas. We hear from the Conservatives a lot of condemnation, but I felt that a few years back, at least, there was actually a Conservative critique of the Welsh Government's spending that had a degree of internal consistency about it, that relative to England, they had cut spending on health. I saw the First Minister's reaction to the suggestion of there being a cut, but, certainly, relative to England, in Wales, we or the Welsh Government have chosen to implement austerity by being less generous to health and more generous to local government than has happened in England, and that is by far the largest budget and financial decision that has been made. Yet, this year, when the restrictions come off, when we have significant money to hand out, the amount handed out in percentage terms is almost the same to health and to local government, so I can't determine from that where the Welsh Government's priorities are, and I note that there have been reductions, but the reductions that have been made in English local government are hugely greater than those that have been made in Welsh local government. I do ask whether there are further opportunities for efficiencies in Wales that haven't been taken that have been in England. I accept the comments that are made around social care and the interaction with the NHS. I think that is a fair comment, but it does not explain the whole difference in the approach that's been taken.

And I'd ask why, in Wales, are councillors paid, I think, £13,868 this year? Next year, will that be more than £14,000? Why are councils not allowed to make savings in that area? When I served in my local council in England that was facing big reductions in spending because of austerity, one of the first things we did was to cut the councillor allowances to far lower than those that we have in Wales. Yet we continue to have 22 councils, we continue to have a much larger number of councillors who are paid a very significant amount of money. Is that not an area where we should be looking for savings?

The Government talks a lot about its prioritisation of climate change. I recall the first budget of this Assembly, where I was wearing multiple hats, and the Welsh Government announced very substantial reductions to its spending on climate change projects. What I ask the First Minister and the finance Minister is: could we have, in comparable terms, what Welsh Government is planning to spend now compared to what it was going to spend then? I remember the uproar, a modest proportion of those cuts were put back. Where are we now compared to then and can we try and consider that on a comparable basis, both in capital and revenue terms?

I felt Rhun made a very good comment around the prioritisation of climate change spending, and I really am concerned that we do not know what is the relative benefit of those different types of spending. So, we've got investment in active travel, in the electric bus fleet, ways of building homes; what are the relative yields in terms of the impact we can have on emissions of spending in those different areas? Some electric buses—I'd love to see more of them, not least because of the impact on air quality, but they are very expensive, and there's quite good evidence that home insulation and looking at the energy efficiency is a very effective way of reducing emissions for relatively limited spending. But we have this national forest for Wales—sounds great, we're spending a certain amount on that, we're also spending a certain amount on planting trees in Uganda. What is the relative return from the spending in those areas? Surely, Welsh Government should be investing in research to try and understand that, looking at best practice elsewhere, making those comparisons so the money is, at least, spent in the most effective way possible, rather than looking instead to put it into a communications campaign so we can campaign back to those who are campaigning for us just to do more about climate change. What we need to do is look into what measures are most effective for the amount of money we have available, and I hope Welsh Government will push in that direction.

I wish them well with the budget, we look forward on the Finance Committee to looking in greater detail on Thursday with various interest groups, and I hope Welsh Government will take note of what is said by those. I also hope it will look to build a better and more effective budget process going forward. I believe that the process we have for spending in the Welsh Parliament now is better than the one that they had in Westminster. I am not convinced it is yet for tax, but I hope that the Finance Committee and Welsh Government will be able to work together in terms of looking at the medium-term plans for what is the best way for us to run budgets in this place in future. Thank you.

16:00

Can I just, in opening my comments, thank Welsh Government, even with the difficulties of not being able to do a long-term multi-annual settlement, even with the difficulties of having to wait till March, after we've actually done our final budget, and then bring forward a supplementary budget to accommodate what the UK Government is doing—even with all that, this is the first time I've seen my two council leaders smile for a decade? [Laughter.] And I want to thank you for that, because it's been darn miserable, and it's been miserable because, year after year—it was interesting following on from Mark's comments. It isn't only the health and social care interactions, and we've put money into social care. We've taken it up to £30 million, you're taking it up to £40 million now, and that's fantastic to see and so on, and that has an impact on the overall health and social care spending. But, actually, it's the planning officers and economic development officers and the environmental standards officers and the active travel officers, and so on—those are the ones that creak terribly behind the scenes. They're not there anymore. They've not been decimated, not one in 10—I suspect it's four, five, six, seven out of 10 who have now gone.

So, this at least gives the opportunity now for local authority leaders to lift their heads up and think not only with social care, but, generally, 'What are the priorities now, going forward?' It's still not going to be easy, because, regardless of this, we're still in extremely difficult times. We're picking up after 10 years of cuts, cuts, cuts within local authorities. You can't suddenly turn the taps on and expect everything to flow; things have been lost in that period, in this decade of austerity. But at least I'm genuinely now having interesting conversations with council leaders about where we can invest, as opposed to, 'Where do we now have to go and find another £30 million of cuts, or this, that or the other, in the local authority?'

But I also want to reflect, in my opening remarks, on the fact that we sometimes forget what we've managed to do even with these austere times, this austere decade, that we've been in. We have been able to deliver on some significant commitments that we brought forward in the 2016 manifesto. We brought in just short of £600 million to actually fund quality apprenticeships, 100,000 quality apprenticeships, within Wales. I know that that is happening within my constituency with local employers, where I'm speaking to youngsters or people on the side of the playing fields who are saying, 'My youngster now is employed in a good apprenticeship down the round in manufacturing because of that funding that Welsh Government, our Welsh Government, has done.'

The rates thing—I know the rates relief on small businesses doesn't go everywhere, but I'll tell you it goes a long way in communities like Pontycymer and Ogmore Vale and even Maesteg. We're not the Cowbridge, we're not the Monmouth high streets. We are the ones where the turnover is low and the footfall is low on those things, and they are the ones that benefit from the exemptions that we've been able to give. They're the ones. That's why they're able to carry on trading. Because they're never going to make $1 million, frankly, on those streets, but what they do do is they provide really good local services, local sales, local support in that high street for a viable local high street, and the business rates help of just short of £600 million has been a real help.

And also the £100 million that's gone into school standards, driving school standards up—there is a quiet revolution going on here within education within Wales, and we've managed to do that and that was part of our commitment.

And of course the new treatment fund—£80 million for the new treatment fund. It's now cut waiting times for new drugs from 90 days, as it was, to just 10 days. And I want to touch on one area where I'd like to see us going more as well. Yes, we have actually brought in over £200 million to deliver the childcare for working parents. We've delivered it in advance of when we said we were going to do it. But, as I keep saying to the Government, if I had my absolute magic wand and money was no object, then I would look at that whole landscape of childcare provision. There's money in here for Flying Start—I recognise that. There's more money for other initiatives with young people. But look at the thing in its entirety, from early years education and childcare provision going through. If I had more money available to me, if we suddenly had more money actually delivered to us going forward in the next few years, then its in those early years and those children and young people that I would want to see it go, beyond the childcare offer but actually into that wider thing.

But we've done some great things within this budget already. We've looked at those key transition years at seven and 11, and we've put additional funding behind those. Now, that's going to make a huge difference, because we know it's not only the Flying Start, it's not only that very early years provision, it's also as they transition then into the school next door, and it's also as they transition up into big school as well, that makes the real difference.

And there are some great things within this as well. On things like—. It won't excite everybody, but I think the concept behind a national forest is quite an astonishingly ambitious one. I would simply say, in driving it forward—and I know the Minister will be very aware of it—we have to comply with that idea of this being the right tree in the right place, so we're not just delivering carbon reductions, we're delivering biodiversity gains at the same time in all the places that we have.

There's so much within this that is good, but I would ask, in closing, a couple of key things. I was disappointed to see Darren completely dismiss out of hand any future whatever for any additional funding within social care within Wales. [Interruption.] No, I find that—. I'll finish my point. You seem to—. I found that a very retrograde step, because we've been waiting on the social care Green Paper in London for such a long time. Are you ruling that out, because it really sounded like that to me?

16:05

If I can just make my point abundantly clear to you, because I don't think that you paid close enough attention, I welcomed the additional investment that the Welsh Government is making in social care, but I made it clear that my party wanted to know whether the Welsh Government was going to introduce a social care tax here in Wales. It's not something that we would advocate, and we certainly won't go into the next Assembly elections advocating it. If you want to do so, we'd appreciate some clarity on that. We've had no clarity from you, so give us some clarity.

Well, once again—. Llywydd, I can see I'm over time. Once again, I'm really genuinely disappointed, because the failure to move forward—[Interruption.] 

16:10

Because the failure of successive Governments, but including the current Conservative Government, to be able to deliver a consensus in Westminster means that we are going to have to take imaginative, creative and difficult decisions about how we fund not just health, but health and social care together. One of the decisions, Darren, we will have to make as responsible grown-up statespeople is whether we think there is sufficient money in the system in order to give the terms and conditions that people deserve on the front line in order to deliver affordable and quality social care. Now, if you're not willing to have that discussion, then I'm afraid—[Interruption.] Then I'm afraid you are writing off generations of people.

I don't believe it's necessary to raise taxes to do it.

So, it's a shame that the politics of running up to a next election—[Interruption.] You are doing exactly the same as successive Conservative Governments have done—

You will now need to bring your comments to a close. You have had seven minutes.

Indeed. My apologies, Llywydd. It was an interesting digression. My apologies.

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Thank you. The draft budget has announced an increase of more than £400 million into the health and social care budget for 2020-1, which I obviously welcome. Given this means that there is a total investment of some £8.7 billion in health and social care, which is almost half of the Welsh budget, therefore it is even more vital that this money is held properly to account and delivers effective health and social care for the people of Wales.

However, I have to say that accountability has never been the Welsh Government's strong suit. Despite the Government stating that it will focus on social care and mental health in the 2020-1 budget, there is next to non-existent detail as to how the budget will support and improve the day-to-day running of the NHS.

Minister, in the 2020-1 draft budget's narrative, the Welsh Labour Government claims that

'Investing in our NHS and social services is at the heart of our spending plans',

outlining that £37 billion has been invested since 2016. Yet, for all of this investment, the latest figures show the worst-performing A&E waiting times on record for the second month in a row; some 23,000 patients waited for more than four hours in November 2019 and nearly 6,000 waited for more than 12 hours; the Welsh ambulance service's response target for red calls was not met; and Wales has not met its target for 95 per cent of patients diagnosed with cancer to start treatment within 62 days since 2008. Yes, 2008, Minister. I have to ask: are the recently merged urgent and non-urgent cancer pathways into just one 62-day target an exercise in smoke and mirrors? The 95 per cent target of patients waiting fewer than 26 weeks for referral to treatment hasn't been met and this is the worst since September 2017. Four out of the seven health boards in Wales are in special measures or targeted intervention—the highest level of Welsh Government intervention possible. And Betsi Cadwaladr services have continuously been in some form of special measures for more than four and a half years—longer than any other health board in the UK, and it's set to continue being in special measures for at least the medium term. And we had the Cwm Taf experience, which I won't touch on any further.

So, Minister, Betsi Cadwaladr has received nearly £83 million from the Welsh Government for intervention and improvement support and many millions in other areas. How will you ensure that further moneys deliver the changes the patients of north Wales desperately need? Will the budget simply be used to mop up the projected deficit of £35 million in this financial year? Will it just be spent on more £2,000-a-day consultants? We'd love to hear what you have to say about how this money in the budget can support Betsi Cadwaladr.

Workforce shortages, Minister, are also endemic within the health service. Whilst the health Minister is now acting, it is in a limited way. We are in a crisis. The Royal College of Nursing has outlined that there are severe gaps in the nursing workforce, noting that every week nurses in Wales give the NHS extra hours to the value of 976 full-time nurses. That's a shocking statistic. NHS Wales spent £63.8 million last year on agency nursing—a substantial rise of 24 per cent. Whilst the health Minister recently announced more training places for nurses, it's going to fall well short of what we need and it doesn't touch on paediatric nurses, district nurses, learning disability nurses, and neither does it touch on the chronic shortage we have in allied healthcare professionals. Given that the entire drive for healthcare delivery in Wales is about community-based services, what we need are more physios, occupational therapists, chronic care managers and the rest of it. I've no idea of how this budget is going to support that.

So, Minister, can you please outline to us how you will ensure the budget supports that workforce planning, and ensures we're not only recruiting the staff we need today, but also training the appropriate numbers for tomorrow? I have to say it would be remiss of me to not highlight that 42 per cent of GPs say it is financially unsustainable to run a practice. When asked why running a practice is unsustainable, 82 per cent of GPs said, 'Insufficient core funding'. Minister, can you tell me how this budget is going to support the GPs? Because we cannot afford to lose any of them.

Now, for the usual barracking from the back benches, I have actually got a very long list, which I'm exceptionally happy to share—at another time, as I'm running out of time—with the health Minister, of what the Welsh Conservatives would do. We have a very long and clear list of how we would support our NHS and our social services.

I would like to end just on one very quick note, about social care. It is one of the greatest challenges that we face. We have a very clear answer as to how we can do it. It may not be the same as the way you think we should fund and manage social services, but we do have a plan and it's very clearly laid out in the Conservative manifesto. So, rather than just shout and scream and say that we have no idea, and we haven't got a plan, may I please send to your office, Mr Irranca-Davies, a copy of our manifesto? And hopefully, it will illuminate you.

16:15

I certainly won't take the Chamber's time by reiterating points that people have made, but I'd like to expand on them, and I think I need to begin by saying that there is much in Welsh Government policy that is incredibly difficult to actually disagree with. We certainly don't disagree with commitments around climate change, and we certainly don't disagree with the policies around prudent healthcare, but I was always brought up to look not at what people said but at what they did. And there is that saying in Welsh, is there not, 'Diwedd y gân yw'r geiniog'/'At the end of any song, there has to be the penny'? And what is frustrating, as Rhun ap Iorwerth has already set out, is the extent to which we have a Government that can sometimes come up with policy that sounds innovative, but then doesn't do the most basic things to make that policy happen. I want to say a little bit more to expand on what Rhun has said, and in some senses to support what Angela Burns has just said about the health and social care budget.

It is a clichéd definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect to get a different result. Now, nobody is going to complain about additional spending on health, but unless we break down the silos between health and social care, those pressures will come on again and again and again. I'm sure it is not a surprise to the Welsh Government that winter comes every year, and every year we find ourselves, one way or another—sometimes it's one health board, sometimes it's another—with a real crisis. This is what we've got in Hywel Dda. We've just had the press release today saying that they are continuing to postpone non-essential operations. Now, if we just keep piling more resources into the health budget itself—and I can see why that's tempting to the Government, because of course that's a budget that they control; well, should control—if we keep doing that, we are not going to change the fundamental problems. We have done some research in Plaid Cymru into this, and for £470 million a year, which sounds like a lot of money, but out of an £8 billion health budget it's peanuts, we could provide free social care in this country to everybody who needs it. Now, would that not be a step to freeing up that problem that we have where people are not able to go into the care settings that they need? [Interruption.] I will very happily take an intervention.

Thank you for that, Helen Mary. I think that that sounds like a very interesting comment that you've just made, and