Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

10/11/2020

Cynnwys

Contents

Statement by the Llywydd
1. Questions to the First Minister
2. Business Statement and Announcement
3. Statement by the Minister for Education: The approach to qualifications in 2021
4. The Debt Respite Scheme (Breathing Space Moratorium and Mental Health Crisis Moratorium) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020
6. Debate: Stage 3 on the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill
Group 1: Local government elections (Amendments 84, 85, 1, 86, 87, 99, 101,102, 103,104,105, 2, 106, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 147, 58, 59, 60, 61, 79, 55, 56)
Group 2: Voting system for local government elections (Amendments 152, 88, 89, 153, 154, 90, 91, 92, 94, 93, 95, 96, , 97, 155, 98, 156, 100, 157, 145, 176, 146, 63, 177, 83, 151, 148, 168, 137, 169, 170, 171, 144)
Group 3: Welsh Language Standards (Amendments 158, 159, 165, 166)
Group 4: General power of competence (Amendments 107, 3, 108, 109, 110, 68, 74, 69)
Group 5: Public participation (Amendments 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117)
Group 6: Local authority meetings (Amendments 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 77, 12, 13, 14, 15, 118, 16, 17, 18, 70, 4, 5, 50, 51, 52, 72, 53)
Group 7: Local authority officers and members (Amendments 119, 80, 75)
Group 8: Equality and diversity and job sharing (Amendments 161, 178, 179, 162, 163, 160, 172, 174)
Group 9: Corporate joint committees—where no request has been made (Amendments 164, 120, 121, 122, 125, 126, 167, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133, 135, 173, 175)
Group 10: Corporate joint committees—other requirements (Amendments 19, 123, 124, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 132, 134, 149, 76, 150)
Group 11: Performance and governance of principal councils (Amendments 136, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 81, 82)
Group 12: Restructuring local authorities (Amendments 138, 139, 140, 39, 141, 71, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 73, 78)
Group 13: Part 9—miscellaneous (Amendments 45, 46, 47, 54)
Group 14: Fire and rescue authorities (Amendments 142, 48, 49, 57)
Group 15: Compensation for principal councils (Amendment 143)

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 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Welcome to this Plenary meeting. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. 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 Senedd proceedings, 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, constitutes 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 your agenda. And I would 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

With those few words, the first item on our agenda is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Delyth Jewell. 

Public Understanding of Politics

1. Will the First Minister make a statement about the importance of increasing public understanding of politics in Wales? OQ55848

Llywydd, I thank Delyth Jewell for that question. Increasing the public’s understanding of democracy in Wales, and throughout the world, has never been more important. I have today written to President-elect Biden to congratulate him on his victory in last week's elections in the United States. Decision making in this Senedd during the coronavirus crisis has demonstrated the significance of politics in everyone’s lives in an unprecedented way.

I thank the First Minister for his answer. I'm sure that he, as he has just said, has been following not only the result of the US election, but the fascinating coverage that has been of it. I'm delighted by the Democrats' victory against probably the worst US President in history, and I'm glad that the First Minister has joined me in congratulating Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their victory. But that detailed coverage stands in contrast with the situation in Wales, where people have to go out of their way to ascertain facts. Cardiff University's 2016 Welsh election study paints a bleak picture of political understanding of Senedd elections. Findings include that half the population didn't know the Welsh Government is in charge of health and education, and 40 per cent believed Plaid Cymru were a party of Government between 2011 and 2016. Now, we know the reason for this—most Welsh citizens get their news from London-based media. The same study shows only 6 per cent of Welsh voters read Welsh papers. In Scotland, it's 46 per cent. So, does the First Minister share my concern about these figures, and does he agree that it's not the fault of Welsh citizens, but rather it's that they're being let down by the current media landscape, and, if so, would he be willing to work cross-party to explore ways to properly inform the public ahead of next year's election?

Llywydd, I thank Delyth Jewell for those supplementary questions. I agree with her that the weakness of the Welsh media has always been a challenge in communicating the significance of devolution here in Wales, and that stands in significant contrast to the position in Scotland, for example, where Scottish citizens are much more likely to get their news from a Scottish source, rather than relying on sources beyond Scotland, as we have so many citizens relying on sources beyond Wales. I do think the experience of this year has had a significant impact, however, on the recognition by people in Wales of the fact that devolution, and this Senedd, is in charge of so many aspects of their lives that have made such a difference over these months.

I'm very happy to commit to working with others to raise the awareness of the forthcoming elections here in Wales and of Welsh democracy. Earlier in this Senedd term, Llywydd, as part of a budget agreement with Plaid Cymru, we found some money for hyperlocal media here in Wales, and that has been significant during this pandemic crisis as well. 

Thank you for your answer to Delyth Jewell, First Minister, but, of course, the media is only part of the solution. Education plays a vital part, and, with the next Welsh general election seeing the franchise being extended to include 16-year-olds, it is essential that young people gain an objective, fair and balanced view on the important role that politics plays in all of our lives. The new curriculum states that one of its core purposes is to ensure that our young people are able to become ethically and informed citizens of Wales, but it has failed to include learning about politics as a compulsory part of this. Politics is more than just putting a cross in the box, but understanding what change that cross can effect. Will you pledge to look again at the call, supported by the Electoral Reform Society, to enshrine political education into the curriculum, to ensure that Wales is able to fully realise her aim of empowering our young people with the knowledge as they enter into adulthood?

13:35

Well, Llywydd, I agree with Angela Burns about the importance of education in relation to 16 and 17-year-olds. It's one of the reasons why I was attracted to supporting that proposition, because young people will still be in compulsory education and will have an opportunity to become those ethically informed citizens of Wales and the world in a way that is not possible for many young people when they had already left school before becoming 18. But I don't agree with the Member that preparation is not possible within the new curriculum. The humanities area of learning and experience will deliver exactly what she is looking for, without freighting down the curriculum with another specific area by itself. I've lost count of the number of times in this Chamber that I have heard speeches by Members arguing for some specific niche to be identified separately within the curriculum. And the whole purpose of our reform has not to be to proceed in that way; it has been to provide broad areas, and then to give the responsibility to those in the classroom, who know their pupils the best, who understand the context in which they are delivering the curriculum. And they will do what Angela Burns has asked, I am sure, in preparing our young people to participate in Welsh democracy. Last Thursday, Llywydd, the Welsh Government's commission into educational resources, in advance of next May's elections, went live, hosted on the Hwb platform, available to schools in every part of Wales.

Like you, First Minister, I was delighted to see President-elect Biden win the election last week. I was therefore surprised to learn, before joining the meeting today, that he did in fact lose the election last week and that he is no longer President-elect. This news was brought to me by an American website, which was fact-checked by another website, and supported by a different news website. All of those news items, of course, are fake and false and wrong and designed not to inform but to misinform and mislead. And one of my great concerns—and we have an election coming up ourselves in six months' time—is that the understanding of politics in Wales is being undermined by dark money, by foreign-funded media organisations, which seek to debase and undermine our politics. We saw this during the Brexit referendum, we've seen it repeatedly since then, and we've seen it in the United States today. Do you agree with me, First Minister, that if we are to ensure that people have a proper, fair understanding of politics and current affairs in Wales, not only do we need to do all the things that you've already debated and discussed, but we also need regulation of the financing of politics in the United Kingdom and regulation of social media?

Well, Llywydd, I very much share Alun Davies's concerns at the way in which modern social media, which on the whole is a huge boon to us, but nevertheless, exposes our democracy to attacks from people who are not interested for one moment in making sure that we have ethically informed young people, with an understanding of, an interest in, and an engagement with Welsh democracy, but instead peddle a very particular and sinister line about the way in which Government can play a part in their lives and they themselves can participate in the democratic process. And we're not immune from that here in Wales, as I know Alun Davies has himself made a particular point of drawing to people's attention. Those forces operate in Wales, as well as anywhere else, and they will play their part, if we allow them to, in our own elections in May, which is why the calls were made by Alun Davies at the end of his contribution to make sure that the proper regulation of this part of the world is seriously considered by Government, and that we don't allow our politics to become infected by money from elsewhere in the world designed not to inform or to educate, but to mislead and to persuade people that things that they are fearful of in their lives are very different to the reality that we understand. 

13:40
Coronavirus Restrictions in Caerphilly

2. Will the First Minister provide an update on the easing of coronavirus restrictions in Caerphilly? OQ55845

I thank the Member for that, Llywydd. From 9 November, citizens of Caerphilly will help deal with coronavirus through a new set of national rules. Nowhere has more been asked of people in Wales than in Caerphilly, and I thank all of those who have made such efforts to keep themselves and others safe and well. 

I'd like to thank the First Minister once again for recognising the efforts we've made, longer than anyone else in Wales, in Caerphilly, and we made a great deal of progress early on in arresting the growth of the virus in our communities. Many people are e-mailing me now and asking questions about a vaccine. We heard news breaking yesterday about progress made by Pfizer and a possible vaccine. My view is that we need to treat this announcement with caution, and we must emphasise the fact that people must continue to abide by the restrictions that the Welsh Government has in place in order to protect the NHS and to save lives. But can I ask the First Minister what plans he has to prepare Wales for a potential vaccine? What communication has he had with the UK Government, and how may this help us, with that cautious reservation in place, in the future? 

I thank Hefin David for that, Llywydd. And let me begin just by associating myself with his opening remarks. I think there's a lot to be concerned with at the triumphalist way in which some of the right-wing press in the United Kingdom have reported Pfizer's announcement. Of course, it's welcome that their stage 3 trial has met with success, but that is not the end of the story at all. There are very important further steps that have to be taken before that vaccine, or any of the other 11 vaccines that are at stage 3 trials, might finally come to fruition, and I really, really do not want people in Wales to take the wrong message from what was being said yesterday. We will be fighting coronavirus with the current armoury that we have at our disposal for many months to come, and, while we look forward to the day when there is a vaccine, we need to be cautious in the way we approach it and not persuade people to act as though coronavirus is over and help is just around the corner. It really isn't going to be like that. 

In the meantime, we have an agreement with the UK Government. My colleague Vaughan Gething, was in a meeting with other health Ministers across the United Kingdom, on Thursday of last week, agreeing a whole series of measures. We will receive our population share of any vaccine once it becomes properly approved and available. The planning for its storage and distribution will be in the hands of the Welsh Government and, in relation to the Pfizer vaccine, that is a particularly important responsibility because this is a vaccine that can only properly be stored at very low temperatures indeed, far different to the way in which those who have been to have their flu vaccination at a GP surgery will see it stored in an ordinary fridge and absolutely safely in that way. The Pfizer vaccine is nothing like that at all, and the logistical issues that will fall to the Welsh Government are very real, but have been in preparation for many months, and when we get to a point where there is a vaccine that is genuinely safe and known to be so and for use in the population, then we will be prepared and ready to do that here in Wales. 

First Minister, yes, that's very welcome news about the vaccine, but, as you say, people need to continue to act sensibly, and obviously safety comes first. But I have a question for you that I probably did not make as clear as I should have done last week, and that's on football. So, it affects clubs that have come to me from Caerphilly, South Wales East and, of course, it affects the whole of Wales. On the 30-outside post-firebreak rule, there are, obviously—I'm a football fan, so I know—11 a side in a football match. But in the rule of 30, you have 11 a side if football teams want to play each other, one sub each, one manager and one coach, and then there's enough room for a ref and a first aider. There is no room for linesmen and, obviously, there's no room for any more subs. So, I was just wondering, First Minister, as that's okay for training, and it's okay, sort of, for friendlies, but a bit of a strain with just having one sub, if our clubs are to start their season—they've started it in England, they're just on pause—if they're going to start their seasons here in Wales, how do you propose they do that if the rule of 30 obviously only means that they can have those people on the pitch, but they can't have the linesmen and everything like that? Is there going to be some concession to ensure that they can start their season? I just wonder if you could explain it a bit more for me, please, First Minister, or look into it. Thank you.

13:45

Well, Llywydd, I understand the constraints that there are when you have a maximum number of people who can participate in an organised event in the outdoors, but the rules are there for a reason. The biggest threat that we all face is from the reoccurrence of coronavirus, and the 30 number is designed to try to limit the risks that come with people meeting in any context in the outdoors. And a challenge as it is, and I do understand why these constraints are real for people who have to organise those activities—they're there for a very good and important reason, and it is only when we are more confident that we are genuinely suppressing the virus here in Wales that it will be possible to offer any further concessions.

Now, we continue to discuss these things all the time with the governing bodies, and we all look forward to the point when we will be able to offer more to people who give their time, give their commitment to organising teams and making sure that young people in particular can take part in them. But we're not at that point. We're at a point where we still have more people in our hospitals today and more people in critical care than we did back in May of this year. So, until we are at that point where things are improving and improving significantly, we've designed the system as best we can and we have to ask people to be able to operate within it.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, we will all, of course, naturally, have been encouraged by the glimmer of hope we saw yesterday, but, as you say yourself, a vaccine should not be regarded as a silver bullet, certainly at this stage in the pandemic. But nevertheless, the news was, I think, potentially a silver lining of what's been a dark and difficult year so far. Could you say a little bit more about the plans that you referred to in your answer earlier? Are you planning, at least on a contingency basis, if the necessary approvals are delivered, or is there potential for the vaccine to be rolled out initially next month? And could you say a little bit more about the logistical plans that you referred to? So, are you looking at, potentially, a network of mass-immunisation centres, drive-through centres that have been suggested, possibly roving immunisation teams and temporary pop-up facilities in general practitioner surgeries? Who is co-ordinating and leading this effort across Government? And in terms of the refrigeration question you referred to, of course, there was a discussion about refrigeration capacity in relation to a 'no deal' Brexit and medicines a year ago, and we may be in that position again. Are you satisfied that we have the capacity in the cold chain in order to deal with the virus, potentially?

Llywydd, can I thank Adam Price for those important questions? I think his description of it as a glimmer of hope is a good one, because I think that is what it is. It is hopeful and we need a bit of hope in these difficult times, but we mustn't exaggerate it either. It is the chief medical officer's office in Wales that is in charge of planning for any vaccine that becomes available to us. The chief medical officer was involved in this as far back as June, and was in correspondence with our health boards in July to make sure that plans are in place. 

On the storage issue, Llywydd, I think our current expectation is that if it were to be the Pfizer vaccine that was available first, with its need to be stored at below -75 degrees centigrade, then we would use the facilities available to the Welsh Blood Service, which does have facilities and in different parts of Wales that are able to keep things refrigerated at that temperature. But there are complications. My understanding of this vaccine is that it can only be taken out of refrigeration on four occasions before it's no longer capable of being used. So, there are some very real constraints with it. It has to be administered twice, as I know the Member will know, at a three-week interval, and it doesn't become effective until the first week after the second dose of the vaccine has been delivered. So, there's another set of difficult complications there. We don't yet know as to whether or not it will be effective in older people, and that's particularly a challenge at the moment because the Welsh plan, which is very similar to plans elsewhere in the United Kingdom, is to begin with priority groups and to begin with priority staff who are capable of administering the vaccine. So, our plan is that we would start with experienced vaccinators, people who do this all the time, and then we would expand beyond that. So, that's in terms of delivering the vaccine.

In terms of who will get the vaccine, until we're certain—more certain than we are now—as to which groups in the population this particular vaccine will be effective for, then we're likely to start with healthcare staff, social care staff, to make sure that front-line workers who are regularly in contact with people with coronavirus are vaccinated, and then, if it is effective with older people, then it will be care home residents and people in later stages of life that will get the next priority. So, it's a priority system; it will depend on how quickly the vaccine becomes available. We'll get a population share of it here in Wales, but there are a lot of questions that we will not yet know the answers to, and as those answers emerge, we will be able to firm up the programme that we will have for delivering the vaccine to those who need it the most first. 

13:50

Diolch. The Scottish Government has said that it's agreed for its vaccine quota, if you like, to be determined on a population-share basis because there's minimal difference between that and calculating on something more like a needs-based formula. You've said in the past, First Minister, that in the context of COVID Wales has a greater vulnerability because it's older, sicker and poorer than average. So, will you be making the case for our allocation to reflect a greater than population share on this basis?

And in terms of the prioritisation issue that you've just referred to and the interim order of prioritisation set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on 25 September, which you said that we would broadly be following, have you looked at alternative methods for prioritisation, for example the Oxford risk prediction tool, which stratifies the population according to a wider list of risk factors? In particular, will you be prioritising the roll-out of the vaccine in communities with demonstrably greater risk of infection, for, principally, areas of high socioeconomic deprivation, the black, Asian, minority ethnic communities and areas with higher levels of infection?

Llywydd, because of the speed at which we will need to move in the first instance, we've agreed a population share for Wales. That doesn't mean to say that we can't return to that, but in the first instance, getting our population share will allow us to get the programme going and we're likely to be guided in the first instance as well by the advice of the JCVI, which we've had a long history of engagement with and who do understand some of the particular challenges we face in relation to the Welsh population. None of that, however, means that, once we've got this vaccination programme under way, we are not able to fine-tune it, both by looking to see whether we have a case for additional volumes of vaccine coming to Wales and by making sure that the prioritisation that we agree is fine-tuned to meet the needs of the Welsh population. And I agree, of course, with Adam Price that there are particular groups in the population—the BAME community, certainly—who have a greater vulnerability to this virus and therefore, in a prioritisation system, you'd want to pay some proper attention to that.

13:55

While we await the roll-out of an effective vaccine, other methods of avoiding an over-reliance on lockdowns as a primary policy tool are important, of course, which is why the mass-testing programme being piloted in Liverpool and the example that we had in Slovakia are important. The latest available data shows the weekly rate of COVID in Liverpool is 300 per 100,000 population. The corresponding figures for Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Blaenau Gwent are all above 400 cases per 100,000 of the population. While bearing in mind the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies that mass testing should complement rather than replace track and trace, is there not a compelling case for the urgent roll-out of a similar mass-testing programme in these areas in Wales? I read today that England is talking about 66 local authorities being part of the next wave of the mass-testing programme. Can you confirm, First Minister, whether the Welsh Government is actively planning a similar programme in these areas in Wales and to do so at scale and at pace?

Llywydd, mass testing does have a potentially very important role to play. We will learn a great deal from the Liverpool experiment. It's not straightforward. If you go for whole-population testing, you're doing it on a voluntary basis. There are very significant logistical issues to consider, and the testing is only one part of it, because you have to have everything in place to deal with the additional number of people who you will undoubtedly discover as being positive with coronavirus if you test in that way.

We are engaged with the Liverpool pilot. We are purposefully planning for the way in which we could use mass population 'whole-town testing', as it's called, here in Wales. And I think that by learning from the very early lessons that are emerging already from the Liverpool experience, we will be able to mount a whole-town approach to testing in a way that will be more immediately effective, and I want to make sure that when the moment comes, we're able to do that here in Wales. We've done all the preparatory work so that it delivers for that local population.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, you will have seen the very worrying concerns from some health experts that as many as 2,000 people in Wales could die as a result of COVID-related delays. Professor Tom Crosby of the Wales Cancer Network has said that he fears an unprecedented tsunami of demand for cancer services is coming. What urgent action is the Welsh Government taking to address these very worrying concerns?

Obviously, Llywydd, the most urgent action we are taking lies in everything we are doing to turn back the tide of coronavirus, because the biggest threat to treatments for conditions other than coronavirus comes from our NHS not having the capacity to be able to go on offering those treatments, and we are still far too close to that position in Wales today. The firebreak period will, we hope, have given us the opportunity to go on in the Welsh NHS providing cancer care, providing coronary care, providing stroke care, and all those other really important things that the NHS does, but the most important action we can take, and the most important action that every single citizen in Wales can take, is to do everything to turn back the tide of coronavirus, because that will mean that our health service will be able to go on doing those other things and to do so increasingly, as it has built up its capacity to do so ever since April of this year.

Of course, and I very much agree with the First Minister. Our priority has to be tackling this virus, but, of course, we need to make sure as well that routine surgery and routine services are able to continue, because figures today have shown that around 49,000 patients in September had been waiting for more than a year for an NHS treatment in Wales, and that's a tenfold increase for all treatments compared to September last year—49,000 people, with many people across the country living in pain and discomfort waiting for treatment. And those same figures show that 18,000 people are waiting for some kind of treatment at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board—a health board, of course, that is directly under your control. Now, the health Minister has himself admitted that as a result there will be poorer outcomes, more people having avoidable disability and more people potentially losing their lives with non-COVID care. So, First Minister, can you tell us what discussions the Welsh Government is having with health boards across Wales about managing these waiting times, and the impact that this may have on the Welsh NHS in the medium and longer term? And given the pressing nature of this matter, will you now give serious consideration to perhaps establishing COVID-free hospitals across Wales, so that we can start addressing these worrying figures?

14:00

Well, Llywydd, of course we discuss these things all the time with our local health boards. The Member will see in their quarter 3 and quarter 4 plans all the actions that they are taking to try to provide for non-coronavirus care while dealing with the impact of the global pandemic. What health boards say to us is that their staff are exhausted by the experience of this year, and that we are going to be asking them again this winter to cope not just with the over 1,000—well, over 1,400—patients who are now in beds in Welsh hospitals suffering from coronavirus, but we are going to ask them to do all those other things as well. And our health boards report, as do organisations like the Royal Society of Medicine and so on, real concerns about the resilience of our workforce in everything that we are asking of them, and much of what we are doing is to try to make sure that we look after those staff so that they can go on doing all the things that Paul Davies has suggested. 

The idea of coronavirus-free hospitals in Wales is a difficult one, I think. Our health boards are preferring to have green zones and red zones inside existing hospitals. I'll give him the example that he will know the best. What would he like Withybush to be—a hospital devoted to coronavirus only, so that anybody with coronavirus ends up in Withybush, or anybody in the Withybush area who has coronavirus has to go somewhere else for their care, because Withybush has become a non-COVID hospital? And that's a difficult issue, as he will recognise, in every part of Wales, isn't it? Because we have rural communities with single hospitals, small often in scale, doing everything that is needed for that local population. And if you're in a very big metropolitan area, where you've got hospitals close by to one another, then maybe that is a viable possibility. I think it's much harder to make it fit the geography and the population distribution in Wales.

First Minister, of course, it is critical that the Welsh Government explores every opportunity to resume non-COVID care so that people can access vital treatments as soon as possible, and it's deeply worrying to hear the health Minister say it would be foolish to have a plan for backlogs before the pandemic is over. Now, it's also crucial that the Welsh Government considers how it also supports our NHS workers at this time, as the First Minister has just referred to. The Royal College of Nursing in Wales have made it clear that an increasing number of staff are actually accessing mental health support due to the pandemic, so it's absolutely critical that a strategy to support the NHS workforce is delivered to nurture and indeed support our front-line staff. So, can you tell us how is the Welsh Government responding to the concerns of the Royal College of Nursing, and indeed others, regarding the impact on NHS workers? And can you tell us what workforce planning is actually currently taking place, and, should there be further pressures on the NHS in the future, how will the Welsh Government protect and support our NHS workers in the face of those pressures?

Well, I do entirely agree, Llywydd, and said so myself in answer to Paul Davies's second question, that one of the real constraints we face this winter is in the finite number of staff that we have, the experience they have all gone through, the fact that, as front-line staff, they are particularly vulnerable themselves to contracting coronavirus, their recovery is no different to anybody else and is often a long and difficult one. So, I said to the leader of the opposition that the quarter 3 and quarter 4 plans from our NHS colleagues focus particularly on making sure that we can sustain our staff through this very difficult period. We've provided new services, available to whole breadth of NHS staff, in relation to mental health; we've provided further training to staff to be able to deal with a broader range of demands that will come their way. But, when we look forward to a winter in which coronavirus shows very little sign of going away, where we've yet to begin the flu season, where winter brings with it all the other things that we know happen when you have an older, sicker, more vulnerable population, as Adam Price says, then doing everything we can to support our colleagues in the health service is top of my agenda and that of the health Minister here.

Some of the things we were able to use earlier in the year are not so easily available to us. We were, as Paul Davies will know, back in April and May, able to recruit students who were just finishing their courses; they were ready to be deployed in clinical circumstances. That isn't the case in November and December. We recruited back into the service people who had recently retired and were willing to come back. We may well be looking to people to help us in that way again.

The good news is that, despite all of this, recruitment to the Welsh NHS does go on being very successful. We have filled our general practitioner training rotas, and overfilled them this year, compared to any other year, including in north Wales, which the Member mentioned. So, the longer term sustainability of our health service staff is based upon our ability to recruit into courses, into training schemes, and, on that score, despite the very bleak year we're in, we continue to do well in Wales.

14:05
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on non-COVID-19 related treatment in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board? OQ55816

Thank you, Llywydd. Each health board will continue to deliver essential services. The quarterly NHS Wales operating frameworks and the subsequent plans developed by health boards set out the actions being taken to increase capacity, cautiously restoring other services safely over time, with a phased approach based on clinical priority.

Thank you, First Minister. This, really, follows on the very pertinent points that our Welsh Conservative leader, Paul Davies, has raised here today, because, certainly, residents and, indeed, patients—residents of mine and patients in Aberconwy with non-COVID medical needs certainly are being left behind. I have one constituent who saw their gastro appointment cancelled in April and only secured a telephone consultation by turning and taking to Twitter. Another resident has been waiting for a double knee replacement since November 2017.

In response to another orthopaedic case, the Minister for health wrote to me that it is difficult for the health board to provide an understanding of when services may return for non-urgent patients. Finally, only last week, Mark Polin, the chairman of the health board, advised me that there now has been a considerable increase in the number waiting for orthopaedic appointments. Neither the acting chief executive nor the Minister is able to give me dates for treatment where my patients have been waiting for this treatment that is considered, in many cases, to be urgent, and they are just waiting weeks and months.

So, what urgent steps will you take to ensure that more wards are set aside for non-COVID related treatment in north Wales? Will you put some merit to the proposals put forward by Paul Davies today to actually open up some areas—non-COVID areas—where treatment can be carried out to deal, certainly in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, with their orthopaedic crisis and other treatment requirements? Thank you. 

Well, Llywydd, I don't think that is quite the point that Paul Davies made to me. Mr Davies was asking whether we would consider making whole hospitals non-coronavirus sites. I explained to him why I thought that would be challenging, given our geography. I think it would be challenging, given our geography, in north Wales. I'm not sure that the Member's electors would thank her if we were to take that advice, given the implications that that would have for people suffering from coronavirus in her constituency or others.

As I've said, the impact of coronavirus on our health service is profound, not simply in the number of people who are in our hospitals suffering from it, but in the ways in which clinicians now have to operate. So, an operating theatre that previously would have carried out eight orthopaedic operations in a single day is now probably only able to do three such procedures. That is because the operating theatre has to be cleaned after every single operation, because clinicians are wearing full personal protective equipment in doing so. The productivity—no matter how hard you try and no matter how much we ask of our staff, coronavirus has a very, very real impact, not just on the number of people who we are able to draw into the system, but the rate at which our clinicians are able to treat them.

Now, the health Minister made a statement here in the Senedd last week setting out plans for Betsi Cadwaladr. I'm sure the Member will have welcomed the £30 million extra a year for the next three and a half years that will be provided by the Welsh Government to make sure that we have a sustained unscheduled care and planned care programme, including orthopaedics, in north Wales, and I look forward to the new chief executive's arrival in the beginning of January, and for her now to be able to plan for the future of services in north Wales, knowing that she has that significant additional investment available to her from which she can take on the leadership of that organisation.

14:10

First Minister, the effect of the focus on COVID-19 by all health services in the UK has been well rehearsed in this Chamber, as we've just heard, but, once again, for the record, cancer charities estimate that referrals for cancer screening are down by 70 per cent. Now, even a lay person could see that the health service's focus on COVID—this is a disaster waiting in the wings. Now, recent reports suggest COVID was at No. 19 in the league of causes of death in Wales in September. In fact, the most prolific killers were heart disease and dementia-related illnesses. I still don't think you specifically answered Janet Finch-Saunders, so I'll ask this question with that in mind. What steps are you going to take to ensure that the Welsh NHS does not become the national COVID service? Thank you.

Well, Llywydd, I completely disagree with the Member, because I think her suggestion is that we have somehow over-prioritised the treatment of coronavirus patients here in Wales. Last week, Public Health Wales reported that the two-thousandth patient in Wales to die from coronavirus was being reported in their statistics. I don't think those people or their families would agree with Mandy Jones that somehow we should have neglected the care of coronavirus patients in order to care for others. And she seems to deny the fact that there is a choice that has to be made here, because the health service cannot simply manage to do everything we are asking of it in a global pandemic and carry on as though the global pandemic were not taking place. It's very easy, where she sits, to think that easy choices of that sort can be made. They simply don't exist in the real world. They simply don't exist in the lives of the staff that we rely on to provide these services. The single biggest contribution that can be made to making sure that non-coronavirus care can be continued is to take coronavirus seriously. That's what she fails to do and she's doing it again this afternoon.

Controlling the Use of Fireworks

4. What powers does the Welsh Government have to control the use of fireworks? OQ55813

I thank Mike Hedges for that, Llywydd. The Welsh Government does not have any specific powers to control the use of fireworks. The sale and use of fireworks in Wales is governed by regulations under the Fireworks Act 2003. The power to make such regulations rests with UK Ministers.

Can I thank the First Minister for his answer and clarification of where powers reside? Firstly, I have no problem with fireworks on 5 November, an organised fireworks display, either on 5 November or for events like the Chinese new year and Diwali. My concern is around the all-year use of fireworks, which affect some young children, some elderly, and especially some military personnel, who could be re-traumatised by hearing an unexpected explosion, as well as the effect it has on animals. I also have concerns about the effect it has on air quality. What representation has the Welsh Government made to strengthen the Fireworks Act?

I thank Mike Hedges for that. He rightly draws attention to the adverse impact on a whole range of individuals and other causes in our society of the irresponsible use of fireworks. Now, I know that Mike Hedges will know that the House of Commons Petitions Committee reported on the sale and use of fireworks towards the end of last year. On 14 January, my colleagues Lesley Griffiths and Hannah Blythyn wrote jointly to the UK Minister responsible for responding to that Petitions Committee report. We urged them to accept the recommendations of the report and we offered to work jointly with the UK Government on a range of issues. We specifically asked for a dialogue on reviewing local authority powers in this area; we asked for a review of decibel limits; and we pointed to the particular issue of online sales that are currently barely covered at all by the 2003 regulatory regime.

Llywydd, I've seen since that the Scottish Government has committed to introducing legislation in the Scottish Parliament, using powers that they have that we don't, and their prescription for the introduction of mandatory conditions where fireworks are purchased, restricting the times of day when fireworks can be sold, restricting the days and times where fireworks can be set off, and introducing no-firework areas or zones. All of those seem to me sensible measures, and we will continue to advocate for them, because if they were introduced on a whole-UK basis, Wales would certainly benefit. 

14:15

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I think it is important that action is taken to curtail the use of fireworks. There's no doubt in my mind that they've become a more frequent problem, it seems to me, from around the end of Halloween all the way through to the new year. And we know, as Mike Hedges has quite rightly pointed out, that it's not just pets, it's not just livestock, wildlife or young children, but our military personnel, in particular those with post-traumatic stress disorder, can suffer considerable harm, and it can trigger all sorts of awful memories for them.

Can I ask you, in the meantime, if Wales doesn't have the powers to take more concerted action, what work the Welsh Government will do in order to promote the responsible use of fireworks through things like guidance, which can be disseminated, then, to particularly those who organise events where fireworks are going to be let off? I think that these are useful things that could be done by the Welsh Government with its existing powers, and also, of course, there's the need to educate young people in our schools. We often talk about the dangers of fireworks in our schools for young people, but we don't often talk about the impact that using them has on other people. I think that that is something that perhaps could be done.

Llywydd, I agree with all the points that the Member has made. What we want to see is responsible use of fireworks. As it happens, I quite like a good firework display myself; I enjoy seeing one. But you want to do it in a way that doesn't cause the unintended harms that Darren Millar has referred to. 

We have worked with our local authorities and our police here in Wales on the enforcement powers that they have. I know that the Member will be interested that reports from the four Welsh police forces after last week suggest quite a difference between those forces that essentially police rural areas, who reported a quiet bonfire night with very little calls on their services, and some far, far more difficult moments in the South Wales Police and Gwent Police areas, with utterly unacceptable attacks on firefighters and on police officers when called to deal with untoward incidents.

We did work with the UK Government in the run-up to this bonfire night on a promotion campaign trying to persuade people to use fireworks properly and responsibly. I'm very happy to go on doing more of that, but I do think that there is a regulatory issue here. The 2003 Act was put on the statute book because of the aftermath of the millennium, when the widespread use of fireworks appeared to carry on in the years immediately after it in a not-very-acceptable way. So, the 2003 regulations did help to put some shape around that and to bear down on the worst excesses. If we're seeing that beginning to happen again, then looking again at the regulations and doing more to make sure that fireworks are responsibly sold and responsibly used, I think, would be a very good use of Government time.

14:20

I'm grateful to the First Minister for the answers that he's already given. I mean, it's certainly the experience of parts of the region that I represent. I've had unprecedented calls this last week from places like Llanelli, Pontyberem, Kidwelly, where the unregulated use of fireworks may have been greater than would normally have been the case, because, of course, there were no formal displays. I was interested in what the First Minister said about the lack of powers, and obviously that's not something that can be changed quickly, and also in what the First Minister had to say about working with local authorities around enforcement, and with the police service. Can I ask the First Minister today to look again at that as we run up to the new year, which is another time when we get a lot of fireworks being used, to see if there is sufficient capacity and whether some additional resources might be needed, either by the police service or by local authorities, to enable them to effectively police these kinds of incidents? Because, as the First Minister has said in responding to others, this can be very distressing for individuals as well as for pets and livestock.

Yes, certainly, Llywydd, we will look to work with our police forces and our local authorities, learning the lessons from the recent days. Of course, we were in a firebreak period here in Wales, which added another layer into the complexity of this, but we will want to make sure. As I said, we've got a preliminary set of reports from all four police forces in Wales, we'll collect information from our local authorities as well, and see whether there is anything further we can do, working together, to plan and prepare for other parts of the year when fireworks are in widespread use.

First Minister, I too wish to emphasise the impact that fireworks have on people and pets each year. Bonfire night has become bonfire week in recent years, and fireworks have become increasingly more powerful. Combat veterans and pets live in fear during this period as quiet neighbourhoods resemble war zones. First Minister, what discussions have you had with the other Governments in the UK about restricting the use of fireworks to certain hours, for example, between 6 and 8 p.m. on 5 November, or, preferably, only allowing organised displays? Thank you.

I thank Caroline Jones for that. We are in discussions with BEIS, the department in the UK Government, and indeed with the Scottish Government over their proposals. So, we're very keen to work with others on this issue. There are a range of different possible solutions, some of them that Caroline Jones referred to, but my understanding is that it is perfectly possible now to manufacture fireworks that don't have loud noises, so you can get the display without the adverse impacts that, as we heard from Darren Millar and others, have an impact on people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or animals or very young children, who can be very frightened indeed, more by the noise than by the sight of fireworks. If manufacturers can do that, then we may be able to bear down on the problem at source, as well as doing some of the other things that Members, this afternoon, have suggested.

The Shared Prosperity Fund

5. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with UK Ministers regarding the future implementation of the proposed shared prosperity fund? OQ55821

Llywydd, minimal opportunities have been offered to discuss the shared prosperity fund with UK Ministers, despite requests to do so. We do not now expect this to be made good between now and the comprehensive spending review on 25 November.

Thank you, First Minister. I recently met with ColegauCymru to discuss the importance of the shared prosperity fund to the future funding of skills and apprenticeships, with, as you know, European funding having been a key driver of the skills agenda. There's real concern within the sector that without the same replacement funding it will be increasingly difficult for colleges to support local economies and wider society. We know that this is just one example of the harm caused by the lack of clarity and commitment from UK Ministers. First Minister, will your Government raise with your UK counterparts the concerns of the FE sector here in Wales?

14:25

Thank you, Vikki Howells. We will certainly do that. We do this at every opportunity. It falls on very deaf ears, Llywydd. The Welsh Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, chaired by a Conservative Welsh MP, said themselves that they were

'disappointed that the UK Government appears to have made negligible progress in developing its replacement for ESI funding and that its repeated promises of a consultation have failed to materialise, demonstrating a lack of priority.' 

Our colleague the Counsel General wrote to Robert Jenrick, the member of the Cabinet responsible for the shared prosperity fund, on 12 October, asking for a meeting to discuss matters in relation to education and all the other things that have been supported by EU funding in Wales. We're yet even to receive a reply, let alone to have a meeting.

And Vikki Howells is right, Llywydd, to point to the importance of this funding in our further education sector. And there it is not simply a matter of the quantum of money, but it's the fact that, under European funding, you had a seven-year multi-annual funding framework, so that if you're going to bring apprentices through the system, you can't do it in a single year, you need to be able to plan over years ahead, so that you can employ staff, you can develop facilities, you can offer guarantees to those young people. We don't know even how much money we have coming from next year, let alone the opportunity to have that guaranteed over the sort of period that we'd previously been able to enjoy with all the benefits that Vikki Howells noted.

VAT on Personal Protective Equipment

6. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Treasury regarding VAT on personal protective equipment? OQ55832

I thank Joyce Watson for that, Llywydd. The Minister for Finance and Trefnydd wrote to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on 30 October to ask that the decision to reinstate VAT on clinical PPE with effect from 1 November be urgently reconsidered.

I thank you for that answer, but it's actually unthinkable that the UK Treasury would add VAT to PPE and the impact that that surcharge would have on small businesses across Wales who are rightly trying to do the right thing for their staff and for their customers to keep those people safe, and also for charities and third sector organisations, who are providing direct help to people in communities right across Wales, and again trying to keep those people safe. So, will you ask again the UK Treasury to not force this safety tax on Welsh businesses, charities and third sector organisations?

Well, Llywydd, I thank Joyce Watson for that and entirely agree with her. It's unfathomable to me as to why the UK Government has decided that this is the right moment to add additional costs on to essential safety equipment. We are providing PPE on an industrial scale in the Welsh NHS and social care system: 440 million items of PPE already this year, of which 220 million have been provided to social care providers. It will cost, in the Welsh system alone, an extra £20 million, which is money now we don't have to provide services for cancer patients and cardiac patients or the other things that Members on the Conservative benches have been asking me about this afternoon. That money will now be handed back to the Treasury as a result of this decision.

But Joyce Watson is very right to point to the impact on small businesses and charities here in Wales, organisations that are really struggling during the pandemic, whose business model has been very badly affected by it, who are trying to do the right thing, who are spending money on PPE for their staff and sometimes for customers. Now they will be paying VAT. Andrew R.T. Davies suggested to me they'll just get it back. Well, small businesses that are not VAT registered won't get it back at all. Charities that are VAT exempt will not get it back at all. So, I'm glad to see him defend it. I'm glad to see that he thinks it's a good idea that a safety tax should be introduced here in Wales. It tells us a lot about the priorities of people on those benches, that they're willing to pontificate when they think it suits them and then, when something as ridiculous as this happens, they're prepared to defend it as well.

14:30
COVID-19 in Merthyr Tydfil

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the most recent COVID-19 infection data in the Merthyr Tydfil local authority area? OQ55843

Merthyr Tydfil local authority area has seen a high incidence of COVID-19 infection in recent weeks. The increase in incidence seen throughout Wales was the reason we introduced a firebreak. There are early signs of an incidence rate decrease in Merthyr Tydfil and elsewhere in Wales. 

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. People are naturally relieved that we've now left the period of the firebreak. However, the data for Merthyr Tydfil does remain worrying. And while it's true, as you've already stated, that the initial indications from the firebreak appear positive in the area, we do need to continue behaving in ways that reduce the risk of infection, in the hope that, over the next two weeks, the positivity test rate continues to reduce. Like you, I'm certainly pressing that message at every opportunity. But also important, First Minister, were your comments yesterday that you're monitoring the success of the whole-town testing pilot in Liverpool, and I understand that active consideration is being given to this being done in Merthyr Tydfil. So, following on from your answer to Adam Price on this point earlier, can you confirm when we will get a decision on this, and when such a mass testing programme in Merthyr Tydfil specifically would be likely to start? And can you reassure me that discussions are taking place within Welsh Government about the logistical challenges of such a process and the many practical consequences that might arise, including ensuring that local authorities will have the adequate resources available to them to support such a programme, particularly in relation to track and trace and community support?

Llywydd, I thank Dawn Bowden for that, and thanks to her for everything I know she is doing, as are other colleagues, to get that message across to people in different communities in Wales that, while we all feel a relief at the end of the firebreak period, it's how we behave in these next two weeks that will be absolutely crucial. And if people turn a sense of relief into a sense of not doing the things that we all need to do, then we will simply lose all the benefits that we have achieved together through the way in which the firebreak period in Wales was observed. So, I thank her very much for everything she is doing to reinforce that message. 

I'm happy to confirm again that there is a planning team in place. It's led by Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board. It's with the local authority, and its purpose is to plan for whole-borough testing in Merthyr. That team will be joined by three military planners on Thursday of this week. They will be individuals who have direct experience of what has been happening in Liverpool, and they'll bring all of that to that planning group. But it is still planning, and it's planning not simply for the testing, but as Dawn Bowden has said, for the aftermath of that testing, because when you find many, many more people who have tested positive, you need teams in the test, trace and protect system then to follow them up and make sure that they are properly advised. All of that needs to be in place in order to make sure that people in Merthyr, if that is where we have the first whole-town testing in Wales, get the service that they need. That's what that planning is designed to achieve. 

Supporting Schools

8. How is the Welsh Government supporting schools throughout the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ55846

I thank Jayne Bryant for that, Llywydd. We continue to work with schools and local authorities to provide ongoing support based on the latest scientific and medical advice. The Minister for Education has published operational guidance for local authorities working with their schools to ensure schools remain as safe as possible.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. The dedication and flexibility that the education sector has shown throughout this pandemic has been remarkable. Online learning, extensive health and safety protocols, bubbling, and the whole arrangement of school buildings has seen teachers and staff do everything in their power to ensure that pupils have as little disruption as possible. Despite these efforts, there are challenges. It's quite right that a lot of attention has been put on what that means for pupils in exam years, but there's an issue across all age groups, with early years and primary schools in particular seeing children needing to catch up on basic skills, and this is a problem across the UK. These are potential long-term consequences, ones that will be felt after we have finally passed the worst of the pandemic. I've no doubt that teachers will do all they can to support their pupils, but they will need significant support along the way. What plans does the Welsh Government have to address the progress gap in children's education, and what additional resources can we provide our schools to help them achieve this?

I thank Jayne Bryant for that question. Of course, at the heart of the Welsh Government's response is the Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards programme that my colleague the education Minister launched earlier in the year. That is designed to give schools the resources they need to recruit additional staff to deal with exactly the issues that Jayne Bryant has identified—the progress gap and the impact on learning that has taken place as a result of coronavirus. Now, my understanding is that schools are using that money in imaginative ways. They're recruiting new staff and new teaching assistants, but they're also extending the hours of part-time staff, deploying people in more flexible ways. And all of that is designed to do what Jayne Bryant has suggested, Llywydd—to make sure that the resources are there, financial and in staff terms, to make sure that those young people who've missed out on education through no fault of their own, because of the impact of the pandemic, can make good on that deficit as much as possible during what are still very challenging weeks that lie ahead.

14:35
2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. 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.

Since the impending lockdowns initiated by the Welsh Government, Business Wales has become a key source of information. Now, during the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister last month, I raised the fact that the Business Wales website is not always providing accurate information, and this is really leading to confusion amongst many stressed business owners. Now, the First Minister welcomed this feedback about where things need to be done better, but there is an immediate need for some improvement. I have a number of businesses that have been required to provide extra information to Business Wales, but have not been advised by them how to do so. When they were applying for the funding grants available, in that very, very narrow window of opportunity, they were timed out after 20 minutes and unable to upload documents. Some obviously had poor broadband on the day and have been told, 'It's too late; it's closed, that window'. Others are complaining of extremely long waiting times on the phone. Yesterday, I had a member of staff phone Business Wales and, after an hour and 10 minutes, they gave up.

So, to establish whether the reports are correct, as I say, one of my team called them. The line was actually cut at 5 o'clock. I beg your pardon; it wasn't that my member of staff gave up—they carried on working, of course. But the line was cut at 5 p.m.. That is not satisfactory for business owners who are really, really struggling, Trefnydd. So, could you arrange for a statement to be made on the operating capabilities of Business Wales? I genuinely believe that this team may be overwhelmed and, as such, that we should be provided with regular updates in this Senedd as to how you are managing the huge business support responsibility, and when you can actually open a fund up—a meaningful fund—that will actually help to compensate for many of the losses of businesses that certainly mine—and I know it's applicable across Wales, Llywydd; you know, that people are really desperate for this support funding. Thank you.

I thank Janet Finch-Saunders for raising that issue. Of course, colleagues will all be aware that the Welsh Government has put in place by far the most generous support package for businesses anywhere in the UK. But we're obviously very aware that not every business has been able to benefit from it. Last week, the Minister for economy and transport answered a topical question for some time on this particular issue, and was able to set out his response to some of the issues that Janet Finch-Saunders has raised. And of course, tomorrow, he has oral questions again in the Chamber. I've just checked, and there are numerous opportunities there for him to update on the economic support for business as well. And of course, there was a written report last week that was provided by the Minister for economy and transport as well. If you'd like to share with me some of those further examples, I'd be happy to look into them with the Minister for economy and transport. But clearly, like every other part of the public service, Business Wales is very stretched at the moment—the people working there are working really hard, under very difficult conditions. I do appreciate the huge volume of pressure that they're under. It just really represents the huge volume of pressure that the businesses in Wales are under. But we constantly strive to improve the service and the offer to business, so any comments that colleagues such as Janet Finch-Saunders would wish to make will be helpful. 

14:40

Trefnydd, the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board has very high rates of COVID-19, with the Merthyr area having the highest rate in the UK. Given these figures, I can't understand why we've not seen additional protective measures in our schools, where asymptomatic spread is taking place. Why are there no masks in the classroom? What is being done to reduce the risk of spread on school transport? How are we preventing children from passing on COVID-19 to their vulnerable relatives? Would weekly testing in schools, as well as the wider community, make sense, given that it's happening in Liverpool, where the rates are lower than we've got here? The view that the firebreak is over and we can now all return to normal is dangerous in an area like the Rhondda, where we see our local hospital at full capacity for intensive care beds and we are hearing talk of health services being withdrawn again. So, can we please have a statement outlining what additional support measures and finance can be made available to the areas that have the highest rates of COVID 19, and can we have that statement as a matter of urgency, please, Trefnydd? 

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

Thank you for raising that issue. The first related specifically to the support and the advice that is being provided to schools, and there were a series of quite detailed questions there, so I will ask the education Minister to write to you with more information about the guidance that is being provided to schools in relation to PPE and other efforts to keep children and their families safe, and the rationale that sits behind the advice that we've provided on those matters. Clearly, there'll be multiple opportunities to question both the First Minister and the health Minister on the specific issues in relation to the community to which Leanne Wood refers and that she represents. 

I would like to ask for two education statements. Firstly, a statement on free school meals expanding into school holidays. I know the Welsh Government has made a decision on Christmas and Easter of this year, but I think it's something we need to look at being done all the time, rather than just as a one-off. It's something I've been calling for since I was elected. And also, what consideration has been given to expanding the eligibility of free school meal provision? For many children, this is their main meal of the day. 

Secondly, I would like a Government statement on home schooling, to include local authorities having a joined-up approach across Wales to engage with their local home-educating community that develops services and is built on mutual trust and respect and will build positive relationships between local authorities and the home-educating community and will organise things like accessing exam centres—obviously not this year, but in normal years—for those who have been home schooled. 

Thank you to Mike Hedges for raising both of these important issues this afternoon. As he says, he has been a long-time advocate for the provision of free school meals outside of term time. I'm really pleased that the Welsh Government didn't need to have to respond to a campaign by Marcus Rashford to do the right thing. We did the right thing a long time ago, right at the start of this pandemic. In terms of the future, increasing the numbers eligible for free school meals would necessitate a change to the eligibility criteria, and that could potentially involve increasing the earned income threshold for those who are claiming universal credit and who also want to claim free school meals for their children. At the moment, we plan to maintain the threshold as it is until the end of the universal credit roll-out period, but clearly we will keep that under review.

As Mike Hedges says, it's so important that parents who home school their children have a good relationship with the local authority in the area in which they live. So, Welsh Government has provided £400,000 to local authorities for 2020-21 to provide support to home-educating families. That's been allocated on a pro rata basis, based on the number of known home-educated children in the authority, as reported to the pupil level annual school census data. So, Welsh Government is providing that information, but, as Mike Hedges says, ensuring that there is a good level of trust between both parties is absolutely essential.

14:45

Organiser, could I seek your assistance in seeking to address the quality of the answers the Welsh Government are giving to Members? I had some responses back last week that informed me that Ministers were going to write to me with their answers after sitting on them for about 10 days to a fortnight. They were pretty straightforward questions. One was asking where the data in the First Minister's briefing that compared Torfaen to Oldham came from. Now, I would have thought that, given that he talked about that in his press briefing, that information would be readily available, because obviously it could be cross-referenced. I fail to see why you'd sit on an answer for 10 days and then say that you're going to write to the Member. And the second was from the health Minister's briefing on 26 October—the press briefing, because that seems to be where most Members get their information from these days—about critical care beds. He referred to the extra critical care beds that would be made available to the Welsh NHS, and I posed a simple question: could he identify where these critical care beds would be allocated and which health boards would benefit from the extra capacity? Again, I received another answer saying that they would write to me with the answer when they felt able to.

Well, as both instances indicated information was used in a public press briefing, albeit for the press rather than for Members in this Parliament, I would have thought it would be relatively easy for the Welsh Government to provide those answers. It shows complete disdain for Members in this institution that these answers aren't being provided in a timely manner. Where the substantive answer could be enlarged, I fully accept a greater period of time might be required, but I've given you two instances there of relatively simple questions that could be answered readily, because the information has already been used in public press briefings. So, in your role as the organiser of Government business, could I seek your assistance in trying to clarify exactly how Welsh Government are going to up their game in addressing responses to Welsh parliamentary Members in this institution?

I do note Andrew R.T. Davies's concerns this afternoon. I just think it's ridiculous to suggest that Welsh Government is sitting on answers. Welsh Government is working literally around the clock to try and address a global pandemic and the implications of it in Wales, and we are doing our best to provide answers in a timely manner. With regard to the two to which you refer, obviously I will seek to ensure that an answer is forthcoming as soon as possible. As I say, I've noted your comments, but we are doing our very best to provide answers as quickly as we possibly can.

Minister, we're in such strange times at the moment, and sporting events are not immune from the impacts of the coronavirus measures, but it is important to look to the future with some hope. So, my thanks to keen cyclist Geraint Rowlands for his suggestion, which has led me to ask whether we can have a debate on hosting future major sports events in Wales and, in particular, with the three intersecting roads climbing from the Rhondda, the Afan and the Ogmore valleys over the breathtaking—literally breathtaking, and figuratively breathtaking—Bwlch, and the awesome Rhigos thrown in for good measure, as a natural post-glacial amphitheatre, which enhances the visual effect and the spectator appeal of cycling events, close to local population areas, could we in future bid to make this part of a future, epic Welsh stage of the cycling Tour of Britain, Minister? Let's have a debate on that.

Thank you to Huw Irranca-Davies for reminding us that, actually, in this difficult time, we all need something to look forward to. I think that, before the pandemic, Wales was doing a wonderful job in terms of putting itself on the map as a major place to host major events and internationally important events. You'll be aware, of course, that we have hosted stages of the men's and women's Tour of Britain since 2010, and, over the years, stages of the race have been held right across Wales. Officials in Events Wales are working closely now with the race organisers to ensure that there is a fair geographical spread across the country. But I can assure Huw Irranca-Davies that officials will look at the suggestion that he has brought forward today to host a stage in the areas suggested, which are, as he says, very challenging routes indeed, and obviously they form part of the very successful Dragon Ride as well, which is one of the oldest and most iconic events of its type across the UK. So, I can reassure Huw Irranca-Davies that officials will look into that suggestion.

14:50

Trefnydd, I would like to call for a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services regarding the Flying Start programme. I have been contacted by a prominent figure in Port Talbot who raised concerns regarding the future viability of the programme. Childcare facilities in Port Talbot have not seen an increase in the rates they are paid for providing care for the past four years, with many providers stating it's now becoming unsustainable. The programme cannot exist without these providers, and I'm sure that the Trefnydd will agree that business deserves to be adequately compensated for the services they provide, particularly as childcare providers have been hard hit by the pandemic. So, I would therefore be grateful if the Minister for health or his deputy could make a statement to this Chamber about the future of the Flying Start programme and whether providers will see any increase in their fees. Diolch yn fawr. 

Thank you for raising this particular issue. Of course, throughout the pandemic, Welsh Government has provided a range of support, which childcare providers have been able to access—from paying for places that children weren't actually using in order to ensure that provision was continuing to be viable, to the provision of grants for parts of the sector as well. But clearly, again, we're not able to reach every single provider, so it would be really helpful if Caroline Jones would write to the health Minister regarding the specific cases that she's familiar with in Port Talbot in order for that to inform the thinking for the support for the sector as we move forward.

I wonder if I could ask for two statements from the Minister for Education, please, Trefnydd—I appreciate she's here today to hear the request. The first is about the registration of teachers in independent schools. I know this has been raised with you fairly recently, but because it's a safeguarding issue and you're fighting a very strong fight on safeguarding when it comes to the relationships and sexuality education element of the curriculum, I think it would be quite helpful for the Senedd to understand why this much easier task isn't a little higher up the agenda. 

And then, secondly, I wonder if we could have an update on teachers' induction, because we hear quite frequently that there's a weakness with teaching, and I'm sure that's not because teachers don't want to be good teachers. 

And then if I can extend it by one more, I would love a statement from the environment Minister on woodchip fires. It's been a few years since we've heard about major problems in my particular region, but we were promised at the time some changes to regulations that would empower either planning authorities or Natural Resources Wales, and so I'd just like to know what's actually happened on that front. Thank you.  

As you said, the education Minister has been here to hear your requests for a statement on the regulation and registration of teachers in independent schools and the teachers' induction issues that you've described as well. And the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs will be watching on Zoom, but I'll make a point of also speaking to her and seeking that update for you on woodchip fires. 

3. Statement by the Minister for Education: The approach to qualifications in 2021

Item 3 on the agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Education on the approach to qualifications in 2021, and I call on the Minister, Kirsty Williams. 

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Today, I want to share with you my policy decision on the approach to qualifications in Wales in 2021. As I do that, I would first like to thank Qualifications Wales and the independent review, chaired by Louise Casella, for their considered recommendations and advice to me. I have drawn equally on their thinking in coming to my position. Alongside this, I have met with headteachers and college leaders, universities, and with learners directly to hear their views. I have also looked carefully at the early analysis of the around 4,000 views expressed in the survey that the independent review undertook.  

Deputy Presiding Officer, this is a time like no other. I am providing clarity and certainty at as early a stage as possible, to set out a path that is deliverable and, crucially, is as resilient as possible to the uncertainties of the coming year. Again, this is an exceptional year, but exceptional in a different way to qualifications in 2020. This year’s exam cohorts were not only out of school and college during the summer term, but they have also already experienced inconsistencies in their learning experience during this term. 

In some schools and colleges, COVID-19 has required pupils to self-isolate for weeks at a time. Some schools have, at times, even temporarily had to close. Other schools and colleges have been much more fortunate to date, but we cannot, I cannot, be confident as to what will happen for the rest of the school year. And it is this ongoing uncertainty and ensuring fairness, equity and well-being for learners that guide my thinking on qualifications for 2021.

My other key consideration is the need to provide time for good-quality teaching and learning experiences this year, to ensure that learners have the knowledge, the skills and the confidence to progress to their next stage. I want learners to be in school or college enjoying positive learning experiences, not just preparing for assessments. It is on this basis, and in line with the recommendation of both Qualifications Wales and the independent review, that I intend to direct Qualifications Wales that there should be no end-of-year exams for GCSE or AS-level qualifications for 2021. I can also confirm that it is my intention that there will be no final exams for A-level learners, who will follow a similar process as for GCSEs and AS qualifications. I have seen concerns that we cannot predict the status of the virus in the summer and, therefore, it could be difficult to physically hold exams, and it is true that there could be challenges. However, I must reiterate that the primary reason for my policy is down to fairness, and the time learners will spend in schools and colleges will have varied hugely. It is simply unfair to think that the exams could be conducted on a level playing field.

I have consulted with universities, who have highlighted that their priority is for students to have covered core aspects of their course. They have confirmed that they are used to accepting many different types of qualifications. They expect a transparent and robust approach that provides evidence of a learner’s knowledge and ability. And my intended approach does just that, as it is designed to maximise the time for teaching and learning. Instead of end-of-year exams, we intend to work with teachers and lecturers to take forward teacher-managed assessments. These should include assessments that will be externally set and marked, but delivered within a classroom environment under teacher supervision. Teachers will have flexibility as to when it is best to undertake them, in the context of results timetables. My expectation is that these will form the basis for centre-based outcomes, linked to an agreed national approach, providing consistency across Wales. It is my intention that this applies to GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels approved by Qualifications Wales. The proposed approach to this will be developed by school and college leaders, and supported by Welsh Government and advised by Qualifications Wales and WJEC. In developing the centre-based outcome proposal, we intend to learn from the experiences of 2020 and be informed also by the second stage of the independent review's work. It is my policy intention that there will be a common approach across Wales through WJEC, providing transparency and rigour to assure universities and colleges of our approach.

Turing to vocational qualifications, as Members will be aware, the vocational qualification landscape is different. A significant amount of vocational learning is delivered on a roll-on, roll-off basis, with learners starting throughout the year. Most vocational qualifications taken by learners in Wales are also available in the other UK nations. To ensure consistency, I have asked Qualifications Wales to work closely with other regulators to ensure a pragmatic approach that works in learners’ interests and gives them clarity about the way forward. Guidance for vocational qualifications was published last month, which sets out the principles that awarding bodies must apply when making adaptations in response to the impact of COVID-19. This means that timetabled examinations for vocational qualifications for the summer series will continue in order to maintain a consistent approach across Wales, England and Northern Ireland. However, my officials and Qualifications Wales will keep this position under review and we will continue to work closely with other qualification regulators in light of the public health situation.

Today, I am also establishing a design and delivery advisory group of school and college leaders, the regulator and the awarding body. This group will be chaired by Geraint Rees and supported by Welsh Government officials. The group will not stray into individual organisational accountabilities, those of schools, the regulator or the awarding body, but they will develop policy proposals for our approach, including detailed proposals for the range of assessment and appeals processes. The regulator and awarding body for Wales will provide expertise to the group on assessment, and I expect to consider and confirm our policy direction by the end of December to provide time for implementation from January. The group will then, over the course of the year, advise me on the delivery of this package of work and I will expect to see our equalities priorities front and centre.

Deputy Presiding Officer, this remains a highly challenging year. I have set a course today that removes pressures from learners and provides clear time for teaching and learning. I look to our schools, colleges, qualifications bodies and the wider education sector to work co-operatively and collaboratively through the year to support our learners and enable them to progress with confidence. Diolch yn fawr.

15:00

Can I begin as well by thanking Louise Casella and Qualifications Wales for the advice that they've given the Minister on this? I have to begin, though, by saying that while I was completely understanding of your position in wanting to issue a written statement a little earlier today so that schools would know that this is the way that you are proceeding, I'm deeply disappointed that The Sunday Times seems to have had hold of this story at least 48 hours before presenting it on the floor of this Chamber. Rumour has it that it was the result of an interview two weeks ago, but perhaps you can clarify that, Minister, because obviously—[Interruption.] Well, as a long-time Member of the opposition, I would have hoped that you would have realised how important it is to make statements of this nature on the floor of the Chamber.

Anyway, I'm glad to hear that you said it's an exceptional year. I wouldn't want to run away from the decision today as a precedent, when this is clearly a response to a particular set of challenges. Coronavirus, of course, is going to be with us for the foreseeable future, but the response to it just can't be a perpetual cycle of closing down year groups or even schools, so perhaps I think my first question would be whether you're making the argument for priority for the new vaccine to be offered to children and teachers. Now, obviously I understand it's early days as far as the progress of the vaccination is going, but perhaps you could give us a little bit of an insight into your thoughts on that to make sure that this kind of disruption is limited in the future, because I think what these reviews have revealed is that home learning and blended learning are really no equivalent of learning in a school.

The inconsistency of the experience of young people, and, to be fair, our teachers as well, that time out of school—it's been effectively pin-pointed in your decision today as a prime reason for dropping exams as we know them, and rather than the uncertainty about what the summer will look like, it's what we've already experienced that seems to be a driving force in this. So, I'm glad that you've gone with the Qualifications Wales proposal on the alternative to exams insofar as there's an external element to this, which I think—. Setting these assessments externally and marking them externally gives them a level of comparability, I think, with the traditional exams that we're more familiar with. So, in choosing this way forward, what consideration did you give to the content of these assessments having an identifiable similarity with what's gone before and therefore supporting the argument that I've just made that there's a level of comparability between years?

And while this was about fairness, equity and well-being for learners, as you highlighted in the statement today, how much consideration did you give to the well-being of teachers too? Because personally I think teachers have got plenty on their plate at the moment dealing with the catch-up, dealing with preparations for the curriculum, and the last thing I think they needed now was to be taking up time as major players in the design of a moderation system. So, how influential was Qualifications Wales's observation that getting a robust moderation system up and running, given this time, was pretty much impossible? But had there been time to introduce a system of moderation for centrally assessed grades, would that have been your preferred option? I'd also appreciate your early thoughts on how you think teachers might manage assessments within the classroom if a school, at a crucial time, has to either be suspended totally, or that year group has to be sent home. I can't really see this working online, so what's the alternative for that, if you've got a school year that can't sit a teacher-managed classroom-based assessment?

I think I just need to ask you something about the A-levels. I understand the reason you've given for why A-level students won't be sitting an exam of any kind, and I also hear what you said about the universities saying that they're used to this sort of thing, but what advice would you give your successor about making sure that universities stick to their word on this? Are there any thoughts about how their decisions—it's going to be next summer, isn't it—are likely to be monitored to make sure that they're sticking to their word?

And then finally on vocational qualifications, I'm really glad you mentioned these. I know this is a far more complicated picture because it's a UK picture, pretty much. I wonder if you could tell me what the response to the UK guidance issued about a month ago has been like, and also, to square this circle, the position of students studying for vocational qualifications primarily in colleges—their position will have been exactly the same as those studying for general qualifications in terms of disruption, and yet the presumption is they will be sitting exams in the summer. So, why are exams for these students fair when they're not fair for A-level students? Thank you.

15:05

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and can I thank Suzy Davies for those questions? Can I begin by saying that absolutely no disrespect was meant to Members of this Chamber with regard to an interview I gave The Sunday Times? The Member is quite right, that interview took place two weeks ago. I'm not clear why The Sunday Times decided to sit on the interview, and it was given to that paper in response to the publication of both sets of advice given to me, and what we gave the paper was a description, because they didn't understand the difference between the two sets of advice. That publication was beyond my control, but I assure you no disrespect was meant to Members of this Chamber, and as you will have read, if you read The Sunday Times story, there was a great deal of speculation, some of it quite obvious, given the similarity between both sets of advice in regard to—[Inaudible.]—and the story was wrong with regard to the decision I've made about A-levels. So, I just want to reassure the Chamber that no disrespect was meant by that, and it's a lesson for me.

The Member talked about the vaccine, and I understand why, because this has been an incredibly grim year for all of us and therefore even this chink of light at the prospect of the vaccine coming forward is something that we all want to grab a hold of in the circumstances we find ourselves in. Deputy Presiding Officer, I guess we're all grateful for those incredible minds across the world that are working so hard to try and develop that vaccine, but I just think we have to have a little bit of caution. There is still a long way to go, and the sheer scale of the challenges of distribution, even if we get to the point where a vaccine can be distributed, is really, really challenging, and the First Minister outlined some of those earlier.

With regard to the roll-out of that vaccine, then, clearly, we will be guided by the committee that provides advice to Governments across the UK as to the appropriate use of the vaccine, and it's simply too early to tell at this stage, but, clearly, vulnerable members of society, whether they be working in education or outside of education I'm sure will be a priority. What we're also looking at are alternative testing regimes to support education and help minimise the disruption and that's much more in the forefront of our minds, because that's a much more likely situation that we can implement sooner in Wales rather than the vaccine.

Suzy Davies says that the decision today demonstrates the challenges of blended learning, and how we have supported learners who find themselves outside of school. I think she is right to point out the fact that that situation is variable, and we continue to work with the education sector to iron out that variability. Only last week, during the firebreak, I'm aware of some schools that delivered the entirety of their timetable via live lessons; other schools weren't able to do that. But I'm sure the Member would admit—and if she listened to the headteacher that was on Radio Wales this morning—even when that blended learning is of the best quality, it is no substitute for being in school. And the problem that I face, and the problem that our teachers and our students face, is that we cannot guarantee how much time they will spend in front of their teachers. We have already seen huge amounts of variability. Some children, as I said, are very, very fortunate, have not been affected and they've been able to be in school all of the time. Other children—students I spoke to—have already endured four weeks of having to isolate because they've been in a bubble that has seen a positive case. So, it's not—. I agree we need to do better on blended learning, but that's not necessarily the reason for this driver today.

With regard to the nature of the assessments, it is really important that there is a variety of ways in which children are assessed. With regard to the nature and number of the assessments, that detail will be for the design and delivery group, as in response to the recommendation by Louise Casella's report, learning the lessons from last year of not doing something to the system, but actually working with the system to create a robust and equal and as fair a system as possible that is indeed mindful of teacher workload. There is a balance to be struck about empowering teachers in this process and, believe me, they want to be empowered, and there are lots of them that want to take on this role, but also to be mindful of the incredible pressure that they're already under simply keeping the doors open, and there's that balance to be struck between what other members of the education sector can do in Wales to support them in this work. 

The Member also talked about what happens if a group is out. Well, the externally set assessments will be made available to schools, but it will be for schools to decide, when they can, when those assessments should be undertaken, so there's a degree of flexibility there that should account for some of the public health challenges that we may face. With regard to universities, the universities were very clear with me what their priorities were. Firstly, that is learning, teaching and learning, and ensuring that students have the key knowledge and concepts to allow them to be successful when they get to university. And so therefore maximising the time for teaching and learning was very important for them; this system allows us to do that. The other important element was that there was an equality assurance, and that our regulator was happy to sign off on these proposals, and that is, again, the system that we have arrived at. 

With regard to vocational qualifications, we simply are not in the same position with vocational qualifications, given the nature that, as I said in my statement, the vast majority of Welsh students take qualifications that are shared with the rest of the UK, and are not actually regulated by our own regulator. Therefore, I am not able to order another country's regulator to act in a certain way. But that's why our regulator will continue to work with the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken, to ensure fairness in the vocational sectors as well, where we do not have control over our regulator's qualifications. 

15:10

I do welcome this news. As you know, Plaid Cymru has been making the case for having no end-of-year exams for months now. This announcement will be a relief to young people, their parents and to schools across Wales. It would have been impossible to hold external examinations in a way that would be fair to pupils under current circumstances. The decision does mean that alternative arrangements will be in place, and that no last-minute changes will need to be made, as was the case last summer, and that is to be warmly welcomed. No Government should put its young people under significant pressures unnecessarily, as happened last summer. Never again should we put qualifications before well-being. Never again should we create so much anxiety to thousands of young people in Wales.

Therefore, I do welcome the news, but I do also have some concerns and a huge number of questions on the alternative arrangements to be put in place. You have just announced information about vocational qualifications, and that there will be end-of-year examinations for that cohort of students. And once again, those students and those young people are being let down, because they are being affected in exactly the same way as other pupils in Wales, and I would urge you to keep this under detailed review and keep a very close eye on the situation.

May I turn now to the new assessment arrangements—the externally set tests for GCSE, AS and A-level? Why did you decide that there needed to be external assessments, namely assessments set and marked externally? I've had a constituent contact me this afternoon, asking: what is the difference between assessments in exam conditions that are planned by an examination board, as compared to taking examinations under the old system? This constituent says that the word 'cancel' gives a complete misimpression and these are examinations through the back door, and that that's what these externally set assessments will be, so I'd like your view on that. Why not set those tasks internally and moderate them externally? Wouldn't that be a fairer way forward, bearing in mind that the education of our young people has been affected more in certain areas where cases of COVID are high, and that a digital divide also creates inequality, which are exactly the same arguments for cancelling the examinations? Aren't they also pertinent to external tests too?

People will want to know how many tests there will be and what the value of those will be in terms of their contribution to qualifications, and there will also be questions on assignments, where pupils receive a question beforehand and an examination at the end of the day. Is that what will happen with assignments? Will these happen in every subject, and will they apply to the whole curriculum? I know that there are a number of questions, and I know that you noted that a group had been established to look at the detail in terms of the alternative assessment arrangements. But there is a great deal of work to be done and detailed and technical discussions to be had. It is important that the right decisions are made in terms of how much of this happens internally within schools and what role the WJEC or others may have. I would like to know this afternoon what the exact timetable is for this advisory group. 

We are expecting decisions by the end of the year. Hopefully, there will be no delays. We must allow schools to put appropriate arrangements in place so that pupils can understand how they will be assessed, because, whilst there is ongoing uncertainty, teachers and pupils will continue to be concerned. There are many details to be discussed and agreed, and I will continue to contribute constructively to those discussions, and I will always insist that it's the well-being of children and young people that should be the focus of all decisions taken by this Government.

15:15

Thanks, Siân Gwenllian, for those questions. She began by saying that she believed that exams should have been scrapped at an earlier point. Well, the policy of Plaid Cymru is to get rid of exams, and that's a perfectly legitimate policy to have. It's not a policy I share; I believe exams are an important part of our education system. If I thought it was possible to run exams in a fair and equitable way, that's what I would've done this year. It's not an easy decision that we've made today to scrap them.

So, I don't share her overall view with regard to exams, but it is clear to me that, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and with the ongoing uncertainty about what the public health situation may be as we move over the winter, exams in these circumstances cannot be delivered fairly or equitably, and I have made that decision as soon as I can. I daresay some people will criticise me and say that I should hang on and wait to see how the winter has been, but, if I had done that, that would have led to further—not confusion, but further anxiety as students and teachers tried to ride both horses, one horse thinking that the exam would happen and therefore cramming through content and getting ready for an exam, and another horse of continuous assessment and testing, not knowing from one lesson to another which piece of work would be the piece of work that would be looked at by, potentially, an external examiner. That is what is putting stress on our children and our teachers, and we've made a decision today to give absolute clarity, so that all of our time and attention can now turn to really positive teaching and learning experiences.

With regard to vocational qualifications, I understand that the situation is difficult and different for those students, but, as I explained to Suzy Davies, I simply am not in a position to issue instructions to a different regulator, and therefore—. But I can give the assurance that we will be keeping, as with Qualifications Wales, in close touch with Ofqual to ensure that those students are not disadvantaged. 

With regard to what the Member described as 'tests', these are not tests and I think we do have to be really, really careful with our terminology here. These are assessments that will be provided to schools by the WJEC. And why is that? Well, there are two very important reasons. We've just heard from Suzy Davies about workload for teachers. Actually, having an outside body bringing that extra capacity and resource into the system means that they don't have to design these assessments. Somebody else will do that work for them. And that is one way in which we can take the burden off the teaching profession. The second is because then there is a national consistency that allows us to do moderation, because each child will have been asked to complete a similar task within that classroom setting.

So, when it comes to moderation and ensuring that an A in Llandudno is exactly the same as an A score in Cardiff, then that can be done on the basis of exactly the same task that has been undertaken within the classroom, therefore ensuring that there is that national consistency. And secondly also ensuring that—. I'm sure the Member has read in great detail the analysis of qualifications work with regard to the equality impacts of CAGs, which is where we ended up last summer. They raised some very, very serious issues about equality issues, and therefore having some uniformity in this system ensures that those people that have concerns about unconscious bias et cetera—those concerns can be addressed. Also, it allows us to provide a route into the examination system for our independent candidates.

Earlier on, Suzy Davies asked me for a statement—oh, sorry, it was Mike Hedges that asked for a statement—on home-schooled children. Now, last year we found it very, very difficult to be able to respond to independent candidates. Having nationally agreed, designed by our examination board tasks for children to sit gives us a route in for some of those independent candidates to be able to access a grade this year in a way that they can't do if they're not part of a formal assessment centre. So, this gives us an opportunity to address those students' needs as well, and we're trying to be fair to every learner that we have in our system at the moment.

With regard to the number and the nature, then that will be a matter for the group. We could see—. Potentially, they could advise me that maybe the number of tasks will be different depending on the nature of the course of study. When talking to universities, for instance, they were very concerned with regard to maths and students that were wanting to go on to do a maths-related degree—ensuring that they had all the basic underpinnings to allow them to be successful in the next stage of their careers. Therefore, the group may recommend slightly different approaches, depending on subjects, but that is a matter for them, and it's very important to recognise that those matters will be addressed by headteachers and lecturers and college leaders who are on the front line and know how best we can do that fairly. I expect that work, as I said in my statement, to be completed by December, so we can begin the roll-out of this programme of work in January.

15:20

Can I thank the Minister for her statement this afternoon? I very much welcome the ability to actually have clarity now, for our young people and for teachers to know where they will be going and heading towards at the end of this year. I also have—. With experience of having taught in comprehensives, further education and universities, I know there's a great deal of experience out there of the profession being able to do assessments like this, have external moderation, and ensure that consistency and fairness apply across the piste for all subjects. So, I think that's very, very positive for us.

I want to ask a couple of questions in relation to, perhaps, the AS-level—we've talked about A-levels and we've talked about GCSEs, but what about the year 10s and the year 12s? How will this impact upon their studies for the following year in 2022, so that they also know and teachers know what their targets will be for that examination? Because that's critical for those groups of students. It is true that disruption is going to happen. I have full confidence in the blended learning approach, but we also need to look at those assessments, particularly in vocational work, where there are centre-based assessments based upon practical assessments, where they have to be on site. How have you sorted out that arrangement to ensure that, if there's disruption, those students who need to be on site for practical work will be able to do so and those tests or assessments will be taking place?

Can you also tell me, clearly, in relation to the training of teachers to ensure that they're fully aware and have an understanding of what their role will be in this? Because what I'm assuming is that, when you talk about an externally-set assessment and external marking, what will come is actually teachers may well be doing the marking based upon externally-set marking schemes, and that will be moderated by sampling. Because, otherwise, there is a huge amount of work that would be required by the external examiners or external moderators to examine all and moderate all during that time. So, there is a difference there. Can you just make sure that there's clarity that they will be assessed by the teachers initially, based upon an external set of marking schemes, and they will then be sampled and moderated across Wales to ensure consistency there? 

15:25

Thank you very much to David Rees for his questions. I think what is really important is that we are looking to design a system that is familiar to teachers. Now is not the time to create newfangled and new ways of doing things, when we all recognise the immense strain that individual teachers, schools and colleges are under at the moment. So, carrying out assessments, tasks of this kind and continuous assessment—these processes are well-known to schools and well understood by schools. So, there shouldn't be a need for a school to acquaint themselves with a completely new, different system—the principles that we're talking about here are well-known and well understood by our teaching workforce.

With regard to practical examinations, David, you are right. For some vocational qualifications, the ability to demonstrate your technical skill, expertise and your ability to undertake that role is a crucial part of gaining your accreditation to enter into a profession. We're very mindful of that, and you will be aware that those learners were prioritised in the late spring and early summer of last year to get them back into college before anybody else to allow them to complete their studies. And we will work with our colleges and our work-based learning providers to ensure that every step is made to allow students to finish and gain a qualification that allows them either to move on to further study or on into the world of work.

With regard to training, clearly, there will be a training need and our expectation is that it's a question of all hands to the pump in this scenario. So, we would be expecting our regional school improvement services, as well as the WJEC, to be able to provide training and advice to schools as to how they should administer any class-based assessments, and, as you said, any marking schemes, not just for the externally assessed assessments, but, actually, the entire moderating process and allocating grades, because that's a really difficult and challenging job to do. Last year, the criticism was—and quite rightly so—that we didn't put in place that opportunity to provide that support for schools. Schools were left pretty much on their own to get on with it. And we need to learn the lessons and ensure that there is an infrastructure around schools this time to support the implementation and operationalisation of this system. Thank you.

15:30

Minister, thank you for this statement and clarification today. I think there'll be some people who will criticise you for not waiting longer, there will be others who will say you waited too long. I just think you had to make the decision, and you've looked at the evidence and decided the best way forward, and a judgment call had to be made. At least now we've got certainty and clarity for students and for teachers and for headteachers and senior staff. So, thank you for this today.

Can I ask you, what do the proposals mean as they come forward for those pupils and students who are already educationally disadvantaged, either because of their past experience of education, or home circumstances, and so on? Will the proposals, as they're developed by the group you've set up, enable them to actually not only keep pace but catch up if they have fallen behind? Can I also ask whether there will be flexibility for any cohorts or any individuals that are especially impacted, either now or over the next few months by COVID, which is still with us? Will there be some flexibility around dates and times of teaching and assessment—limited as it must be—in order that they can also complete their course and have good outcomes at the end?

And finally, we're not in this alone, Minister, of course. I'm just wondering what discussions you're having with counterparts in England, in Scotland, Northern Ireland, but also in our European neighbours close by, including in Ireland, so we can share experience, learn lessons, and devise the best way forward together, learning from each other.

Thank you very much to Huw Irranca-Davies. Can I just say, throughout this pandemic, whichever portfolio you find yourself in, there are no easy decisions to be made? Each decision that comes in front of myself, or any other colleagues, often is far from the optimum situation that we would want to find ourselves in. And it's really very, very challenging, as it is very, very challenging to be out there in our schools and colleges at the moment. I don't think we should under-estimate how difficult and challenging it is. I simply cannot predict how the months ahead may go, but if the disruption that we have seen to date is replicated, then, clearly, it is simply not fair.

Your question about how we can help students catch up. You will have seen in the advice to me from Qualifications Wales that it is not the job nor is it possible for a qualifications system to address the fundamental issue that we have here, which is this massive disruption to our education. The qualifications system can't in itself, on its own, make up for those lost lessons. What the qualifications system has to do is reflect the circumstances in which education is being delivered at the moment. And we have other policy initiatives that are designed to address the concerns that you have raised. It is nigh on impossible for the qualifications system to do that, but we need to make it as fair as we possibly can in the circumstances, and I believe that is what we have done today.

It is a 'yes' to your flexibility question around timing. This is about empowering our headteachers, our senior management teams, and our classroom teachers to undertake assessments at a time that is best for them and best for their cohort.

And with regards to discussions within the rest of the United Kingdom, well, we're the last part of the United Kingdom to make a decision on 2021. We've been criticised for that, but it has allowed us to really reflect on what has happened and on the advice of the independent review. I don't criticise education Ministers in other parts of the United Kingdom for taking different approaches; we're all struggling with the same wicked problems, and, as I said, there are no easy answers. They have taken their paths, I have taken the decision that I feel is in the best interests of our own education system. But we keep talking to one another as to how we can learn lessons from one another, and how we can implement the best policy ideas, if they are in the interests of our own children. And we do that both within the United Kingdom and part of our membership of the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory, where we're looking internationally at experiences in other parts of the world, to see what lessons we can learn from them, not just around examinations, but how we run an education system in the middle of a global pandemic.

Can I just take the opportunity to welcome your announcement, and also all the work that you've done as education Minister? Since I was first elected in 2016 I've often sat in awe of the work that you've done, and we're very proud to have you as part of this Chamber.

With regard to this decision, can I just press you a little bit more on what David Rees asked? And perhaps you could say a little bit more about the moderation process and how moderation is going to happen in a way that will engender confidence in the education population. And one other aside to that, is it not possible to introduce a process of peer review at a local level amongst clusters of schools in order to add an extra layer of rigour there? And I understand perhaps it's a bit ambitious for next year, but isn't this a way of perhaps building back better in the future too? 

15:35

Can I thank Hefin David for his questions and his kind comments? I think I've got the best job in the world, even in the middle of a global pandemic, so thank you for your kind words. It's always the kindness that kills you, isn't it, Deputy Presiding Officer? But thank you very much for that. 

In terms of moderation, the details of the moderation process is the main job of the design and delivery group. I'm not putting any constraints on that, except the broad principles about them being equitable and fair and building confidence. And we will look to have a verification of moderation processes, whether that be at a school based level or whether that be at a cluster based level, but we want a national verification that the school—the individual centre—has everything that they need in place to give confidence that their moderation processes are fair and robust. I'm mindful of workload, as always, in all of this, and, of course, the more we take teachers out into time to do these kinds of issues we're taking them away from being in front of their children and their students. But, clearly, that will be a consideration for the design and delivery group, but it's certainly something that should be considered carefully. 

Thank you very much, Minister, for grasping the nettle, because I think it's really important for the well-being, not just of learners, but also of teachers to have some certainty about how we're going to move forward on this important matter, because otherwise the poor old teachers are absolutely agonising over how they're going to get their students through this when they may have to quarantine a particular cohort of students for a couple of weeks, or even for a second period. So, I think this is a really helpful announcement.

Equity is an aspiration but, frankly, in this situation, it's really difficult to see how we're going to achieve equity, because it depends on the rigour with which senior management teams are running their schools to ensure that we are containing any outbreak that a student or a teacher brings in from the community to the minimum amount of teachers, and it also depends on our personal circumstances. We're not teachers. We might be able to make a good fist at A-level politics, but unless our name's Dai Lloyd, we're not going to be able to teach our students biology. I'd be absolutely lost. So, I think we have to understand that if pupils aren't in school they're probably not going to be learning to the standard that they would be if they were in school.

So, for a start, we have to make it perfectly acceptable for a student to want to redo a year, because if they've missed huge quantities of learning and haven't been able to get the A-levels that they want in order to go on to the next level say, for example, university, they need to be able to have a second chance at being able to demonstrate that they have that level of competency. But, equally, we can't just be passporting students through just because we want to be kind to them if they don't actually have the grounding required to follow higher education, and universities are quite right to emphasise that point.

So, I strongly support this idea of a stakeholder group of a design and delivery advisory group who are going to help you decide on the rigour with which we are going to ensure that standards in Caernarfon, Caersws and Cardiff are going to be the same to ensure that people get particular qualifications. But, as you say, the rigour of this process is going to enable universities, with confidence, to be certain they can offer places to people, because they are very used to accepting different qualifications, because university education is one of our most successful exports and they're obviously assessing people who have—

15:40

—a whole range of qualifications. So, I'd be grateful if you could tell us how you think universities are going to grasp this with enthusiasm, not just in Wales but in England.

Thank you very much. Can I just say this is absolutely not a question of us being kind or being soft on students in this cohort? It is a question of being fair to them. Their education has been affected in a way that none of us could have imagined in February of last year, so this is not a question of being soft or kind; this is about creating a rigorous system that allows them to be awarded a grade and allows them to progress. And teachers know, teachers absolutely know that they're not doing their students any favours at all if they over-represent that student's ability within a subject. That only leads to failure potentially later on and a great deal of distress, and I know that our professionals working with our children and young people do not want that to happen. They will give a fair assessment, and they will be helped to give a fair assessment by that national approach to having tasks that they will be able to refer to as part of this system.

And with regard to universities, can I just say, as I said, they are very clear that they want some external validation? They're also very clear to me that they expect our qualifications regulator to sign these qualifications off as being robust. But they also have something else that they can bank on when they're considering Welsh students: our pass rate, at the very highest levels of A-levels prior to the pandemic, was growing every year. In 2019, we had the highest percentage of A* and A students at A-levels. That was the quality of our post-16 education in Wales before the pandemic. I understand that cohorts change from year to year, but that quality is still there. It's still there in our system, it's being delivered day in, day out, whether that's in in-person teaching in a classroom or teachers working from home, or students learning from home. That quality is still there and they can be assured of the quality of a candidate coming from Wales, that they will have been awarded a fair grade for their work and they can look to offer them a place at the university with utter, utter confidence.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, you can assert that quality, but whether universities accept that or make their own potentially different judgment, and, similarly, for employers, will be their decision. You said that what you've done is ensure national consistency, so an A in Llandudno will mean the same as an A in Cardiff, but it won't mean that an A in Llandudno means the same as an A in Liverpool or an A in London. And no wonder Plaid Cymru support this policy: you have put yet another divide between Wales and England. The results that Welsh students get, because of the very different means of assessment to how children in England are going to be judged this year, is going to be a challenge, whether it's with universities or whether it's persuading employers that their teachers' view of them is equivalent to an external competitive examination that many of the people they are competing with will have achieved in England, with the decisions of the UK Government. So, that decision to make us different, despite knowing the decisions that have been made elsewhere, will surely make it more difficult for those here affected to compete, whether in a university or in the employment market. Didn't Tony Blair's Minister for schools Andrew Adonis hit it on the head when he said earlier today, in response to the leak of your announcement and statement,

'I strongly support the sitting of GCSEs and A-levels by students in England next year & would not wish the government to copy the socially regressive policy of Wales in suspending them'?

Mr Reckless, you talk down Welsh teachers, Welsh students and the Welsh education system as much as you want; I disagree, sir. I have every confidence in our young people, our children, our lecturers, our teachers, our exam board and our independent regulator to ensure that students that leave our education system this year will have qualifications that are equally regarded as anywhere else, not just in this United Kingdom, about which you spend a lot of your time talking, but, indeed, the world.

I don't know the last time you spoke to an admissions tutor, but the university system deals with qualifications of students from across the globe. They are assessed in lots and lots and lots of different ways, they accept those students into their universities, and there is nothing different this year. Indeed, it is slightly a myth to think that the A-levels across the United Kingdom and the Scottish highers mirror and ape them; they don't. There are already differences in our systems.

I've taken this decision now in the best interests of our children and the best interests of our education system. I really hope for students in other parts of the United Kingdom that they will be able to proceed in the way in which their Governments have outlined to date, but I am not willing to take that risk with our students of making a late change of mind. I'm delivering clarity now to those young people, and I am delivering the time so that they can have positive teaching and learning experiences and we can design a different type of system of assessment this year that is robust.

15:45
4. The Debt Respite Scheme (Breathing Space Moratorium and Mental Health Crisis Moratorium) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020

Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is the Debt Respite Scheme (Breathing Space Moratorium and Mental Health Crisis Moratorium) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 and I call on the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to move the motion. Jane Hutt.

Motion NDM7451 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Debt Respite Scheme (Breathing Space Moratorium and Mental Health Crisis Moratorium) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 13 October 2020.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you for the opportunity to open the debate seeking Members' approval of the Debt Respite Scheme (Breathing Space Moratorium and Mental Health Crisis Moratorium) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020. These regulations, commonly referred to as 'breathing space', fall outside of the Senedd's legislative competence. However, without the approval of the Senedd, the protections offered through breathing space will not be accessible to people in Wales. We know that life events like unemployment, illness and relationship breakdown are the key triggers for debt problems, and the circumstances we're facing with COVID-19 are increasing debt in households across Wales. When people fall into debt, the consequences can be severe.

But, thankfully, people can recover from debt. What they need is the time to seek professional advice and to understand their options without creditors threatening enforcement action or increasing their debt by adding on interest charges and other fees. This is what breathing space offers. For a 60-day period, people struggling with debt will get legal protection from creditors increasing their debt and from taking enforcement action, giving them the time to get the advice they need to start to bring their debts under control.

The link between poor mental health and debt is well evidenced. Half of all adults in problem debt also have a mental health problem, and I'm pleased people receiving mental health crisis treatment have an easier pathway to the protections offered by breathing space. Their protections will also last for longer than the standard 60 days, allowing people to complete their treatment, and then have the time to get advice and the help to make informed decisions on managing their debt.

Breathing space is the first part of the debt respite scheme. The statutory debt repayment plan is the second part and is expected to be introduced to 2022. As with breathing space, officials will work with policy makers to ensure the statutory debt repayment plan aligns with the needs of the people of Wales and the regulations will be brought before the Senedd for our approval. Diolch.

I call on Carwyn Jones to speak on behalf of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. Carwyn Jones.

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. The Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee considered these regulations on 2 November, and our report is available as part of the agenda. We have noted that these regulations are made by the Treasury under Part 1 of the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018, to which the Senedd gave its legislative consent on 13 February 2018. During that Plenary debate, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration at the time said this of any future debt respite scheme:

'This is still some way off, but we will continue to work closely with the UK Government and the SFGB, when it's established, in addition to advice providers and other stakeholders to influence the development of any scheme and determine whether it meets the requirements of Wales.'

Given this statement, we asked the Welsh Government to set out how the debt respite scheme has been developed to meet the requirements of Wales and to confirm whether it's content that these regulations do not generally come into force until 4 May next year. In its response, the Welsh Government advised us that officials had been working closely with the Treasury on the policy for the debt respite scheme since 2018. In addition, we were told that Welsh Government lawyers assessed the draft regulations for the scheme, following which the UK Government made amendments to the draft regulations to ensure they aligned with Welsh legislation.

With regard to the commencement date of the regulations, the Welsh Government's response indicates that the development of the debt respite scheme was delayed on two occasions, a fact that it has found disappointing. However, the Welsh Government considers that there remains a lot of challenging work, and while it would welcome the implementation of the scheme taking place before May of next year, it considers that it is more important that a scheme is implemented with all protections in place. As such, the Welsh Government has accepted an implementation date of 4 May 2021.

As a committee, we are aware that the Welsh Government has laid a legislative consent memorandum before the Senedd in addition to the UK Financial Services Bill. I draw this to Members' attention this afternoon because that LCM indicates that the regulations being considered today are the first part of the debt respite scheme. The second part, the statutory debt repayment plan, is the subject of the UK Financial Services Bill. Our committee will consider the LCM for this Bill in the coming weeks, and no doubt the Senedd will be asked to consider a consent motion in the near future. Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd.

15:50

Thank you. I call on the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to reply to the debate.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. As Carwyn Jones has said, I think the responses to the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee have demonstrated that this is the appropriate time to proceed. If introduced in Wales in May 2021, breathing space will help those people who have been suffering from debt, the households whose financial burden is considerable, particularly with COVID-19 putting household finances under enormous strain. We have to move forward in terms of ensuring that breathing space will help these people to deal with their debt, perhaps at a time when, as I said, help has never been so needed. So I hope Members will join me in giving their approval to the breathing space regulations.

Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? I see no objections. Therefore, in accordance with Standing Order 12.36, the motion is agreed.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

We will now take a break before we go into Stage 3, and we will ring the bell when we are ready to resume proceedings.

Plenary was suspended at 15:52.

16:05

The Senedd reconvened at 16:06, with the Llywydd in the Chair.

6. Debate: Stage 3 on the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill

Welcome back, and that brings us to the Stage 3 proceedings on the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill.

Group 1: Local government elections (Amendments 84, 85, 1, 86, 87, 99, 101,102, 103,104,105, 2, 106, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 147, 58, 59, 60, 61, 79, 55, 56)

The first group of amendments relates to local government elections. The lead amendment is amendment 84, and I call on Mark Isherwood to move and speak to the lead amendment and the other amendments in the group. Mark Isherwood.

Amendment 84 (Mark Isherwood) moved.

Good afternoon. Amendments 84, 85 and 103 seek to remove the current provision that extends the right to vote in local government elections for all foreign citizens, regardless of citizenship. Most countries and nations that allow non-citizens to vote have a minimum residency requirement. For example, to be eligible to vote in New Zealand, the person has to have lived continuously in the country for 12 months, whilst to vote in regional and municipal elections in Denmark, for example, a person has to have had permanent residence in the country for three years before the date of the election. However, if these amendments fall, our belief that voting rights should be attached to a person's citizenship is reflected in our amendment 104, which is a compromise amendment to introduce a minimum residency requirement of three years, reflecting the pretty much average norm across the world, for qualifying foreign citizens to be eligible to vote in local government elections.

As I stated in the Stage 1 debate, currently Irish and Commonwealth citizens and relevant EU citizens can vote in local government and devolved elections, but this Bill would enable all foreign citizens legally resident in Wales to vote in local government elections. There's a long-standing reciprocal agreement between the UK and the Republic of Ireland as a consequence of the historic relationship between both countries, and the ability of Commonwealth citizens to vote at UK elections is a legacy of the Representation of the People Act 1918. However, this Bill, we believe, proposes a step too far. At least most of the few countries that allow foreign citizens to vote have a minimum residency requirement, but even that is missing here. As David Melding said when scrutinising similar provisions in this Senedd and elections Bill,

'their citizenship should determine where they principally vote, and if they make the choice not to pursue citizenship here, then it's their choice not to have political rights to the extent of voting in our elections'.

Amendments 86 and 87 place a specific duty on Welsh Ministers to introduce a national framework to promote awareness of the extension of the franchise for 16 and 17-year-olds and to develop a national framework on promoting awareness on political education. These amendments respond to the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee's recommendation 2, which argued that the Bill should be amended to include specific provision that will add some adequate level of education on politics and democracy in Wales across all schools.

The Electoral Reform Society, or ERS, recommends that the Bill should be amended to include specific provision to roll out an adequate level of education on politics and democracy in Wales across all schools. In particular, they say, young people from the ages of 14 and 15 should receive this education to prepare them for voting at 16 years old. This programme of political awareness should be accompanied by clear lesson plans, they said, to empower teachers to deliver the lessons.

During Stage 2 of this Bill, the Minister argued against this amendment, stating that the new Curriculum for Wales will allow teachers to decide how to deliver education tailored to the specific needs of their pupils. This includes political education, which will come under the core purpose of supporting learners to become ethical and informed citizens of Wales and the world, highlighting opportunities to explore politics within the curriculum through the Welsh baccalaureate as part of the global citizenship challenge. As the Electoral Reform Society states, however, the reality is that, both at present and even in the context of the new curriculum, the teaching of political education will be at the discretion of teachers, and that is regardless of the amount of resources available. In the future, like now, there will therefore be pupils with different tiers of understanding of how decisions in Wales are made, and those on the lowest tier will struggle to better know how they can make their voices heard within their society. As the Electoral Reform Society said to me just 11 days ago, 'We worry about not including an implicit requirement that all pupils are taught politics as part of the curriculum. Having read and listened to Welsh Government on the matter', they said, 'they place a heavy emphasis that there will be first-class resources available but, again, there would be no guarantee that, in a purpose-led curriculum, they would be used.' Our amendment, therefore, seeks to ensure that there is consistency of political education and awareness across Wales. This issue is too important to do otherwise in a nation struggling with a democratic deficit already.

Amendment 99 seeks to ensure that Welsh Government fully involves stakeholders before making rules on the conduct of local elections in Wales. In its Stage 1 report, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee suggested that the Welsh Government engages with principal councils and communities before reforming the electoral arrangements. Our amendment seeks to go further than the committee's suggestion by making it a requirement to actively involve principal and community councils as well as local communities to ensure that any changes to electoral arrangements are co-produced by the communities that they affect, rather than them being imposed upon them. Our amendment would also bring this Bill in line with the seven well-being goals and five ways of working required of public bodies in order to meet their duties under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, too often ignored in practice.

As I argued in the Stage 1 committee debate, it is therefore deeply concerning that the Minister rejected the committee recommendation that the Welsh Government undertakes an engagement programme with the Welsh Local Government Association. During Stage 2 proceedings, the Minister stated that the Welsh Government believes that the Welsh Ministers should consult those they deem appropriate, and this would include those listed in this amendment when developing the rules for local government elections in Wales. However, our amendment will ensure that stakeholders are fully involved in the co-production of rules for local government elections, by being included on the face of the Bill, turning rhetoric into reality about empowering local communities.

Amendments 101, 102 and 147 seek to amend the provisions relating to registration without application to ensure that individuals registered in this way are placed on the closed full electoral register rather than the open full register—I should say the 'closed register' rather than the 'open full register'. These amendments seek to respond to concerns about the current provision included within the Bill that means that people who are registered without application are automatically placed on the open register. Academics Toby James and Paul Bernal from the University of East Anglia argue that the edited register is made freely available for purchase to companies and third parties with no restrictions on its use. It serves no purpose for the running of the election. It is likely that citizens will know little that their data is being used in this way. Information about the Welsh electorate would therefore be for sale without their active consent. We therefore propose that the Bill is amended so that automatically registered citizens are not added to the edited register by default. Cytûn, Churches Together in Wales, stated that the current requirement to write to individuals notifying them of automatic registration is not sufficient, as many people in certain circumstances do not respond to official correspondence. Furthermore, Cytûn raised a specific concern about the current registration provision. They state that, by placing people on the open register, this may impact on some individuals who have purposely chosen not to register for fear of being identified by a violent former partner or others who may wish to harm them. As such, our amendment gives people the option of being placed on the open register, rather than being automatically placed on the open register.

At Stage 2, the Minister argued that, quote,

'I believe voters should be given a choice about how their information is used.... As such, the provisions as drafted will allow a person to make their wishes known to the ERO',

the electoral registration officer. However, this misses the point of our amendment. Our amendment seeks to ensure that people placed on the electoral register without application are automatically placed on the closed register and given the choice to be placed on the open register, rather than vice versa. This is to ensure that people who have purposely not chosen to be on the electoral register continue to be protected, whilst fulfilling the aim of the Bill of improving voter registration.

Amendment 105 seeks to expand the definition of politically restricted posts that are disqualified from becoming a member of a local authority. The amendment modifies the definition of politically restricted posts in section 2 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 by including any council employee who provides advice and support on a regular basis to an elected member or elected members of the authority. This broadens the current scope of the provision, which refers to giving advice on a regular basis to any member of the executive who is also a member of the authority. The Bill as drafted will allow council staff to stand for their own council without having to resign first. We support this. However, our amendment clarifies and ensures that any officer who has regular contact with and provides advice for and support for elected members, and who may have a significant conflict of interest should they stand for the council that they are an employee of, is not able to stand for election without resigning first.

In Stage 2, the Minister argued that she would not accept our amendment, as she said:

'I want more people to stand for election to councils in Wales, so I could not without good reason support a provision that sought to bar more people from standing for election.'

Our intention is not to reduce the number of people who stand for election. Our provision would still allow more people to stand for election. And whilst we agree that most council staff should be able to stand for their own council without having to resign first, the purpose of our amendment is to broaden the definition of politically restricted posts, which currently is very narrowly defined, reflecting the fact that there is not a formal separation of power between the executive and legislature within a principal council, and the same council officers, therefore, support both cabinet and backbenchers, unlike the separation between the staff supporting parliaments and the civil servants supporting Government in this place and elsewhere. In other words, we seek to avoid inevitable conflicts of interest that would otherwise arise.

Amendment 106 seeks to bring the regulations for online paid-for political advertisements—

16:15

Mark Isherwood, if I can just cut across you for one second, you have 10 minutes to introduce your amendments, and you're now on 12 minutes. You will have time to close this group as well, so can you conclude your introductory comments? I'll call you at the end of the group again to return to any issues you need to address.

Okay. Well, I will conclude at that point, then, and pick up, as you say, the remaining points in my conclusion. Thank you.

I oppose the granting of rights to vote on the basis of being a foreigner in this country who is not prepared to take the ultimate step of taking out citizenship. In medieval times, all citizens' rights ultimately derived from the concept of allegiance to the monarch. Well, we've moved on, in democratic terms, from that, but, ultimately, this is all about allegiance to one's country. And it is a fundamental doing of damage, in my view, to that concept of national cohesion that that represents.

After all, the right to vote is one of the most important of the rights of citizenship, and I think you've got to have a long-term commitment to this country in order to be worthy of it. If you're only resident in this country for a relatively short period of time and you have no intention, possibly, of making your residence in this country permanent, I, personally, do not see why you should be given the right to determine the country's long-term interests.

This is an unusual provision internationally as well. Most EU countries do not grant rights such as we're being asked to grant this afternoon. Certainly, the bigger countries—France, Germany, Italy, Poland—none of them grants the right to vote in their elections to foreigners. I believe it's a fundamental devaluing of citizenship and, indeed, of the concept of naturalisation, which, of course, changes the legal circumstances in which one lives.

I think that, ultimately, this is all about your commitment to the country in which you live; it's not simply a transaction that you get in exchange for paying taxes. After all, all sorts of people pay taxes simply by the fact of purchasing something in a shop and paying value added tax on it, but that, in itself, shouldn't be a justification for granting them a vote. I believe that this is a very solemn issue, which we are treating in a relatively trivial way.

Of course, we all know why this is being done, because, as a result of the shock that Brexit gave to the metropolitan elites, this was one of the things that they decided to do in order, perhaps, to make a second referendum produce a different result. This is a relic of two years ago, when it was developed as part of the Labour Party's policy. I believe that that is a reprehensible reason for making a change of this kind, which has very wide repercussions indeed. But Labour's dwindling voter base, of course, has had to be shored up in various ways. Mass migration under the Blair Government was almost explicitly brought in in order to, as Andrew Neather, who was an adviser to the Blair Government, wrote in a moment of candour in an article, I think, in the Evening Standard—he said that mass migration was intended, even if it wasn't its main purpose, to

'rub the right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date.'

I believe that this notion of extending voting rights to those who fundamentally do not have allegiance to our country is part of that agenda. It is to bolster the potential for those whom the Labour Party think are going to choose them, or other parties of the left, rather than parties of the right. So, fundamentally, I think that this strikes at the very heart of British democracy. For that reason, I hope that it will be defeated. Thank you.

16:20

I welcome the opportunity to consider amendments to the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill today. Turning to the amendments, I'm afraid I reject amendments 84 and 85 and call on Members to do the same. The Welsh Government has made it very clear over the last four years that the franchise for devolved elections should include those legally resident in Wales. We believe that anyone contributing to our social or economic life should have the right to vote in devolved elections on the issues that affect their daily lives.

Last year, the Senedd voted to extend the franchise for its elections to qualifying foreign citizens, and I believe this should be replicated for local government. Two different franchises for devolved elections in Wales would be unfair to voters, a fact Members have raised previously in this Siambr. I do not believe there is any reason why someone voting in a Senedd election should not be able to vote in a local government election. Those who are affected by the decisions of local government should be able to elect their representatives. In addition, when we consulted on this matter in 2017, 73 per cent of respondents agreed that everyone living in Wales should be able to vote, irrespective of where they were born.

I also reject amendment 103. The extension of the franchise to qualifying foreign citizens should extend to those citizens being able to stand for office. We recognise that standing for office requires a person to have a strong connection with and commitment to the community they serve. Such a connection is an inherent part of the qualification to stand for office set out in the Local Government Act 1972. In addition, any qualifying foreign citizen standing for local government office must either not require leave to enter or remain in the UK, or have been granted leave to enter or remain as set out in the Immigration Act 1971, or are treated as such by law.

I also cannot support amendment 104. There are no UK residency requirements placed on any other category of candidate for local elections in Wales. I do not believe that it is appropriate to require a qualifying foreign citizen to meet additional requirements when, for example, a Commonwealth citizen may, provided they meet the eligibility criteria, stand regardless of how long they have been in the UK.

Section 22 of the Bill, as introduced, restates existing provision in respect of expenditure by returning officers at local elections in Wales, applying the provision specifically to Wales by inserting new section 36C into the Representation of the People Act 1983. As this provision is a restatement of existing legislation, it is more appropriate for inclusion in a Schedule, and as such amendment 62 moves this provision to Schedule 2 to the Bill, whilst amendment 2 removes section 22. This is consistent with other provisions in the Bill. Amendment 79 is consequential to these amendments and removes existing provisions in respect of the coming into force of section 22.

I also call on Members to reject amendment 86. Helping young people to develop a good understanding of democratic processes is a vital part of extending the franchise, and this Bill already makes provisions in this respect, placing a duty upon principal councils to promote awareness and provide assistance among relevant young people of the arrangements to register and to vote. In tabling this amendment, the Member has not taken into account the new arrangements set out in the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill.

Amendment 87 does also not take into account the curriculum and assessment Bill, as it includes a duty on local authorities, whereas the new curriculum is being designed, adopted and implemented at a school level, not at a local authority level. We have been clear in our intention that the new curriculum will allow teachers to decide how to deliver education tailored to the specific needs of their pupils. One of the four purposes of the new curriculum is to support learners in becoming

'ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world'.

Good education on politics and democracy would be an essential part of the delivery of this core purpose. Preparing young people for active engagement in society is an important aspect of our education system, and we want to see all our young people develop as ethical, informed citizens who understand and exercise their human and democratic responsibilities and rights. Young people, as they begin their democratic journey, will learn through the humanities area of learning and experience in the new curriculum, where learners from the ages of three to 16 will have an understanding of the different structures and systems for governance that exist in Wales, their democratic rights and responsibilities, including their voting rights, as well as learning about historical, geographical, economic and societal topics in this area.

In order to help support the delivery of political education, not only in schools but also in settings such as youth clubs and so on, a resource pack, Vote2Voice, has been made available on Hwb. Further resources for professional learning support and the Welsh baccalaureate are also planned from next April. In addition, we are working with regional education consortia to provide professional support for teachers, including guidelines to enable them to confidently deal with situations that may arise in lessons, such as how to deal with controversial political issues. I therefore do not consider amendment 86 and amendment 87 to be appropriate or necessary and ask Members to reject them.

Whilst I understand the broad principles that underpin amendment 99, I do reject it, as I do not consider it appropriate or necessary. The Bill as amended at Stage 2 already requires the Welsh Ministers to consult with appropriate persons before making rules in respect of the conduct of local elections. I would anticipate such a consultation capturing persons such as the Electoral Commission, electoral administrators, returning officers, members of local authorities and other groups with an interest in the changes being made, as appropriate. In addition, the amendment as drafted refers to 'involve', and whilst I entirely understand what the Member is aiming to achieve, 'involve' is not consistent with terms used elsewhere in Welsh legislation, and I do not believe it is appropriate here. I consider that the provision as drafted already delivers what amendment 99 is seeking to achieve.

I also cannot support amendments 102 and 147, and, by extension, amendment 101. I believe voters should be given a choice about how their information is used. Some may wish their details to be excluded from the edited register and the provisions as drafted will allow a person to make their wishes known to the ERO. Amendments 101, 102 and 147 would result in a person being prevented from being included on the edited register, even if they gave consent, thereby removing a person's choice. It should be noted that the provisions around registration of local government electors without application will be commenced by Order at a future date. Ahead of bringing these provisions into force, we will work with electoral administrators and key stakeholders to ensure that they and voters understand the changes and are aware of the safeguards in the provision. 

Turning to amendment 105, I want more people to stand for elections to councils in Wales so I could not, without good reason, support a provision that sought to bar more people from standing for election. This amendment was debated at Stage 2, as Mark Isherwood acknowledged, and, in my view, a good reason has not been given as to why it is needed. 

The Local Government and Housing Act 1989 is already very clear in capturing far more than just those officers who provide advice on a regular basis to the executive, or to any member of the executive. In addition to those officers, any officer who gives advice on a regular basis to the full council, any committee or sub-committee of the council, or to any joint committee of the council, must also be included in the list. It is highly unlikely that any council officer will be called upon to give advice on a regular basis to an individual councillor outside the mechanisms of full council or committee meetings. I therefore reject amendment 105 as I do not consider that it would achieve anything and I fear that it would only create more bureaucracy. 

Whilst understanding the principle behind amendment 106, I do not agree with the amendment itself. We are committed to improving the quality of information presented to voters and to making clear who is responsible for the information provided.  However, as social media companies are based across the world, and as social media advertisements cross over the England and Wales border, the most effective way to tackle this is on a pan-UK basis, while we are not restricted by the Senedd's legislative competence. As such, we will continue to work closely with the UK Government to develop a consistent regime across the all administrations that supports voters with clear information around the origins of political messaging.

Amendment 66 entitles candidates at principal and community council elections, and certain local government elected office holders, to access young persons’ information. This relates to specified details of electors and attainers under the age of 16, as contained on the local government electoral register. The amendment also extends a regulation-making power in section 26 of the Senedd Act, enabling the Welsh Ministers to make further provision about who is entitled to access this information in relation to local government elections and referendums.

Amendment 56 provides for the coming into force of the provisions inserted by amendment 66, whilst amendments 1, 64, 65 and 67 are consequential to amendment 66 and make minor technical amendments to the Bill. Amendments 58 to 61 are all technical amendments that ensure consistency and clarity across the Bill in relation to references to documents and to information. 

These amendments refine existing provision to provide that Welsh Ministers may, in relation to an initial review undertaken under Schedule 1, direct principal councils to provide the boundary commission with documents or information, or direct the commission to provide documents or information. Diolch.

16:30

A disappointing but predictable response, I suppose. I think the Minister began by referring to a 2017 survey and the percentage of respondents. Those were unrepresentative samples and she knows as well as I do that our amendments seek to reflect, through public opinion on this matter, across the political spectrum, where voting and citizenship are important matters. They're part of a rite of passage, a new commitment, a new identity, and something that is acknowledged globally in western liberal democracies as something that should not be granted automatically. Our proposals are not radical, they're simply seeking to implement the national good practice by having a minimum residency period as a compromise.

In terms of education on politics, apparently you would not take account of curriculum reforms and the Bill already provides for the concern to be raised. No, it doesn't. And, yes, we have already taken account of curriculum reforms. My amendments reflect, as I said, concerns highlighted by the Electoral Reform Society, because as the Bill is drafted and as the Minister seems intent on pursuing, this will lead to some young people in Wales being very well informed, but a tiered process, with many others not understanding as well as they should how the system in their nation operates.

We hear a lot of rhetoric about citizen empowerment, community voice and community engagement, but again, Welsh Government seeks to remove amendments that would actually put teeth upon such concepts and turn them into a living reality in our communities. The word 'involve' is a key word within a huge international sector working on community empowerment, community engagement and what's commonly become referred to as a 'co-production'. It goes massively beyond the less—[Inaudible.]—words that mean other things, such as 'consultation' or 'working together'. 'Involvement' means equality of voice. It means mutual respect. It means having to do things together for common good and with true commitment.

The electoral register comments, again, failed to acknowledge the need to protect certain vulnerable people who, under the proposals, will still risk being exposed when they've chosen not to be.

Our proposals will still enable far more local government officers to stand for election. I know the Minister had an extensive career in local government and knows far more than I how the practicalities work, but I do know, as somebody who was married to a county councillor and knows personally dozens of county councillors across all the parties, every single day an effective councillor is working closely with officers, seeking advice and support. It's not every officer, all day, and therefore it's a small cohort we're talking about, but those people would be put in a very difficult situation, as would the councillors, as the Bill is currently proposed.

Finally, I'd like to support our proposal to bring regulations for online paid-for political advertisements in line with printed paid-for political advertisements. This should be a no-brainer. Because, currently, printed literature, such as leaflets, require an imprint detailing information regarding who paid for the material to be promoted. The Electoral Commission said that imprints on digital election material would help them to enforce the spending rules, to have a clearer picture of whom they need to register in order to submit a spending plan afterwards. The Scottish Government has recently made digital imprints a requirement for parliamentary and local elections. The UK Government is also in the process of introducing comprehensive digital imprints legislation. The Minister did say at Stage 2 that she was sympathetic to this principle, but the Welsh Government will work with the UK Government to develop a consistent regime across the jurisdiction. Normally, I'd strongly support that joined-up approach. We understand her view, but we believe that Wales should lead the way, enhancing accountability and transparency in digital political advertising and should use its powers to improve political advertising standards to enhance Welsh democracy.

In order to enhance Welsh democracy, I will be moving all these amendments, appealing to Members to consider what's actually behind them, rather than some of the party political rhetoric we've heard.

16:35

The question is that amendment 84 be agreed. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There is an objection, in accordance with Standing Order 12.18 I will suspend the meeting temporarily in order to prepare for the vote on these first amendments. So, I will suspend the session temporarily.

Plenary was suspended at 16:38.

16:45

The Senedd reconvened at 16:46, with the Llywydd in the Chair.

The first vote is on amendment 84 in the name of Mark Isherwood. I call for a vote on that amendment in the name of Mark Isherwood. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 13, two abstentions, 36 against. 

Amendment 84: For: 13, Against: 36, Abstain: 2

Amendment has been rejected

Amendment 85 is the next amendment. 

Mark Isherwood, is it moved?

Amendment 85 (Mark Isherwood) moved.

Okay. The next vote, then, is on amendment 85. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 13, two abstentions, 36 against, and therefore the amendment is not agreed. 

Amendment 85: For: 13, Against: 36, Abstain: 2

Amendment has been rejected

The next amendment is amendment 1. 

Julie James, is that moved?

Amendment 1 (Julie James) moved.

A vote on amendment 1, therefore, in the name of Julie James. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 44, four abstentions, three against, and therefore the amendment is agreed. 

Amendment 1 : For: 44, Against: 3, Abstain: 4

Amendment has been agreed

Mark Isherwood, is amendment 86 moved? Mark Isherwood, is amendment 86 moved?

Amendment 86 (Mark Isherwood) moved.

The question is that amendment 86 be agreed. Is there any objection? [Objection.]

There is an objection.

So we move to a vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour, 19, two abstentions, 30 against, and therefore amendment 86 is not agreed. 

Amendment 86: For: 19, Against: 30, Abstain: 2

Amendment has been rejected

Amendment 87 (Mark Isherwood) moved.

16:50

The question is that amendment 87 be agreed. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There is an objection. I call for a vote on amendment 87. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 19, four abstentions, 28 against. Therefore the amendment is not agreed. 

Amendment 87: For: 19, Against: 28, Abstain: 4

Amendment has been rejected

Group 2: Voting system for local government elections (Amendments 152, 88, 89, 153, 154, 90, 91, 92, 94, 93, 95, 96, , 97, 155, 98, 156, 100, 157, 145, 176, 146, 63, 177, 83, 151, 148, 168, 137, 169, 170, 171, 144)

Our next group is group 2, and it relates to the voting system for local government elections. The lead amendment in the group is amendment 152, and I call on Delyth Jewell to move the lead amendment—Delyth Jewell. 

Amendment 152 (Delyth Jewell) moved.

Diolch, Llywydd. We've tabled these amendments to change the voting system in local government to a fairer one. The arguments have been rehearsed before, and I apologise to members of the committee who may have heard me making these arguments previously, but I think it's important to state them again at this stage. 

First-past-the-post has created many undemocratic outcomes. For example—and it was an example I raised earlier as well—in Sketty, Swansea in 2012, the Liberal Democrats won all five seats, despite gaining just 38 per cent of the vote. The Labour Party, with 29.2 per cent, and the Conservatives, with 20 per cent, both failed to gain a single seat in that five-member ward, despite strong local support. Now, under the current system, those who finished third in terms of share of the vote can go on to win the most seats. The starkest example of this was possibly in 2008, where the Liberal Democrats came first in terms of seats for Cardiff, but third in terms of votes. I suppose the irony of the Liberal Democrats winning such seats unfairly under the first-past-the-post system is amusing for some, but this is not a partisan point. All parties have benefited disproportionately from first-past-the-post, and all have suffered from it. 

Multimember wards make this even worse, and create something of a lottery. The question is really whether we accept unfairness and a lottery, or want to make a positive change. Now, I know there is support for these changes across the spectrum in the Chamber, so my appeal to all Members individually would be to have the courage of their convictions and send a signal that it's time to end this undemocratic system. Diolch.

Our amendments in this group seek to remove the ability of individual local authorities to change their voting system from first-past-the-post to single transferable vote. This isn't to be contrary, this is to reflect the evidence received by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee at Stage 1, which Members supported, where the majority of stakeholders did not support the provisions to enable principal councils to choose which voting systems to use. For example, the Welsh Local Government Association said that there is a need for

'a clear and consistent voting system across all local authorities to avoid complexity and risk of voter confusion',

adding that the complexity of allowing principal councils to choose their own voting system could be 'quite horrendous', with the potential for chaos a real concern. 

Similar concerns and opposition to the provision were expressed by all the principal councils and representatives of town and community councils who responded to the committee's consultation. The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives acknowledged that there may be perceived benefits of allowing principal councils a choice, but said the risk of complexity and confusion around having two voting systems

'could have the potential to disenfranchise voters with the worst-case scenario being an impact on turnout'.

The Electoral Commission, whilst noting that the electoral system to be used for local government elections is a matter for the Welsh Government and the Senedd to determine, concurred that there are risks and challenges associated with the proposal. This includes an increased risk of voter confusion and administrative challenges. The commission noted that it would be required to publish two sets of guidance, one on each voting system for electoral administrators, for political parties, candidates and agents, and run separate public awareness campaigns.

The Electoral Commission also referred to the ethos of consistency in electoral planning that has developed in Wales over recent years, and said it would be disappointed if that co-ordinating activity were to be undermined by different systems operating in different counties. As I stated during the Stage 1 debate, 33 out of 35 respondents to the White Paper consultation disagreed and preferred to keep one voting system for the whole of Wales. Further, as our committee report states, 

'the majority of the evidence received oppose the provisions that allow principal councils to choose their own voting system.'

The regulatory impact assessment also notes that additional costs will be incurred should a principal council opt to change its voting system, but these costs are currently unknown.

To ensure consistency with this, amendment 137 seeks to remove the power for local authorities or Welsh Ministers to decide on what voting system is to be used in the first ordinary election of councillors to the principal council for a new principal area. The section 125 voting system allows for merger regulations to specify what electoral system—first-past-the-post or STV—is to be used for first elections for a newly created principal council. This amendment removes this choice, ensuring consistency of local government electoral systems across Wales.

Amendment 94 makes provisions to require a referendum to be held prior to a principal council exercising its power to change voting systems. This is a compromise amendment. Through a number of amendments, we're seeking to remove the ability of principal councils to unilaterally change their voting system to ensure the consistency of local government electoral systems across Wales and to avoid complexity and voter confusion. However, this amendment will mean that should our amendments not proceed, the decision to change to voting system in the election of a principal council is decided by local people rather than the council itself via referendum. Such an amendment will help to increase public participation in local decision making, which is meant to be one of the mains of this Bill.

Amendments 83, 92 and 148 are consequential to amendment 94. Diolch.

16:55

Diolch, Llywydd. The Welsh Government's policy, as provided for in this Bill, is to enable principal councils to choose between two voting systems. I consider that introducing this choice supports the principle of decisions being made at a more local level. I do not believe this local choice will lead to confusion: each council election is a separate event. Voters will be focused on the election for their council, and not on the one next door.

A principal council could not make a change on a whim, but must first consult local electors, community councils in the area and other persons as it considers appropriate, as contained in section 8, and a resolution to change the voting system requires at least two thirds of the total number of councillor seats on the council to vote in favour. As such, I reject amendments 151 to 157, 176 and 177, which have the effect of mandating STV for all principal council elections, by removing all provisions relating to the simple majority system, or first-past-the-post. This would result in no choice for principal councils.

I also cannot support amendments 168 to 171, the collective effect of which would be to impose STV on any new principal council created by merger or restructuring. This runs counter to the principle of councils being able to choose their own voting system. Equally, I'm afraid I cannot support amendments 83, 88 to 91, 93, 95 to 98, 100 and 144 to 146. These amendments also run counter to Welsh Government policy, by removing the provisions that provide for the introduction of STV as one of two voting systems to be available to principal councils. These amendments would keep the status quo, so first-past-the-post for all elections to principal councils and no choice.

I call on Members to reject amendment 137. This amendment removes section 125, which requires merger regulations to specify which of the two voting systems will apply to the council created by the merger. It is necessary to have such provision as a consequence of there being two voting systems. 

Amendment 92 removes the requirement in section 8 of the Bill for a principal council to consult upon a proposal to change its voting system, whilst amendment 94 in effect replaces it with a requirement that a referendum be held before a voting system is changed.

Principal councils have tried and tested systems for consulting local people. I believe, in this case, local consultation is a more cost-effective and considered way of seeking out and testing views than a local referendum. This is why we included the very provision in section 8(5), which amendment 92 would remove. As such, I ask Members to reject amendments 92 and 94. For these reasons, I also call on Members to reject amendment 148, which enables councils to organise a local poll to ascertain the views of local people on the proposals to change the voting system.

Finally, I ask Members to support amendment 63. This is a minor technical amendment to refine the instruction that defines where, within the text being amended, the amendment provided for by paragraph 18(b) of Schedule 2 to the Bill should be inserted. Diolch.

17:00

Thank you, Llywydd, and a thank you to everyone who's participated in this debate. It's disappointing to hear that the Government is to miss the opportunity once again to create a fairer voting system, and we will be pushing these amendments to a vote. Thank you.

If amendment 152 is agreed, amendment 88 will fall. The question is that amendment 152 be agreed. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There is an objection, and we will move to a vote on amendment 152 in the name of Delyth Jewell. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 11, two abstentions and 37 against. Therefore, the amendment is not agreed. 

Amendment 152: For: 11, Against: 37, Abstain: 2

Amendment has been rejected

Amendment 88 (Mark Isherwood) moved.