Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

13/10/2020

In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 14:00 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, a few points from me. This meeting will be held in hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitute Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are noted on the agenda. And I would also remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting, and apply equally to Members in the Chamber as to those joining virtually. 

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Dawn Bowden. 

COVID-19 on the Courts' Estate

1. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service about tackling the spread of COVID-19 on the courts' estate in Wales? OQ55713

Llywydd, I thank Dawn Bowden for her question. Courts in Wales must operate safely during the pandemic. To that end, officials maintain regular dialogue with the Ministry of Justice and with HMCTS. I have written to the chief executive seeking further assurances that all necessary steps are being taken to ensure the safety of those attending court premises in Wales.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. Following concerns that were raised with me, I've also recently written to the courts and tribunal service seeking assurance that their operational practices remain in line with Welsh COVID rules. I do, of course, understand that the courts service is under considerable pressure at the moment, but I was disturbed to hear that people appearing before the courts in Cardiff at weekends may have been transferred from areas like Merthyr Tydfil and mid and west Wales, and held in conditions that are not compliant with Welsh COVID regulations. I further understand that some 16 solicitors working in the courts in Cardiff have also made representations to the courts service with their concerns about safe working practices. So, can you please seek two assurances: one, that the treatment of people on remand, and appearing before the courts in Wales, as well as those people working in the courts, is in compliance with Welsh COVID regulations, and to ask that her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service make full use of their estate, including the restoration of weekend courts in places like Merthyr Tydfil, if needed, to help us all keep safe from the spread of infection?

Llywydd, I thank Dawn Bowden for her supplementary question. I'm very happy to take up the issues that she has identified. I thank her for letting me have sight of the letter that she herself has written to the courts and tribunal service, and I did indeed see the letter from legal practitioners—their open letter of 18 September. I want to just assure Members that the Welsh Government has remained in regular dialogue with senior people in the courts service throughout the pandemic—both myself and the Counsel General. I had an exchange of letters with the Lord Chief Justice earlier in August, in which he said to me that Wales had been at the forefront of the efforts made by the service for safe reopening of Crown Courts and magistrates' courts. And I last had an exchange of letters with the Lord Chancellor, which culminated in a reply from him on 21 September. 

So, I want to give Members an assurance that we have pursued issues throughout the pandemic, making sure that Public Health Wales advice is directly available to the courts service, and that its advice is properly known to them. It is then for them to make sure that they minimise risks both to the defendants and to other people who are working in the courts system, and we will continue to make representations to the UK Government to ensure that court premises in Wales are safe for all of those who need to use them. 

COVID-19, of course, is impacting on our courts and enforcement authorities from two directions: the actual virus and the burden of the regulations. Now, here in Cardiff, the jury in the trial of a man alleged to have been involved in a shooting incident has been discharged after one of their number reported coronavirus symptoms. Enforcement officers can recommend prosecution in a magistrates' court should local lockdown restrictions be breached, but they are simply overwhelmed.

Now, South Wales Police is responding to an average of 40 reports of potential breaches daily, and Arfon Jones, the north Wales police and crime commissioner, has stated publicly that now we're back to normal with traditional crime, plus we've still got to enforce these coronavirus regulations. So, what steps, First Minister, are you taking to assist with tackling the two major issues being caused to enforcement authorities by COVID-19?

14:05

Llywydd, I would not myself describe the regulations that are there to keep us all safe as a burden. They are a necessary protection, which means that people's lives in Wales are safer than they would be without the regulations. I recognise what the police and crime commissioner for north Wales has said, that levels of general crime were suppressed back in March and April, but they have recovered—if that's the right word—to the sorts of levels that were being seen earlier in the year. And now our police forces are working very hard indeed to make sure both that they deal with those matters, and that they also are able to assist in the vital business of enforcing coronavirus restrictions and regulations here in Wales. I fully support the approach that our police forces have taken throughout the pandemic—that you begin always by making sure that people are aware of the rules, that you educate, you advise, you encourage, but, when that runs out and people deliberately and knowingly break the laws that are there to protect us all, then enforcement action must be taken. And that is the approach that our police forces are taking, and they have the full support of the Welsh Government in doing so.

The First 1,000 Days of a Child’s Life

2. What assessment has the First Minister made of the impact of the ongoing pandemic on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life in Wales? OQ55717

Llywydd, I thank Lynne Neagle for that. Although babies and young children are unlikely either to contract or be seriously affected by COVID-19, the Welsh Government remains focused on the long-term physical, mental and emotional well-being of all of those growing up during the coronavirus crisis.

First Minister, the evidence is unequivocal that the first 1,000 days of a child's life, from pregnancy to age two, lays foundations for a healthy and happy life. The recent 'Babies in Lockdown' report from the Parent—Infant Foundation highlighted the stark impact that COVID has had on families and babies, and also that families already at risk of poor outcomes have suffered the most, coronavirus entrenching disadvantage yet again. We know that, in Wales, concerns have been raised about restrictions on the involvement of partners in pregnancy and labour, as well as the impact of reduced health visiting services on perinatal mental health and breastfeeding rates. Given that we face a prolonged period of restrictions this winter, what steps will the First Minister take to ensure that the first 1,000 days of a baby's life is really a fundamental opportunity to build good physical and mental health for life? Thank you.

Thank you, Llywydd. Of course, I agree with Lynne Neagle about the importance of those first 1,000 days, when children's brains are growing faster than they will at any other time in their lives, and when those very important attachments are being laid down that will form the basis of emotional well-being over the rest of their lifetime. As Lynne Neagle will know, in the early days of coronavirus there were disruptions to the sorts of services families and children could rely upon, both because staff themselves were falling ill as a result of coronavirus and because health visitors, for example, had to be redirected to helping even more urgent parts of the health service. The good news is that all health visitors have now been repatriated, and those services that matter so much in the lives of those young children are being restored. They're not 100 per cent back to where they were before, because coronavirus hasn't gone away. But nevertheless, the efforts that are needed, in the way that Lynne Neagle has set out, I know are well understood and are being acted upon in our social services and in our health services. And, Llywydd, there are still some remarkable success stories, considering the pressures that everybody has been under. Immunisation rates in Wales, during the first three months of this financial year—so, the three months when the coronavirus crisis was at its greatest—the three-dose, six-in-one vaccine for infants went above 95 per cent during that quarter and the MMR first dose for two-year-olds increased to above 95 per cent. So, despite all the difficulties that people were facing, and we know that people were reluctant sometimes to come forward for treatments in that very difficult period, there is evidence of the continuing success of services for young people in those first 1,000 days. 

14:10

First Minister, those first 1,000 days are so important and I'd like to back up what Lynne has said with her concerns she's raised with you today, and also thank you and the Government for listening to some of those concerns. Having a one-and-a-half-year-old myself, who turned one during lockdown—our first in the national lockdown—I can say that I was really worried for his development process because of the lack of interaction with others, particularly those of his own age. Interaction and play is so important for those stages of life but, if we're not careful, centres that encourage you to have that interaction, like soft-play centres—. There won't be any left in Monmouthshire soon due to their businesses being so badly hit by footfall and income due to the surrounding areas being in lockdown. So, please, First Minister, can I ask you today to somehow incorporate within that new round of funding that's coming forward soon a way of financially helping out those businesses who are losing out so badly on footfall at the moment because of the surrounding areas being in lockdown? Thank you. 

Well, Llywydd, I thank Laura Anne Jones for that. I very much recognise her starting point. Young children learn so much from other young children of their own age, and the opportunity to play and to socialise with children in that way is fundamental to them, and many families have found that those opportunities have been cut back as a result of anxiety about coronavirus and services not being able to operate in the way they previously did.

The issue of businesses just across the border from local lockdown areas is a matter that the Member raised with me, I know, last week. I promised, then, I would talk to my colleague Ken Skates about the points that she raised and I have had an opportunity to do that. And I am pleased to be able to report to her that the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales is ensuring that the sums of money we have set aside during phase 3 of the economic resilience fund, which were designed to help businesses in lockdown areas, that there will be flexibility to allow businesses just across the border who are affected by those lockdown measures to take advantage of that fund as well, and I thank her again for raising that point with me. 

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. First of all this week, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies. 

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, yesterday, one of your health Ministers warned that a second national lockdown could be introduced here in Wales. Does this mean that the Welsh Government's current approach to implementing the current lockdowns has been a failure?

Llywydd, no more than the Prime Minister's announcement of a new three-tier system in England was a measure of failure in England. It's a facile point to make. What the Minister for Health and Social Services was warning of yesterday is that coronavirus numbers are growing right across Wales, that the gap between those parts of Wales which are not in local lockdown measures and those who are is shrinking, and that we have to be prepared for the fact that the measures we have taken so far may not be enough to meet the onslaught of the virus during the autumn and winter. The Prime Minister moved to change arrangements in England yesterday because of the upswing in virus there. We will do the same in Wales if we need to do it here. 

Llywydd, of course, the First Minister wants to talk about England, so let's talk about England. Let's talk about the fact that the latest evidence from the Office for National Statistics shows that the number of COVID-related deaths is proportionately higher here in Wales than in England. Let's talk about the fact that two thirds of tests carried out in Wales are done by UK lighthouse labs and so Public Health Wales's capacity clearly isn't being used effectively in Wales. And let's talk about the massive investment the UK Government is delivering into Wales to support our businesses and public services right across the country—over £4 billion to date. I have to say, Llywydd, I'd want to talk about England if I was responsible for this Welsh Government's record.

Now, the Welsh Government's approach has been to implement a mix of county-wide lockdowns and hyperlocal lockdowns, like in the case of Llanelli and Bangor. And in order to better judge the effectiveness, or indeed ineffectiveness, of the Welsh Government's current lockdown approach, it is vital that it publishes data at a community level. The Welsh Government must also publish data by demographic, so we can follow trends and better use our resources to protect our people. And the Welsh Government must openly publish transmission data, so that we see how the virus is being transmitted, for example, by household, hospitality setting, workplace or by travel. And the people of Wales must be able to judge for themselves whether the measures being taken by the Welsh Government so far have been proportionate or not.

Now, some counties, of course, have chosen to publish community data themselves, such as Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Monmouthshire, and that transparency is absolutely crucial. And it's only fair that everyone in Wales should have access to data about their own local community. So, First Minister, will you now commit to leading on this, by publishing data on a community basis, on a demographic basis and on a transmission basis, so that the people of Wales can be confident that the current lockdown measures are proportionate to the threat of the virus in their own areas?

14:15

Well, Llywydd, indeed the policy of the Member's party is that for Wales we should see England, so nobody should be surprised at his introduction to this next series of questions.

I agree with him that local level data published by some local authorities in Wales has been a very useful guide for those local populations, and will encourage other local authorities, who are in a position to do so, to do the same. The Welsh Government publishes a huge amount of data every day in relation to coronavirus, both directly ourselves and through Public Health Wales and through other aspects of services for which we are responsible. What I won't do is to publish data that is so volatile that it's impossible to draw sensible and reliable conclusions from it. The data we publish needs to be data that can be sensibly used, and where it can be, then we do.

Well, First Minister, you say that you, as a Government, publish the data, but that's not the case though, is it? Because Vaughan Gething has already made it clear that the Welsh Government won't publish more localised data to keep people in Wales more informed. Because on 25 September, he said he doesn't want to provide a running commentary. You're saying one thing and Vaughan Gething is saying something else. Clearly, you are not singing from the hymn sheet as a Government, First Minister.

Wales needs a balance between protecting lives and livelihoods, and we're yet to see enough valuable data to judge the proportionality of the Welsh Government's measures. Instead, what we have seen is the Welsh Government push for a travel ban, despite providing no evidence that one is actually needed. And First Minister, before you push ahead with a travel ban, you should publish the evidence that you have that proves the case for one.

And in the meantime, the Welsh Government has had plenty of opportunities to bring in mandatory testing at Cardiff Airport. Four weeks ago you said you were in discussions with the managers of the airport you own, and yet there's still been no progress. First Minister, passenger numbers are down by 93 per cent, so do you have any intention to introduce mandatory testing—the same testing your party colleagues in London keep calling for—or, as is the case with your proposed travel ban, are you just waiting for England to do it first?

Well, Llywydd, I'm afraid the leader of the opposition really is all over the place this afternoon: he hops from one remote contingency to another. There is no difference between the health Minister and myself. I said we would not publish data at a localised level that is not reliable and cannot help people to make informed and proper decisions; that is what the health Minister says, and that is what the Member needs to understand.

Let me deal with the travel issue, one on which he and his party are so much on the wrong side of the argument, refusing to take a simple measure that would help to keep Wales safe, and which is bitterly resented, by the way, in the part of Wales that he comes to the Senedd to represent. A part of Wales in which the current rate of coronavirus is below 30 per 100,000 of the population, but where his Government, in England, allows people from Liverpool, where there are 800 cases per 100,000, to travel from Liverpool to Tenby and to the west of Wales to stay. Now, that is unacceptable to people in that locality and it's unacceptable to me too.

I put these points to the Prime Minister again yesterday. Once again, he refused to do the simple and the right thing. I have written to him again today. I have set out the evidence for him, which is plain for anybody to see. The Member was very interested in data earlier in this session. I commend to him the data that I refer to in that letter, which will demonstrate why allowing people from high-circulation areas to move to low-circulation areas simply carries the virus with them. We prevent that from happening in Wales and the Prime Minister needs to prevent it as well. And he ought to be speaking up for the people of Wales, not for his own narrow party perspective.

As for the airport, we continue in discussions. When it is possible to have a system that does not lead to long, long delays, with people at the airport waiting for tests to be carried out—. He may think that that's easy to bring about. I can tell you, having read all of the information, that it's not. There are ways in which we can tackle that problem. We're very close to agreeing it. Once we do, we will make sure that people arriving in Cardiff Airport are able to be tested—and tested rapidly—so that where they are able to, they can resume their daily lives.

14:20

Diolch, Llywydd. Three weeks ago, the Strategic Advisory Group for Emergencies, SAGE, advised that a combination of interventions would likely be necessary to bring R for coronavirus below 1. Among the measures that it said should be considered for immediate introduction were a circuit-breaker, a short period of lockdown, to return incidence to low levels; the closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms and personal services; and for all university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is essential.

Can you confirm, First Minister, that you were privy to this information three weeks ago? And, with R in Wales currently at 1.37, and with the number of new cases reported today at 764, why have you decided not to implement the SAGE recommendations when you have said consistently that you would be guided by the science?

Well, Llywydd, SAGE advice comes to the Welsh Government via the technical advisory cell committee. It doesn't come unmediated because SAGE advice is dominated by the need to provide advice to the largest of the four UK nations. That's why we have our own technical advisory cell, and SAGE advice comes to me via that cell, and we've not yet been advised by TAC to implement a circuit-breaker system.

But, I do take the arguments in favour of a circuit-breaker period seriously, and in the COBRA meeting yesterday, I asked the Prime Minister for an extra special COBRA meeting specifically to discuss the circuit-breaker idea. I think that it's an idea that will need further examination, and needs to be shared in perspectives between the four UK nations. I repeat that call to the Prime Minister in the letter that I have written to him today.

Let's look at the evidence from the technical advisory cell that you referred to, First Minister. On 18 September, it said:

'A package of non-pharmaceutical interventions...on local and national scale may be needed to bring R back below 1…an earlier and more comprehensive response is likely to reduce the length of time for which they are required.'

It repeated that in its next report on 25 September, in which it said:

'If the current measures do not bring R below 1 then further restrictions will be needed to control the epidemic in Wales. The earlier additional measures are introduced, the more effective they will be.'

Your Labour colleague at Westminster, Jonathan Ashworth, has said today that the inaction of the Government, in light of the SAGE papers, is alarming, and that the Labour opposition would have followed the scientific advice and implemented a circuit-breaker weeks ago. Keir Starmer said yesterday that the Prime Minister, in these circumstances, has to act quickly and decisively, but doesn't the same also apply to you, First Minister?

14:25

Well, Llywydd, I believe we have acted quickly and decisively. The local restrictions that we have in health protection areas in Wales go beyond what is required in England, even in the tier 3 measures that the Prime Minister has published. And over the weekend, we had to move again to impose such local restrictions in another area of Wales, in Bangor in north Wales. So, I believe that we do act quickly and we do act decisively.

I want to be clear with Members, as with people who live in Wales, that if the position we face continues to deteriorate, if the number of cases of coronavirus continues to go up, if we continue to see an additional flow of people into our health service, as we have over the last week—. Llywydd, four weeks ago, the number of beds occupied by people with suspected or confirmed coronavirus in our hospitals was around 200; this week, it's around 500. If we continue to see those numbers rise in that way, then further measures will be needed.

One area where we do need quick and decisive action is in relation to travel from areas of high infection that you've already referred to. This is the fourth week running that I've highlighted the absurdity of people in areas of high COVID rates in England being allowed to travel into parts of Wales. Yesterday, the health Minister, for the first time, confirmed that there had been importation of coronavirus cases from contact with some of those high-prevalence areas in England. Perhaps, First Minister, you could give us a little bit more detail about that evidence.

Clearly, the UK Government should act to close this travel loophole. But waiting for BoJo is proving a pretty futile exercise. So, rather than writing another unanswered letter or waiting for a four-nation COBRA, why not act independently now in the interests of the people of Wales? If you need extra parliamentary time this week, First Minister, to get this legislation through, then we as an opposition party will support you. Can we really afford to wait another day, let alone another week?

Well, Llywydd, the Member asked where the evidence comes from. It comes from the waste water surveillance survey that demonstrates that, when people come into Wales from other parts of the United Kingdom, then the rate of coronavirus found in waste water goes up and it is found in genomic evidence—important new genomic evidence. I referred to that in the letter that I've sent to the Prime Minister.

You see, where I differ from the leader of Plaid Cymru is this: he uses the language all the time of people from England coming into Wales, as though this was some sort of contest between Wales and England, and I've been absolutely clear that that is never the point that I have made to the Prime Minister. The point I make to him is that people from high-prevalence areas should not be allowed to travel to low-prevalence areas—wherever the high-prevalence areas are in the United Kingdom, wherever the low-prevalence areas are in the United Kingdom. So, this is not about stopping people from England coming to Wales, nor should we ever fall into that sort of way of talking. It is simply about preventing people, whether they live in Wales in a high-prevalence area going to a low-prevalence area in Wales or England or Scotland, or people anywhere else in the United Kingdom where the virus is in high circulation going to places where the virus doesn't exist in the same way, because when they do that, the risk of bringing the virus with them is inevitably and obviously increased.

First Minister, there's been no difference between how you and Adam Price are speaking about this issue. Indeed, there now seems to be little difference between your Government and Plaid Cymru. Many fear we are sleepwalking towards independence. 

Yesterday, you sought to lay down an ultimatum to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Today, you were across nearly every news outlet saying that you want to enforce a border between Wales and England. Meanwhile, top travel writer, Simon Calder, who encouraged people to holiday in Wales whilst observing COVID restrictions, was subject to a torrent of abuse. He said:

'The intensity of negative comments were of a magnitude I've not experienced'.

After being called 'scum' and told to 'eff off and stay in England', he says he won't visit Wales again. When questioned, your Government spokesperson just replied that Boris Johnson had refused to put in travel restrictions, despite your calls. First Minister, will you condemn the abuse Simon Calder received for encouraging people to visit Wales in a COVID-compliant way, or are you taking over Plaid Cymru's anti-English stance now that they've taken over your party's antisemitism?

14:30

Well, Llywydd, the Member could not have got it more wrong. I have done my very best throughout the discussion about travel to make it clear that, for me, it is not a matter of the border. It is the Prime Minister who is forcing it to become a border matter by his refusal to act to prevent people inside England travelling from high-incidence to low-incidence areas and travelling beyond England. So, my position is that I believe in the United Kingdom; I believe in a successful United Kingdom. I regret bitterly that the Prime Minister acts in ways that cast a doubt on that in the minds of others. And I repeat, Llywydd, as I've said already: for me, this is absolutely not to do with preventing people from England coming to Wales; it is a matter of preventing anybody, anywhere in the United Kingdom, who lives in a high-prevalence area travelling to a low-prevalence area, anywhere in the United Kingdom. For that to happen, we've all got to play our part. We have those arrangements here in Wales. I want the Prime Minister to do the same for England, because I think that supports a successful United Kingdom, and I think not to do so undermines those of us who want to make that case. As for Simon Calder, I think his advice to people was naïve, but I absolutely do not believe that people who speak on any subject should be subject to abuse, and I regret the fact that that was the result of what he had said. I may not agree with him, but he has every right to say it and he has every right to be respected.

First Minister, you talk about respecting devolution and wanting a strong United Kingdom but then demand that England must do what you do in Wales, or else. Now, you have this policy of preventing anyone from crossing a council area, as you define, you have it with force of law, but the reality is that after lockdown fatigue, because of how long you kept it going before, consent for your policy is breaking down. The official opposition opposed your policy of preventing people crossing those council borders. Because you locked down harder and longer in Wales to postpone infections from the summer into autumn and winter, our economy, as well as our health, has suffered.

The Centre for Cities think tank found that Cardiff had seen the weakest post-lockdown recovery outside of London, with only 51 per cent of pre-COVID footfall returning to Cardiff, yet infections in Wales are shooting back up, as they are in England. In my region, the areas with least infection are on the English border, whilst Cardiff, Swansea and the Valleys have higher rates than nearby parts of England, yet you imply that our problems here reflect policy in England and seek to blame COVID spread on people coming over the border from England. First Minister, isn't the real reason you are threatening to enforce a border to distract from your own Government's and this institution's mismanagement of the pandemic?

I entirely disagree with those points. The way that coronavirus has been managed in Wales, I think, has secured the agreement and the consent of people in Wales. They certainly don't agree with the sort of fringe ideas that the Member peddles in the Chamber, during the time he still has left with us. Nor do I accept that the point of our travel request to the Prime Minister is anything other than a sensible, straightforward course of action, designed to protect people and to keep Wales safe. That is the object of this Government; it may not be shared by him.

Question 3, Rhianon Passmore.

You're not unmuted. Rhianon Passmore can't be heard. Carry on.

COVID-19 Testing

3. Will the First Minister provide an update on Wales’s COVID-19 testing capabilities? OQ55715

I thank Rhianon Passmore, Llywydd. Capacity issues at the UK lighthouse laboratory network have impacted upon the Welsh testing system. The situation is improving and needs to do so further. In the meantime we have increased capacity and use of Welsh laboratories.

14:35

Diolch, First Minister. Thank you for that. Wales's first specialist COVID-19 lab in Gwent is due to open this month, and I would like him to join with me in thanking all of our dedicated staff working across Wales flat out within them. The hope is that the new lighthouse facility will process 20,000 tests a day, and as the First Minister has already alluded to, these lighthouse labs are managed by the UK Government and run by private firms. Will the Welsh Government ensure that this site and Public Health Wales are dedicated to working together to increase to a faster volume and turnover of testing for the Welsh populace? Furthermore, the announcement last week that the Welsh Government would create local testing sites at Wales's universities in Cardiff, Swansea, Pontypridd, Bangor and Aberystwyth is also to be welcomed. So, First Minister, what further possibilities are there for the Welsh Government to increase that testing capacity and what possibility is there of locating a testing facility within my constituency of Islwyn? Thank you.

I thank Rhianon Passmore for that. She is right to say that the new centre at Imperial Park 5 became operational on 5 October. It's already able to process 10,000 tests a day and will be able to process 20,000 tests a day when fully operational in the next couple of weeks. So, that will further boost our lab capacity, the resilience of our system and will help us to go on improving turnaround times. So, I'm very pleased to be able to give that reassurance to the Member that we are using that opportunity, as we are using the £32 million that the Minister for health was able to make available to Public Health Wales to provide 24-hour working in regional labs in Swansea, Cardiff and in Rhyl and six new hot labs, situated in acute general hospitals.

The local test sites at universities—the one in Treforest opened on 25 September, the one in Swansea opened earlier this week, the one in Bangor will open on 16 October, in Cardiff on 16 October, in Aberystwyth on 19 October. So, once again, we are moving rapidly to make sure that those local testing facilities are available. I want to give the Member an assurance that we would use our mobile testing unit as well, so that if there were a need for additional specific-site facilities in her constituency—were that to become necessary, then we have the facilities and we have the experience of moving them rapidly to those places where they are most needed.

Thank you, First Minister, for that answer. If I wanted a more detailed response in relation to your letter to the Prime Minister, I could now go to the media, because I see they're actively tweeting out that letter, and we as Assembly Members haven't seen the scientific evidence that you attach to it, which is highly regrettable and disrespectful, I'd suggest to you. Also, when it comes to SAGE's advice when it comes to travel restrictions, it says that they would have a low impact and they have moderate confidence that they would be successful. They go on to say that exemptions and enforcement are likely to be very complicated. So, given that is SAGE's advice back in September, and I assume you as a Government have seen that, what confidence have you got that the testing analysis that you have passed over to the Prime Minister overrides the advice that SAGE has given on travel restrictions?

Llywydd, I'm not certain that question has anything to do with Wales's testing capabilities. And if he wants to talk about being disrespectful, I wrote to the Prime Minister over two weeks ago with a detailed request for travel restrictions. I've not even had a reply to that letter. That's disrespectful. That's disrespectful to this Senedd and disrespectful to the people of Wales. I provided the Prime Minister with the very latest information—information and research that have come in after the date to which the Member referred. Let's hope that this time he will be prepared to consider it with the seriousness it deserves.

If we could return to testing, it's come to my attention that there have been serious problems arising with general testing in one of the south Wales health board areas, and I'd like to know what the link is between that and COVID testing. I understand that day-to-day blood testing in GP surgeries has been cancelled, and it's only emergency testing that can happen. It sounds like the kind of thing that we were being warned about when the Roche supply chain came into difficulties, but I note that the health Minister told us a week ago that that wouldn't affect Wales. Can the First Minister tell us what's going on here?

14:40

Well, Llywydd, I would have to have more details about the problems that Rhun ap Iorwerth has alluded to. I have seen a written statement from Vaughan Gething that explained the impact that the problems that Roche is facing at the moment could have here in Wales, not on the coronavirus side, but on other things that we're trying to combat every day in the health service. I don't yet quite understand the background to this specific question, but of course if Rhun ap Iorwerth wishes to write to me with the details, I'll be more than happy to look into these issues.

Post-pandemic Economic Recovery

4. What assessment has the First Minister made of post-pandemic economic recovery in Wales? OQ55683

I thank David Rowlands for that question. Last week we published our COVID-19 reconstruction plan. It sets out our assessment of the profound economic, health and social impacts of the virus and how we will work with partners to build a safe, healthy future for Welsh people that is fairer, more equal, greener and prosperous.

I thank the First Minister for his answer. Whilst it is prudent to make such arrangements for the post-pandemic environment, it is also true that it is incumbent upon the Government to mitigate the economic consequences of lockdowns whilst the virus is still with us. The recent lockdown arrangements are of course having a devastating effect on businesses across Wales. However, First Minister, I do not want to question the merits or otherwise of the overall lockdown measures, but the absurdity of the recent restrictions where we are not allowed to travel from one local authority to another. There are parts of south Wales where you cannot, quite literally, cross the road or go to the end of the street, because in so doing you would be passing from one authority into the next. How can the Minister and his Government justify such ridiculous restrictions? Why is it necessary to prevent people travelling from one authority to the next when both are in lockdown and have similar COVID figures, yet for work purposes, people can travel into Wales from COVID-wracked cities like Liverpool? First Minister, it's important that we bring the people of Wales along with us in these very troubled times. Is it not true that such nonsensical restrictions will not help us to achieve this?

Llywydd, I've already said several times this afternoon that the answer to people being able to travel into Wales from higher coronavirus areas beyond Wales is to stop it from happening. It's not a nonsensical restraint to say to people that they shouldn't travel outside their own local authority area, because the more people we see, and the more travelling we do, the more the virus spreads. The restrictions are designed to try to bear down on the fact that coronavirus is rising in so many parts of Wales. Now, if we are able to do things in those parts of Wales where the measures we have taken so far are having an effect, then I want to offer people in those parts of Wales hope that their actions are bearing fruit. If we can do anything in the area of travel, that, I think, is one of the first things we would be likely to be able to offer. But the context that we are all operating in is one where the skies are darkening, and I'm afraid that everything we do has to be tested against that basic fact of contemporary life in Wales. Coronavirus is on the march again. It is reaching deeper and further into communities, it is driving more people into hospital, it will lead to greater use of our ICU beds, and very sadly, because this is a deadly disease, more people will die. And the restrictions we're asking people to live with are all designed to try to keep them, their families and their communities safe. And there's nothing nonsensical about that.

14:45

First Minister, your aim of having 30 per cent of people working from home is very laudable; however, to work from home, you almost certainly need to have a decent broadband connection. I have constituents who want to work from home but can't as they don't have adequate broadband, meaning they have no other option but to travel to work. How are you going to achieve your aim, First Minister, of homeworking when you have failed to deliver your 2011 manifesto commitment of delivering superfast broadband to all premises by 2015?

Well, Llywydd, thanks to the Welsh Government and its investment, thousands and thousands of households in Wales now do have access to superfast broadband and they certainly would not have had it without the intervention of the Welsh Government in this non-devolved area. Now, it's only a week ago that the leader of the Member's party was telling the people in Wales that he would prevent a future Government led by himself from spending money on non-devolved responsibilities. So, those families who've had the advantage of superfast broadband because of the way in which the Welsh Government has had to spend money on an area where his Government is responsible will find that those advantages are no longer available to them, in the remote possibility that his party might be in government here in Wales.

So, we will continue to invest, we will continue to ignore the advice of the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, we will put money into this non-devolved area, and more families in all parts of Wales, particularly those who are the hardest and the most expensive to reach, can know that, in Wales, they have a Government that is prepared to act on their behalf. 

Cladding Fire Safety

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on cladding fire safety in Wales in light of revelations that a fire safety certificate was fraudulently signed for blocks of flats in Cardiff and beyond? OQ55706

Llywydd, fraud is a matter for the police and trading standards departments of local authorities. Reports of fraud in fire safety matters are currently being investigated by them.

Okay. Nice sidestep there. Thousands of people in Wales are now living in unsafe flats that are worth nothing. They can't sell them and they live there knowing that, if there is a fire then we'll be looking at a Welsh Grenfell. They're being absolutely rinsed at every opportunity: insurance is through the roof, the service charges are rising, and some are even having to pay for fire safety inspectors to be onsite at all times. This is a situation that really needs to be resolved, but when the residents of Victoria Wharf wrote to you about their block, they did not even receive a response from you.

In Glasgow, Glasgow Harbour, the developer Taylor Wimpey is paying the £30 million needed to replace the dangerous cladding there, but at Victoria Wharf, the residents are expected to pay the £30 million themselves, and there's one veteran I spoke to, David Murphy, who is now worried about being made homeless because of these costs. So, why is it that in Scotland the developer pays to fix the problem, but in Wales residents are expected to pay themselves? Taylor Wimpey actually advises your Government on building regulations, so could you not advise them to cough up the money like they have in Scotland, or is it actually the conflict of interest that is driving Government inaction in this area?

Llywydd, the Member's instinctive reach for a conspiracy explanation is on evidence again today. If residents have written to me, they will have had a response. Builders and owners are responsible for the buildings that they have constructed and which they own, and they should pay. They should pay to make good the deficit in those buildings. It is neither right nor fair, nor moral that the leaseholders should be left carrying the can. I can't be clearer on that. Those companies should do the right thing by those people who have been affected by their failures. That is the position of the Welsh Government; I repeat it again today. And whether it's fraud, as I said in my original answer, Llywydd, it is not for a moment to sidestep something to be clear that the authorities who have the responsibility to investigate fraud are doing so. In this case, Gwent Police and the Caerphilly trading standards department are carrying out an active investigation into the matters that this question began with, and they must be allowed to complete that investigation.

14:50

First Minister, I think what you say about the need for the private sector to accept responsibility is important, but there's been real public failure here. Public regulation has not been fit for purpose; it was not fit for purpose in Governments you've said served here in Wales when it was being developed, and it's also been a failure in England, under Labour and Conservative Governments—I do not avoid recognising the responsibility my party has here. Leaseholders have to be served now by the public sector coming and at least giving some guarantee like a fire safety fund, and then pursuing those private interests that have been grossly deficient, and we need a proper regulatory system. I agree with you on one thing—this bill shouldn't be left at the doorstep of the leaseholders. 

Llywydd, I'd agree with a number of the points that the Member has made, and if my party is returned to Government after next May's elections, then we will bring forward legislation to deal with regulatory matters and gaps that have emerged in this sector. We are looking within the Welsh Government at the possibility of a building safety fund to support leaseholders while not creating the moral hazard of paying the bills of failed building firms and landlords. To do that would simply be to remove the responsibility from them and to encourage irresponsible behaviour in the future. But we are looking at ways in which leaseholders themselves could be supported, and I know that my colleague, the Minister with responsibility for this, has a meeting on Thursday of this week to continue to find a way in which we can meet their needs, while not creating, as I say, the moral hazard of bailing out people with public money from the private responsibilities that they ought to discharge. 

Value for Money

6. How does the First Minister ensure that Welsh Government spend provides value for money? OQ55711

I thank Angela Burns, Llywydd, for that question. Amongst the measures taken are mandatory finance training for all staff within the Welsh Government and additional intensive training for all senior staff. Securing best value for public money underpins the comprehensive guide, 'Managing Welsh Public Money', which deals with all aspects of our financial management.

An interesting response, and I ask this question because there are a number of areas where there does not seem to be value for money for the Welsh taxpayer. The sustainable management scheme clearly states its aim is to support collaborative action that improves natural resources. The scheme has just received a further allocation of £3 million, despite the fact that only £6 million of its previous £25 million allocation has been spent to date, and the £3 million has been awarded despite the fact that the scheme has not been evaluated. Another example is the enabling natural resources and well-being scheme. It has a budget allocation of £26 million. In September a further £16.5 million was given to that scheme, and yet not a single penny has been spent and there has been no evaluation of the scheme.

First Minister, can you explain to me how these kinds of awards, with this lack of oversight or intent to actually use the money as per the awarding requirement, show and demonstrate value for money for the Welsh taxpayer?

Llywydd, I don't see how the Member draws the conclusion in the second part of what she said from the evidence that she provided in the first part. This Government provides 11,000 grant award letters every year to over 400 grant schemes. All grant schemes have evaluation built into them, and many of our grant schemes in this extraordinary year have not been able to spend money in the way that they had originally intended. The Member will know that it was a key priority of this Government in last year's budget-making round to make biodiversity schemes across the Welsh Government properly funded. We funded another £140 million for the sort of sustainable and enabling schemes in the environment to which she referred. Quite a lot of that money has not been capable of being spent during the pandemic, but we are looking, wherever we can, to restore those schemes, alongside the third sector organisations that we rely upon so much in this field, and who will have had their own ability to raise their own funds and to put staff into the field made far more difficult by the pandemic.

So, I want to give her an assurance that those are very important schemes to this Welsh Government. We are looking to find ways of continuing to fund activity that is safe and that can be carried out by people in a coronavirus environment. A number of those schemes were sadly set back over recent months, but where there are new opportunities in the remainder of this financial year to recover some of that ground, that is exactly what I am encouraging my ministerial colleagues to do, and to find ways of working with our partners in the field in order to achieve that.

14:55
COVID-19 in Ynys Môn

7. Will the First Minister provide an update on COVID-19 in Ynys Môn? OQ55699

Thank you very much, Llywydd. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Ynys Môn has been low for a number months, but in the last week case numbers have increased. A local surveillance and response group is co-ordinating action on the ground and reporting regularly to the Welsh Government.

Thank you for that response. When Bangor went into a higher state of restrictions, one business contacted me immediately asking whether they could go into the same restrictions because of the support available to businesses with higher restrictions. But on so many levels, businesses in my constituency are suffering in the same way without those restrictions. I'm worried about the effect of the troubles of Edinburgh Woollen Mill on the Pringle shop in Llanfairpwll and on Peacocks in Holyhead. The MAD sound company and Always Aim High, who can't carry out any business activity at the moment, are suffering terribly. There are hospitality businesses suffering, there are businesses and the self-employed who haven't been able to access support under stages 1 or 2 of the economic resilience fund and are desperate for support. Business Wales, which is an agency of Welsh Government, has referred at least two businesses to my office to seek support and help.

So, First Minister, can we have a commitment (1) that there will be a renewed attempt to identify what's required for those facing the gravest economic problems because of a failure to access help to date, and (2) that the Welsh Government will seek to ensure that support is extended to all areas, not just those who are facing higher levels of restrictions?

Before the First Minister answers that question, I'm aware that there is some difficulty with the translation at the moment that's related to our ongoing broadband connection problems. I'm assuming that the First Minister did understand the question without the need for translation, but we will be looking into this matter further. So, the First Minister to respond.

Well, Llywydd, I'll respond in English to the questions in that case. I want to just give an assurance to Rhun ap Iorwerth that when, over the weekend, we were taking the difficult decision to impose local restrictions in the Bangor area, we had around that table many local services and bodies able to reflect on the impact that that would have on Ynys Môn in particular. We followed that up yesterday with a meeting involving the leader of Ynys Môn local authority, to make sure that we could hear directly from her of the likely impact of those Bangor restrictions on the island. So, we were aware of it from the very beginning as an issue, and have followed it up since. I think Rhun ap Iorwerth will have heard my answer to Laura Anne Jones earlier in the afternoon about flexibility in the funds that we are providing to local lockdown areas and to neighbouring areas where the impact of that spills over into those localities. That will certainly be the case in Ynys Môn. And, once again, I'll make sure that, in discussions that I will have with my colleague Ken Skates, we find ways of making sure that the necessary help to firms directly affected on the island because of the Bangor restrictions—that that is taken properly into account. 

15:00
The Impact of Coronavirus in the Rhondda

8. What is the Welsh Government doing to help people in the Rhondda to overcome the impact of coronavirus? OQ55680

I thank Leanne Wood, Llywydd, for that.

As we set out in our reconstruction plan, we are committed to a reconstruction that works for the people of Wales, including the Rhondda, by addressing the issues that matter most to them: unemployment, entrenched inequalities, affordable housing, revitalising our town centres and supporting the foundational economy.

Research from Save the Children has shown that more than half of the families in Wales on universal credit, or child tax credit, have had to cut back on essentials, and I'm seeing this at a community level, with demand for the anti-poverty food project that is run from my office, with the help of local councillors and fantastic volunteers. Will you provide more support for struggling businesses and families? I'm sure you support the calls on the UK Government today from the Trades Union Congress, and I'm sure that you will also share my pessimism about those basic demands for workers' rights being met.

So, will you therefore tell us what your Government can do to ensure that, if people are to be made unemployed and lose their income, they can claim some sort of universal basic income, so that they don't lose their income if they do lose their livelihood? Because we all know that when people lose their incomes there are a lot of other problems that can follow on from that. So, what can you do to introduce a universal basic income to overcome the problems that we know that the UK Government are not going to solve?

Llywydd, while I myself have long seen the attractions of a universal basic income, it's simply not an idea that is capable of being introduced unilaterally in Wales, just as the Member's sister party in Scotland has not been able to introduce a universal basic income in Scotland either. I am interested to see whether it is possible to run some experimental pilots here in Wales, because I think the idea is definitely one that has merit and ought to be explored in that way. 

I absolutely agree the calls today through the TUC, both that the £20 additional to universal credit that has been a feature of the pandemic ought to be continued beyond April of next year—that seems absolutely fundamental. And we use our Welsh Government budgets to supplement the social wage of families by paying through the public purse for things that they themselves would have to pay for otherwise. And I know that Leanne Wood will have welcomed the additional £11 million that the Welsh Government has found to continue free school meals during school holiday periods for the rest of this Senedd term as a practical example of what we can do with the powers that we have already to make life for those families to which she referred a little easier than would otherwise be the case. 

Questions to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip

The next item is questions to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, and the first question is from Lynne Neagle.

The Human Rights of Older People

1. How is the Welsh Government upholding the human rights of older people through the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ55705

Our commitment to promoting and upholding the rights of older people in Wales remains strong. It is central to the approach Ministers have taken to implement the wider policy response to the coronavirus in Wales. 

Thank you, Minister. As you know, I'm particularly concerned about the impact of restrictions on visiting in care homes on people living with dementia. There's growing evidence that the first lockdown led to people living with dementia dying from dementia, not from COVID, because they were cut off from loved ones. Now, as we face a prolonged winter of restrictions, I think that Welsh Government needs to do everything possible to mitigate the risk of something like that happening again. And I don't believe it should be left to local government and care homes. Will you discuss this with the Deputy Minister and with the First Minister to try and develop a plan that ensures that people living with dementia are kept in touch with their loved ones during this winter? Thank you.

15:05

Thank you very much, Lynne Neagle, and in recognition of your stalwart work chairing the cross-party group on dementia and raising these issues with Ministers. And you will be aware that my colleague the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, Julie Morgan, has been working with sector representatives, including Care Forum Wales and the Older People's Commissioner for Wales, to look at that whole issue of providing guidance for care home providers on how they can support people to reconnect safely with families, friends and professionals—so crucial for those suffering dementia. And of course, care homes have worked hard to enable safe visiting for friends and families. This is vital, as you say, to the well-being of people living in care homes, as well as those who are visiting them. And I think it's very clear that we don't want—and the Deputy Minister has stressed—an unnecessarily restrictive blanket approach, but support visits to care homes have to be recognised—there has to be safety in terms of whether it's possible.

But your particular focus on dementia is crucial. And I think this is a question where, of course, if there is, unfortunately, an active incident or outbreak of COVID-19 at a care home, visits have to be restricted to exceptional circumstances, compassionate reasons, such as end-of-life. But I know the Ministers will want to look at this as we approach the coming winter months, and the stress that that can bring forward for those suffering dementia and their carers and family and friends.

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015

2. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on the implementation of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? OQ55708

The Well-being of Future Generations Act continues to provide a uniquely Welsh way of tackling the long-term challenges that our people and our planet face, and it's guided our approach to reconstruction, ensuring a values-based recovery.

Thank you for that response. Some would say that it's a uniquely Welsh approach because we have created a very substantial structure of committees around it. But what I wanted to ask was whether you thought that there are too many public services boards that have emerged from the legislation, and indeed who holds them to account—to whom are they accountable to ensure that they are delivering the differences that they are expected to deliver?

Well, I think the opportunities that the public services boards provide to ensure that there is local cross-sectoral working are very important, because that does actually bring together those public sector bodies who actually have to demonstrate delivery of the well-being of future generations Act. I think the PSBs are increasingly demonstrating that delivery, they're targeting their efforts in delivering where collective action can make a real impact on improving well-being. I think there's some excellent work being done by PSBs. I think the work that's being done also by PSBs collaborating, such as in Gwent—collaborating over tackling climate change—is key. But the public services boards clearly have to demonstrate, and we learn across Wales, that cross-sectoral working—local government, health, police, all those who have a responsibility to deliver on the objectives of the well-being of future generations legislation—that they are making a difference to citizens' lives.

The Voluntary Sector

3. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on the voluntary sector in Wales and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ55674

Thank you very much, Paul Davies, for that question. And it is quite clear in terms of the response to the voluntary sector contribution that it has been crucial to our efforts in fighting the pandemic, co-ordinating local support, helping to support our dedicated, compassionate volunteers. In fact, I'm sure Paul Davies would join me in saying a huge 'thank you' to all our volunteers and voluntary sector organisations.

Absolutely, Deputy First Minister. I think the voluntary sector throughout Wales, and indeed in Pembrokeshire, has worked incredibly hard over the past few months to support vulnerable people in our communities. And to give you just an example, the Milford Haven Community Covid Care project has been working with the Big Lottery community fund to deliver meal packs, children's craft packs, reading books and resources for care home residents. I'm sure you'll therefore agree with me that it's heartening to see such community spirit shown by so many local groups in response to this pandemic, and so can you tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to build on that good voluntary work for the future, and to make sure that the good and efficient practices we have seen in the last few months are actually carried forward in the future? 

15:10

Well, I'm grateful for that question, Paul Davies, because, just looking at Pembrokeshire, a total of £140,000 was awarded to eight organisations across Pembrokeshire through the support made available to the third sector due to the effects of the pandemic. Of course, that's come from the sources of funding that we've provided: the voluntary services emergency fund, recovery fund and the resilience fund.

But your question is important in terms of how can we take this forward. They have a key role to play in terms of the recovery and reconstruction. That's reflected in the reconstruction plan that was published last week. Because I think also it reflects the importance of the infrastructure that we have here in Wales, not just with the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, but the 19 county voluntary councils in Wales. And one of the clear outcomes, one of the more positive outcomes, that has emerged out of the challenging and difficult months of the pandemic is that partnership has been strengthened, particularly partnership between the third sector, the voluntary sector, and local government and the health service and the Welsh Government, but also that we can see that the impact of the investment that we've made has actually helped beneficiaries, supported jobs and also underpinned the importance of the third sector's contribution in local service delivery. They have faced challenges, of course, and we need to keep that volunteering base both supported and resilient and sustained. 

Minister—Deputy Minister—I've been pleased and deeply humbled to work alongside many of the volunteers in our own community working through the pandemic and it really shows the generosity of spirit and time that they put in. But that's happening throughout our communities: people like the Drive Cardiff Taxis co-operative, Paul and his colleagues there, who have been distributing free prescriptions and food deliveries to people who couldn't otherwise get out; Andrew Pearson of the Unite Ford Bridgend plant workers who, through furlough, produced free masks for care workers; and, I have to say as well my friend, the incredible Elizabeth Buffy Williams, up in Pentre in the Rhondda—the work that she's been doing for a team that was recognised, I have to say, as she said, for the whole of the community and what they've done, in the Queen's honours list. Could I ask the Minister: would she join me in paying tribute to the work that's gone on throughout these communities in every street throughout Wales? And what more can we do to ensure that these community self-helpers actually go through beyond the pandemic into the long-term future for the resilience of our communities? 

Thank you very much, Huw Irranca-Davies. I've had the pleasure of meeting with the Drive taxis, in fact, when we were able to meet with them, last year, outside the Senedd, and I recognise the contribution that they've made during the pandemic, and I think that is a great recognition of the mutual support and self-help particularly supported by the co-operative movement. But also I have met Elizabeth Buffy Williams and I congratulate her on her recent award, and say that these examples—and indeed of Unite, providing the free face masks—are all contributing to our community contribution over these past difficult months. But I think we need to—. Following up on the previous question, we need to see how this takes us forward. We've seen the real benefits of volunteering and partnership working. We've seen local action, self-help and mutual aid bring real benefits to the medium and long terms, and we now have a third sector partnership council COVID recovery group, which will be reporting to me next month, and I will want to report on their findings and their conclusions about embedding this. I will want to report back to the Senedd.

15:15
Gender Equality

4. How is the Welsh Government promoting gender equality in Wales? OQ55712

Good afternoon, Angela Burns. The plan to advance gender equality in Wales, published in March, sets out our ambition and practical steps to advance equality for women and girls. Actions to remove barriers include providing childcare support, creating training opportunities, tackling low pay, discrimination and racial inequalities.

As you will know, Sunday was the International Day of the Girl, and in many places in the world girls are still a commodity, to be used, to be abused and to be trafficked. In many places, Minister, you will know that girls have little education, become pregnant too young, feel abusive relationships are their only route, are pressured to marry, suffer genital mutilation, and are treated as sex objects, and, in this toxic day of ours, suffer disproportionately the effects of negative social media. I know that you're really committed to this agenda, but when I say 'many places', it also is many places in Wales and many girls that feel this. What I was wanting to know was what you are doing to learn from best practice within other countries—some of the poorer countries in the world, who actually have made astonishing strides in being able to better educate not just young girls, but young boys, young men, in how women and men have equality and parity of esteem. What can we do to learn from those kinds of areas and bring that learning into Wales because—and I speak as somebody who was in that wave of feminism in the 1970s and 1980s—I have to say that I'm deeply saddened because I think that women's rights have taken a bit of a battering just recently?

Well, thank you very much, Angela Burns, for drawing attention to and making sure that we remember the International Day of the Girl. It is also very welcome that you're looking at this from a global perspective, going back to our well-being of future generations legislation—that we seek to be a globally responsible country as well as a fairer and more equal country as well. That, of course, does bring with it some responsibilities that we need to drive through as a Welsh Government in terms of our powers in relation to delivering the Equality Act. Indeed, I think that the work that we're doing particularly in terms of taking forward the opportunities through our work with violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence legislation and plans is crucial to this. But I do very much welcome your recognition that this is about not just looking at this from a global perspective, but that we can learn globally and act locally and act nationally here in Wales to promote those opportunities for girls and young women in every aspect of their lives.

Violence against Women

5. How is the Welsh Government working to end violence against women? OQ55685

In 2020-21, we're investing over £4 million of new money to tackle violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, 18,800 members of the public have accessed our e-learning, we’ve published guidance on working with perpetrators, and worked with Hafan Cymru to deliver its Spectrum project for schools remotely.

Thank you for that answer, Minister, and thank you for your ongoing commitment to ending male violence against women. As you will know, I'm a White Ribbon ambassador, and I'm very proud to follow in my dad's footsteps in supporting the White Ribbon campaign. This year's White Ribbon Day is going to be very different but no less important. Now, I've spoken to a number of survivors who are fearful that lockdown is putting women in danger. Minister, I will be encouraging as many men as possible to make the pledge to draw attention to the importance of tackling violence against women, but what plans does the Welsh Government have to mark White Ribbon Day and the 16 days of action that follow?

15:20

Thank you very much indeed, Jack Sargeant, for this question, and for your inspiring and courageous work in this campaign as a White Ribbon ambassador—as a White Ribbon ambassador who has, year on year, taken this forward in terms of promoting the White Ribbon campaign. I think, this year, it will be difficult in terms of our activities, in terms of the impact of the pandemic; that is going to mean that we'll have to have many virtual activities. But we're looking, for example, to reinvigorate our commitment as a Welsh Government to this important cause and to mark the White Ribbon Day on 25 November. I'm sure Joyce Watson will be finding ways in which we can do that as well, remembering our annual vigils. It means we have to look at it in terms of our work as a Welsh Government to encourage more men to engage from Welsh Government—our officials, our civil servants involved in spreading the White Ribbon campaign. I'm also grateful that you've acknowledged the difficulties of the lockdown on women. 'Home is not always a safe place', which is our campaign—our bystander campaign, 'Wales won't stand by'—has to be taken forward. We need to link that to the White Ribbon campaign message. And we do have four local authorities, two fire and rescue services, two police forces and one town council in Wales accredited, as well as the older people's commissioner, to the White Ribbon campaign, so we hope we can spread that accreditation across Wales this year. Diolch yn fawr, Jack Sargeant.

Diversity within Local Councils

6. What discussions has the Deputy Minister had with the Minister for Housing and Local Government about putting in place measures to increase diversity within local councils? OQ55677

Thank you, Laura Anne Jones. I have regular discussions with the Minister for Housing and Local Government and Cabinet members about increasing diversity across all sectors. Action does include the pilot of the access-to-elected-office fund to support disabled candidates with the additional expenses incurred as a result of their access or communication requirements.

Wonderful, Deputy Minister; that was exactly what I was going to ask you, because, like the fund already established in England—the EnAble fund—I was hoping that Wales would follow suit, so I thank you very much for that.

Excellent. Thank you to the—.

Did you want to say anything? Sorry, I cut across you there, Deputy Minister. That seemed such a collegiate way of asking your question, Laura Anne, I was sidetracked into thinking that no response was necessary, but do you want to respond, Deputy Minister? I shouldn't have cut you off. I'm sure you'll take the opportunity to say something, if I know you, Jane Hutt. 

Yes, I'm trying to unmute myself. Can you hear me now? I'm really glad that I've actually delivered on my answer to the question from Laura Anne Jones, but this is a very serious issue for us, not just in terms of Government and what the Minister for Housing and Local Government is doing to promote the opportunities for diversity, particularly, I would say, in local government, but also in the fact that all our political parties have a role to play in this as well, particularly in making sure that we have more diverse candidates standing in the future elections that lie ahead of us. I'm really pleased that the Minister for Housing and Local Government has developed a diversity and democracy campaign that's led to this access-fund pilot, and that she's also set out actions for phase 2 of her diversity and democracy programme.

This is very crucial in terms of the local government Bill. As the Minister has said, she is reviewing a range of guidance available to local authorities where equality and diversity aspects can be strengthened. But I do think it's those political parties that need to get on with this, and we've asked the UK Government—and perhaps Laura Anne and others can support from across the political representation—for section 106 of the Equality Act to be commenced. This would require the collection and publication of diversity data by political parties in relation, in the future, to Senedd elections, and then it would also correspond to local government elections. Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd.

I knew you'd have an answer, Jane Hutt, even though there wasn't a question to answer. Thank you very much for that.

15:25
2. Business Statement and Announcement

The business statement and announcement is next. So, the Minister for Finance—or Trefnydd more specifically—will move. Rebecca Evans will now ask—. I'll get this right in the end. Rebecca Evans to make the business statement.

Diolch, Llywydd. There are two changes to this week's agenda. The statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on Cwm Taf has been moved to item 6 on the agenda, with the other business renumbered accordingly. And, secondly, the Business Committee has agreed that last week's postponed short debate will take place tomorrow. 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. 

Business Minister, may I ask for two statements, please? Firstly, following on from the First Minister's response earlier, please could I ask for a statement from the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales to outline exactly how now phase 3 of the economic resilience fund will provide the flexibility to provide already established businesses in non-lockdown areas being adversely effected by surrounding areas being in lockdown? I welcome the First Minister's support on this, as these are worrying times for businesses in Monmouthshire, who have been severely impacted by the lack of footfall.

Secondly, could I ask the health Minister for a statement outlining a national position on birthing partners being present throughout the birthing process, please? Currently, restrictions, in my view, are too rigid, and there's some sort of a lottery between health boards going on at the moment, outlining how long, or how little in this case, birthing partners can be present with their loved ones? It doesn't take into account undetected complications. My first birthing experience—my first time—was absolutely fine; my second, very early on and very quickly I dilated and had birthing problems, where the main vein grew into my placenta and there was an explosion and we both nearly died. I'm not going to go into too much detail on that one, but that was a very quick process, and it would have been severely distressing to me if I hadn't had someone present with me at that time. And, with the current restrictions, there wouldn't have been someone with me at that time. So, please can you just allow a bit of flexibility there, because births aren't predictable, as I've just outlined? Thank you.

I'm grateful to Laura Anne Jones for raising both of those issues. On the first, which relates to phase 3 of the economic resilience fund, I know that if there are any changes to the eligibility criteria, then, obviously, Business Wales would be the first place for constituents to go in terms of understanding any particular changes. But, of course, I will ensure that, as I say, if there are changes, then the Minister for economy and transport alerts colleagues to that. 

And on the second issue, of birthing partners, I know that Lynne Neagle raised this particular issue just a couple of weeks ago in the business statement, and the Minister for Health and Social Services has prepared a written response to her, so I'll ensure that you also receive that response, which sets out his consideration of this issue. Thank you.

Following on from the last point, Minister, this week is Baby Loss Awareness Week, and I'd like to ask the Government to bring forward a statement letting us know what is being done to help families and mothers cope with the trauma and psychological difficulties that can arise as a result of baby loss. There have been specific challenges, as we've just heard, that have arisen as a result of the COVID pandemic, and the Baby Loss Awareness Alliance are asking that lessons are learned from the first wave of the virus. Many people have raised with me and, I'm sure, many other Members too, this issue of partners' exclusion from key scans and appointments. If, at the very least, video consultation could include partners, then that would help everyone, especially if there is bad news to be received. So, can we have a statement to address the question of partners attending pregnancy, maternity and neonatal services, especially when they've already experienced baby loss, and also how services more generally in this field can be improved?

15:30

I thank Leanne Wood for raising this issue and, given the evidence and interest that there is among colleagues, I will ensure that the health Minister writes to all Members so that they can be updated on this important issue.

As Leanne Wood recognises, it is Baby Loss Awareness Week. The First Minister has, in his role as Member of the Senedd for Cardiff West, for many years supported an event, and sponsored an event, normally at the Pierhead. This year, obviously, arrangements will be different, but the organisers have made alternative arrangements to mark the week, and that will take place on Thursday 15 October, from 6.45 p.m. to 7.15 p.m. The First Minister invites us all to participate if we can, either by tuning in for the live-stream service, or by joining him in lighting a candle and sharing a photo on social media. So, I'd obviously encourage colleagues to become involved in that important commemoration as well.

Some in the Chamber may be aware that Wales is on the verge of gaining a world championship crown in rally driving. Can you hear me, Llywydd?

No. Can you just repeat what you've just said? We can hear you now, I think.

Thank you. I thought that something had gone wrong by the thing on the computer.

Some in the Chamber may be aware that Wales is on the verge of gaining a world championship crown in rally driving. Whatever the outcome in November, our own Elfyn Evans of Dolgellau has demonstrated world-class driving skills and, once again, will put our clever and resolute country on the map. I'm sure that we will all want to wish him well for the next few rounds.

This has me wondering, however, about the Wales Rally GB. North Wales enjoys one of the phases and I know that it's an exciting time for communities, especially when they go through my own Clocaenog forest near Ruthin. Competitors, volunteers and everybody thinks that it is absolutely fantastic, and it brings in much needed revenue to the area. I would be grateful, therefore, to hear from you or the relevant Minister what ongoing support from the Welsh Government will be given to Wales Rally GB. To my mind, it would be a massive missed opportunity to showcase the very real talent that we have in Wales, as well as, hopefully, a world champion in the making, if we do not continue to support it. Will the rally be taking place in Wales next year, Minister?

Thank you for that. I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that question, but I'll ensure that the Minister with responsibility for major events does write to you with an answer. Of course, we all extend our best wishes to Elfyn Evans in terms of his endeavours in rally driving, and keeping all our fingers crossed.

Could we have a statement, Minister, on any discussions between Welsh Government Ministers and the Welsh Rugby Union and the Football Association of Wales on the support for club rugby and football in Wales? This is not simply a matter for professional governing bodies, but a matter of community cohesion and active sports participation, as well as sports heritage, particularly where these clubs have been part of the backbone of local towns and villages for generations, and where many have shown through COVID that they are far more than sports clubs, by providing support such as meals, food distribution, and even phone calls to isolated members during the crisis.

We were dismayed to hear recently that Maesteg RFC and Aberavon Quins are among 30 iconic rugby clubs that are struggling through week by week, and even football clubs like Penybont FC face the same worrying predicament. So, Minister, surely this is something that Welsh Government could raise with the WRU and the FAW to see how the financial clout at the top of the game can be used to help the club game through to the future. Otherwise, we will not only lose the reservoir of talent supplying our premier clubs and national game; we will lose valuable community assets that go well beyond sport itself.

Huw Irranca-Davies is absolutely right to recognise that our clubs go well beyond sport and are very much at the heart of our communities right across Wales. I know that discussion that you describe will be something that the Minister with responsibility for sport will be interested in considering. But, certainly from the Welsh Government's part, we've put in place funding through our new £14 million sport and leisure recovery fund. Now, that fund is being distributed through Sport Wales and I know that they intend to give further detail on the eligibility criteria and the application process within a week or so now. So, that further detail should be there for clubs very, very shortly.

15:35

I call for a statement on support for bed-and-breakfast businesses in Wales. Many small bed-and-breakfast businesses have contacted me after the Welsh Government again excluded them from financial support to help them survive the pandemic; this time barred from the third round of the economic resilience fund. They were also deemed ineligible in previous rounds and have been denied small business grants, unlike their counterparts in England and Scotland.

Their comments over very recent days include: 'This fund, once again, leaves us, as thousands of small businesses, out in the cold'; 'Once again, we seem to have slipped through the net with this new economic resilience fund'; 'Cancellations have decimated our bookings. Can I ask you to bring this up at the Senedd?'; 'Having a turnover last year of £65,000 to just £5,000, there's no way we can keep our business afloat'; 'The eligibility checker for the latest phase of the economic resilience fund states that microbusinesses will be able to apply for up to £10,000 on condition that they match this with their own investment of at least 10 per cent, and for tourism and hospitality microbusinesses, there'll be discretion for grant awards of 100 per cent. I started to work my way through the checker only to find that, as a microbusiness, we do not quality. I believe that the same will be true for many, if not most, microbusinesses. Are you able to bring your input to bear on the Welsh Government to change their criteria and please, please look into this loophole that we fall into? We're absolutely desperate and do not understand why the Welsh Government has denied support to this vital part of local tourism economies across Wales.'

I therefore call for a statement that addresses the reality and urgency of this situation.

Thank you to Mark Isherwood for raising this issue on behalf of his constituents. I know that it is an issue that he has raised with me previously.

The Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales will obviously have been here to hear your comments this afternoon and I know that he is interested in exploring the economic resilience fund in terms of how it supports businesses, but also what further support can be provided elsewhere. I know that, in the first instance, you'll also be advising your constituents to speak to Business Wales advisers to explore whether they can point those businesses in the direction of other forms of support, such as the UK Government's bounce-back loans, for example.

May I ask for a statement from the Deputy Minister for sport on the serious challenges facing the highest levels of football in Wales? Welsh premiership games are, of course, played behind closed doors these days, and that places huge financial strain on these clubs. That's not sustainable without either allowing a proportion of supporters to attend those games or providing financial support. And I hear what the Minister said on funds from Sport Wales, but there are no assurances, as yet, on that front.

More importantly on policy, it's an entirely absurd situation. Government policy says at the moment that you can't go into a stadium to watch a game, standing in the open air, socially distanced, but you can go to the pub to watch the same game, or in some circumstances, you can go to the clubhouse in the stadium, where the game is being played, and watch the game through the window. That is the situation that the Welsh Government policy leaves us in at the moment. It's a complete farce. It would be far safer to allow some supporters to attend those games in a responsible and managed way.

Simultaneously, tier 2 clubs, the Cymru North and Cymru South league clubs, can't play at all, of course, although a number of the players are semi-professional, as they are in the higher league, although the clubs have to meet the FAW's criteria to get a tier 2 licence, and although many tier 2 clubs, which can't play, meet the same criteria as the tier 1 grounds, which are allowed to play, and some of those tier 2 grounds are being used for Welsh premiership women's football games, which are allowed to be played. This policy is all over the place and I want the Deputy Minister to come here to explain the rationale, because in my view, and the view of many others, this is entirely absurd.

Well, the Deputy Minister will have heard your request for further information on the rationale behind the decisions in relation to people being able to watch sport live. You'll be aware that the Welsh Government was in the process of piloting some of those larger events in order to learn from them, in terms of advising us and helping our thinking in terms of how we go about holding larger events in future, with a particular focus on sport and the arts, but, unfortunately, the resurgence of the virus has made it impossible to continue with that just at the moment. But, of course, the Minister will have heard your request for further information, and as you heard in my response to a previous speaker, the Sport Wales recovery fund will be announcing its criteria and application process very shortly.

15:40

Minister, I'm seeking a statement from the Minister for health on cross-border health services, and, in particular, concerns that residents have raised with me over elective surgeries. Residents are seeking assurances that they will still be able to access services in England throughout the pandemic, particularly at the Countess of Chester Hospital. Will you seek a written statement or an oral statement to the Chamber from the Minister for health?

Thank you for raising this important issue, because it's, of course, the responsibility of the health boards to secure the necessary activity for their local populations, and we know that things are difficult across the border, as they are here in Wales, in terms of elective surgery at the moment. But, I mean, it is absolutely the case that where those contracts are in place, and were in place before COVID with English providers, then we absolutely expect those English providers to meet their obligations to Welsh patients and treat patients in order of clinical priority. So, I would hope that you're able to provide your constituents with that reassurance. But, as I say, capacity across the border has been affected, just as it has in Wales, because over the border, as we have to in Wales, we have to put in additional measures to ensure that the environment is safe to treat those patients. But where those contracts exist, absolutely, they should be being met, and Welsh patients should not experience any detriment in that.

Can I firstly concur with Leanne Wood's earlier comments supporting Baby Loss Awareness Week? My own son will turn two next month—I can't quite believe it—but I can't imagine the heartbreak that parents and families go through when things don't go according to plan, both during pregnancy and afterwards. I think those families do need support, and I for one will certainly be supporting the First Minister's online Baby Loss Awareness event this year.

Trefnydd, will you join me in welcoming Monmouthshire's first Community Fridge, which recently opened at Monmouth's Bridges Centre? I'm sure you will. Established by Food Sense, the food has been donated by local supermarkets and also by Monmouthshire County Council, which helped get it going, to set it up. Could we have an update from the Welsh Government on how these types of anti-waste initiatives are being supported across Wales? Maybe the Welsh Government, maybe the Senedd itself could support this sort of initiative in the future.

And finally, Llywydd, we are now less than a month away from Remembrance Sunday, a date particularly poignant this year with the seventy-fifth anniversary of VJ Day and the powerful memories that survivors still have of that time. Clearly the pandemic and the requisite social distancing make traditional services impossible this year, so what discussions have the Welsh Government had with the Royal British Legion and other interested parties on how Remembrance Sunday is going to be commemorated next month? Because I think this is a subject that is very close to people's hearts, and they would want to see some sort of commemoration, even if not in the traditional sense.

Thank you to Nick Ramsay for highlighting the importance of Remembrance Sunday and ensuring that this year we mark it in an appropriate way and that we put all of the plans in place to do that. I can confirm that the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government will be making a statement on marking remembrance and our continued support for the armed forces to the Chamber, and you'll see that on the business statement that was laid today.

And, of course, it's the same Minister who has responsibility for tackling waste, and I know that she will have heard your request for a statement on how we can support and promote excellent initiatives such as the community fridge at the Bridges Centre in Monmouth. I'm sure it'll be an absolutely wonderful resource in the community for people who need it and, of course, helping us to tackle food waste as well. So, congratulations to everybody who's been involved in making that happen.

15:45

I'd like to ask for a statement on the effect that ongoing restrictions are having on people with caring responsibilities, particularly people who would usually rely on day-care centre facilities as respite and who have been unable to have that support for many months. Families who are live-in carers for their loved ones have seen their routines turned upside down over the pandemic, and many councils are still saying that day-care centres are unable to open. This is having a really severe negative impact on the mental health and well-being of those families. Now, I understand, of course, that councils need to find a difficult balance between protecting public health and the well-being of residents, but this group of people has been left without support now for a long period, and there's no end in sight. I'm increasingly concerned about the toll it's taking on these people. So, I'd like a statement, please, from the Deputy Minister for health and social care that would set out the circumstances under which these facilities could reopen and any guidance and support that could be made available to councils to help them provide individual day facilities or individual support for as long as those centres are not able to open. It's a hidden harm of COVID, and many people are in desperate need of support.

Secondly, Trefnydd, and finally, the BBC has just reported that the Prime Minister has rejected the First Minister's latest letter calling for a ban on people travelling out of areas with high COVID infection rates. Now, the letter-writing strategy has clearly not worked, so we need a legislative one. If the Government were to require extra parliamentary time this week in order to pass that, then we would support it. So, could the Trefnydd confirm, please, that it is the Welsh Government's intention now to legislate in order to protect our communities, and could you outline what legislative timetable you expect that to follow?

Thank you to Delyth Jewell for raising both of these important issues. In terms of support for carers, it has been a tremendously difficult time for carers, and I know that the Minister with responsibility for social services and carers will want to provide that update to you. I'll ask her, in the first instance, to write to you regarding the guidance and support for local authorities, and I know she'll be considering how best to provide a wider update on support for carers themselves.FootnoteLink

In terms of the rejection of the request in the letter from the FM, obviously that's very, very disappointing, but I will leave it to the FM to set out the next steps. But I'm grateful to Plaid Cymru for their offer of support should additional parliamentary time be needed. Thank you. 

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Minister, I very much welcome Welsh Government's recent signature to the Edinburgh declaration on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The declaration critically recognises that healthy biodiversity and the ecosystem services that it provides are key for human well-being and to build the resilience of our cities and regions—that's both during and after the pandemic—and that it should be central to our recovery. We know that our ecosystems are degraded and rare species are not faring well in Wales, and, indeed, that's the case across the whole world. So, I welcome governments and regions signing the declaration and showing ambition in this area and on these matters, and I would further welcome, Minister, a full ministerial statement in the Chamber on the Edinburgh declaration, the commitments within it and how Welsh Government will meet those commitments.

Thank you, John Griffiths, for raising this issue. I know that the Minister will have heard your request for a statement. But in the meantime, I would say that a key output from the Edinburgh declaration has really been to outline the important role that devolved nations play in development and delivery of the post-2020 framework via a renewed plan of action, and I'm really pleased to say that the Minister for Energy, Environment and Rural Affairs has signed up to that. Through our policy initiatives, we're taking action to really embed biodiversity consideration across Government, and we're doing that through our natural resources policy, our nature recovery action plan, also our section 6 biodiversity and resilience of ecosystems duty, and of course most notably, I would say, through our budget preparations as well. The refreshed nature recovery action plan identifies some priority themes that are to be taken forward by the Welsh Government, by Natural Resources Wales, by the environmental non-governmental organisations, local authorities and of course our local nature partnerships as well, as well as landowners and farmers across Wales. But really importantly, that piece of work has identified some important gaps, and it's there that we should be looking to further our efforts. 

15:50

Thank you, Trefnydd.

I apologise to all Members who I wasn't able to call. We are way out of time already on that statement. We'll take a break now, a short break, and we'll reconvene in a few minutes. 

Plenary was suspended at 15:51.

16:00

The Senedd reconvened at 16:00, with David Melding in the Chair.

3. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government: Recycling and the Green Recovery

We move to item 3, which is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government on recycling and the green recovery. I call Hannah Blythyn. 

Thank you, deputy acting Presiding Officer. I am pleased to be able to make this statement today on recycling and the green recovery. Over the last 20 years, we have invested £1 billion in recycling infrastructure. Approaches like our universal household food waste collection are the envy of others and mean we have the ability to collect and recycle much more.

Last month I launched the Be Mighty, Recycle campaign, aimed at helping everyone become more aware of the wide range of materials that can be recycled in Wales, from eggshells to shampoo bottles. The ambition is not just to increase recycling for its own sake, but to make sure that we can use the valuable material collected. Our food waste is turned into renewable energy that powers homes and businesses, and our recycling can be turned into new products. Working in partnership with local authorities to develop the Be Mighty campaign, which rightly recognises the work of our collection crews—a reflection of the heartfelt thanks from communities across Wales, as they work tirelessly to maintain collections through challenging times. The resilience of our collection systems during the pandemic has been a considerable achievement. Not only did they absorb increases in household materials, but also increases in streams such as clinical waste.

The pandemic highlighted the growing importance of recycling to our economy. The collection of the bags and boxes of recycling from our kerbsides has been vital in supplying businesses in Wales with the materials they need to produce the goods we use. Businesses like Smile Plastics in the Gower, and Capital Valley Plastics in Torfaen, who are using recycled plastics to make products like damp-proof membranes and worktops, show how Welsh companies are innovating to bring forward greener solutions. It also means that maintaining the collection of recycling is not just important for our environment and for our communities, but it is increasingly vital for our economy.

The disruption caused by COVID-19 and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit means that we have a window of opportunity to rethink ways of working and make the changes now to support a green and just recovery. The circular economy is key to that recovery. By shortening supply chains, we can boost economic resilience, and by keeping resources in use, we can realise more of their value and take advantage of the new economic opportunities.

This means looking to green skills, including those in repair and remanufacture. This is already happening across Wales. One example of this is the new RemakerSpace Centre at Cardiff University, which we have funded, and will support businesses with the skills, equipment and advice to rethink the design of products. We will also support the foundational economy in Wales by focusing future investment in the regional infrastructure needed for a circular, low carbon economy. We are already seeing the clustering of businesses and enterprises at recycling centres, like the Bryn Pica eco-park in Rhondda Cynon Taf, where products previously seen as waste, such as paint and mattresses, are remanufactured or reprocessed rather than burned or buried.

A green and just recovery cannot simply focus on the economy, but must align environmental and social action. We know that 45 per cent of carbon emissions come from the goods and products that we make and consume. So, recycling, reusing, repairing and reprocessing—a new approach to resources—is central to rising to the challenge of the climate crisis.

Last year I launched our circular economy fund, aimed at supporting publicly funded bodies to take steps to innovate and move to more circular approaches. We ran a second funding round earlier this year, which was yet again hugely oversubscribed. Our commitment to a green recovery means that further funding has now been secured so that we can support an additional 74 circular economy projects across Wales, putting the green recovery into action. 

A circular economy works for communities too. At the height of the pandemic, we awarded funding to FareShare Cymru to expand their redistribution provision into new parts of Wales, ensuring that people that needed it were able to access food that would otherwise go to waste. We have enabled Repair Cafe Wales to set up more cafes and offer online guidance on repairing essential items. Our support is not simply addressing immediate issues, but, importantly, also shaping more sustainable long-term solutions that empower communities. So, we are creating an additional fund of over £13 million to support repair and reuse activities in our town centres, creating community infrastructure to stimulate innovation and skills development on our high streets and helping to transform towns.

Our 'Beyond Recycling' consultation was launched last year in Llangollen. It was a consultation with a difference—a conversation that went around the country setting out our aim to reach zero waste by 2050, to reduce emissions and to grow the circular economy, and asking people for their ideas on how we could achieve this. One thousand citizens and stakeholders came along to 40 events or submitted responses. The messages were clear and consistent. There is a strong sense of pride in what we have achieved and a sense that we have achieved this together, alongside a real appetite for Wales to continue to lead the way. Last month we issued a summary of responses and we will be publishing a new circular economy strategy for Wales by the end of the year.

I made clear that our approach to the circular economy should be about taking action and that's what we are doing—from funding to support organisations, businesses and communities to innovate change, to taking forward a consultation to ban the nine most commonly littered single-use plastic items in Wales, and working with other Governments in the UK to bring in both a deposit-return scheme and extended producer responsibility for packaging. Twenty years ago we started on an ambitious recycling journey. We've come a long way and together we have shown that recycling is what we do in Wales, building on our proud record, going beyond recycling in a way that brings benefits for our environment, our economy and our communities.

16:05

I would like to thank the Deputy Minister for her statement and to join with her in acknowledging the excellent work that our local authorities have carried out during the collection systems, of course, through this pandemic. In your 'Beyond Recycling' strategy, you state that to enable a zero-waste and low carbon Wales,

'regional and accessible infrastructure and community hubs are needed to deal with priority materials.'

For this to become reality, of course, easy access must be ensured to both domestic and non-domestic recycling premises. It is clear from the replies to me, in a recent FOI, that fly-tipping still continues to remain a very modern menace. Indeed, between July 2019 and June 2020, there were 675 instances of fly-tipping across Neath Port Talbot, 968 across Denbighshire, 1,034 across Monmouthshire, and 2,281 across Caerphilly. That is individuals—very selfish individuals, I might add—who blight our countryside and our environment and instead of taking it to a centre that the local authority provides, deem to decide to just go and empty their vehicle, often vans, trailers. And to be honest, it's an absolute disgrace and shame on them. Most concerning, however, was Rhondda Cynon Taf, where in spite of 2,816 cases recorded between 2019 and June 2020, zero fixed-penalty notices were issued. So, to me, we need a deterrent, and the local authorities, I believe, are duty-bound to put the detective work in to find out who is doing this, and make sure those fines are hefty, because we definitely, definitely need a deterrent.

So, the figures suggest that councils, whilst having the power, are not able, then, to do the enforcement. So, with these statistics in mind, and I have raised this—I've been an Assembly Member, a Member of the Senedd, for nine years now—on so many occasions, I would ask, will you take the mantle forward now, to ensure that local authorities, COVID aside now, actually start to look upon the duties they have, and the powers, and actually start to enforce more robustly? Will you commit to increasing local authority funding, to ensure that recycling centres are a lot more easy to access? Your 'Beyond Recycling' strategy states that the Welsh Government will commit to increasing financial support for the sector to increase operations in rural areas. Will the £13 million target be targeted at towns as well as in rural areas? And can you offer clarity on your plans for resource-efficient waste transportation for rural communities, especially your plans for electrification of these vehicles, and plans to optimise rural routes by serving dual purposes? The document appears to suggest combining postal delivery with waste recovery, which I consider to be problematic. Can you also confirm whether lamp-post charging points and vehicle-to-grid technology has been considered as part of these electric waste transport plans, so that Wales can embrace bold and innovative business-first ideas to support our nation's efforts to curb emissions?

As I've stated before, a recent report from WRAP Cymru found that 75 per cent of commercial and industrial waste sent to incineration or landfill in Wales was actually recyclable. So, this is incompatible with much of the legislation—the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and other Acts—that we've passed here. A good start would be for a moratorium to be introduced on all planning consultations related to new incinerators during the pandemic. I've raised that. You have stated that 45 per cent of carbon emissions come from the goods and products that we make and consume and, as such, that recycling, reusing, repairing and reprocessing, and a new approach to resources are central to the challenge of the climate crisis. So, with this in mind, will you outline what steps you will take to see publicly funded schemes in Wales use natural and environmentally friendly materials in the first place, like Welsh wool? [Interruption.] Thanks. Wales has the potential to be even greener and greater at recycling, so I implore you to be even more ambitious in this climate crisis.

And I have one more plea, Deputy Minister. Will you, please, work with Dŵr Cymru, and let's get some education out there about the damage that wipes are doing to our planet, climate change and, indeed, our water supply? Because, whenever I do a beach clean, whenever I go to our local sewage works and things, it's an absolute issue the number of wet wipes and things that people are putting into the systems, and they are causing a lot of pollution across Wales, so education is key. But I believe you have a duty to work with Dŵr Cymru and let's stop this once and for all. Thank you.

16:10

Can I firstly thank the Member for her warm words and joining me in recognising the work that our collection crews have played and the role they played the length and breadth of the country and in communities in our constituencies, not just during the pandemic, but throughout the year as well, and the role that they play there? 

The Member asked some questions around the challenge of fly-tipping in our communities, and I absolutely agree with her that this is—we should be clear—absolutely unacceptable anti-social behaviour, and it is not and will not be tolerated. We're working closely with our local authority partners to look at the work we can do around enforcement, but also the Member raises important points around the role of raising education. 

She talks about access to facilities. Now, within my statement and within our 'Beyond Recycling' consultation, we've invested £1 billion in the last 20 years in infrastructure—regional infrastructure and infrastructure that means we're able to deal with our recycling and reprocess it. But what we want to do is take that further, and invest in that community infrastructure, so people are able to access facilities on their doorstep without having to drive out of town, to make it as easy as possible for people to do the right thing, but also that brings benefits for local towns and communities as well, whether that be through creating hubs for repair and reuse, or coupling them with zero-waste shops. And that's why I hope the funding that we've announced recently will help contribute, alongside the recent tranche of circular economy funding for public bodies and organisations that town and community councils are also able to bid for on this occasion. So, we could see more projects in towns and communities across the country, which I hope, then, others can see and then we can spread them at scale right across the nation.

The Member raises—this is the point around incineration. Let's be clear: our aim is to be a zero-waste nation with a more circular economy that keeps resources in use and avoids waste in the first place. We need to get to the position we want to get to, but, in the interim, we need a way to deal effectively with our non-recyclable waste in a way that prevents if from polluting the environment or sees the problem being exported elsewhere. And we have the facilities that can use this waste to recover energy, and heat provides an important transitional way of dealing with waste in line with the waste hierarchy. But within the 'Beyond Recycling consultation we talked about taking full responsibility on waste, and that's from grass roots to Government and everything in between, and the document was clear on incineration that it's a transitional measure and our long-term plan is to keep resources for use for as long as is possible and avoid waste being burned or buried. 

I'd like to pay tribute as well to those working in the waste sector, particularly local authority staff who've kept the waste collection wheels turning throughout this pandemic. I notice, Minister, in your statement, obviously there's a laudable focus on recycling and the circular economy, but, of course, the key thing here is that we have to stop producing that waste in the first place, and I don't hear much in your statement about that. And I would like you to elaborate around what you are actually doing on that front, because statistics from WRAP Cymru tell us that we produce 400,000 tonnes of plastic waste in Wales every year. Sixty seven per cent of that is packaging waste and we only recycle 33 per cent of household waste. So, whilst you're proud of the Welsh record on recycling, it's been suggested to me that what we have, actually, is a decent record on collecting recyclable material as opposed to necessarily getting the recycling bit right. We've seen how some of that material ends up in places that it shouldn't, and WRAP Cymru stats as well remind us that we have a long, long way to go. 

Your statement tells us, and I quote, that

'I made clear that our approach to the circular economy should be about taking action and that's what we are doing'.

Well, I've been a Member of this Senedd for nine and a half years, nearly 10 years. Ten years ago, we were talking about the need for a deposit-return scheme. We're still talking about the need for a deposit-return scheme. Ten years ago, this place was talking about extended producer responsibility. Ten years later, we're still talking about it. Ten years ago, we were talking about banning single-use plastics, and do you know what? We're still talking about banning single-use plastics. If this is your definition of taking action, Minister, I think we have much deeper problems than I ever imagined we did have. So, can you tell us when exactly will these initiatives be introduced? Because they're long, long overdue, and people like myself have had a gutsful of waiting for this so-called action.

I'm looking forward to your new circular economy strategy, to be published at at the end of this year. I'd be interested maybe if you could elaborate a little bit about how that will take account, of course, of the whole COVID pandemic situation that we find ourselves in, and the new waste epidemic that stems from that in relation to face masks and gloves and single-use items, which are a scourge now—and I imagine that there will be some sort of bespoke initiatives to try and tackle those particular issues—but also Brexit. One of the big risks stemming from Brexit will be a huge increase in food waste, because what we'll see, potentially, is a huge disruption of supply chains, invariably leading to surplus food being produced in certain sectors, and one of those being lamb. There were reports in the media last week that we could be facing up to 2 million lamb carcasses going to waste in the UK alone, so I'm just wondering what contingency planning you might have as a Government to ready yourself for that. Thank you. 

16:15

The Member says we're still talking about taking action on a DRS scheme, we're talking about EPR and we're talking about action on single-use plastics. Well, to be clear, I'm not just talking about it—I'm taking action on it, and this Government is taking action on it. This is why we are not only going further than elsewhere in the UK in taking action on reducing single-use plastics, we're looking at nine of the most commonly-littered single-use plastics, the ones that blight our communities and blight our streets and blight our seas, and the ones that we know that are the biggest problem. But it's not just—. This is the first phase of not just taking action to phase out single-use plastics; one of the things that came back in our 'Beyond Recycling' consultation was the need to look more holistically at, actually, how we phase out single-use, full stop, so we don't move the problem elsewhere. 

And we're taking action by working with the UK Government on an EPR scheme and a deposit-return scheme. The extended producer responsibility scheme is the one that will be a game changer in terms of tackling those issues that the Member raised in reducing waste in the first place, and driving that change in terms of the packaging that products come in by placing the polluter-pays principle on those who produce the packaging in the first place. Where we currently see now that they're covering around 10 per cent of the cost of this packaging, the EPR will mean that the responsibility goes up to covering 100 per cent of the cost of that packaging. 

On a deposit-return scheme, we're keen to make sure that works in a way that works for us in Wales, recognising that we're in a different position perhaps from our colleagues elsewhere in both Scotland and in England in terms of where we are in terms of how we recycle at kerbside in the first place, working with Welsh businesses and other businesses to look at, actually, how we innovate and choose technology so that, again, we don't have unintended consequences. So, we will work with those households and Welsh citizens who have played their part over the years to actually play their part and to do their recycling at kerbside, and to see how digital technology can enable them to also be able to return deposit-return scheme items at households, so that they don't necessarily have to return to a return vending machine or to a collection hub—so, working right across the piece. 

We are—. This Government is taking action and we are committed to continuing to lead the way, and making sure that Wales is a global leader when it comes to not just recycling, but to tackling reducing waste in the first place.

16:20

Deputy Minister, can I firstly thank you for your statement? Can I thank you also for the fact that you will, in fact, be attending a single-use plastics session in Pontypridd online later this week, where you will also have the opportunity to meet not only with young people in the constituency, but also from the Friends of the Earth youth forum in Pontypridd, who we meet with regularly to talk about different options and schemes that there may be for recycling?

Can I also say—? You referred in your statement to how much progress we've made. I think we have to start from the point of view—and maybe it's a generational thing—of how far backwards we actually went after the 1950s and 1960s, because I as a child did a lot of recycling, picking up glass bottles from building sites, getting the 4p back on the bottles, taking them back to be recycled. And, of course, when you went into a shop, it would all be paper bags, it would be paper wrapping and so on. So, many of the things that we're talking about doing now are the things that we used to do, and we just have to reorientate much of our business and the way in which we do things to achieve that.

But can I say—one of my constituents has sent to me what is a really interesting deposit-return scheme that's being introduced in America? And that is that bottles, whether they be glass, whether they be plastic and so on, are barcoded. There is a levy on all those bottles, and the individual who purchases them pays a slight premium on them, but, when they've finished with them, they take them to one of these big recycling bins, they post them through, the barcode is read, and they get their money back on them. Now, this is a rather more sophisticated adult version of what we used to do when I was a kid and collected these bottles. But it seems to me that there are systems and technologies in place that can really actually deliver a lot of this, and it seems to me pilots of technology like this in an area with perhaps a number of supermarkets and so on would really be a way of kicking off recycling, as a pilot, without the need for complex legislation. I wonder if that's something you'd be interested in looking at. Thank you.

May I start by thanking the Member for his very thoughtful and reflective contribution there? I think you're absolutely right in terms of how we feel like we've almost gone full circle in terms of that consumer journey, where it was about convenience, and then we've realised, actually, convenience comes at a cost in a different sense as well—so, looking and thinking more now about actually how we use and the way in which we consume things and needing to, actually, not just as a Government take responsibility and use our leverage and our legislation to drive that change, but we also have to—as individuals ourselves, we have to think about, actually, how we do things and how we can change our own behaviours as well.

The Member says about the ideas out there in terms of the use of innovative technology and the way digital can potentially be a game changer here, and that's exactly what I was referring to in my previous answer to the previous question in respect to actually exploring in Wales actually how we actively explore in Wales how we can bring a different dimension to, perhaps, those traditional methods of deposit-return scheme collections in the way in which the Member talks about, in terms of the use of smartphone technology. We are working with businesses to see actually how we can take that forward in a pilot within Wales, and I'm happy to update the Member on that, and other Members should they so wish.

Finally, I'm very much looking forward to the event this week. I've done a few recently, and they're always very attended and with some fantastic ideas from those contributing, all of which help shape the future direction of this area, which I know people, and particularly young people, are incredibly passionate about in communities right across the country.

Thank you very much. I share Janet Finch-Saunders's rant about wet wipes, which are a good example of how manufacturers simply invent something new that they think they can make money out of, and that's where extended producer responsibility comes in. So, it would be useful to know how well your conversations are going with the UK Government to try and get that sort of thing extended throughout the UK. And also I just wanted to have a minor rant about black plastic trays, because they are completely unnecessary; there are plenty of other plastic trays available that can be recycled, whereas these things can't. Why has it not been possible to reach an agreement with the UK Government that we simply ban black plastic, on the grounds that it cannot be recycled? I appreciate that water bottles have had a revival as a result of COVID, but wouldn't it be nice if we could be picking up leaves at this time of year, rather than plastic bottles? So, are you able to just tell us quickly which are the nine most commonly-littered single-use plastic items and how quickly we can see them eliminated from our society?

16:25

I thank the Member for her questions. If I first touch on the issue of wet wipes, it was remiss of me not to pick that up in my response to Janet Finch-Saunders as well. The single-use plastics consultation here is perhaps a first phase in a phased approach at tackling problematic single-use plastics, and, within that consultation, we invite people to suggest perhaps things that they think should be included in it and that aren't or that we should consider as a second phase, and one of the things that is highlighted in there as something that we should potentially address is the issue of wet wipes, and particularly wet wipes that may contain harmful plastics that are harmful for the environment. And like you say, you find them where they shouldn't be, on beaches. Welsh Government does work and has worked very closely with Welsh Water on this in terms of actually—and will continue to do so in the short to medium term in terms of the messaging to the public on actually how these can be properly disposed of in the current circumstances as well. 

With an extended producer responsibility, the current work we're doing is around, obviously, specifically packaging, and that will also help address things like the problematic black plastic as well, because the idea of actually increasing the modular fees for something that does greater damage to the environment acts as an incentive or a driver for companies or for producers to actually produce things that do less damage to the environment and are actually able to be repossessed and reused in some form or another so as to fulfil the ambitions and the principles of a circular economy.

Within the UK Environment Bill, there are enabling powers for Wales, which would include EPR and, in the future, you could look at actually how extended producer responsibility could be applied to a range of areas, not just packaging—you could look at things like textiles and other problematic materials. So, that piece of legislation could be significant to us in Wales in terms of actually how we could build on what we're already doing and take that further. But I would issue almost a warning and a word of encouragement for Members from across the Chamber to help us to make representations with regard to the internal market Bill, particularly concerns around the principle of mutual recognition within the internal market Bill if enacted, which allow any good that meets relevant regulatory requirements relating to sale in the part of the UK it is produced in or imported to to be sold in any other part of the UK without having to adhere to relevant regulatory requirements in that other part, which, in essence, could mean, in reality, that the Bill as it currently stands could prevent us from taking action as we've done previously and as we would want to do in the future.

So, the ambition is there and the commitment and the drive to build on our record in Wales and to go beyond recycling in terms of actually how we reduce waste in the first place and phase out all these problematic materials, but we really do need to make sure that we don't have our hands tied in doing that.

4. Statement by the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip: Hate Crime Awareness Week 2020

We now move to item 4, which is a statement by the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip on Hate Crime Awareness Week. I call Jane Hutt. 

Thank you very much, acting Presiding Officer. Today we mark Hate Crime Awareness Week, a national event that aims to increase knowledge and understanding of hate crime, encourage its reporting, and promote the importance of communities standing together against intolerance and prejudice.

This, of course, is a very different Hate Crime Awareness Week to usual. A cornerstone of the annual week of awareness raising involves organisations going out to public places and engaging directly with communities about hate crime. Current circumstances have required organisations to move online to reach people this year. And this year also follows the societal momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement, which has highlighted pressing inequalities that Wales needs to urgently address, including hate and prejudice.

As well as engagement on social media, there will be a number of online events and launches taking place during this the week. For example, Race Equality First is holding a virtual launch of its discrimination and hate crime project today, which will be providing assistance to victims of hate crime and discrimination across Wales over the next three years.

Victim Support Cymru will be launching its hate crime charter on Saturday, which brings the rights of victims of hate crime to the forefront. It will encourage organisations to adopt the charter to show their commitment to playing a part in tackling hate crime, from providing support and information to victims to raising awareness. The Welsh Government will be signing up to the charter and I encourage organisations to sign up and show their support too.

In March, I led a debate on our progress with tackling hate crime in Wales, where I gave an update on the ongoing and upcoming work of the Welsh Government. Since that time, our focus has rightly turned to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. We've had to adapt the work we'd planned, for example, the delivery of hate crime projects has moved online and we hope to restart hate crime in schools activity by the end of the year. However, we have also seen clear evidence of cohesive communities across Wales, as people came together to support one another through this challenging period. The unprecedented commitment to volunteer, to support neighbours and those most vulnerable is something we must continue to celebrate and cherish. I hope we can continue to build on these relationships going forward.

We have revised the timeline of our pan-Wales hate crime communications campaign, with a launch early next year. This will be a major campaign aiming to highlight the isolating effect of hate crime on victims and encouraging public support.

Our community cohesion teams have been instrumental to our work to support communities and mitigate tensions across Wales during the pandemic. The versatility demonstrated by the teams in their joint response to the unexpected challenge of COVID-19 has once again highlighted the great value of the programme.

But there are those who seek to divide our communities with hateful and divisive narratives. Opportunistic individuals have recently tried to capitalise on the unacceptable way the Home Office communicated its decision to use the Penally army training camp to accommodate asylum seekers without consultation and engagement with the local community and local public services. We aim to be a nation of sanctuary in Wales, and this means supporting those who arrive to integrate effectively for the benefit of surrounding communities, providing support and assistance to achieve this.

Through our regular meetings with police and Victim Support, we have seen hate crime reporting, on average, remain generally lower throughout the pandemic. While we can't be certain why, it is possible that it is a result of social distancing and a lack of interaction, or alternatively through reluctance to report hate crime due to not wanting to bother the police during this busy period.

We know through our conversations with all four police forces in Wales that hate crime remains a priority, and I want to use this opportunity to reinforce this message. We encourage victims to continue to come forward and report incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether to the police or via the Welsh Government-funded National Hate Crime Report and Support Centre, run by Victim Support Cymru.

I would like to thank the police, local authorities, the third sector, and all of our partners for their flexibility and resourcefulness over the last few months. We remain grateful for their support and expertise.

Previously, I've highlighted the Law Commission’s review of the adequacy and parity of protection offered by hate crime legislation. It published its consultation paper on 23 September. The Law Commission would like to hear from as many stakeholders as possible, including victims of hate crime and the service providers who support them. I strongly encourage people to participate, as it is important that the consultation benefits from Welsh views and experiences.

In the remainder of this Senedd term, we intend to lay down the foundations for future work in this area. As well as responding to the Law Commission's consultation, we will work with partners to develop community cohesion principles to identify common goals by which we foster and promote community cohesion in Wales. And as part of this work, we will produce an update on actions in the hate crime framework. We're also working on an exciting new partnership with Cardiff University's HateLab dashboard, to increase our capacity to monitor and respond to online hate.

The 2019-2020 national hate crime statistics for England and Wales were published by the Home Office today. They showed an overall 2 per cent increase in recorded hate crime for Wales, compared to an 8 per cent increase across England and Wales as a whole. The statistics included a 10 per cent increase in transgender hate crime, a 2 per cent rise in disability hate crime, and a 2 per cent rise in hate crime where sexual orientation is the motivating factor. There was a 2 per cent decrease in race hate crime and a 3 per cent decrease in religious hate crime. We have not seen the same increases across all strands of hate crime as we did in the previous year. However, the statistics show that the rises we saw in 2018-19 have been sustained.

In addition, we know that there are still around half of self-reported hate incidents not being recorded as hate crime across the UK. This might range—the reasons for this—from a lack of faith in the criminal justice system or due to people not knowing how to report hate crime. Our work to raise awareness of hate crime and encourage victims to report is as vital as ever, as is our effort to better understand the experiences of victims and the reasons for not wanting to come forward to report.

Across Wales, organisations are using Hate Crime Awareness Week as an opportunity to remind people that they do not have to tolerate hate and prejudice. It's not acceptable for people to live in fear just because of who they are. I hope that all Members will join me today in supporting this very clear message that there is no home for hate in Wales. Diolch yn fawr.

16:35

I thank the Deputy Minister for her statement today. I fully support the National Hate Crime Awareness Week, although I deeply regret that in this day and age that we need to have one.

Hate crime is an increasing problem in our country, and sadly, Wales is no exception. Police forces in England and Wales recorded a 10 per cent increase in recorded hate crime incidents in 2018-19, as you outlined. These increases were across the board: religious hate crime up 3 per cent, disability hate crime up 14 per cent, a 25 per cent increase in hate crime due to sexual orientation, and transgender hate crime up 37 per cent.

While it's likely that the increase in hate crime has been driven by the improvements in recording by the police, and there is a growing awareness of hate crime now, there is no doubt that the problem is escalating. Do you agree, Deputy Minister, that we need further measures to crack down on hate crime in Wales?

Although the vast majority of these crimes were based on race or religion—

Order. I'm afraid we've got a technological gremlin, and I think we've lost Zoom. So, I will just suspend proceedings momentarily whilst the technicians try to re-establish contact, and then we will come back to you, Laura.

Plenary was suspended at 16:38.

16:40

The Senedd reconvened at 16:44, with David Melding in the Chair.

Order. Welcome back. I'm pleased to say that we've resolved the technical issues, and I call Laura Anne Jones.

Thank you, acting Presiding Officer. I thank the Deputy Minister for her statement today, and I thank her for the work that she's done so far, as well, on this. I fully support National Hate Crime Awareness Week, although I deeply regret that, in this day and age, we still need to have one. Hate crime is an increasing problem in our country, and sadly, Wales is no exception. Police forces in England and Wales recorded a 10 per cent increase in recorded hate crime incidents in 2018-19, and these increases were across the board: religious hate crime up 3 per cent, disability hate crime up 14 per cent, a 25 per cent increase in hate crime due to sexual orientation, and transgender hate crime up 37 per cent.

While it's likely that these increases in hate crime have been driven by improvements in recording by police and a growing awareness of crime, there is no doubt that the problem is escalating. Do you agree, Deputy Minister, that we need further measures to crack down on hate crime in Wales? Although the vast majority of these crimes were based on race or religion, there are disturbing increases in offences against LGBT and disabled people. Nancy Kelley, chief executive of Stonewall, said that she didn't think the rise was just down to better reporting. She added that 80 per cent of LGBT people still don't report hate crimes. So, this is really just the tip of the iceberg. How can we convince people that they need to come forward and report incidents of hate crime?

One of the key steps to take is to reassure victims that reporting hate crime is worthwhile. However, fewer people are being prosecuted for homophobic hate crimes, despite rising numbers of potential victims coming forward. Recorded reports of homophobic abuse in the UK increased from just under 6,000 in 2014-15 to over 13,000 in 2018-19, but during the same period, the number of prosecutions fell from 1,500 to just over 1,000—from 20 per cent.

Similarly, figures show that only four people were charged with a hate crime against disabled people in Wales last year, despite 268 complaints. I know that police forces in Wales take this matter very seriously. Gwent Police, for example, have a team of hate crime support officers who have received additional training to support victims, offer advice and signpost victims to other organisations that may be able to offer further support. Can you advise what discussions you've actually had with the police forces, the commissioners and others to tackle this problem of the low conviction rate for these crimes?

What is disturbing, also, as you've outlined, Minister, is the increase in online hate crime. There has been a particularly steep increase in disabled hate crime online. The COVID-19 pandemic means that disabled people have been confined to their homes with only digital technology to keep them connected to the outside world. So, it is worrying that disabled people should be victims of online hate crime. What measures will you take to tackle this online abuse, Minister? I welcome the fact that you're in joint working with Cardiff University on this and I would like to hear a bit more about it, if possible.

No person in Wales should have to tolerate prejudice or hate crime. I welcome the statement today and Welsh Government's commitment to making sure that all victims of hate crime are supported and that perpetrators are held to account. I urge people, also, to get involved with this week's online events. Thank you.

16:45

Thank you very much indeed, Laura Anne Jones. Thank you for your support for today's statement, reminding us of the hate crime, again, that blights so many people's lives. There's no doubt that we need this further measure and this endorsement that you've given today, particularly to addressing this in terms of our hate crime awareness week.

I'm particularly pleased, and will comment on the points that you've made, in terms of the evidence from Stonewall Cymru and the impact on LGBT people and also disabled people. And just to say that last year, I wrote to the Home Secretary to urge the UK Government to recognise hate crime motivated by sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability as aggravated offences, bringing them into line with the manner in which racially and religiously motivated hate crimes are prosecuted. So, we are awaiting the outcome of the Law Commission review, as I said in my statement. The consultation paper is out now and I do encourage you to participate and to respond to that review.

I think also your issues around disabled people are very pertinent today and I'm glad to have the opportunity to acknowledge that this is also an issue where we can look to the Law Commission's response. So, I think that it's particularly important, again, that we look at attrition rates for disability hate crime. We are committed to making sure that victims of hate crime are supported and that perpetrators are held to account in terms of disability hate crime. We're working, for example, with All Wales People First to raise awareness of hate crime. The hate crime legislation is reserved to the UK Government, but we're working very closely with the hate crime criminal justice board to increase reporting of hate crime and improve the rate of prosecutions. As you say, Laura Anne, that's so critically important, and our engagement with the police is key to that.

I would like to just say, finally, a word about online hate. The HateLab in Cardiff University is very important for us. We're going to be a client for the HateLab dashboard pilot—it's working in partnership with Cardiff University. It actually helps to identify trends in online hate speech, using mapping of hashtags, key words and social media influences, and it's going to help explore the origins behind tensions within a community. We hope it will enable us to create more targeted communications. And, indeed, due the fact that we have this at Cardiff University, we can marry it with our own work and foster cohesive communities in Wales. So, I thank you very much, Laura Anne, for those very constructive contributions to the statement this afternoon.

16:50

It's interesting how different statistics can tell different stories. The Minister uses police figures, but caseload data from Victim Support's National Hate Crime Report and Support Centre Wales shows that cases of hate crime have increased by 70 per cent between April and September of this year. Now, I'm sure this won't come as a major surprise to many, especially those in minority groups. Many people are saying that they can feel it and you can see online exactly how it can escalate. And it won't be a surprise, either, for those of us who have observed the way in which immigration, for example, is whipped up by some, and most notably, events in Penally in recent weeks. The far right are weaponising the Penally issue, and they're supported and spurred on by far-right elements that sit within this Senedd. So, will the Minister join me in strongly condemning those who seek to gain politically from the awful situation that refugees find themselves in? Will you also join me in saying 'well done' to Councillor Joshua Beynon and others who have stood up in defence of the refugees in Penally and received abuse for doing so? Will you tell us what you can do to prevent refugees in Penally from being attacked, and what steps you can take to stop the far right from gathering there? And, finally, what resources can you provide to schools and community groups to enable them to challenge the relatively low-level behaviours that can morph into hate crime? We're clearly not doing enough to tackle this at source, otherwise we wouldn't need a hate crime day every year and a debate in this Senedd on it. So, Minister, I'm sure you would agree with that point too.

Thank you very much indeed, Leanne Wood. It's very important that you draw attention to the actual lived experience of victims of hate crime and that you draw attention to the evidence and the statistics of those who are actually supporting victims of hate crime. We need to acknowledge that and recognise that as well, indeed, as the Home Office statistics.

I mentioned the inappropriate way in which the Home Office inappropriately imposed the Penally army camp and then designated it as a centre to accommodate asylum seekers in the way that they did, without consultation or engagement with the local community and local services. And I'd also join you to acknowledge the courage of local people and, indeed, of elected representatives like Councillor Josh Beynon and others. But I have raised the issue of the Penally camp, and not only myself, but the First Minister, who's written three times to the Home Secretary and wrote again to Chris Philp on 9 October. In his letter, he said, 'I'm writing urgently about the continuing and deeply concerning state of affairs at Penally training camp in Pembrokeshire'. I think one of the things about this and the way that it's happened is it has enabled far-right extremist views to come through and blight the lives of those asylum seekers and the local community. We know that far-right extremism exists in the UK; it is our shared duty to combat it.

But I would say that, actually, there's a lot of support being rallied to support the asylum seekers who've been transferred to the Penally army training camp in Pembrokeshire. Migrant Help is co-ordinating offers of support, I've met with the faith communities forum and the local churches, the imam is engaged, there's the Oasis centre providing English language tuition, Victim Support is engaging with individuals relating to hate crime, and many other organisations, as well as the local community, are seeking to understand and plug gaps in services where they are able.

So, I'm glad that Leanne Wood has brought this to me in questions on this statement, but I would also say that, as she said, it's vital that we do reach out to our children and young people. We had already awarded funding to a range of organisations to tackle hate crime, particularly with schools and with young people. We have a £350,000 hate crime in schools project; that's been funded with EU transition funding. The whole purpose is to create a school climate in which prejudice and hate-motivated behaviour are not acceptable, but that allows children to develop diverse viewpoints and opinions. It was paused by COVID-19, but, in fact, that project is going to move forward in terms of staff training, classroom activity, resource packs, engaging with children and young people at key stage 2 and early key stage 3, often excluded from conversations relating to hate crime, and that work is going to now progress.

16:55

I thank very much the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip for her statement on Hate Crime Awareness Week, and I do agree that there are different statistics that will offer different measures, but the prescience of this statement can be seen by the 2019-20 national hate crime statistics for England and Wales that were published by the Home Office today. They show that overall 2 per cent increase in recorded hate crime for Wales, compared to an 8 per cent increase across England and Wales as a whole. This smaller increase, though, is an increase that we in Wales will do everything to counter.

As the Minister stated, the statistics included a 10 per cent increase in transgender hate crime, a 2 per cent rise in disability hate crime and a 2 per cent rise in hate crime where sexual orientation is that motivating factor. This is additional to the recent strategic rise, as has been alluded to by Leanne Wood, in hate crime over the last two years, contrary to the earlier trend. Too often, I think we can fall into this trap of believing that we are dealing with an abstract, with theoretical data and issues within the Chamber of this Senedd, this Welsh Parliament, but behind each one of these figures are real lives, individual human stories, mothers and fathers, grandparents, sisters and brothers, and their lives are blighted in society, sometimes feeling diminished, different and ostracised. So, these, Deputy Minister, as has been alluded to, are the tip of the iceberg of reported crimes; underneath that, lies an iceberg.

Minister, following recent measure announcements and the 'Nation of Sanctuary' and the Welsh Government signing the Victim Support Cymru hate crime charter, how can the Welsh Government continue in its real and active effort to further eradicate the scourge of hate crime and how can Welsh Government aid the work of important, critical partner agencies, such as Gwent Police in my constituency, who are actively working to protect all of the citizens that they represent? And to conclude, I also wish to echo the Deputy Minister: if you have suffered from any hate crime, please come forward and report, because Wales will listen and Wales will act. Thank you.

17:00

Thank you very much, Rhianon Passmore. As you say, the statistics that we have today demonstrate the tip of the iceberg in terms of unreported crimes, and evidence of that is quite clear from those partners who are working to meet the needs of victims of hate crime. I think the additional funding that we provided for the national hate crime report and support centre is important to acknowledge—run by Victim Support Cymru—£360,000 over two years, additional money on top of their annual funding, particularly investing in work to tackle hate crime in Wales, and also the fact that we have a £480,000 hate crime minority communities grant funding projects across Wales, and we're also launching an anti-hate crime communications campaign early next year. With that campaign we're looking at how we can highlight the isolating effect of hate crime on individuals, highlighting the support available, encouraging witnesses and potential perpetrators to think differently about their behaviour.

I think it's important when we look at the Victim Support Cymru grant, and the contract that we have with them, which we have enhanced—the current service supported 2,017 clients, and 23 per cent of all referrals received are in terms of hate crime, with 334 supported in the current financial year to date. Also to recognise that clients are usually referred on to support by the police—90 per cent by the police—which I think shows their commitment to this, but also self-referral is way down to 7.2 per cent, so we're very dependent on the police.

I thank Rhianon Passmore—

Order. I'm going to suspend proceedings until we unfreeze the Deputy Minister. It's been more than a moment now, I fear.

Plenary was suspended at 17:02.

The Senedd reconvened at 17:09, with David Melding in the Chair.

17:05

Order. I regret to inform Members that we've not been able to re-establish a connection to the Deputy Minister's broadband. We were near the end of that item and I'm afraid I'm going to have to apologise to Joyce Watson, who I was going to call as the final speaker to put a question, but my apologies, Joyce, I'm afraid the technology has defeated us. We've done well with the technology overall, but I'm afraid today there are a couple of challenges.

17:10
5. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport: Tackling Pavement Parking

So, we will now move, then, to item 5, which is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport on tackling pavement parking. Lee Waters. 

Thank you. For parents with pushchairs or people in wheelchairs, pavement parking can be not just a nuisance, but a danger. I have accompanied a blind person on a journey around their housing estate and when faced with a car taking up most of the pavement, their guide dog did as it was trained to do—it led them onto the road, rather than try and squeeze through the small gap. This is an everyday occurrence for many vulnerable people. When faced with cars parked on the space meant for them, they are forced onto the road. And it's no surprise that some report that the fear of facing this danger causes them to stay indoors—the anti-social behaviour of a few causing harm for the many.

We want more people to walk for short journeys and yet we tolerate an environment that is often not pedestrian friendly—too many routes are cluttered or blocked. A recent survey found that 83 per cent of people in Wales view it as a common, large or very large problem. The current law on parking on pavements is not as clear or as helpful as it could be. There is no specific offence of parking on pavements. The police can enforce the existing criminal law of causing unnecessary obstruction of any part of the highway, but this offence is rarely enforced.

I'm glad that the Government in England have launched a consultation on what they might do to strengthen the law. The Welsh Government are further ahead, though. Last summer I convened an expert taskforce to come up with practical recommendations for tackling the problem. I was very pleased that Phil Jones took on the task of chairing the group, in parallel with the panel he chaired on 20 mph speed limits. I am very grateful to him and his panelists for all the work that they have done. Taken together, these two initiatives have real potential to save lives and to rebalance the environment in favour of pedestrians to create communities that put people before cars.

My brief to the group was clear: find a way forward that will work in practice. I don't want to create even more problems for local authorities or the police. I want something that's going to help on the ground. The expert group included the police, the fire service, the Welsh Local Government Association, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Road Haulage Association, the British Parking Association and the Freight Transport Association, alongside campaigning groups like Disability Wales, Guide Dogs, Living Streets and Sustrans.

The report, which we are publishing today, has been tested by these key groups. The Welsh pavement parking taskforce makes 10 recommendations, and the Welsh Government accepts all of them. The taskforce does not favour an outright ban on pavement parking. They looked at the experience in Scotland where a prohibition has been created in primary legislation and concluded that that is an overly complex process and could take up to five years to introduce. A quicker and better way of tackling pavement parking is to give extra powers to local authorities to tackle the problem. The taskforce report recommends that Welsh Ministers should make subordinate legislation to add 'parking on a footway' to the list of parking contraventions in the Traffic Management Act 2004. This will enable councils to carry out civil enforcement of pavement parking.

We recognise that in some streets there are too many cars for the space available. We'll be setting out in our new Wales transport strategy how we want to encourage modal shift to make it easier for people to rely less on cars for everyday journeys. But in the meantime, we don't want to penalise people who have no alternative. By giving local authorities civil enforcement powers they can make judgments of where to clamp down. They can target hotspots like schools and respond to local circumstances. We intend for these new powers of 'civil enforcement of unnecessary obstruction' to commence by July 2022.

We will now set up an implementation group with local government representatives and stakeholders to develop enforcement guidance to help ensure a consistent approach is taken across Wales. This work will sit alongside the work we are doing to introduce a 20 mph default speed limit in residential areas from April 2023. And as I previously highlighted to the Senedd in July, this is as much about changing hearts and minds as it is about hard enforcement, and we will be developing a communications campaign rooted in values to make the case for change.

Over time, Dirprwy Lywydd, this will become the norm. Just as with smoking in restaurants, organ donation, and recycling our waste, I'm convinced this will quickly become seen as a commonsense measure. And I appreciate the cross-party support that there is for taking this forward. Diolch.

17:15
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