Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd11/02/2020
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
I have accepted an emergency question under Standing Order 12.67, and I call on Janet Finch-Saunders to ask the emergency question.
Will the Minister make a statement on Welsh Government efforts to alleviate the situation facing residents in the Conwy Valley following recent floods? (EAQ0007)
I have today issued a written statement regarding flooding from storm Ciara. The impacts have been felt across Wales, in particular, in Llanrwst and Llanfair Talhaiarn. My sympathies are with those flooded anywhere in Wales, and I thank the local authorities, emergency services and Natural Resources Wales teams, working tirelessly in some appalling conditions to keep us safe. Where there has been flooding, local authorities now need the opportunity to investigate and report their findings. Our investment will continue to support local authorities and NRW to develop further flood alleviation schemes, where they will be effective at preventing future flooding.
Thank you, Minister. Yet again, Aberconwy, from Capel Curig to Deganwy, has been hit hard by flooding as a result of a storm Ciara. However, for my constituency, the shock and devastation is at its worst in Llanrwst, Trefriw and outlying areas. I was there yesterday, and saw first-hand the overwhelming damage that has been caused to many shops, businesses and residential properties, seeing individuals at a loss and feeling totally helpless as they fought to clear sewage and mud from their homes is heartbreaking, and constituents telling me again how distraught and vulnerable they feel, and that this is the worst flooding they have ever experienced, many having lived decades there. But at this point, however, I too would like to put on record my thanks to the emergency services, the local authority, and all residents for the selflessness that they have shown in trying to help each other, and the community, to deal with such devastation. It was remarkable to witness the community spirit that has arisen from such a disaster.
Minister, this is not the first time that I have raised the frequent flooding of the Conwy Valley with you. Just two weeks ago I submitted a written Assembly question asking what steps you were taking to hold an independent review of flood mitigation measures for the Conwy Valley. My reason was the frequency of these flood incidents in these parts. Now, you replied, stating that
'Natural Resources Wales reviewed the Conwy Valley flood alleviation scheme in 2018. The review confirmed communities in the Conwy Valley are benefiting from reduced flood risk as a result of the scheme at this time. There are no plans to carry out any further reviews.'
Now, Minister, it's flooded since 2018. As you well know, it flooded last year about this time. So, I consider that response to be woefully inadequate, and that it now certainly needs a rethink on your part.
So, question 1: can the Minister tell me why the usual flood warnings by NRW were not in place in adequate time, bearing in mind the numerous news bulletins that storm Ciara was on its way? Two: as this has now been considered a significant incident, what funding will be available from the Welsh Government to the local authority to assist with the clean-up, and how will this filter through to the very residents and businesses so badly affected? Very sadly, some of whom have no insurance because of the level of repeat flood incidents. Three: given the shocking state of events in these parts over the weekend, will you now review the advice given to you by NRW, and support the many calls within the community, and from elected Members, for an independent review of the mitigation flood measures in the Conwy Valley?
And, finally, will you come to Aberconwy, and will you visit with me some of those most affected by recent events? Diolch yn fawr.
Well, I will be visiting later this week. Whether I can attend with you or not depends on diaries, obviously, but I certainly will be visiting later this week myself.
I think you raised several issues that need addressing. So, you're quite right, I did answer you a couple of weeks ago, and, as I said, we did have a modelling review of the Conwy Valley. That was concluded in 2018. Now, I will be expecting, obviously, the local authority and NRW to look into what needs to be done, and they will bring forward recommendations. I'm not going to speculate on the causes. It does appear that many of our river defence schemes did their job. Of course, the river levels were incredibly high, so we need to look at the recommendations that come from both the local authority and NRW.
I think there are a lot of questions to be asked. I too received copies of correspondence from some of your constituents, and I notice you've been copied in as well—concerns around the responses that were taken up, and I think you need to have a look at that and maybe take up those issues with the local authority directly. We have put significant funding, as you know, into flood defences—over £350 million across Wales in this Assembly term. But, of course, whatever recommendations come from the investigations that NRW and the local authority are doing, I will seek to see what we can do to continue to support those areas.
I again thank everyone for their response to this at the weekend. I think you make a very important point about volunteers as well, and the community. And, certainly, watching news reports last night, that was very clear to see. But as I say, I will not speculate. What we need to do is look at what caused this, and have a look at any recommendations that come from the investigation.
Would you agree with me, Minister, that the erosion that there’s been in local authority budgets and Natural Resources Wales is partly responsible for the situation we find ourselves in? Because, of course, it’s things like cleaning rivers and culverts that are cut when human resources and budgets aren’t in place. And this, of course, reminds us of a point that I’ve raised here dozens of times over the past few months, on the unsustainable trajectory that we have at the moment, where local authorities and NRW have an expectation upon them to do more and more—through the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, through the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 and so and so forth—whilst, simultaneously, their budgets are getting smaller and smaller. So, you must recognise that that trajectory is unsustainable, and some of the outcomes, as we’ve perhaps seen over the past few days, are inevitable if we are to continue on that trajectory. May I ask, therefore, what additional resources will you make available to local authorities, particularly those directly affected by the events of the past few days, as well as NRW?
Would you also agree with me that we have to change the narrative? People very often say that it costs too much to invest in flood prevention. We have to change the narrative, because the unnecessary cost is the result of the destruction, so it’s an investment to invest in flood prevention measures in order to save money in not having to deal with the outcomes, ultimately. I want to know what the Government are doing to change that narrative, in order to ensure that the support is out there, so that we can tackle climate change to the extent that we should.
And finally, one of the rivers in the Conwy Valley that flooded was Afon Cae Person, and that river, of course, did have an impact on Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy. The school was closed yesterday; the maths and technology block is still closed today for the clean-up and decontamination. This is a private finance initiative school. Now, the council therefore has refused to take responsibility for the clean-up, and, from my understanding, Sodexo, the company that would be responsible, didn’t turn up yesterday, and, as a result, it was the school caretakers who had to deal with the initial clean-up attempts. So, can you give me an assurance that companies such as Sodexo are entirely clear on their responsibilities, and are going to be responding appropriately? What assurance can you give me that there are other PFI buildings in Wales that aren’t going to find themselves under the same disadvantage in future?
Well it's certainly not the Welsh Government narrative. As I said in my earlier answer to Janet Finch-Saunders, we have put significant funding into flood alleviation schemes right across Wales, so it's certainly not our narrative. And in relation to NRW, which I fund, they have had significant funding to address flooding issues. One of the issues NRW do have at the moment is making sure they have their full quota of staff in relation to this, and my officials have been working very closely to ensure that that happens. I mentioned in my earlier answer too about what needs to be done, and what funding needs to be done. We will wait for flood and water experts to inform us of what may be required. And, certainly, I will look to see what funding we have available when those recommendations come through.
In relation to, I think you said Dyffryn Conwy school—I wasn't aware of that, but I will ask the Minister for Education to take that issue up.
Minister, flooding is obviously very devastating, and having lived through the Towyn floods—the anniversary of which will be the thirtieth anniversary, just later this month—I can testify to the huge impact that it has and the lasting legacy that it has on any families, homes and businesses that have been affected.
The people of Llanfair Talhaiarn, in my constituency, have been affected by flooding for the third time in eight years, and that's in spite of a programme of improvement, which is already under way in that particular village. And, of course, over the weekend, we saw properties, not just in Llanfair T. H., in my constituency, but also in Llangernyw, Llansannan and in Colwyn Bay affected by flooding. I think it is a concern when we are told that properties are protected to a one in 75-year standard, which is what people were told in respect of Llanfair T. H., to find themselves flooded three times in eight years.
And I know that phase 2 of an improvement project is supposed to be under way. It was supposed to be scheduled, I think, to start this spring, but hasn't actually started, and I would question whether there needs now to be a rapid review of that particular project to make sure that it is going to be fit for purpose. As I understand it, there was a problem with the maintenance of the clearing of the Nant Barrog, which overflowed and flooded those homes in Llanfair T. H., and I think people will be looking as to why that maintenance regime has been insufficient to protect them this time around.
Now, clearly, you've already alluded to the fact that there will be investigations undertaken by the local authority and indeed Natural Resources Wales, but having seen a flooding event last year in April take place in Pensarn, in my constituency, we're still yet to see a copy of the investigation report arising from that particular event. So, how long will people have to wait before they understand why the flooding has occurred and whether there was mitigation that could have been undertaken in advance of these flooding events?
You've already been questioned on the emergency financial assistance scheme. I note that, in England, the UK Government has made available the Bellwin funding for local authorities that have been affected there by storm Ciara. Can I ask that you trigger the emergency financial assistance scheme, particularly for Conwy, given that it's experienced over the weekend the worst flooding since the Towyn floods thirty years ago? And can I also ask, in the wake of this, what discussions the Welsh Government might have with the Association of British Insurers in order to make sure that there are affordable premiums in place? Now, I know that there's a UK-wide programme called Flood Re, which tries to make the insurance premium affordable in areas of flood risk, but clearly that's reliant on a partnership between Governments and the insurance industry and an understanding as to the investment that might take place. So, I would like to know what direct discussions you're having with them, because some people are telling me that they're having problems now accessing affordable insurance, and that is a great concern to them.
So, will you release investment to assist local authorities through the emergency financial assistance scheme? What work are you doing with NRW to make sure that their modelling is accurate and not inaccurate, because that's what we've seen recently? And will you have those discussions with the Association of British Insurers to make sure that these reviews and investigations that are now undertaken are rapid and don't take too long?
So, I think we all have to accept that we will see these sorts of events more frequently. This is clearly due to climate change, and I absolutely recognise the point that you make in relation to that. I've already asked officials to do a rapid review of any schemes—and we have many—in the pipeline to see what will need to be brought forward and we will do that alongside the investigation reports and the recommendations we receive.
You make a very pertinent point about insurance, and I do welcome that Flood Re is now operating right across the UK, and over 90 per cent of insurance companies do offer it for homes at high flood risk. But, of course, small businesses are not protected in that scheme, and legislation on financial services does remain a reserved matter and any costs associated with the fair delivery of that scheme rests with the UK Government. So, I will be taking that issue up also with the UK Government.
Flood problems aren't limited to the Conwy Valley or Llanrwst. We have problems with flooding throughout north Wales. In some cases, the flood problems are exacerbated by the actions of local authorities. So, how will you be working with local authorities to make sure that the things they do with the environment, such as tree felling, for instance, in the vicinity of roads and in areas that are prone to flooding—? How are you working with local authorities to make sure that their actions in the local environment actually help prevent flooding rather than exacerbate it?
Local authorities are a very important partner in all that we do to alleviate flood risk, and those sorts of conversations will take place, for instance, when we're looking at putting forward a flood-alleviation scheme. I know those discussions have taken place already. I think it's also really important to recognise the work that local authorities do at a time such as we've seen at the weekend; to ensure that sand bags, for instance, are brought forward. I know that some of the correspondence I've received from Janet Finch-Saunders's constituents has raised that issue. So, that's an ongoing discussion with officials.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from David Rees.
1. What action is the Welsh Government taking to reduce industrial pollution? OAQ55106
Llywydd, the Welsh Government has provided the regulators with an extensive range of enforcement tools to reduce industrial pollution. We expect those powers to be used to prevent incidents from taking place and to take remedial action when incidents do occur.
Can I thank the First Minister for his answer in relation to that point? Last week, we had a debate here in the Chamber on air quality and a clean air Act, possibly. It focused very much on PM10s, PM2.5s and vehicle emissions, but of course industrial pollution is also added to that, particularly nuisance dust, which people might consider a harm to health but actually it also drives people's mental well-being downwards, as they come in, day after day, to see the mess outside their homes and in their properties and everywhere else. I've raised this many times in this Chamber, First Minister.
Now, we all understand the importance of industries to our local economies, but there's also a need for them to be responsible neighbours. As we have left the European Union and we are now looking at an environment Bill to come from the Welsh Government, there's an opportunity for us to actually look at regulations and improving environmental regulations. Strengthening them to ensure that the number of days that are seeing a breach to the level of safety standards is reduced; that Natural Resources Wales has more teeth so that they can actually take action when those neighbours are not responsible; and we can ensure that industries, such as the steelworks in my own constituency and others, are ensuring that they do not emit beyond the reasonable levels; and they do not have the impact upon our communities that is driving those communities downwards regarding mental health conditions.
I have so many constituents raising concerns about the pollution that, day after day after day, they're seeing. Sometimes, it's noise pollution as well. So, these are very important issues. Will you use the environment Bill to actually give us that strength to ensure that we can take action when necessary?
I thank David Rees for those questions and recognise the extent to which he always speaks up, here on the floor of the Assembly, for the importance of the steel industry in his own constituency. But as he says, for that industry to be a good neighbour to those who live alongside it.
Of course, the environment legislation that we will bring forward will be an opportunity to look at the standards we have in place and the enforcement powers we have in place. In the immediate future, we are putting significant pressure on the UK Government to make sure that, for the industrial emissions directive, which currently governs emissions and industrial pollution, they commit to that continuing beyond the EU exit transition period.
And while that is going on, there are two other developments this year that I know will be of direct interest for David Rees's constituents: there's the draft clean air plan consultation going on until 10 March, where the Minister has already said she will look to see if regulators need further powers; and specifically in the Port Talbot context, Llywydd, there's an ongoing review of the short-term action plan, independently advised by the University of the West of England, carried out in consultation with Tata, NRW and Neath Port Talbot Council. Again, I know that the Minister has very specifically committed that nuisance dust, which as David Rees says causes distress to people who live in that locality, will be encompassed in that review.
First Minister, in the absence of a clean air Act, as you've indicated, we are to have a clean air plan, once the consultation finishes and you respond to it and then put it into effect. Central to the new regime will be prevention and control regulations that apply best available techniques, or BAT, for pollution control. Perhaps you could elaborate on what this is likely to be, because I do think we need a mixture of ensuring that our major industries themselves improve their own practices, but obviously there's an enforcement regime that ensures, if they don't do it voluntarily, they will be brought to book.
I thank David Melding for that. He's absolutely right: the polluter-pays principle is centrally important here. Industries that cause industrial pollution must take responsibility themselves for reducing that pollution. They must pay for the cost of regulation as well.
The best available techniques come under the industrial emissions directive and are the practical ways in which that directive is given force, because it requires companies that emit industrial pollution to demonstrate that they are taking advantage of the most recent techniques available to reduce environmental impact from their industrial activities.
As I said to David Rees, there is a job of work to be done in persuading the UK Government that that regime, which has served us well and can continue to do so even more effectively in the future, is not set aside when we leave the European Union, finally, at the end of this calendar year.
I'm sure, First Minister, that you'll be aware of the recent fire at Kronospan in Chirk, an area that I represent in this Assembly. I'm told it's the seventeenth fire in around 18 years, although anecdotally local people are telling me that they happen even more often than that. Be that as it may, they're absolutely fed up with these kinds of incidents. There are big questions to be answered around this particular event: questions around why there was such a slow response in informing local people about the fire; why it took 48 hours for air pollution monitoring equipment to get to Chirk; and why the fire raged for so long. So, will you, as First Minister, set up an independent inquiry to answer some of these questions and give local residents the peace of mind that they deserve?
I thank Llyr Gruffydd for that. I was indeed aware of the fire at the Kronospan site, because I know that my colleague Ken Skates, as the local Member, had met with the company and with Unite the Union, representing the workforce at the site, to find out from them the actions that they were taking. Wrexham County Borough Council was also represented at that meeting, because it is the local authority's responsibility now to investigate whether or not the constraints that are meant to operate around that site were properly in place at the time that the fire occurred. The county borough council must report on its investigations by the end of April of this year, and I think it is only fair to allow them to carry out that responsibility and to see what that report uncovers before we decide whether any further action is required.
2. What assessment has the First Minister made of improvements to the health service over the past year? OAQ55089
I thank the Member for that question. Over the last 12 months, the Welsh NHS has treated more patients, more successfully, than at any time in its 70-year history. Record numbers of staff and record levels of investment lie behind these improvements.
I thank the First Minister for that reply, but I think most fair-minded people would say that that's a very partial answer to the question. The reality is that, in many respects, performance in the health service has got dramatically worse in the last 12 months. As far as Betsi Cadwaladr is concerned, a third of patients are now waiting over four hours for accident and emergency, compared with only 20 per cent four years ago; 22,000 patients have been left in the referral-to-treatment system over 36 weeks on recent figures, compared to only 15,000 six years ago; and there are many other failures that have regularly been shown up in this Chamber.
What's happened here is that we've normalised failure in the health service in Wales. It isn't the fault of those who work within the system; it's a failure of management and political control. Given that health consumes over half of the Welsh Government's budget, it's not just a failure of his Government that is involved here, but actually—in a growing number of people's minds—the failure of devolution itself. Is it any wonder, therefore, that 25 per cent of the people of Wales in a recent poll said that they thought that this place should be abolished? So, that, perhaps, will be his epitaph.
Well, Llywydd, the Member repeats this week what he said last week. I repeat my advice to him then: he lectures us whenever he has the opportunity on respecting the referendum of 2016, but two referendums have established this institution. On both occasions, people in Wales decided to set up a Senedd for Wales and, on the second occasion, to radically strengthen the powers that are discharged here. That is the verdict of the people of Wales on devolution, and that's why we meet here to discharge their instructions.
As far as what fair-minded people would say about the health service—I don't know whether he was hoping to persuade us that he himself would be covered by that definition—let me say to him that last year's satisfaction survey of the health service in Wales, not carried out by the Welsh Government but carried out entirely independently, found that 93 per cent of people in Wales were satisfied by the service they received in primary care and 93 per cent were satisfied by the service they received when they last visited a hospital. That's what fair-minded people in Wales report.
A shortage of A&E consultants has been cited as the primary reason for the Cwm Taf health board proposing to cut our A&E services, and the shortage is part of a UK trend, so we're told. The implications of centralisation, such as increased travel times, high levels of ill health, or the overcrowding at other hospitals, seem to be secondary considerations.
With that in mind, I want to ask you about publicly available figures showing A&E consultant numbers across the various health boards since 2013, the year before the decisions were taken as part of the south Wales programme. The figures show three health boards significantly increased A&E consultants between 2013 and 2018. Aneurin Bevan health board added a third more A&E consultants. Cardiff and the Vale increased their A&E consultant numbers by more than 50 per cent. Neither health board has a consultant-led A&E unit under threat.
Does this not show that the Labour Government-backed south Wales programme was a self-fulfilling prophecy? That programme has acted as a block on recruitment and explains why both yourselves and the health board have failed to fill consultant vacancies at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. Given those failures, will you now commit as First Minister and leader of this Labour Government that 24-hour consultant-led services will be maintained at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital? You can give that commitment and you can give our A&E a future. Will you do that now?
Well, Llywydd, what the figures quoted by Leanne Wood demonstrate is that this is a mobile workforce in a shortage profession where people who are able to be A&E consultants themselves make decisions about where they go to work. Nobody, neither she nor I, is in a position to direct people to take up jobs. People apply and they decide. As you have seen, people do that. That's just the nature of the way that people are recruited in a shortage profession. [Interruption.]
It would help a lot, I think, if Members were willing to listen to the answer rather than shouting across it all the time. That's three Members on the Plaid Cymru benches who have tried to interrupt me in this one answer.
So, there's a mobile workforce and people go to jobs that they decide to apply for. The south Wales programme to which Leanne Wood referred was a massive clinically led programme that had buy-in from health boards and clinicians right across south Wales. It was not a programme led by the Government; it was a programme led by doctors and clinicians in the health service. And the answer, in the position of the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, at the end is—when clinicians have had the advice they need, when they've answered the questions that they need to answer—that that is a decision that is best made by doctors and not a decision made by politicians.
First Minister, work is now well underway on the new £4 million Mountain Ash primary healthcare centre, and this is great news for the local community, bringing a range of services together and replacing existing GP facilities that were outdated and, frankly, not fit for purpose. In what other ways is the Welsh Government supporting to help deliver improvements to primary healthcare in the Cynon Valley?
I thank Vikki Howells for that, Llywydd. I was being told just a couple of days ago, by the leader of RCT council, about the excitement that the new £4 million health centre is creating in Mountain Ash, one of 19 new primary care centres that this Government is funding during this Assembly term. It will bring together current GP surgeries in a new facility that, as well as providing better facilities for existing staff, will allow that centre to attract that wider range of clinical professionals that we know are required to go on sustaining primary care all across Wales. It will be a multidisciplinary team in the new Mountain Ash primary care centre, and that will guarantee that services for people in that community will be safe, secure, and sustainable for years to come.
Questions from the party leaders. Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
Will you sack the chief whip?
Sorry, I didn't hear, either. And if the leader of the Brexit Party could be silent, then maybe we could have heard the question.
Will you sack the chief whip?
Your predecessor had to face a similar predicament, of course, when Leighton Andrews campaigned against a school closure in his constituency. He did then resign. The similarities between the two cases are much more striking than any differences, though the protest there was outside the Senedd, not in the constituency.
The Labour source quoted by the BBC today says that this is a clear breach of the ministerial code. Now, I completely understand why Labour backbench Members want to campaign against health closures under your Government, but surely the position of Ministers is different. Accountability for the health service must lie with Ministers collectively in the Welsh Government, otherwise what is the point of the Welsh Government? And in seeking to have it both ways, in enforcing a self-denying ordinance when it comes to ministerial intervention in the case of A&E at the Royal Glamorgan, but giving carte blanche to Ministers when it is politically convenient to intervene in relation to constituency matters, you're eroding trust in politics and in this institution. So, I ask you again, First Minister: will you remove the chief whip from Government, or are you saying that what she has said on the ward closure now reflects Government policy?
Well, Llywydd, I've seldom heard more nonsense spoken in this Assembly. Now, I took the trouble to bring the ministerial code with me. I don't suppose the Member took the trouble to read it; he's not a man for detail, as we know. But let me acquaint him with the detail of the ministerial code. Here it is—he groans at the thought of being informed so that he can ask a better question next time because his question this afternoon is just—. The minute you look at the ministerial code, you will see that his question has absolutely no substance at all. Here is paragraph 4.7 in the ministerial code:
'Ministers are free to make their views about constituency matters known'.
They can do it by writing to the responsible Minister, by leading deputations or by personal interview. What the Member for the Vale of Glamorgan did is entirely consistent with the ministerial code. I know because I took the trouble to check it before this afternoon. And let me tell you this: you aren't a Government Minister for 20 years in devolution without understanding what you can and cannot do in your constituency and ministerial capacities, and the Member for the Vale of Glamorgan has a better understanding in her little finger of the probity and decency required of Ministers than his question this afternoon demonstrates for a moment.
Yes, I did take the opportunity to read the ministerial code, and it's quite clear in the ministerial code that Ministers cannot campaign against Government policy. This ward closure was a direct result of your own Government policy. That's the point. You're in danger, on the NHS, of turning double standards into an art form, of having your cake as a Government and eating it as an opposition. It's your policy that led to this proposed closure. The chief whip is campaigning against your own Government policy. In other Parliaments, in other contexts, as chief whip, she'd have to have a stern word with herself; maybe remove the whip from herself. You couldn't make it up, First Minister, except that you do, time after time, when it's politically expedient to do so. Whatever happened to collective responsibility?
Well, the truth, Llywydd, is that I'm not making it up, but he certainly is. There is no conflict at all. The ministerial code—. Llywydd, let me just explain to the Member just one more time. What is at the heart of the ministerial code is this: nobody's constituents should be advantaged because their elected Member is a Minister; nobody's constituents should be disadvantaged because their elected Member is a Minister, and Ministers are completely free, in the terms of the code, to act as the Member for the Vale of Glamorgan did on this occasion.
Five different times during the period of this institution, constituents in that part of Wales have had an opportunity to choose their representative, and they've chosen the same person every time. I think they will go on doing that, because they know that she understands how she can best represent their interests and be a Minister, and a very effective Minister in the Welsh Government, and nothing at all that has been said this afternoon casts any doubt at all on her actions.
Leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, what specific actions is your Government now taking to support the more than 12,000 survivors of domestic abuse in Wales?
I thank the Member for that important question. The Welsh Government has taken a series of actions, following the passage of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 put on the statute book here. We have trained record numbers of staff in public services to make sure that they are able to ask and act, as we say, to make sure that people recognise the potential of domestic violence, to ask people whether that has been part of their experience and then to act on it. We have provided funding, both for the training of public sector workers, but also for services of people who find themselves victims of domestic violence. As the Member will know, the fourth phase of a very successful awareness campaign on coercive control was launched at the start of this year, and we look forward to that campaign having even further success beyond the success it demonstrated in 2019.
Of course, First Minister, it's been four years since the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 came into force. I asked you earlier about what specific actions your Government is now taking to support survivors, because, at the end of last year, the Auditor General for Wales's report into domestic abuse made several recommendations on improving services for people going through domestic abuse. Now, crucial in providing the right support is mapping an accurate picture of service provision and ensuring a joint pathway of support, so that survivors don't have to navigate a complex and fragmented system.
The auditor general reported that there was a postcode lottery of provision, with some survivors stating that they were overwhelmed by the number of agencies, while some fell through the gaps, and some have reported inconsistencies in information from different agencies. Of major concern was the 431 survivors who were not able to access a refuge. Now, shortly after the report was published, your Government stated that it welcomed the report and its recommendations, but you needed time to reflect on those recommendations. Can you therefore tell us when you will be responding to this report, given that you've had nearly three months to respond to it? Can you also give us an indication of what you'll do differently as a Government in light of this particular report?
I thank the Member for those important follow-up questions. The Government's response to the report has already begun to be formulated. We will draw together all the different threads in a more formal way, but the national advisers' quarterly report, which was a request of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee— that our national advisers, the two of them, publish their reports on the Welsh Government now every quarter, not just annually—their quarterly report in December demonstrated a series of actions that they and the Welsh Government are taking to respond to some of those important points in the WAO report, particularly about complexity, particularly about the difficulty that individuals can have in navigating their way to where help might be available for them. That quarterly report demonstrates the additional activity that has been carried out on regional collaboration and on aligning devolved and non-devolved responsibilities. It shows three workshops that are being carried out in January to March of this year, each one of which will be chaired by one of the national advisers.
They are reviewing all the local strategies that have now been submitted under the Act. They are working with Public Health Wales and with police and crime commissioners in order to make sure that the real efforts that are being made by public services in Wales to respond to this agenda can be co-ordinated better, and simplified from the point of view of the user, to make sure that anybody who is in need of help in this very serious policy area can find their way to that help as fast and as easily as possible.
I appreciate that response, First Minister, but I am concerned about the continuing delays associated with the 2015 Act, because your Government has now taken more than four years to actually lay national indicators following that specific Act. And we on this side of the Chamber want to work with you to ensure that the national indicators and the objectives of the national advisers on domestic abuse are absolutely appropriate. However, I am concerned that the objectives don't appear to focus on a major area of helping to increase victim confidence and access to justice, especially as four out of five women do not report abuse to the police. Overall, the auditor general found that only 60 per cent of organisations believe that they have put in place appropriate performance measures for the Act, with fewer than 65 per cent using victims' and survivors' dissatisfaction to improve services. First Minister, can you therefore reassure us today, and indeed the people of Wales, that your Government will improve the speed of your actions around this horrific aspect of life for many people in Wales?
I thank the Member for his indication of cross-party support here for the actions that lie behind the Act, and everything the public services are trying to do. It's 18 months since the fieldwork that lay behind the WAO report was carried out, and I think that a series of things have been put in place since then. The annual report of the national advisers referred to real momentum over that period. None of the recommendations in the WAO report were for the Welsh Government; they were all actions for service providers to take. But I want to give him an assurance, and people in Wales who take an interest in this, that we continue, as a Government, to invest in this area extra revenue, extra capital in the draft budget in front of the National Assembly, and to respond to it with the urgency that this agenda really deserves.
Brexit Party leader, Mark Reckless.
First Minister, last night, a few miles south-east of here, councillors voted by 18 to 17 to block Bristol Airport from expanding any further as they say it would exacerbate the climate emergency. With Bristol Airport set to hit its 10 million passenger limit next year, does the First Minister welcome this opportunity for Cardiff Airport to expand its flights and serve passengers who would otherwise have gone to Bristol?
The opportunity that I have always seen for Cardiff Airport, Llywydd, is not to add to climate change by having more aeroplanes in the sky, but it is to divert to Cardiff passengers who currently have to travel beyond Wales, adding to the carbon footprint as they do so. There are real opportunities, if the UK Government will work with us on this agenda, to allow people who currently travel to Bristol, but also further afield for long-haul services out of Birmingham or Manchester or Heathrow, to have those services here in Wales, not to add to climate change, but to prevent the journeys that, at the moment, are adding to the carbon that we all produce.
I hear what the First Minister says in response, but on climate change, the future generations commissioner has observed that
'The steps the government are taking at the moment do not appear to match the declaration of a climate emergency.'
Some taxpayers may welcome that in view of the amount of money you've put into Cardiff Airport; if Cardiff Airport expands to take flights that Bristol bans, perhaps Welsh Government may, at some point, see a return on its money. And if those flights don't go from Bristol, surely it's a case of people who would otherwise have gone to Bristol, including from the west of England and beyond, who may instead travel to Cardiff, with the carbon dioxide emissions that implies, to use flights that we could accommodate at Cardiff.
You also pledged grants of £18.8 million to Aston Martin to build gas-guzzling SUVs near the airport at St Athan. You even celebrated the announcement of 4,000 petrol DBXs a year by pretending to be James Bond in a video. How does that square with your climate change priorities?
Meanwhile, you've announced £140 million of capital climate change funding, yet you've no plans to switch the suggested £1 billion annual revenue funding you would need to meet your climate change targets. Indeed, the draft budget provides for bus subsidy to be cut next year in real terms. First Minister, as effective action is so expensive, will you continue to prioritise words over action on climate change?
Well, Llywydd, if it wasn't for the fact that satire is so clearly dead, you might have thought that the Member had had a humour by-pass. There is no need for us on this side of the Chamber to be taking lessons on climate change from a party that is festooned with climate change deniers, whose grasp of the seriousness of the problem facing the globe is so out of kilter with the seriousness of that issue. This Government is absolutely committed to playing our part in making sure that we take the actions that we can take to hand on this planet to those who come after us in a condition that would not make us ashamed of the way that we have discharged our responsibilities in the brief moment that they lie in our hands. That's what we will do, and I don't think we will find many lessons from his party in doing so.
Question 3 [OAQ55097] is withdrawn. Question 4, Joyce Watson.
4. What assessment has the First Minister made of the effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s strategy to tackle domestic violence and abuse? OAQ55083
I thank the Member for that question. The annual report of the national advisers on domestic violence and abuse concluded that there is still much more to do to improve the lives of those at risk, but that the Act placed on the statute book by this Senedd is one of the greatest achievements of devolution and leads the rest of the United Kingdom.
Yes, I agree with that, but last Thursday I attended the launch of the Welsh Government and New Pathways' This is Sexual Abuse campaign, where Jane Hutt, Minister with responsibility, actually launched that campaign. And it was great to be in a room where everyone was committed to working together to bring an end to the silence around sexual abuse for men, women and children, regardless of their age. I'd personally like to thank the survivors who bravely shared their stories with us at that event. The aim of that campaign is to help people recognise the signs of sexual abuse and to encourage them to seek the help that they need if they are experiencing any form of abuse. First Minister, what help is Welsh Government giving to those organisations that will be supporting survivors who may choose, as a consequence of that excellent session last Thursday, to now come forward and seek help?
Llywydd, can I thank Joyce Watson for that and for the consistent way, over so many years, that she herself has spoken up on these issues here in the Chamber? And she's right: it's genuinely humbling to be at an event when survivors of domestic violence and abuse and other forms of abuse in the home tell their stories, and do it because of their determination to encourage others to have the courage to do the same thing, and the 'ask and act' approach that I referred to in my answer to Paul Davies is very much part of that.
To just recap a couple of the things I said earlier, Llywydd: the Welsh Government has found the resources to train 167,500 workers in the techniques required by the Act. We fund the Live Fear Free helpline to the tune of £455,000 every year. In the quarter to December, there were over 8,000 incoming calls to that helpline, which, I think, is at least some reflection of the success that campaigns last year have had, and workers on the helpline themselves made nearly 2,000 calls to follow up on issues that people phoning into the helpline had raised with them, to get them the help that Paul Davies referred to earlier.
In this financial year, we will provide over £200,000 to the Welsh sexual violence service, including specialist training for staff and direct support to victims of sexual violence, to make sure that the people who came to the event that Joyce Watson referred to—and help us to make sure that the voice of survivors is always there, shaping the work that we do, to make sure that that goes on being supported here in Wales.
We've heard reference to last November's Wales Audit Office report on progress in implementing the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which highlighted gaps in engagement with specialist services and survivors in the implementation of the Act. According to the crime survey of England and Wales to March of last year—and there will new figures next month—an estimated 1.6 million women and 786,000 men experienced emotional, financial and physical abuse, or a mixture of all three, in a domestic context. And, of course, the vast majority of the victims and survivors of partner or ex-partner abuse were women, and Welsh Women's Aid has also noted that their members who work with survivors of sexual violence have told them that survivors of sexual abuse are not receiving the equivalent priority by commissioners and public services as survivors of domestic abuse. How do you therefore respond to their calls, and the calls of other experts working in this field, for that deficit to be addressed so that, for example, the housing support grant commissioning covers all forms of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, rather than the default assumption focusing on domestic abuse?
Well, Llywydd, I've set out a series of ways in which the Welsh Government is responding to that report and supporting public services in Wales in the work that they do. I'll put it to the Member that another way in which he and his party could help in this agenda would be to have supported last week the Thomas commission report into justice in Wales. Because some of the gaps that appear in public services in responding to women who report sexual violence are in the way that the police and the criminal justice system respond to those complaints, and the Thomas commission report highlights that and suggests that we would be able to make a more coherent set of services available if those decisions were here in the hands of this elected Senedd. I agree with that, and it would have been helpful if his party had agreed with that last week as well.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's proposed new water rules to tackle pollution? OAQ55104
I thank the Member for that, Llywydd. Agricultural pollution affects the health and quality of our rivers, lakes and streams across Wales. Clean water is essential for all our lives. We must take proportionate, targeted action to address the problem. The Minister will make a statement on the way forward shortly, in the light of the evidence.
Thank you, First Minister, for that response. In light of the evidence that became available to Members last week from a freedom of information request that the National Farmers Union secured out of Natural Resources Wales, the evidence that they'd submitted to the Minister's department in respect of the regulatory impact assessment highlighted that the Government's proposals could have a perverse outcome and actually exacerbate the issue around pollution and dirty water going into watercourses. Can you, after I asked the same question a month ago to you, First Minister, confirm that you have become conversant with all the proposals that Welsh Government are talking about, and that any statement that the Minister will make will be made on the floor of this Chamber, not in a recess period, because of the magnitude of what is being talked about here? As NRW have talked about, instead of just looking at the two options that the Welsh Government looked at, which was a 'do nothing' approach, or a cut-and-paste exercise around nitrate vulnerable zones, the Welsh Government should have considered other options. That statement needs to be tested by Members in this Chamber, and those concerns from the regulator itself be taken into account.
Well, Llywydd, I can give the Member an assurance that the concerns of the regulator were taken into account. That's why they were being asked to share in the effort of reviewing the draft regulatory impact assessment, alongside other stakeholders, and, when the regulations are published, there will be the final RIA published alongside it for Members here to see. The reason why regulations are necessary is because we go on, week in and week out, seeing incidents of agricultural pollution here in Wales. That is not acceptable; it harms biodiversity, it harms public health, it harms farm incomes, it harms drinking water, and we have to take action. The points that the regulator made will be reflected in the RIA, and there will be ample opportunity for Members here to question Ministers on it once it has been published and they've had a chance to consider it.
Nobody's questioned whether there's a need for regulation. The question here, of course, is the proportionality of those regulations. Not even Natural Resources Wales agree with your Minister's approach for a whole-Wales designation, and it's certainly been a matter of concern and correspondence for a huge number of my electors.
I raised with the Minister last week in questions serious questions about the evidence base that the proposals that we've seen thus far are based upon. We really need an opportunity, I think, when the final regulations are tabled, to really robustly test those here in this Chamber. You told us that a statement will be made shortly. I'd like to think that this Government isn't as cynical as to slip out a written statement over half term. At the very least, in the interests of transparency and accountability, we should have an oral statement here. Anything short of that would be a dereliction, really, and wouldn't be acceptable. This is the single biggest issue that I've had correspondence on from my electors for many, many months. If you just try and do it that way, I think that would be abhorrent.
Well, Llywydd, there will be ample opportunity for Members here to ask questions and to raise concerns, as Members are doing here this afternoon. There will be no absence of opportunity for Members to carry out their job of scrutinising and questioning Ministers.
On the issue of nitrate vulnerable zones, many times when I've answered questions here I've been lectured by Plaid Cymru Members on respecting the advice of the UK Committee on Climate Change. The Member will have seen the advice of the UKCCC on 23 January 2020, in its 'Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK'. The very first policy that it says we have to introduce is low-carbon farming practices. It says that before 2023 the extension of nitrate vulnerable zones must be extended to cover the whole of the United Kingdom.
Now, he shakes his head there, because he wants to be selective. You see, he wants to lecture me about making sure that this Government takes the advice and acts on it, and then accuses us of not acting quickly enough on it, but when he doesn't like their advice, he wants us to reject it. We won't be doing that, Llywydd. We rely on the advice of the UKCCC, and their advice on this issue is clear and explicit.
I've written to the Minister for environment asking for a meeting with farming members of NFU Cymru to discuss these regulations, and I'm awaiting a response. I think the questions today demonstrate a need for scrutiny of these regulations. I've held meetings with Caerphilly NFU members and with the Farmers Union of Wales to discuss their concerns. On smaller farms, such as those in Bedwas and Llanbradach, the regulations, as originally proposed, would have an intolerable financial burden.
However, we also need to address problems such as the industrial-scale slurry-spreading operation run by Bryn Group at Gelliargwellt Uchaf Farm that is causing problems for people in Gelligaer and Pen-y-Bryn. I've met with Natural Resources Wales and Caerphilly council, and they feel that there is a gap in the regulations there that prevents them from taking action in those cases.
Therefore, I think we need to find a balance—a sensible balance—between not disadvantaging and harming those farms like Bedwas and Llanbradach and dealing with industrial-scale farms like Gelliargwellt Uchaf Farm. Can the First Minister give us an indication of how a sensible balance can be met?
I thank Hefin David for that. He's right, of course: we want a balanced and proportional approach. But, the way you get balance and proportionality here is by having a single rulebook that you then apply differentially in the different circumstances of different types and natures of farms. That is what the Welsh Government has been working on, and when we're ready to publish the regulations, that is what the Member will see. But it is not one rule fits everybody. It is a single and common set of rules, but the way that you apply them will be proportionate and balanced, and will reflect the needs and circumstances of particular farms and the extent to which they make a contribution to the very real problem of agricultural pollution.
6. What assessment has the First Minister made of the effectiveness of Welsh Government intervention in the NHS? OAQ55075
I thank the Member for that. Intervention arrangements are not assessed by the Welsh Government alone. They are the result of the tripartite structure, which includes the Welsh Government, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the Wales Audit Office. That forum meets twice a year to consider a wide range of information and intelligence, to inform the assessment of intervention on which the Welsh Government then acts.
I'm very grateful for your response, First Minister. You'll be aware that we're into the fifth year of special measures in respect of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales. And, in many respects, people feel as though the recent departure of the chief executive is taking us back pretty much to square one in terms of the improvement that we need to see in our mental health services.
You refer to the tripartite arrangements in terms of reviewing the intervention levels for NHS organisations. What consideration is given at those particular meetings when there are reports that are clearly being held by the health board, which are critical reports—there was an independent report done into psychological therapies—that were not shared with either the Wales Audit Office or Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, in order to assist them in informing the Welsh Government, and giving advice to the Welsh Government on the level of intervention in north Wales? I'm very concerned about that. I've had written confirmation that that information was not shared. This is vital if we're to get this organisation in north Wales back into shape, so that it can give patients the level of service that they deserve.
So, what action will your Government take to make sure that, when reports of that nature are published in the future, they are always shared with those organisations that give you advice on the special measures arrangements?
I thank the Member for that. The psychological therapies review, as I said last week in the Chamber, was a review commissioned by the health board itself, carried out independently to make sure that the health board had the best information. And my understanding is that the health board has never intended anything other than that that report will be published once it has had a proper opportunity to scrutinise it and to be ready to respond to it.
And where I agree entirely with Darren Millar is that the report should be published, and then that report must be available to the tripartite meetings that make a judgment on whether an escalation status should be reduced, as it has been in two health boards in Wales over recent time, whether a health board needs further intervention and assistance, or whether to leave things as they are, as they do with seven of the 11 health boards in Wales who are at the lowest level of intervention. To make those judgments, they need the broadest possible range of information, and reports of this sort—once the health board is in a position to publish it, of course, that should be made available to them.
7. What plans does the Welsh Government have to improve bus services in the south Wales valleys? OAQ55092
I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that. The bus Bill, to be introduced by the Welsh Government later in this term will allow local authorities to plan services in the public interest and to stimulate demand for bus services in the south Wales Valleys and elsewhere in Wales.
The First Minister will know that for me, and many of my south Wales Valleys representatives here—we don't have the options for trains in many of these valleys; it is the bus that is the critical one if we want to encourage people to make that modal shift across onto public transport, with the climate change gains, but also a different way of travelling as well. But the reality is, I think, that unless we actually reverse the absolute disastrous deregulation of buses that happened decades ago, and we can put in place, alongside the south Wales metro, the type of planned, both strategic and local, network of buses that will get people to work on time, to their hospital appointment, and this surgery, and to socialise, and deal with isolation as well, then we cannot do it.
So, I would like to ask him what his thoughts are on that emerging scenario around a more planned regime, a reversal of the deregulation that we saw. And can I also ask him whether, now that we've had the announcement from the Prime Minister on the multi, hundreds of billions of pounds potentially here for the HS2, and what I understand may be additional money for buses in England, it has been communicated to Welsh Government that we have a Barnettised consequential that can be passed into public transport in Wales?
I thank the Member for that. I entirely agree with him—there has been a 30-year failed experiment in deregulation of bus services. We will introduce a Bill on the floor of this Assembly that will put the public interest back at the heart of the way in which public investment in bus services is carried out in Wales, allowing them—the local authorities, that is—to be able to control licences issued, to have more democratic input and control over strategic and local routes. The Bill that my colleague Julie James will be taking through the Assembly on local government will provide local authorities with new abilities to come together to plan transport for their area. And, of course, far more people use the bus in Wales than use the train, and that's why we will have legislation on the floor of this Assembly to put bus services back where they belong—under the control of public authorities, run in the interests of people and not of profit.
As far as the announcement today is concerned, we have no certainty at all from the UK Government as to whether any funding will flow to Wales, both in relation to the announcement made on buses, or in relation to the HS2 announcement. Of course money must come to Wales. Members here will be very familiar with the figures: we have 11 per cent of the track, 20 per cent of level crossings—as Members were discussing here last week—and we've had 2 per cent of the funding, over the last 10 years. The Tories' great train robbery of Wales needs to come to an end, Llywydd, and we look forward to hearing after today that that great train robbery is coming to an end.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Care Home Improvement Cymru programme? OAQ55076
I thank the Member for that. The programme focuses on practical measures to improve the experience of care home residents, for example by preventing falls, reducing pressure ulcers and improving dementia care. It invests in the skills and capabilities of staff in care homes, from experienced managers to newly recruited workers at the start of their careers.
Thank you. An integral part of the care home improvement Cymru programme is the Gwên am Byth oral health improvement scheme. The scheme sees staff trained in mouth care, oral risk assessments are carried out, which lead to an individual care plan, and residents are to have appropriate mouth care resources for their care plan, such as a toothbrush and high-fluoride toothpaste. I found that, for the year ending March 2019, there were 10,228 residents in 287 homes participating fully in the programme. However, only 55 per cent had a mouth care plan being delivered. What action will you take to ensure that the oral health of the 4,558 individuals without a mouth care health plan in place, who are supposedly participating in this programme—that they will actually receive this treatment?
I thank the Member for drawing attention to the Gwên am Byth programme, a very important programme of the Welsh Government. It came out of work carried out by Sarah Rochira, the previous Older People's Commissioner for Wales, whose report, you will remember, focused on the very small things that make a real difference in the lives of care home residents. And she drew attention to those basic primary care services—ophthalmology, dental services—and the Gwên am Byth programme is the result of that. It was tested in care homes and with the community dental services, and now we have a national oral health toolkit. And my colleague Vaughan Gething announced additional funding for this programme just at the end of last year, because it's a proven success, it makes a real difference in the lives of those care home residents, and we want to see it happening in every care home in Wales.
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's support for the future of the Prince Madog research vessel? OAQ55105
May I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for the question? Llywydd, the Welsh Government has a contract with Bangor University to deliver sea survey services until 2021. This contract helped secure the future of the Prince Madog research vessel in Wales.
I am very grateful for the Government’s response when I did draw Ministers’ attention to the risk that the capacity of the Prince Madog to do marine research work could be lost because of the concerns about the future of the vessel, which is moored, of course, in Menai Bridge in my constituency. That 100 days’ work certainly has been crucial in terms of ensuring the future of the vessel in the short term, but I would like to draw the First Minister’s attention to the fact that 2021 isn’t very far away now, and that we now need to work in order to secure the long-term future.
I’d like to make an appeal here for a pledge from Government to commit now to having negotiations on extending that contract, which can do ecological energy and food research that could be crucial for years to come, because the clock is ticking and there is a crucial role for the Government to play in securing the long-term future here.
Llywydd, may I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for that question, and thank him for the information that he gave us back in 2019 about the future of the Prince Madog? I had an opportunity to visit the ship back in August of last year for the third time, I believe, and I met with the people who work in that field. They are so enthusiastic and they are so eager to carry on with the work that they’re undertaking.
The contract that we have at present—we are just in the first quarter of the contract. I hear what Rhun ap Iorwerth is saying about the ticking clock, and I am certain that people at the university will acknowledge the fact that we have worked closer with them. We wish to continue with that collaboration and we want to jointly plan with them a service that will help us all in Wales towards 2021 and beyond.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement—Rebecca Evans.
There is one change to this week's business. Business Committee has agreed that tomorrow's Conservative debate will take place immediately after questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services. 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.
Can I call for a statement from the Minister for the economy and transport on concessionary rail fare schemes here in Wales? The Minister will be aware that the UK Government announced the introduction of a veteran rail card in England, and I know that veterans are asking across Wales as to whether there'll be a similar card available to them here in Wales. I know that the Welsh Government has done a great deal of work on trying to support the veteran community, and I applaud you for that, and I just want to have some clarity on whether the same privilege will be afforded to veterans here, as is going to be the case in England, once this particular card is introduced?
I'm grateful to Darren Millar for raising this issue, and I do know that the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales is in current discussion with the Department for Transport in England to better understand the proposed scheme and how it might work, and then obviously to give consideration to the matter here. And obviously the Member will be aware that we do have a more generous offer for veterans who use our bus services here in Wales.
Since raising the lack of support for neurodivergent children, I've had many people get in touch who've been affected. People are growing increasingly frustrated with the system. The picture that is painted by people trying to access support for ADHD, autism and similar issues is, frankly, a grim one. The only conclusion we can draw is that people, and children in particular, are being failed on an industrial scale.
I want to raise points with you today that have been made to me by an additional learning needs co-ordinator. She says her job has now become, and I quote, 'unmanageable' due to the bureaucracy involved in trying to get support for children. One referral takes half a day on the new portal system, which was designed with the aim of making things easier. It has achieved the exact opposite. Children who meet criteria for placements are told that they have to wait two terms for those plans to be in place. This means that children are spending more time in an environment that traumatises them due to the over-sensory, overcrowded nature of mainstream classes. There is no support for children on the spectrum in Rhondda Cynon Taf until reception year, meaning that there's no alternative to mainstream education. Justifiably, this has been described to me as unacceptable and cruel.
I intend to take up many of these issues directly with the Labour-run council in Rhondda Cynon Taf, but I would like a clear statement from this Government to those people who are struggling to access support for their kids. People need to know what their rights are. They need to know what you as a Government consider to be acceptable or unacceptable from public bodies. Many parents and teachers are at the end of their tether and they are desperately asking for help. They are telling us the system is an unsustainable mess. Children are being badly let down. I hope you'll agree that they deserve swift action.
Leanne Wood will be familiar with the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 and the importance that Welsh Government attaches to that in ensuring that children and young people do get the support that they need at the earliest possible point in their educational journey. And it is entirely appropriate to take up those individual cases with the local authority.
Welsh Government will be consulting on our statutory code for autism and ASD, and there will be some public engagement alongside that. I know that the health Minister and the Deputy Minister, with responsibility particularly for autism, would be keen to understand better the views of the individual who has contacted you to discuss the issues that she has faced in terms of finding the appropriate support for the children who she works with. So, if you could perhaps write to the Minister with some more detail on behalf of your constituent, that would be really useful. Thank you.
I would like to ask for two statements from the Welsh Government. Firstly, what action is being taken to reduce single-use plastic, both by the Welsh Government and by Welsh Government-funded bodies, such as health boards?
Secondly, I want to ask for an update on the provision of 4G and 5G sports pitches. Members will probably remember we used to talk about 4G and 5G sports pitches fairly regularly, but it seems to have dropped off the agenda in the last couple of years. We know that they have the ability to be used continually and to rarely be affected by weather, making them ideal for providing all-round sports provision. It means that children especially, who start taking up sport, don't play football and rugby between September and April and have a winter break of an exceedingly long time.
On the first issue that Mike Hedges raised, which was the use of single-use plastic on the Welsh Government estate and the public sector estate more widely, I'm really pleased to report that there has been continued progress in reducing the environmental impact of our Welsh Government estate in key areas, including single-use plastics. Of course, I published the Welsh Government's 'State of the Estate' report just a short while ago, which did demonstrate how we are making progress in this area. That includes working with our catering service to remove single-use plastics in canteens, and that of course includes plastic cups, straws, stirrers, sauce sachets and cutlery—all things that we might be looking to include in a potential piece of legislation—to ensure that those items are not used across Wales. I know that the Deputy Minister with responsibility for waste and environmental issues has been looking particularly at this, certainly within the context of the circular economy and the work that has been done in the 'Beyond Recycling' strategy and approach at the moment. So, I'm really pleased with the progress that we are making, but that said, clearly, there's much more to do in this area. But I would certainly commend the 'State of the Estate' report to Mike Hedges.
Of course, the issue of 4G and 5G sports pitches in Wales is extremely important in ensuring that children and young people, and communities more widely, are able to access those sporting opportunities year round. So, our investment in community 3G, 4G and 5G pitches and artificial pitches is being led by Sport Wales, and they've invested over £3.1 million into the collaborative sports facilities group. That group, crucially, includes Sport Wales, but also the FAW Trust, the WRU and Hockey Wales, to ensure that those pitches do have the support of and the engagement of the various sporting communities who are able to use them. I'm sure that the work of the collaborative sports facilities group would be of interest to the Member, and I know that the Deputy Minister for culture and sport will provide an update on that work.
Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for Housing and Local Government about the oversight and implementation of the planning Act in Wales? I have been contacted by a number of constituents with concerns about the increase in planning consents for housing developments being granted in my region. Although these developments are within the local government plan, my constituents are concerned that the local infrastructure is inadequate to cope with the population increase. In particular, roads are inadequate to cope with the increased volume of traffic and local facilities such as GP surgeries, dentists and schools find difficulty in coping with the increased demand for their services. Smaller villages have taken the brunt of the problem associated with the new developments, with seemingly little thought given to the local population. Can we have a statement on how the planning system ensures that the infrastructure is brought up to an acceptable standard to cope with localised population increases in the future in Wales, please?
The issues of infrastructure and service provision are clearly crucially important when local authorities are considering their local development plans and exploring the burden of additional homes locally. In the first instance, I think the concerns you describe would be best made to the local authority in terms of representations on behalf of your community in relation to the specific planning applications that you have concerns with, because of course we'd be unable to comment on those just in case it did arrive at the point at which they might be called in for determination by Welsh Government. So, in the first instance, I would certainly encourage you to have those discussions with the local authority.
I'd like to ask for a statement from the economy and transport Minister about what the Welsh Government plans to do in relation to the rolling stock on the Rhymney line. We all want more people to use the trains. While capacity on that line will increase substantially over the next couple of years, it's now been confirmed through a freedom of information request that capacity on those trains will be reduced again when new trains are introduced in 2023. That is: there'll be space for fewer people on the trains.
Now, the problem with this is that demand will increase in the intervening period, especially with the increased capacity with the 769 trains that are due to be introduced this year, and that's before taking into account a general increase in demand. I must say, I was extremely worried to hear the Transport for Wales CEO telling the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee recently that they have underestimated what will be the general levels of increase in demand.
So, when space for people on the trains is reduced in 2023, and goes back to the capacity we see now on the Bargoed to Caerphilly trains, the levels of demand will be much, much higher than they are today. That will lead to further cramped conditions, which will be exacerbated by the fact that Transport for Wales regulations actually allow for standing conditions that are amongst, I think, the most cramped in the UK. They allow only 0.25 metres squared standing space per passenger, compared with a UK standard of 0.45 metres squared. Those of us who get the trains every day will know how cramped those conditions can be. So, I'd like a statement, please, from the economy and transport Minister, about what steps the Welsh Government will take to ensure that increased capacity on the Rhymney line is maintained for 2023 and beyond that.
The transport Minister's been indicating to me during your contribution that he is happy to provide an update to Members on the issues that you raise, but I do know that Transport for Wales are very aware of the capacity issues, particularly on the Rhymney line, and they've been exploring options to address the issue.
Since taking over the franchise, it's fair to say there's been increasing demand on that line, and I would expect probably above and beyond that which was predicted. So, Transport for Wales are currently exploring how to improve that customer experience, and they've done so already, to a degree, by introducing those extra class 37 transition peak services in May of 2019.
Transport for Wales are fully reviewing all of their passenger number forecasts, and they assure us that the service they provide in 2023 will meet those demands, as many options are currently being considered and planned. But, as the Minister said, he'd be happy to provide an update that addresses your concerns.
The storm we've had in the last couple of days is yet another reminder that we absolutely have to change our ways if the climate emergency is not going to become completely out of control.
We've had very large sums of money being promised in the UK Parliament today: £106 billion for HS2. Professor Mark Barry, however, advises that this won't benefit Wales at all, because we're the only nation in the UK that doesn't have devolution of our rail infrastructure and, therefore, we won't get any consequential from that, is my understanding. So, we're going to have to pony up for this £106 billion to run yet another line out of London to the north of England, but we're not going to be benefiting from it at all, is my understanding.
It would be useful if we could hear from the Government about that, and particularly in light of the fact that the UK Government reneged on the electrification of the line from Cardiff to Swansea and beyond, which of course affects very badly on my constituents who are having to put up with all the pollution belching out of these diesel trains coming in and out of Cardiff Central. So, this is a really significant matter for me, and I wondered what action is being taken on that to try and get the Government to address some of the problems across the UK, rather than focusing all the money on London.
In addition to that, the UK Government has today said they're going to spend £5 billion on bus services and cycling routes. That'll be for England, so is there going to be a consequential for similar sums of money for Wales? And also, the UK Government has established a £50 million fund that local authorities can bid into in England to clean up their bus fleets with electric buses. Could we have a statement to pull together all these issues to find out whether the Welsh Government is going to be able to move with pace on this really, really important issue?
On a completely separate matter, I want to just highlight to the Government that the English Football Association is publishing guidelines for restricting the heading of a football by under-18s in training, and the Scottish Football Association is also going to ban any under-12s from heading a ball during training. Can we have a statement to demonstrate what the Welsh Government's view on this matter is, which is really quite a significant public health issue?
On the first issue, the short answer is that it's too soon to say yet what any consequentials might be coming from the UK Government in terms of the announcements that have been made. The UK Government has a habit of making re-announcements, so it's very difficult to say today what, if any, funding will be coming to Welsh Government.
It's important to recognise as well that the funding that comes to Welsh Government does so as a result of comparability factors that are set at either the previous comprehensive spending review or the spending round. So, we'll need to explore very closely where the UK Government is finding this additional funding and what the implications must be for us. But frankly, if the UK Government is intent on levelling up, then it needs to be stepping up as well, and ensuring that Welsh Government does receive the appropriate funding to make investments in our communities here in Wales.
But we'll certainly be applying all of the pressure necessary to ensure that the UK Government lives up to both the spirit and the letter of the statement of funding policy that should underline those spending decisions. I'll make sure that we get the appropriate funding here in Wales. As soon as there is more information, I'll be happy to provide that information. But as I say, at the moment, it is too early to say, because we don't have the level of detail we need.
On the second issue and a different issue of heading balls in sport, I know that the Football Association of Wales is currently reviewing the mini football offer that we have here in Wales, which involves children aged five to 11, and heading will be part of that review that is due to be concluded in spring of 2020. I know that the Minister is well aware of the concerns on this particular issue as well.
Trefnydd, you'll be aware that the Minister for health has issued a written statement on the coronavirus, a statement that is very helpful. It refers to the need to keep our legislation in Wales under review, I think in light of the fact that the UK Government is introducing legislation with the purpose of mitigating any effects of the coronavirus and looking at treatment options—enforcing supported isolation, for instance, in England.
I recognise that there are going to be regular updates, written statements, from the Minister for health, and also, I think, an update for AMs from the Chief Medical Officer later today. That's all good practice. Perhaps we could also factor into that oral statements on the situation, as this is a fast-moving situation and it does have the potential to be exceptionally serious. We know that there are already many demands on the NHS, particularly over the winter period. If the full extent of the coronavirus infection is realised, and, obviously, it may not be realised to its fullest extent, but if we do get anywhere near that, then there will be demands on the health service. I know that there are discussions going on and I think that the Minister's at the Cabinet Office briefing rooms meeting—COBRA—this week, so if we could have continual updates and oral reports to this Chamber as the situation develops, I think we would, all of us as Assembly Members, find that very helpful in corresponding with our constituents who will, understandably, be getting more concerned and worried as the news filters through over the weeks and months to come.
Secondly, changing tack, the south Wales metro: developing the metro must be a key part of the Government's strategy to deal with the climate emergency and to get people off the roads. We know that you, with your other hat on, have been bringing forward a green budget, and dealing with the climate emergency is key to that budget, so the metro and funding for the metro must be important over the years to come. But could we have an update from the Minister for transport on where we are with the metro? In my area, I know a number of concerns have been raised with me recently. The town of Monmouth, for instance, has been firstly off the metro map, then it was on the metro map, then it was back on—there were a number of maps going around, some official, some not. So, I wonder if we could have clarity from the Minister and from the Welsh Government as to what that map looks like at the moment.
I think the metro is a great idea; I think we're all united in thinking that, but, clearly, in an area like south-east Wales, if people living in the rural fringes, such as my constituency, feel that they're going to be left off that map further down the line, then that doesn't reassure them. It doesn't look as though the Welsh Government is doing everything it can to get people off the roads and onto public transport, as I'm sure would be your key objective in the future to deal with climate change.
Thank you to Nick Ramsay for raising both the issue of the metro projects and also the separate issue of the Welsh Government's response to the coronavirus. As Nick Ramsay said, today, the chief medical officer will be providing an update for Assembly Members in person, so that they're able to ask any questions that they have, and the health Minister has committed to providing an update, at least a written update, every Tuesday and more frequently if necessary to Assembly Members as the situation develops.
He is currently considering whether our current legislation is sufficient to protect the wider public from coronavirus or other high-consequence infections that might take place, or whether we do need to make changes to our legislation in Wales. That's under active consideration at the moment.
On the issue of the metro projects, I'm very pleased to be able to respond positively to that request for a statement. Ken Skates intends to make an oral statement to the Assembly on the twenty-fifth of this month on the metro projects in Wales.
Neath Port Talbot Council have recently decided to consider a proposition by S4C for the Welsh language programme Bang. They want to put up street art in the area to celebrate and to promote the programme, but Neath Port Talbot Council, in their wisdom, are potentially going to be considering this as an advert, as we've heard with another slogan in nearby Bridgend, as opposed to a painting. Therefore, it's going to scupper any plans to be able to promote this particular programme because of the planning processes that will need to be followed. So, I'm requesting a statement from the planning Minister so that we can try and discuss how we can make it easier for these street art activities to come about, as opposed to being hamstrung by bureaucracy and, therefore, hamstringing the development of art at a grass-roots level in our towns and communities, because I simply don't see this as an advert, I see this as something that can aid and support local arts in our communities. So I would urge a statement on that.
And my second request is for the housing Minister, so I'm pleased that she's sitting here today. I've had some complaints from people in my region who have suffered coercive control in many relationships, who have sought to become of priority housing need in another local authority because of the abuse that they are suffering, ongoing by their partners, some of whom live on the same street, and they're being told by a neighbouring authority that they're not a priority, by the social landlord or by the council. Can you tell me what the Welsh Government's plans are to either change this policy or to clarify why they're not a priority? Because, of course, if they're trying to escape a coercively controlling partner, by not allowing them to do so and to become a priority in another area, is absolutely scuppering their chances of getting free from that relationship, and I'm encountering more and more people coming to me in my region desperate for help because they're being abused on a daily basis, either through their children or through relationships that they want to escape, and it's simply making their lives even more toxic than needs to happen at the moment. So, a statement in that regard would be very beneficial indeed.
The Minister for Housing and Local Government, who's responsible for both of the areas on which you've asked for a statement, has obviously been here to hear your concerns, and she's asked me to ask that you write to her, both on the issue of the street arts to celebrate and promote the Bang programme, and also the issue of coercive control. You'll be familiar with the work that's going on in terms of priority need, and I understand that commission is due to report to the Minister shortly, but if you provide a letter to the Minister, she'll be able to respond in some more detail.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
The next item is the statement by the Minister for Housing and Local Government on the Renting Homes (Amendment) (Wales) Bill. I call on the Minister to make the statement. Julie James.
Diolch, Llywydd. Today, I am introducing the Renting Homes (Amendment) (Wales) Bill to the Senedd. This is an important Bill, and an unusual Bill in the sense that it will amend an Act of the Assembly, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, that has not yet been brought into force. I will have more to say on that presently, but first, I want to take a few moments to explain what it is that this Bill seeks to achieve, and how it will change the relationship between landlords and tenants, or 'contract holders' as they are described in the 2016 Act.
This Bill will amend the 2016 Act to provide greater security of tenure for contract holders who rent their homes in Wales, in particular those who live in the private rented sector and who will, when the provisions of the 2016 Act come into force, do so under standard occupation contracts with their landlord. These standard contracts will become the default contract type in the sector, replacing assured shorthold tenancies made under the Housing Act 1988.
The Bill will increase security of occupation under a periodic standard contract in the following ways: it will extend the minimum notice period for a landlord’s notice given under section 173 of the 2016 Act, which is similar to section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, from two months to six months; it will restrict the issuing of such a notice until at least six months after the occupation date of the contract—the 2016 Act currently sets this at four months. Together with the extended notice period, this will double, from six months to one year, the minimum occupation period for someone who does not breach their contract.
The Bill will also prevent a landlord from serving a new section 173 notice until at least six months after the expiry or withdrawal of the previous section 173 notice. This is to ensure that landlords are not tempted to issue repeated section 173 notices 'just in case', which would be damaging to a contract holder’s sense of security and certainty. However, in recognition of the fact that landlords do, on occasion, make technical mistakes when serving notices, the Bill also includes a provision that enables a landlord to withdraw and reissue a notice within 14 days.
The Bill will also make a number of changes to the way that fixed-term standard contracts operate so that landlords are not tempted to use fixed-term contracts as a way of circumventing the additional security that will be provided under periodic standard contracts. It will remove the ability a landlord would otherwise have had to issue a notice during a fixed-term standard contract requiring the contract holder to leave at the end of the fixed term. Instead, a landlord will be required to serve a section 173 notice to bring to an end the periodic standard contract that will automatically arise at the end of the fixed term. That section 173 notice would, of course, be subject to the extended six-month notice period, regardless of the length of the initial fixed-term period.
The Bill will also prevent the inclusion of a landlord’s break clause in fixed-term standard contracts of less than 24 months, and prevent the activation of any break clause before month 18 of a fixed-term contract. Again, this will be subject to a six-month notice period.
To ensure that there are no loopholes that unscrupulous landlords might seek to exploit, we will also be removing the arrangement under the 2016 Act that currently allows a landlord to seek possession if a contract holder does not confirm, within two months of being notified, that they are content with a variation that has been made to a term in their contract. In addition, a regulation-making power will be used to limit the use of a term, which allows the contract holder to be excluded from the property for specific periods, for example, to contracts for student accommodation let by higher education institutions.
And finally, the Bill also makes a number of miscellaneous amendments to the 2016 Act. These include removing the subjective element of the test that establishes whether a modification to a fundamental term in a contract improves the contract holder’s position. This is to preclude unscrupulous landlords from seeking to undermine security of occupation by pressurising contract holders to agree that a notice period of less than six months, for example, would be in their interests.
The Bill also provides exemptions for particular types of very specific contracts, such as prohibited-conduct standard contracts, service occupancies or supported accommodation, where it is accepted that shorter notice periods and greater certainty regarding contract-end dates is required. These are very tightly controlled in the Bill to prevent any potential misuse, while still enabling social landlords, as well as employers who undertake a landlord function in relation to some of their employees, to have the certainty required in particular circumstances.
My previous statement to Members on this Bill was back in September, when I provided a brief summary of our proposals as they stood at that time and initial feedback from the consultation exercise that had recently concluded. You will know from the statement I issued last month that the final consultation response has since been published, and that the changes we are seeking to make have not been met with universal support. That is to be expected, but this Government makes no apologies for bringing forward legislation that will, as part of our wider programme to support a professional and well-regulated sector offering high-quality homes to those who wish to rent, create conditions of improved security and certainty for the growing number of our citizens who rely on the private rented sector for their accommodation.
Earlier, I mentioned that this Bill was unusual as it amends the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 that has not yet come into force. The reasons for the delay in implementing the 2016 Act are complex, but I am confident that we now have the assurances we need from the UK Government that the necessary infrastructure will be in place to enable us to go live with the new arrangements before the end of this Assembly term. The 2016 Act, will, when implemented, bring a number of significant wider benefits for those who rent their home in Wales. I wrote to all Members in October last year to set out these benefits, and have re-circulated that letter as it provides more detail than time will allow for now.
This Bill, if passed, will add a further significant benefit by ensuring that a possession notice, where there is no breach of contract, cannot be served for the first six months of occupation, and where possession is sought, giving the contract holder six months’ notice. This will provide valuable time for individuals and families faced with possession under section 173 and the organisations and agencies that support them, to find a new home that is right for them and make all necessary arrangements for a smooth transition to their new home.
I look forward to working with you and all of our stakeholders constructively in the coming months, as this Bill makes its way through the scrutiny process. Diolch.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
I thank the Minister for her statement. I don't know if this is a first; it has probably happened in other legislatures, but to have a Bill that amends an Act that has not yet been commenced, despite being over three years old, is not a regular situation—let me put it no more strongly than that. Indeed, we now hear that the 2016 Act may not be commenced until the end of this Assembly term, so that will be getting on to four and a half years after it was passed.
I think the amending Bill, anyway, reflects a shift in England to end no-fault evictions. However, Deputy Presiding Officer, the Welsh Government does not go quite as far as the English proposals in that section 173 will remain in place with longer notice times and other restrictions. So, I think we need to explain why the difference. The UK Government intends to abolish section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, which is basically equivalent to our section 173, and has just restated in December that it will go ahead to do this. So, the change in Conservative administration has not deflected from that legislative purpose. That said—and I do hope the Minister will give a clear explanation why we are taking a slightly more roundabout approach to this question—we will support the general direction of travel. We do believe that the private rented sector needs strengthening to give a new generation of tenants security and confidence. That said, the legitimate rights of landlords also need to be protected. We want a fair, balanced system, so that we have an effective supply of private rented properties.
Restricting or abolishing section 173 requires section 8 to be robust and effective. Allowing eviction with cause is essential to a healthy private rented sector. Currently, costs—court costs in particular—are a problem, as well as the time it takes to serve a section 8 notice, and there are other legitimate questions that, for instance, the Residential Landlords Association have raised, including whether section 8 should be extended when there is a need to do so. For instance, persistent anti-social behaviour is not a cause to use section 8 at the moment.
And also—and this is my final comment—the Residential Landlords Association have particular concerns about how the student rental market will operate under the reforms that are proposed. I know that we will have an opportunity, obviously, at Committee Stage, to go through these, and I will certainly push these items in detail, so I do hope that we can have a bit more insight this afternoon, but, when the Bill does commence its legislative scrutiny, we'll be seeking to improve this Bill, because we do believe these reforms are due.
Well, thank you for that. I think we're broadly in agreement; it's just about the best way to do it. So, we have tended to speak colloquially in terms of abolishing a no-fault eviction, but, actually, all the legislatures that have so-called abolished a no-fault eviction have simply substituted a whole series of arrangements in which a tenant can be evicted through no fault of their own. So, for example, there are 18 separate grounds under which this can be done in Scotland. We're not yet clear what the English equivalent of that will be, but, for example, if you have a landlord that requires possession of the property because otherwise they would themselves be homeless, then, in Scotland, you would be required to go through a process by which you'd prove that you were going to either sell the house or you required it for yourself and so on. Those have proven costly and quite difficult to enforce. I'm not quite clear yet where England is going with that, but we imagine something similar.
In Wales, we have a very large number of private sector landlords, who are perfectly good landlords, excellent to have a relationship with, where, actually, they own one house, because, for example, a couple have got together and they had two houses and now they live in one of them, and, if that relationship breaks down, that couple may well need that house back. What we're doing is trying to get a balance between the needs of a landlord in that circumstance and the needs of the tenants to be able to organise their lives and find themselves somewhere else to live in a reasonable set of circumstances.
So, these are all balances, and I'm very much looking forward to working with the committee to work through what the balances might be. We think we've come to the right balance in extending the notice period, so that, in an initial period you have a year, but in any other circumstance you have six months in order to find yourself and your family somewhere else to go, and, in the meantime, the landlord can probably make other arrangements for that period in order to retain the house.
In circumstances in other jurisdictions where, for example, the landlord is saying that they need to sell—rather than taking up time now, we can all think of circumstances in which a legitimate landlord might want to sell and then the sale falls through, or a whole number of other things that can happen. So, what we've done is try to provide some certainty on both sides of that line and get a good balance between the rights of the tenant and the rights of the landlord, and
I've set out today, Deputy Presiding Officer, what the 2016 Act is also doing in terms of security of tenure, because I think it's really—. Because the Act has not been brought into force, it's very possible to think of this extension of the notice period in terms of the Housing Act 1998 itself, rather than in terms of our Act, which would fundamentally change the landscape in Wales anyway.
Thank you, Minister, for the statement.
We welcome this legislation as a step in the right direction. For most of the past 25 years, the private rented sector has placed so much power with landlords and made the sector easy for some people to benefit from using unscrupulous methods, as the Minister has said.
I think it's worth noting, and it's been alluded to already, that in a sector where the balance has for so long been so much in favour of one side you'll inevitably get people who want to keep it that way. In Wales, I think there are at least two professional organisations that have paid public affairs staff to represent landlords. Now, there's nothing wrong with that at all, but that is compared with, again, I think, just one person representing tenants in the private sector, and she seems to do that in her spare time.
There will be some who note the commitment made by the First Minister in his leadership campaign to end the use of no-fault evictions, which, as has been said, isn't what the proposal is that we have today. Some might wonder whether it's still the case that generation rent faces opposition in making the sector fairer.
I've listened to what the Minister's had to say, and I can anticipate some of the reasons why what we have here isn't an end to no-fault evictions, just a change in the notice period. For example, it's fair enough that landlords might have a mechanism for being able to gain possession of their properties so that they can exit the sector, and it's preferable that tenants can be allowed to move on without any suspicion being placed on them that they've done something wrong. But, I am concerned that six months isn't going to enable protection for some of the most vulnerable tenants—those who claim benefits, and those with very small children where frequently moving house would be no good for their development. So, I look forward to scrutinising the plans and that time limit, and seeing whether there's any room for manoeuvre on this.
I also wonder whether the Minister has given some thought as to some policy mechanisms that could be used to allow landlords to exit the market without placing these very vulnerable people at risk. Firstly, I'd ask, would you consider establishing a capital fund for housing associations and local authorities to acquire homes currently in the private rented sector—a fund, of course, that could become self-sustaining—and ensure that the existing tenants can simply move into the social sector? After all, many families will be on the waiting lists already.
Secondly, would you consider establishing what we could brand as a right to buy for tenants in the private sector? I emphasise 'in the private sector'. By this, I mean providing the right for tenants who have occupied their homes for a specified period to have first refusal when the landlord wishes to sell, and to establish Welsh Government support for that person to move onto the ladder as a way of helping first-time buyers, with the obvious caveats around criteria, of course.
Finally, would you explore ways in which a landlord could exit the market earlier through establishing ways in which a property could only be sold to a person guaranteeing the tenancy continued? If you could put these in place—these measures—then I'd suggest we would be able to offer more than just a six-month notice period, and we could even end no-fault evictions altogether.
There are some interesting issues around this. The whole issue of acquisition of a social home by registered social landlords or the local council is an interesting one, and, actually, we already encourage that. Councils and registered social landlords can use a variety of Welsh grant funding to do just that.
The difficulty is where the home in question doesn't meet any of the standards. So, obviously, they can't take on a private sector home that's substandard because the rooms are tiny, it's overcrowded and all of the rest of it. So, there are some limitations there and I would be reluctant to relax the level of social housing in order to accommodate that. We have had some conversations about interim housing and so on, but it's very difficult to square that circle without relaxing standards that we'd all be concerned to keep in place. But, just to be clear, that already could happen in circumstances where there aren't those barriers, if the house is up to social-house standard.
The whole issue about whether a landlord can sell a house with a tenant in it is, of course, an interesting one. That's a matter for the market. Of course, some landlords do exactly that, because if they're selling it on as a business to an investor who wants to keep it as an investment property and wants the income, then that happens now. Unfortunately, though, if they're wanting to expand the range of purchasers to people who might want to be owner-occupiers, then, obviously, having vacant possession is something that's essential for that, so that's, I'm afraid, an operation of the market and what you can and can't get. Unfortunately, we don't control—it is not all devolved to us, so we can't control some aspects of that, but it is something that we're very keen to work with.
If there's going to be an extension to Help to Buy, then this Government will certainly be looking to see whether we can extend that to circumstances in which somebody already occupies a home, which might help with some parts of that. But, again, the standard of the house is an issue, and many houses in the private rented sector, I fear, fall well below the standard for social housing.
The other issue is protecting the tenancy in those circumstances, and, again, that's an action for the market, I fear. So, I'm certainly well aware of, in my own constituency, tenants who have been passed from landlord to landlord because the houses have been sold with them in, and that works perfectly well, but, again, if there's competition for student housing and so on, then the house will be partitioned and there are various problems with the market.
We are working with the UK Government—which I should have said in response to David Melding as well, actually—in terms of regulation of what estate agents and managing agents are allowed to say in their packs when they sell on and what the circumstances are. That's not devolved to us, but we are working very well, actually, with the UK in terms of what that market might look like in terms of regulating that. So, we are looking at all those and I'm very much looking forward to exploring in committee some of the other ideas that you've taken forward.
In terms of the absolute abolition, nobody can do that because, obviously, a landlord has the right to possession of their home under the Human Rights Act 1998 A1P1, as the jargon would have it. It engages article 1 of protocol 1 of the human rights Act: you have the right to possession of your property. What we're doing is making sure that it's a fair playing field for everybody involved.
Can I thank the Minister for the statement? I believe that housing is one of the most important things that we have and I think that it really is important that the housing sector, both private, local authority, other social housing landlords and the private sector are all of a high standard.
Most tenants and landlords have a good relationship. I mean, most landlords look after their properties and treat their tenants well, and I think, sometimes, when we start bringing in legislation, discussing these things, we give the impression that we think all landlords are bad. Also, most tenants pay their rent on time, look after the house, cause no problems to those living around them, and in a lot of places, including large parts of my constituency, you wouldn't know which houses were owner-occupied and which were lived in by people who were privately renting, some of whom do it for several years. And some of the nicer parts—. If I can go into your constituency, Minister, and if you go down into the marina, large numbers of properties there are privately rented, they're all of good quality, and there are no problems being caused by them, as I'm sure that you're more aware than I am of that.
Unfortunately, there are some bad landlords and there are some bad tenants, and I've talked to people who have rented their houses out to get them back without any internal doors and semi-demolished. So, there are bad tenants. I've also seen people who are tenants living in properties where you could put your fist between the wall and the window frame. So, you've got bad people on both sides. I think we do need to acknowledge that.
I welcome the fact you're ending retaliatory eviction. I think that was always the case: 'Please will you repair my house?' 'Get out in three months' was acting as a dissuader.
I noticed you didn't make a mention of this in your statement, but, as you know, I'm very keen on smoke alarms, electrical and gas certificates and those checks. I mean, they're still in the Act, I understand. Are you going to say how often they have to be checked after they have been installed? Because that's something that a lot of people are very concerned about, in that they're checked once, but if somebody lives there nine or 10 years, are they going to be checked again? And that's a question, perhaps, that some of us who are owner-occupiers would ask ourselves: 'How often do we check our smoke alarms, make sure our gas is safe and check electrical safety?' So, I think some of us could certainly learn from that as well.
The last question I've got is—. I mean, obviously the greater security is welcomed. You mentioned six months a lot during it. I'm not going to read them all out to you because the Deputy Presiding Officer, amongst others, wouldn't allow me to, but you mentioned six months a lot. Why have you chosen six months as opposed to three months or 12 months? I hear what you said about no-fault evictions, that you have to have reasons why people can be evicted even if they have no fault, but I think the general principle of no-fault evictions is one that many of us like and it means that, when people leave, it does show that they haven't been evicted for that. They can be evicted if somebody has to live in the house or the person who owns it goes bankrupt or whatever reason due to financial problems, but actually having it on the statute books that we support no-fault evictions is something I'm not quite sure why you don't want.
Thank you for that series of remarks and questions. I completely agree with you that the vast majority of landlords and tenants in Wales are perfectly reasonable people having a perfectly reasonable life in a perfectly good arrangement, one with the other. And you mentioned part of my own constituency, where you're absolutely right—we have very few problems that I'm aware of with the private rented sector, in good-quality housing, with decent people living in it.
This Bill is around sorting out the provisions for both rogue landlords and rogue tenants. And as I've emphasised, if your tenant is badly behaved, then this Bill does nothing to take away your right to evict a tenant who hasn't paid their rent, or is indulging in anti-social behaviour, or is damaging the property, or a large number of other things. Those routes to possession are still there.
In terms of how you characterise a no-fault eviction, the point is all of those things—if you want the house back because you want to sell it, or you want the house back because you want to live in it, that is a no-fault eviction, because the tenant won't have done anything wrong. The fact that you're proving a ground doesn't take away from the fact the tenant won't have done anything wrong and is being evicted through no fault of their own. So, it's just not possible to have no circumstance in which a tenant that's perfectly well behaved themselves cannot be evicted, because, actually, the landlord, in circumstances where they might be homeless, for example, would have the right to possession of their own property, and I don't think any of us would really see that as a problem.
And the problem is this business about getting the balance right between the two issues. The vast majority of landlords in Wales have one house. Of course, we have many landlords that have more than one house, but the vast majority of them only have one house. And so we need to make sure that the private rented sector is fit for purpose, both for those who want to rent that house out—we very much want them to rent their houses out and to get a reasonable rate of return, and to afford good-quality accommodation who want to rent—but also, should they find themselves in circumstances where they need that house, or their circumstances change and they need the money from a house, they can do that, and it doesn't put them off putting the house on the market, and we just have another empty home on our street, which does nobody any favours either. So, this is all about the balance about how we do that. And rather than have complex legal circumstances in which you have to prove a certain set of circumstances, which we know are causing real problems in other jurisdictions with what the level of proof is and what you have to do, we think this is a better compromise.
The six months is around the way that the 2016 Act works, so that it gives somebody a full 12 months from the start of their contract to the end. So, actually, you'll get a full 12 months. The six months then only kicks in once you're over that 12 months. So, if you're already there for two years, for example, you then have six additional months. So, it's all around how the new standard contracts in the 2016 Act actually function.
I must declare an interest at this point as I am a landlord of a couple of rented properties in the private sector.
So, thank you for your statement, Minister, and I agree with your statement that we have to give security of tenure. But that must go both ways. It must be balanced to ensure sustainability, to meet supply and demand. Protection must also be there for landlords, and there are very few landlords who would not want to encourage lengthy tenancies, because the first month's rent is taken up with all the costs incurred, which are paid now by the landlord. So, it doesn't bode well for someone to have a six-month tenancy. So, lengthy tenancies are encouraged by landlords.
But I have been an excellent landlord, taking people's personal circumstances into account. But I'd like to say that the measures that you've taken risk alienating the vast majority of private sector landlords who are conscientious and responsible and compliant with the law. And these measures will put off many people seeking to become landlords. They've spoken to me and said so—'I've decided not to rent anymore; I'm putting my property up for sale.' And this is quite common, forcing many to leave the sector. So, to be honest, if these measures were in place, I would not become a landlord.
The fact that the yet to be enacted renting homes Act, and these new additions to the legislation, will discourage new landlords should be of grave concern to the Welsh Government. So, without the private rented sector, our homelessness and housing crisis would be so much worse. And, Minister, your Government has catastrophically failed to address the housing shortfall.
You've built fewer than 8,000 new homes. You would have to build 12,000 new affordable homes over the next 12 months in order to meet your own target, which is already woefully inadequate. So, in order to do that, you would have to employ every house builder in the UK. So, without landlords, homelessness would be exponentially higher. But rather than encouraging private landlords, your Government is determined to make it impossible for private landlords with one or two properties to operate.
So, Minister, when you consulted upon these proposals, there was huge opposition to them, so why did you ignore the views of the sector? Your proposed changes risked also disrupting the student and young professional market. So, Minister, how do you propose to mitigate the disruption to the annual cycle necessary for these types of lettings? Your original Bill failed to take into account the impact of anti-social tenants, and you have yet again failed to address this in your new proposals. However, your statement talks about closing loopholes for unscrupulous landlords. So, Minister, do you agree with me that bad tenants vastly outweigh bad landlords, and that demonising landlords will do nothing to tackle our housing shortage? Aside from the negative impact this legislation will have upon landlords, what assessment have you made of the impact this will have on rental agreements of less than six months? And finally, Minister, you mention that you hope to enact the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 by the end of this Assembly term. So, can you tell us whether the Act will be commenced before this Bill is passed, or will you wait for these amendments to be made prior to commencement? Thank you.
I think Caroline Jones contradicted herself quite a few times during her speech. On the one hand, she tells us that landlords like long tenancies, on the other hand, she tells us that they can't exist if they don't have six-month shorthold assured tenancies. So, you can't have both of those things. The renting homes Act, which is already enacted—it doesn't require to be enacted, it is already enacted by this Assembly, it is already an Act—needs to be commenced. There's quite a big difference between those two things. It will be commenced by the end of this Assembly term. Clearly, we can't commence any amendments to the Act before we've commenced the Act, so they will be commenced at the same time. There have been serious administrative and ICT difficulties in commencing the Act, but it is certainly enacted.
The minimum period of security of tenure of 12 months in Wales is put in place by that Act, which this Assembly saw fit to pass. It is a groundbreaking Act, and it certainly does change the circumstances for the private rented sector in Wales. However, we have absolutely no evidence that good landlords will be put off by the Act—why would they be? Any good landlord at the moment would want security of tenure of 12 months for a decent tenant—why would that change? The only thing this will do is make sure that rogue landlords, who treat their tenants very badly, by putting them permanently under notice to quit and enacting retaliatory evictions, will no longer be able to operate inside the private rented sector in Wales.
Thank you for your statement, Minister. I think your statement illustrates just how difficult it is for an ordinary tenant to fully understand the law that governs their landlord relationship. It is quite complicated. I think I just wanted to pick up something that Delyth Jewell commented on, which is the security of tenure for private rented tenants. Because, as you say, the majority of landlords only have one home, and therefore if they go away—for a job or whatever—they want to be able to rent their place out with the full knowledge that they would be able to move back in again when they wish to return. Nevertheless, the taxation system already identifies those who live in a home in place A, and then invest in a house for renting out. So, I want to explore with you whether it's not possible to give somebody who's living in a home that is an investment opportunity by the landlord to have more security of tenure than 12 months. Because in the old days, in the second world war, people did have security of tenure; if somebody wanted to sell that property, they had to sell to somebody with a guaranteed occupancy to be respected by the new owner. I think it's a very important issue when it comes to families with children who are potentially still having to move around every 12 months, if you've got a landlord who's completely taking this to the letter of the law, and that's obviously hugely disruptive to any child's education. So, I wondered if you could just clarify whether it will be possible to differentiate between somebody who's letting out their sole property or somebody who's letting out a property they hold as an investment.
Secondly, a niche point, which is that you're going to change the regulating powers to limit the use of a term so that people can be excluded from a property for specific periods. So, I think we probably are talking about student accommodation here. I know that some universities use the period between June and September to make some income by renting to people who want to attend a conference and things like that. So, I just wondered if that's not now going to be possible, because obviously it's likely to increase the rent that the student will have to pay, if that were to be the case.
On that point, that's exactly why we're changing the regulations. At the moment, the regulations are not clear and actually any landlord can do that for a variety of reasons. We've had quite a lot of consultation responses back saying that actually that's a loophole. So, if you were looking to implement a no-fault eviction outside the thing you could just exclude the tenant for a number of time periods and actually make it very difficult for them to live somewhere. So, what we're doing is we're saying that by regulation we would limit that to certain circumstances—students being a classic example. Actually, there are some tied church properties and other such properties that probably would fall within it, but we're looking to regulate which particular tenancies can have that happen for exactly that reason. It's commonplace for universities to have conferences and so on during the long recess. So, it's to facilitate that, but they're not the only ones. There are other properties that fall into that category. What we don't want is a sort of carte blanche for that to be able to happen. So, that's why we were looking to regulate for that.
In terms of the minimum period for security of tenure, it does give 12 months. It's six at the moment. So, it is a big improvement. It's very hard to legislate for the kind of investment property/not investment property thing that you're talking about, because people would just—[Inaudible.] If I said that if you've got two houses you're not subject to it and if you've got four you are, people would just make three companies. So, there's a whole series of anti-avoidance provisions that you have to look at. So, it's actually really difficult to do that without having a plethora of anti-avoidance provisions crop up.
So, what we've tried to do is to make it simple for people to understand and to make it sure and actually most landlords won't be doing this anymore, because it's not a way to easily get rid of somebody and get somebody in who pays more rent, which is the most fundamental reason that it happens. Deputy Presiding Officer, I personally have quite a big caseload of people who have been evicted through no fault of their own, just because a tenant who can pay better has been found, and this will certainly prevent that.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 4 on the agenda is this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language—consultation on the national policy on Welsh language transmission in families. And I call on the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. The first words that most of us speak usually come as a result of listening to our families and copying them. By speaking Welsh with their children, parents can create language practices that last a lifetime. The use of language between parents and their children, or the transmission of language, as it’s called, is one of the most important elements of language planning. Work has been done to support the use of Welsh in families for 20 years and more. Now it is time for us to take the next step as part of our journey towards doubling the use of Welsh and reaching 1 million speakers by 2050.
Our draft policy on transmission and use of the Welsh language in families sets out what we propose to do over the next decade. Today I’m asking everyone who wants to see an increase in the use of the Welsh language to contribute to the consultation on this important policy. As is set out in our Cymraeg 2050 strategy, Government can’t control which languages families speak, nor would we wish to do so. But we can do more to help parents to speak more Welsh.
I recognise that the linguistic situation varies from one family to another. In my case, I spoke Welsh with my mother, but English with my father. Welsh is the language I use with my children, and I even made it a condition of marriage that my husband learn Welsh. You need to relax: I'm certainly not suggesting that in this policy.
In our family, the language that we spoke to our children was a very conscious decision, as is the case for some other families, too, I'm sure. But that's definitely not true in all instances. The situation also varies across Wales, and we must be aware of that. Even in areas with higher percentages of Welsh speakers, we need to pay close attention to the language practices within families. Doing so is important in order to sustain Welsh-speaking communities. The 2011 census shows that, even in households where both adults in a couple are Welsh speakers, about 20 per cent of children aged three to four do not speak Welsh. In homes where there are two adults and where one of them is a Welsh speaker, fewer than half of the children aged three to four can speak Welsh.
So, this draft policy focuses on four aims: to inspire children and young people to speak Welsh to their children in the future; reignite the Welsh language skills of those who may not have used Welsh since their school days, or who have lost confidence in their language skills, to speak Welsh with their own children; support and encourage the use of Welsh within families where not everybody speaks Welsh; and to support Welsh-speaking families to speak Welsh with their children.
The actions that we are proposing include: developing new support for families based on the latest thinking in behaviour change; trialling a language use programme based on a successful project from the Basque Country; helping the education workforce to encourage pupils to speak more Welsh in order to create the language transmitters of the future; and creating networks for parents to be able to support each other. This is innovative work, not only for us in the Welsh Government, but also internationally. While I want us to lead the way, we also need to work together. We need to learn from other countries and other sectors, as well as share our findings with them.
We'll be consulting on this policy until 5 May, and we'll publish a final policy later this year. It is vital that we hear a range of voices on the proposals in this draft policy. I am particularly keen to hear the views of parents who lack confidence in their Welsh language skills so we can better understand what would help them. I want to hear from parents who had Welsh-medium education but who no longer use Welsh, or who might not have spoken Welsh socially while they were in school. There are also those parents who can speak Welsh but do not consider that speaking Welsh with their children is an option for them. We need to support all these parents to speak more Welsh with their children.
It's going to take time for us to see the results of this work. I'm talking here about intergenerational behaviour change. But we must also act now to help families speak more Welsh, and that's the aim of this policy. Thank you.
Thank you, Minister. I hope you'll feel better soon. I welcome this, because I think we all understand how crucial this is to the success of the 2050 policy, but I also welcome the recognition that language choice is a very personal issue, particularly within families. I was in the same situation as you, Minister, but I was the non-Welsh speaker. We as a family decided to bring up the children through the medium of Welsh, but there was no condition in terms of speaking Welsh before I got married. But we did that despite the fact that myself and my husband found it almost impossible to speak Welsh to each other, because we started conversing in English. And that's just one example of how complex this aim is in terms of its delivery.
You talk of families with Welsh language skills who don't perhaps have the confidence, motivation or aspiration to speak Welsh at home. So, what have you discovered already as to why families such as this don't wish to transmit the language? Why don't they wish to do that? Why is there no incentive for them to do that? Because I have had a quick look at the consultation document, but it's not clear to me—or rather, I don't accept that loss of confidence can be the only reason for the failure in transmission at the moment.
What have you learnt from the success or failure of the Twf programme, for example? Because it strikes me as being quite strange to prepare that programme without knowing the answers to my first question. And the reason for that is, I do accept that there have been social changes that have taken place, that people have been learning Welsh in schools over the past 20 years, and it's those people who are now in a position to have children and make this choice as to which language they speak at home. So, there is something of a disconnect between what's been provided already in schools and what young parents are willing to do now.
Having said that, I do understand the principles underpinning the recommendations in the document, and I do note the decisions of children themselves on the language, especially older children who have been brought up speaking Welsh, but then choose to speak more English when they become teenagers and so on. So, I would like to know what's the current offer to them? How do children at that age fit into the experiences of those in the Basque Country, for example? Because you do mention the Basque Country in the document, but I haven't heard many relevant details in terms of how that relates to older young people, if you like.
And, just to conclude: funding. How much is this going to cost? Who do you think is going to be responsible for implementing any programme that emerges from this consultation? And for how long will that continue? Thank you.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
Thank you very much, and you are right, what we're not trying to do here is to control behaviour within the family. We do understand that we're in a sensitive area here. So, what we're trying to do is to motivate, to help people to make their own decisions, and ensure the resources and the evaluation in terms of what works is available to them, and that we help in that area. There is a lot of research that has been done in this area, but what's important now is that we share that work and we do more nudge theory with these people. We know, to a certain extent, certain things that do work, but is there more that we can do?
And that's why it's vital—. You mentioned that it's difficult to change a language once you've set up that habit, and that is true, I think. And that's why it's so important that we start before children are born. That's why we collaborate before that with midwives. And that way of working has taken us quite a long way already, but evidently there is a cohort that we haven't reached yet, and it's important that we look at that.
So, why are people not transmitters? Well, that's what we're trying to find out here. You've mentioned that a lack of confidence is a part of that, and maybe particularly if they haven't been brought up through the medium of Welsh, but they've learned the language at school. It's interesting, maybe they don't have the vocabulary for very young children. Do they know how to sing to the children when they're very small and so forth? That's the kind of thing we have to ensure that we provide.
Another thing, from the research we've seen, is that, often, there isn't a conscious decision about which language to speak. One of the things we're trying to do is to have people to think about this. What's interesting in the research is that they do talk about which school their child goes to, so if they're sending them to a Welsh school, but they don't have a discussion about which language they speak at home.
And you are right, work has been done in this area over the years. There was Twf, and then that has become Cymraeg for Kids. One of the things that we've done in planning this new policy is evaluate Cymraeg for Kids to see what works, and that has fed into this programme. What we're hoping to do here is place a greater focus on the fact that what we want to see is the transmission of the language within families, and that that is established within the family rather than something that's school based. So, the focus is very consciously on families.
In terms of the time this is going to take, we think maybe a decade would be the timeframe for this. In terms of the funding, Cymraeg for Kids received £750,000 this year. What we'd expect, as a result of this consultation, is bids for more funding in this area. So, we'll have to see what comes back and what projects that are not funded now will be funded in the future.
Thank you very much for the statement. I agree entirely with what you say, namely that language transmission is one of the most important elements of language planning. In March 2017, myself and Plaid Cymru published this, which is 'Reaching the Million, which was commissioned by Iaith, the language planning centre, one of the main policy and independent language planning agencies in Wales. The intention of this document was to outline some of the main strategic priorities that need to be adopted in order to increase the number of Welsh speakers to 1 million by 2050. There was quite a bit in this document on language transmission and that particular element of the work, because we did feel it was so very important. We did state in this document that:
'So that a more sustainable future can be ensured for the Welsh language'
we need to set
'an initial national target'
and what we were suggesting was
'to ensure that 35% of 3-4 year olds speak Welsh as a consequence of language transfer within families and socialisation in the community. In terms of numbers, this could mean ensuring that more than 25,000 children, annually, are raised to speak Welsh by the time they are 3-4 years of age. This would also require significant efforts to substantially increase both the number and percentage socialised to speak Welsh in households with only one adult Welsh speaker and also in those households where there are no adult Welsh speakers.'
So, I would like to know: will your new policy set a similar target, and do you agree with the target of 35 per cent that I've just mentioned? Our document is still a living document, and it's still very relevant. It did go on to propose a number of steps that could be taken in terms of delivering this. I have no time to go into that in detail this afternoon, unfortunately.
You do also state in your statement that this work or this draft policy is ground-breaking. But with all due respect, you contradict yourself because you also say, and I quote:
'Work has been done to support the use of Welsh in families for 20 years and more.'
Yes. As Suzy mentioned, there's been the Twf programme. I'm highly aware of the entirely innovative work that that project did, and it was a Welsh Government programme. For once, I will praise the Government to the rafters for bringing this programme forward. It did encourage parents to speak Welsh to their babies and young children, and their target audiences were families of mixed language where only one parent was a Welsh speaker. I remember seeing Twf in operation when my own children were younger, with midwives working with families where one of the parents was a non-Welsh speaker. So, this is something akin to déjà vu in reading this statement today. Would you agree with me that bringing the Twf programme to an end was a huge mistake? I know that Cymraeg i Blant has replaced it, but the budget for the programme was £200,000 less than the budget for the Twf programme, and in my view, making all of those changes was a retrograde step in terms of language planning.
Finally, I would like to understand what this new policy’s relationship will be with the siarter iaith framework within the new curriculum, because this is another innovative approach that encourages children in schools the length and breadth of the country to speak Welsh outside the classroom. Therefore, clearly, those children could go on to being parents that transmit the Welsh language to their own children. For me, the continuation of the siarter iaith is crucial. There has been great delay with the evaluation work and as I understand it, the guidance for implementing the siarter within the new curriculum won't be published until the summer term, whilst there is guidance on all of the other areas of the curriculum already published. For me, this is a signal that perhaps this is not a priority for Government and in a way, it contradicts what you are trying to deliver.
To conclude, I am very pleased that you will be giving specific attention to this particular issue, because as I've explained, I do think it's crucially important if we are to reach the 1 million Welsh speakers.
Thank you very much, Siân. Can I say I would have a great interest in seeing a copy of that report, and seeing how that can be interwoven or what we can learn from that? I think that setting targets is important but difficult, so we have to do that in the right context, but certainly in terms of reaching 1 million Welsh speakers, transmission is vital in terms of what our expectations are. So, that target is there already. What we need to do is ensure that there is a way to implement that to ensure that we do reach that target.
I do think that there is a difference between what was happening previously with Twf and that progressed to Cymraeg i Blant. Twf was only available in some areas and one of the things that is important is that this is spread across the country. But it’s important that we also acknowledge that it’s going to be different from one area to the next.
The other thing that’s different with this, and you are right, the siarter iaith—. We’re not just talking about language transmission now, but having the children who are in school now and who come from non-Welsh speaking households—how can they be parents who speak Welsh and how can they be transmitters of the language? And you are right, we have to see how the siarter iaith can be interwoven with that, and that will be something I will be feeding back on to see how that can work. But you’ll see from what we've published today that trying to have children who are in school today to be transmitters or to be transformed, and ensuring that they do share the Welsh language with their children is a vital part of the strategy
I wasn't aware of the timing issue with the guidance, but I will go back and do some more research on the timing.
Thank you, Minister.
The next statement is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services on the loneliness and isolation strategy, and I call on the Deputy Minister to make the statement—Julie Morgan.
Diolch, Llywydd, and thank you for this opportunity to update Members on the launch of Wales's first strategy for tackling loneliness and social isolation. Increasingly, we understand the impact that being lonely and/or socially isolated can have on our physical and mental health, and therefore the importance of the relationships we have with friends, family, colleagues and neighbours in giving us our sense of belonging and well-being.
As a Government, we made a commitment to tackling loneliness and social isolation in 'Taking Wales Forward'. The importance of addressing these issues was also confirmed in December 2017 in the report by the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee. That report focused on the experiences of older people in Wales. However, it recognised that loneliness and social isolation can be experienced by many others too. The resulting Plenary debate on that report in February 2018 showed clear cross-party support for developing a strategy for Wales. I'm delighted to inform Members that 'Connected communities: a strategy for tackling loneliness and social isolation and building stronger social connections' was published earlier today.
This strategy is the first step in helping us to change how we think about loneliness and social isolation. It sets out our vision for a connected Wales—one where everyone has the opportunity to develop meaningful social relationships and where people are supported at those trigger points in life when they are most vulnerable, and also one where people feel able to say, 'I'm lonely', and not feel shame or stigma.
The consequences of loneliness and social isolation are stark. Research has shown that they can have an impact on our physical health, with links to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. They can also affect our mental health, increasing the risk of depression, low self-esteem and stress. There are also economic consequences to consider. For example, the Eden Project estimates that disconnected communities could be costing us in Wales some £2.6 billion a year through increased demand on health services and policing, and a cost to employers due to stress and low self-esteem.
Recent figures have shown the extent of these issues. The 2017-18 National Survey for Wales showed 16 per cent of the population aged over 16 years reported feeling lonely, with those aged 16 to 24 more likely to report being lonely than those aged 75 or over. However, we know that loneliness and social isolation can be experienced by anyone of any age and from any background, from the young person moving away from home to start university to someone with a long-term health condition, or an older person caring for a loved one. In fact, we've probably all experienced these feelings at some point in our lives. It's when they become long-term and entrenched that they become problematic.
In line with the principles of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, the strategy focuses on approaches that reduce the risk of, or prevent, people of all ages from experiencing loneliness and/or social isolation, or that intervene early before they become entrenched. It contains a number of cross-cutting policies and commitments to benefit all of society and to seek to provide the basis for people to have greater opportunities for meaningful social contact. It also recognises those at greater risk of experiencing loneliness and social isolation, and the need to reduce the stigma attached to these issues so that people feel better equipped to talk about how they feel.
It establishes four priorities for action: increasing opportunities for people to connect; improving community infrastructure to support people to come together; establishing and maintaining cohesive and supportive communities; and finally building awareness and reducing stigma. These priorities were informed by our public consultation, consultation events and with significant engagement across Government and external stakeholders, and I'm very grateful to all those who have contributed. It's absolutely clear from the consultation response that Government alone cannot solve these issues, although it can foster the right conditions for connections within communities to flourish. The strategy therefore calls upon all parts of society to play a role. We need to change how we think and act upon loneliness and isolation within Government, public services, businesses, communities and as individuals in order to help tackle these issues.
To support this, I'm pleased to inform Members of our plan to launch, later this year, a £1.4 million loneliness and social isolation fund over three years. The fund will support community-based organisations to deliver and test out, or scale up, innovative approaches to tackling loneliness and social isolation. And we'll use these projects to help build our knowledge and contribute to the evidence base.
Our work in developing this strategy has clearly shown that all parts of Government have a role to play in tackling loneliness and isolation. We want to strengthen our cross-Government approach and take action to ensure that we embed consideration of these issues across policy making. To help us achieve this, we will establish a cross-Government advisory group, to also include external partners, to oversee implementation of the strategy, tackle emerging issues and consider what more can be done. We will also publish a report every two years on progress against delivering our commitments. I hope this strategy will build on the excellent work that I know already exists across Wales and help to take us forward. This is just the start; over the months and years ahead, we want to extend our understanding, improve our responses to loneliness and isolation, and ensure that we're taking all the steps necessary to tackle these issues.
Llywydd, this Government remains committed to tackling loneliness and social isolation and to a more connected Wales, and I look forward to updating Members as we make progress to achieve this.
The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair.
I'd like to thank you for the statement here today. Around 29 per cent of the population report feeling socially lonely, 91,000 people feel consistently lonely, and the situation is at its worst for our older people. Over half of the people aged 60 to 74, and just under half of people over the age of 75, report feeling lonely. That's pretty sad, really, isn't it? Loneliness is associated with sleep problems, abnormal stress response, high blood pressure, poor quality of life, frailty, depression and increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, depression and dementia. In fact, Age UK has reported that loneliness can be as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Now, as the older people's commissioner noted in the 'State of the Nation' report, Wales is falling behind other parts of the UK. The UK Government introduced a Minister for loneliness in January 2018. Scotland launched its loneliness strategy in December 2018. And, whilst welcoming the publication of the strategy today, I would appreciate just a reason, really, why there was such a delay on the one here in Wales.
I would like to note, though, that I do agree with you that the strategy is just the start. The British Red Cross estimates that each older person who requires services as a result of loneliness and isolation could cost £12,000 per person over the next 15 years. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the strategy will be supported by a £1.4 million loneliness and social isolation fund, and a new single advice fund of £8.4 million.
One question that I do have for you, Minister, and that is: we know that social isolation is helped by people being able to be mobile, to be able to catch a bus, go off to see shops in another town, go off to see their doctor, and the community bus service is really integral, yet, in Wales, we've seen so many of our community bus services actually withdrawn, so I wondered what you are doing to work with the Minister and Deputy to see how we can actually just enforce the fact that, really, taking something away like that is hardly feeding into the prevention and intervention agenda. It's foolhardy and it's not a cost-worthy initiative. What steps will you take to ensure that the new, innovative approaches you will be investing in have strong evidence to ensure that they succeed?
I do agree with the four priorities, but I have some questions about the key commitments. Priority 3, people need a health and social care system that provides well-being and community engagement: we only have to look at my own health board to see how, in some respects—. I know, people coming in through the door of my office, it is often they who feel very badly let down by the health service, and sometimes, the integration in health and social care that was a fundamental part of the social care and well-being Act that we all sat through scrutinising in 2014, which came in 2016—. We still have lots of concerns in the community about the lack of join-up, especially when somebody needs to leave hospital and they need a discharge; quite often, it can take weeks for that actual referral to be made so that people can go home and not be in hospital.
Two, will your strategy look at making more finance available to help deal with the restrictions on domiciliary care visits to enable more time for interactions between carers and housebound clients? I was pleased to see priority 3 highlight the Making Every Contact Count initiative. The Welsh NHS Confederation has written to me stating their belief that more work can be done around that particular agenda. I agree, and the respondents to your consultation highlighted that further work to build the capacity of health professionals to understand the trigger points and the effective support available should be a key priority.
Another question: in addition to exploring the potential for developing specific training, what clear actions can you outline today that will help empower health services and local authority staff to recognise the role that they have in supporting residents making positive changes to their physical and mental health and well-being? As you know, you've rightly pointed out previously that younger people are very likely to report feeling lonely. Your consultation highlighted that many feel that schools have a key role to play. This has fed into the strategy before us today, including priorities 1 and 4.
Calls have also been made, though, for pastoral sessions to be introduced into the school curriculum concentrating on loneliness and social isolation. Having studied the health and well-being area of learning in the curriculum, I believe that schools could consider taking steps to help tackle loneliness. What steps will you be taking to ensure that pastoral sessions focused on loneliness and social isolation are undertaken by every school?
Finally, you are right that a cross-Government approach is needed, and I would like to think, and you certainly have my support, that it should be a cross-party initiative. I am concerned that other portfolios may not be feeding into the agenda as much as you are. You will be establishing an advisory group to oversee the implementation of the strategy, so I wonder whether you have considered asking your Welsh Government colleagues to consult the group on every relevant legislative proposal that is presented to this Assembly, because, quite often, those legislative proposals, actually, whilst doing good in some parts, can impact negatively on other areas. So, what I'm looking for is more joined-up thinking between Welsh Government Ministers as regards this particular strategy. Thank you.
I thank Janet Finch-Saunders for her contribution and also for her support for the strategy, and I'll be very happy to work together on the strategy. She said that all people can feel lonely at all ages, and I think that is a very important point—that we cannot say it's just older people who feel lonely, because Janet Finch-Saunders gave the figures for younger people. I totally agree that loneliness and isolation are as harmful as smoking, as Janet Finch-Saunders said.
She referred to other countries, and mentioned that there was a Minister for loneliness in the Westminster Government. The sort of approach we want to have here, really, is that we want everybody to own it. So, rather than have a Minister for loneliness, we want to ensure that all departments accept that they have a responsibility for tackling the issue of loneliness.
She mentions delay in terms of producing the strategy. I'm pleased she welcomes it, now that it has come, but we did have 230 responses to the consultation, which was a very high consultation response. We also held a number of stakeholder meetings. So, in fact, there was an awful lot to consider, and I think the time it's taken has meant that we have a more considered response today.
I'm pleased that she welcomes the funds. In terms of transport, obviously that is one of the issues where we hope to work with the Minister for Economy and Transport, because I absolutely agree that having connections—you need transport, sometimes, and you need accessible transport.
In terms of the health service, bringing health and social care together was, obviously, one of the key issues of the Act, as she said. I think there has been progress through the regional partnership boards and through the intermediate care fund—there have been joint projects. You know, it's obviously taking time for this to happen, but I do believe the progress that is there.
Making every contact count, I think that is something that is absolutely vital, because there are so many vital moments that you can use to take this agenda forward. And, of course, the schools, again, a very important area, and I know she'll be aware of the increase in funding for the counselling that is provided in schools, and also, of course, we are working towards bringing in the whole-school approach. The advisory group, I will keep the Chamber updated about the advisory group as it's developed.
Thank you to the Deputy Minister for the statement. I was a member of the health committee two years and a bit back when we published that report, and you, Deputy Minister, were a member of the committee at the time. It was a committee consultation that made quite an impression on me when one realises the impact on health, which is similar to smoking, as we've already heard, but it also made it clear to me that there are steps that the Government can take. Of course, the steps being taken are ones that I welcome. What I always want to know is whether there is more that can be done.
I think I have some four questions here. The figures are very striking, aren’t they? There are more young people between 16 and 24 who are likely to report feeling lonely than there are people over 75. That contradicts the perception that we may have. But, given those figures, we know that that age group or a percentage of them face huge pressures to succeed in education, they are more likely to face problems such as online bullying than older generations, and they also face a future in terms of Brexit and climate change that they didn't choose for themselves. There are all sorts of pressures on them. So it’s not surprising perhaps that they are reporting feeling lonely and isolated. I wonder whether your strategy intends to tackle this specifically, for example, by working with FE colleges, universities, and so on, in order to ensure that they can do what they can as sectors to help.
Secondly, in terms of housing, would the Government accept that when we talk about house building, we should be talking about building communities? Would the Minister agree with me that housing developments should include community resources too, and would she be willing to speak to her fellow Ministers to ensure that planning legislation is strengthened in order to ensure that this does happen?
If I could move on to my next question, whatever age group you're talking about and whatever generation you're talking about, there is an elephant in the room here too in terms of there being one major problem, and that is the major cuts in local government funding over the past decade. We have seen cuts to day centres, we have seen cuts in public transport that so many people rely on, and we've seen higher prices charged for the use of leisure and sports facilities, and so and so forth. So, I would ask whether £1.4 million over three years is truly going to make a dent in this problem. Shouldn't we be really ensuring that local government is funded properly, so that they can make better decisions in order to tackle loneliness and isolation?
Finally, there is a new advisory group to be established, and that will be asked to report back on progress every two years. Now, it’s a three-year programme; that’s the funding that’s being announced today, so by the time the first report will be published, there will be less than a year left to focus on identifying the schemes that work well and possibly scaling those up. So, is this kind of advisory group the best way of ensuring best practice in delivering real results in this area?
Thank you very much and thank you for your support for the strategy. Certainly, the impact on health you clearly recognised—as bad as smoking cigarettes. I mean, it's very stark, and I'm very pleased that you welcome the steps.
In terms of young people aged 16 to 24, I think it's absolutely crucial that we do work to help identify those young people, and so, I would certainly see us working with the further education colleges and the universities. I think it's also very important the fact that we have a re-launched youth service and increased funding that the Government has given to the youth service. Because I think the youth service is an area where young people can lose the feeling of isolation, and I think youth workers, with their particular skills, are able to work very closely with young people and to address these issues. So, I think the youth service is very important, and I'm very pleased the Government has been able to increase the funding for the youth service.
Housing, yes, I have had a meeting with many Government Ministers, actually, about this strategy because it is crucial that we do see it as a whole-Government strategy and that every department needs to be involved. I went, this morning, to Newport, where I was in a complex—Pobl—where a community hub was provided along with the accommodation for apartments within the building, and also with small bungalows outside. And we were able to meet the residents and also meet the Reality Theatre who work with tackling stigma, and it was very impressive. You could see that this housing development had really included the things that people need to have good lives in terms of having somewhere to meet, somewhere where they can share experiences. So, I think housing is absolutely crucial, and we can do a lot more, I think, in terms of developing suitable housing.
Then, major cuts in local government, of course that is a huge issue and we know that many facilities have been lost, but we have been able to provide some funding, through the ICF, for local hubs, and I think they are certainly developing in a way that does provide support for people in the community. And £1.4 million is a 'dent', as you said, compared to what is needed, but what we are saying, really, is that this strategy is for every department and for all the spending that happens. And all the spending and all the initiatives that take place, we want to be sure that loneliness and isolation is part of that spending. So, the £1.4 million is to provide for some experimental small projects, which we will obviously evaluate in this new advisory group. I mean, the new advisory group will have external people on it who will bring some expertise of working in the field, and I think we will have to see how that group develops.
I really welcome your statement today, but I want to particularly focus on 16 to 24-year-olds and loneliness, and to recognise, as it says in your statement, that 60 per cent of that population do suffer some loneliness at some stage in their lives. Unemployment, of course, is a main driver for that, and there are things that the Welsh Government is doing in terms of training and education that will help keep young people engaged in the workplace or any other opportunities and chances that they have. And some of those are going to perhaps be volunteering in, particularly, community activities where they live.
It's already been said that local authorities, investment in community provision for young people, has seen, over the years, some budget cuts due to the austerity agenda, and that, again, does feed in to this isolation and loneliness, and particularly in rural areas like the area that I cover.
But one area where community activity is probably extremely prominent is sport, and that is fantastic, in the main, for young males in particular, but we all know that the evidence shows us—and there's been plenty of evidence presented—that young women around the age of 15 or 16 do, in the main, drop out of actively being engaged in sport. So, I wonder whether this group might look at, perhaps, some way of engaging, or keeping young girls engaged in that.
I welcome the £1.4 million that the Government is going to invest within the next three years, and I do welcome the advisory group that will work right across all of the Government. I would identify—and Rhun has already identified—that cyber bullying is probably the major part of isolation. When young people, or anybody, but I'm talking particularly about young people, feel bullied even in their home, where in the past young people would have been able to shut the door and know that they felt quite safe, cyber bullying actually impacts right into where they exist and how they live. So, I'd be really interested to see if any work is being done around that and whether the Government would look at any possible schemes that would encourage exchanging ideas or maybe even some equipment that would allow young people to have opportunities to trial some activities that might otherwise be unavailable to them because of poverty.
I thank Joyce Watson for those very helpful comments. Again, she emphasised 16 to 24-year-olds, which I think is a crucial area. Obviously, some of those young people will still be in school and so I think it is very important that we continue our work in terms of mental health on the whole-school approach, and that is something that the Government is following up with the task and finish group. As I said in my response to Rhun ap Iorwerth, the work with training colleges and education is crucial.
She mentioned volunteering, and I think that is an area that we've certainly identified as somewhere people can lose the feeling of isolation and loneliness as well as making a huge contribution to society. So, the Government does fund the Wales Council for Voluntary Action to encourage and train volunteers and to provide expertise on this subject. Certainly, volunteering is an area that I do see as crucial as a way forward.
Joyce Watson also mentioned rural areas, and I think that that is an important point, because I think that research that has been done into loneliness and isolation in rural areas, as compared to city areas, has shown very little difference, but what we do know is, of course, in rural areas is the connectedness, which I've already mentioned—how important it is to have the transport available. So, there is that particular issue in the rural areas.
And now sport: sport is obviously a great opportunity for health, for enjoyment, and I think the research does show that it does help you to deal with depression, isolation and loneliness. So, certainly, sport is something that we will be working very closely on with Sport Wales and hoping to include on the questionnaires and research that they do a question about loneliness and isolation. Of course, we must make sure that everybody who benefits from sport is across every part of society. She makes the very important point about engaging young women.
And then finally, the final point, I think, was on cyber bullying. That is a very important point about people feeling isolated and lonely in their own homes, and I think this is an area that we certainly would want to follow up.
Thank you for your statement, Minister. As you are no doubt aware, tackling loneliness and isolation has been one of my top priorities and I'm pleased that you have also made it yours. I look forward to working with you on this subject. I was also proud to be part of the health committee, and we evidenced much, both inside and outside the Assembly. So, I was pleased with my interaction at that time. With around a third of our nation experiencing loneliness, we obviously have to act.
As you rightly point out, Minister, loneliness and isolation can have extensive impacts on our physical and mental well-being. Evidential studies have shown increased risk of heart attack, stroke and dementia from social isolation as well as high instances of depression, anxiety and sleep abnormalities.
Unfortunately, there are a multitude of reasons why someone can become socially isolated and lonely. We have to do all that we can to mitigate as many factors as we can. Loneliness and isolation are not defined by age, and whilst social media can enhance social interaction, it can also lead to bullying and people withdrawing from such activity.
So, Minister, your action plan’s top priority is to increase opportunities for people to connect. What discussions have you had with ministerial colleagues and local government about reversing and preventing the closure of libraries, day centres and leisure facilities? These community facilities are a lifeline for many, many people, particularly the elderly, and are key in preventing isolation.
I note from the strategy that you are giving focus to tackling digital exclusion. Whilst this is to be welcome and digital connectivity can play a role in tackling loneliness, I think we must err on the side of some caution here. Increasing digitisation can deny many elderly people meaningful human contact. So, Minister, what actions will you take to mitigate this risk? Staying with digital inclusion, Minister, what role do you see digital voice assistants playing in your strategy?
Community groups play an essential role in tackling isolation. The fantastic Hen Shed in Maesteg, which is in my region, is a great example of how voluntary groups can be at the forefront of our approach. So, Minister, what can your Government do to support groups like hen sheds and men’s sheds? Have you or your colleagues spoken to the Treasury to discuss what financial support can be offered such as VAT and business rates exemptions et cetera?
Finally, Minister, your strategy lists community infrastructure as its second priority. Apart from free rail travel for accompanied under-16s, there is scant mention of public transport. Minister, do you agree with me that good public transport links should be a priority in tackling isolation? What discussions have you had with the Minister for transport regarding measures to improve public transport links across Wales? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr.