Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd


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

A very warm welcome to this Plenary session. 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 via video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, 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. 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

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

Dualling the A465 between Dowlais and Hirwaun

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the projected cost of dualling the A465 between Dowlais and Hirwaun? OQ55986

Llywydd, I thank the Member for that question. The capital cost of completing the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road through the final Dowlais to Hirwaun stretch is £590 million.

Thank you, First Minister. When the project was signed off in a stage 3 scheme assessment report in 2017, the projected construction cost was £308 million, with a total project cost approximated at £428 million. Recently, the Western Mail revealed something similar to what you just said, that the cost of construction had now increased to, as they put it, £550 million, though I take the figure that you just said as being £590 million. But, what was really shocking to learn was that in moving to the mutual investment model of financing, the Welsh Government has now also committed to paying £38 million a year for 30 years as an annual service payment. That total cost of the annual service payment for the 30-year period will be an eye-watering £1.14 billion. That brings the total cost of the project to £1.7 billion over 30 years, being a £1.3 billion increase from the initial projection of £428 million. Let's call this insanity what it is, First Minister—private finance initiative under another name. Spending £1.7 billion on infrastructure in the Valleys is a great idea, but how about spending it on community regeneration, work creation schemes, public transport, improving housing and schools rather than on what must be one of the most expensive roads per mile in history. 

Well, Llywydd, that was less a supplementary question than a farrago of misunderstandings and misrepresentations. I'm afraid the Member has no grasp whatsoever of the mutual investment model, a model, of course, adopted by the Scottish Government following the Welsh devising of it. So, her sister party in Scotland has chosen to follow our lead in this matter. She mangles together a whole series of costs and fails to make sense of any of them. The money that will be spent through revenue after the road is completed does not simply service the debt, but it pays for all the ongoing maintenance of that road throughout the whole of its life. Those costs are incurred in any scheme of road building, but they are not as transparent and available for everybody to scrutinise as they are in the mutual investment model. 

The model that we have here in Wales is very different to PFI. I've discussed it on the floor of the Senedd with the leader of her party on a number of occasions, when, for example, he asked me to explore whether or not the 15 per cent equity stake we take in the companies that will construct the road could be extended. Those, I thought, were very sensible conversations to get the most out of the model. I'm afraid the Member really does just need to go back, do her homework, and then we'll have a more sensible conversation.

I'm with Delyth Jewell on this. News that taxpayers face the extortionate amount of money that has been spend on this dualling from Hirwaun to Dowlais, after construction costs increased by 25 per cent in less than a year, is truly shocking. It's an extortionate amount of money to be spending on such a project and I completely agree with Delyth Jewell on that. This follows your breaking of a manifesto pledge to deliver an M4 relief road and the South East Wales Transport Commission being instructed not to consider another motorway to ease its proposals on the congestion on the M4. Given your Government's appalling record, what confidence can the public have in you delivering future transport infrastructure projects, such as the proposed Chepstow bypass, on time and within budget?


Well, Llywydd, the Member, as I would have expected, really, has simply failed to understand that what the mutual investment model delivers for the Dowlais to Hirwaun stretch is a fixed-price contract. So, the risks are carried by the private sector contractor—they have to deliver this road on budget and on time, otherwise there are very significant penalties that lie with them and not with the public purse. That is one of the advantages of having devised the model in the way that we have, because it does provide the public with that guarantee that the amount of money that has been agreed with the company is the amount of money that will be paid, and if further costs are incurred, the risks rest with the private contractor and not with the public purse.

Well, I have looked at the mutual investment model and I have to say that it has a number of advantages. First of all, it will help the Government to bring forward this project much faster than it might have been able to otherwise, and we have to say there is no doubt that this stretch of the A465 is a vital infrastructure project. Together with the work being done in the Clydach gorge section, it will create a quality trunk road, connecting the Heads of the Valleys towns west as far as Swansea and east as far as the midlands, and even with London via the M4. So, does the First Minister agree with me that it will provide a particularly strong tool in getting businesses to locate along the Heads of Valleys corridor and thus help to alleviate the economic underperformance of the area?

Well, Llywydd, I thank David Rowlands for those points. I am very proud of the fact that successive Labour Governments here in this Senedd have provided 13 continuous years of investment to complete the Heads of the Valleys road, for the reasons that David Rowlands has identified—that it will bring new economic opportunities to those Heads of the Valleys communities. It will link them in a way that they've never been linked before, with a modern infrastructure, both east to the midlands and west to west Wales. It is a vital part of this Government's investment in those communities, and the completion of it in the Dowlais to Hirwaun stretch delivers on our commitment to those communities.

And can I say that David Rowlands also made an important point? Were we not doing it through the mutual investment model, this road would not be going ahead. It's the only way that we are able to make that investment, and at a time when we know, from last week's comprehensive spending review and the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates of what will happen to the economy next year, we need projects ready to go now. A thousand people will be employed at the height of this road's construction, 120 apprenticeships, 60 traineeships, 320 internships, for young people in that part of Wales, where the advantages will be felt in those communities that need it the most. [Interruption.] It's no surprise to me that the Tories oppose it—of course they would; they have no interest at all in what happens in that part of Wales. But here on these benches, we are very proud indeed of our record of investment in this road, in those communities, and that's what this final stretch will deliver.

First Minister, it's no surprise, of course, to see Plaid Cymru and the Tories ganging up to condemn investment in the south Wales Valleys. I'm old enough now to remember it was a Plaid Cymru Minister, of course, who held up investment in the Heads of the Valleys road back in 2007. The road is there not simply to provide communications, but as a tool of economic development. And in supporting some of the poorest communities in the country—which we know that these people on my left here have got no interest in—it's important to ensure that we have a jobs plan for the Heads of the Valleys to maximise the value of this public investment so we can invest in people and places and the communities of the Heads of the Valleys. It's why they support us and why they will continue to support us and not the noise coming from these benches. 


Well, Llywydd, Alun Davies is absolutely right—the road is not just a road in itself; it is all the economic opportunities that it will unlock in those communities. The OBR tells us, Llywydd, that, next year, unemployment is expected to rise from 4.8 per cent today to 7.5 per cent, and that people in Wales will see a rise in unemployment from 70,000 today to 114,000 next year. I've heard the party opposite previously argue for investments that put people to work, that create opportunities for people and places. Here they have one, where the work has already begun, where construction will begin in the spring, just when it is most needed, and they can't find it in them to say a single word in support of it. Luckily, we have Members representing those communities here in the Senedd who will do that on their behalf. 

Coronavirus-related Poverty

2. What analysis has the Welsh Government conducted of the impact of coronavirus-related poverty in Wales? OQ55952

Llywydd, we draw on a wide range of research and analysis to understand the impact of coronavirus-related poverty in Wales, including work by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Office for National Statistics labour force survey, the Resolution Foundation, the national survey for Wales, Citizens Advice and the Bevan Foundation.

Thank you. Well, Citizens Advice Cymru research, 'Facing the cliff edge: Protecting people in Wales from the financial consequences of Covid-19', in May, stated that, 

'The Welsh Government must be proactive in encouraging people to check what benefits or support they are entitled to...This should include benefits and support schemes administered in Wales, such as the Council Tax Reduction Scheme and the Discretionary Assistance Fund.' 

The Bevan Foundation's September report, 'Reducing the impact of Coronavirus on Poverty in Wales', stated that the Welsh Government should undertake a large-scale benefits take-up campaign to ensure people are accessing the benefits they're entitled to, including UK social security benefits, as well as schemes operated by the Welsh Government and local authorities, such as the council tax reduction scheme, free school meals and the discretionary assistance fund, and establish a single point of access for free school meals, pupil development grant and council tax reduction scheme. What specific consequent action has the Welsh Government taken? 

Well, Llywydd, I'm long used to the fact that the Conservative Party in Wales is an irony-free zone, but, even by its normal standards, that supplementary question goes a long way to taking the biscuit. Let me tell the Member what people will find in Wales when they go to have their benefit entitlement checked by the citizens advice bureaux, using the single advice fund that we have provided: what they will find is that £1,000 is being taken away from the poorest families in Wales by the decisions of his Government; that those people who have managed to keep their heads above water, as a result of coronavirus-related poverty in Wales now find that they are going to be asked to bear the burden of the impact on our economy.

I thought last week's comprehensive spending review, of all the many disappointments in it, the worst of all was the Chancellor's refusal to guarantee to those families that the £20 a week that they are getting now will continue to be available to them after the end of March next year. Thirty five per cent of all non-pensioner households in Wales benefit from that—30,000 families in Wales, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. When, as the Member asked me, people go to the services that we provide here in Wales to find out what they will be entitled to, the first thing they will learn is that this Conservative Government has turned their back on them again. 

I know the First Minister will be aware, from the research that he's mentioned, of the disproportional impact of COVID economically on women, and particularly single-parent families, which tend to be led by women. The £500 payment that's available to people on low incomes who are self-isolating is very welcome and we know it's making a big difference and enabling people to self-isolate. But, of course, that payment, as things stand, is not available to the parents of children who have to isolate or who are sent home because their colleagues are isolating. Speaking to a constituent the other day, she said to me, 'What am I supposed to do? I know I shouldn't take my children to be with my mother, because I know that isn't safe. They're supposed to be staying at home with me, but if I don't go to work, I don't get paid. If I apply for benefits, I'll wait weeks and weeks and weeks before they come through.'

May I ask the First Minister today if he will look again at the eligibility for this payment? We all realise that the Welsh Government really doesn't have a magic money tree, but in terms of priorities, I hope that the First Minister would agree with me that enabling parents, particularly single mothers, to stay at home with their children when the children have to isolate, is something that we should all work towards, because none of us would want to find ourselves in that position where we have to either be able to put bread on the table or to follow the rules.


Llywydd, I thank Helen Mary Jones for that powerful supplementary question, and she will know that her colleague Leanne Wood raised this issue with me, here on the floor of the Senedd, two weeks ago. I had a meeting with officials yesterday, as a result of the points that had been raised with me, and work is being done to see whether, within the financial envelope that is available to us, we can respond to the genuine difficulties that are being reported.

I know Helen Mary Jones will know that if a child has a positive test and has to stay home because test, trace, protect has asked them to, then the parent with care is able to claim the £500. The difficulty arises in the circumstances that were described, where children are sent home from school because another child in the class has been tested positive. Now, sometimes, those children are back in school very rapidly, but if it extends to a full 14 days of self-isolation, that undoubtedly places extra financial burdens, especially in the families that Helen Mary Jones described. So, my officials are working very actively to see whether it is possible to devise a way in which help could be provided to families in those circumstances, and I hope that Ministers will see the result of that work before the end of this week.

First Minister, we know that the financial blow of coronavirus has fallen hardest on those who are already disadvantaged, and this has come on top of a decade of Tory austerity, and that despite the efforts of Welsh and devolved Governments to mitigate this, the impact, cumulatively, of the UK Government's benefits cuts and delays and penalties has punished the lowest paid and the lowest income and vulnerable households.

The Conservatives promised us years ago that austerity would be borne by those with the broadest shoulders, yet they loaded it on those already bowed down under debt and poverty. So, would he agree with me that Boris Johnson's proposals to cut universal credit, cut working tax credit, and freeze public sector pay suggests that we are seeing the same old Tory party attacking the very poorest working families and households in Wales?

Well, what did we hear in the comprehensive spending review last week, Llywydd, but the poorest people in the world will now face a cut in the aid that one of the richest countries in the world provides to them? A deeply disappointing day, as David Cameron, a former Conservative Party Prime Minister, said, that in this country, it will be the poorest people who are penalised when they don't have that lifeline £20 a week. And the public servants, who've been praised from the benches here throughout the coronavirus crisis for the way in which they have been on the front line, or refuse workers or local authority workers or teachers—how many times have I heard opposition party Members here praise them for what they have done, only to find now that their reward is to be to have their incomes frozen once again? And it's not the first time, as Huw Irranca-Davies says. This comes after a decade in which those wages have been held back by successive Conservative Governments, and here we see it again. Scratch them, and you see what you get. They are a party who've always believed that the rich should prosper and the poor must pay the price. And here they're at it again.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. Conservative leader, Paul Davies.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, in response to the Welsh Government's announcement that hospitality businesses will not be permitted to sell alcohol, and that they'll have to close their doors at 6 p.m., John Evans, landlord of the Black Boy pub in Caernarfon, has said that,

'It's not fair on those many pubs and restaurants who have followed the rules and done the right thing.

'The loss of revenue will be astronomical—we'll have to throw beer and other stock away.'

In Cardiff, the general manager of the Grange pub, Dai Dearden, has said the announcement was 'a hammer-blow'. And in Usk, Monmouthshire, Kelly Jolliffe, the owner of the Greyhound Inn, has said that she was 'gutted' about the regulations. So, First Minister, what is your message to these businesses, and plenty more across Wales, whose livelihoods are at risk because of your decision to partially close the hospitality sector here in Wales?


Well, my message to those businesses is that despite all the efforts that they have made—and I recognise the enormous efforts that so many businesses have made—we continue to face a public health emergency here in Wales. And that despite those efforts and everything else that has been done, the number of people infected with coronavirus in Wales is going up every day, and that is translating itself, inevitably, into more people occupying hospital beds in Wales, more people needing critical care and more people losing their lives. That is the inescapable context in which the decision is made.

And, having said that to people, that this is a public health emergency in which we have to act to protect lives that can be saved and which would otherwise be lost, I would say to them that we have mobilised the most generous package of support for that industry anywhere in the United Kingdom—£340 million that will be used to assist that industry through the very difficult weeks that lie ahead. I understand that the Prime Minister has announced £40 million today for the whole of England for the hospitality industry. There will be £340 million available here in Wales alone. And that is the other thing that I would say to those industries, that the help that they will get from the Welsh Government will be the best available anywhere in the United Kingdom.

Well, First Minister, the partial closure of Welsh hospitality is a devastating blow to the sector, and there'll be pubs and restaurants, in areas where transmission rates are low, who will rightly feel upset that their businesses are being put at risk, through no fault of their own, and in areas where there's no evidence that hospitality interaction is leading to an increase in transmission rates. The Welsh Government tell us that it was reaching out to the sector over the weekend, but it's clear that the views of the sector clearly haven't been taken on board and many businesses across the country will simply not survive the winter. Therefore, can you tell us who you and your Government met with over the weekend to discuss these proposals, and what discussions did you have about the partial closure of the sector? And how confident are you that this measure will reduce transmission figures and not result in people congregating in households and having house parties instead because they can't buy an alcoholic drink in a pub?

Well, Llywydd, people's lives are put at risk here in Wales through no fault of their own because of this virus. I've been listening very carefully to what the Member has said, and I'm sure, eventually, he will recognise that this is a public health emergency and that this is why these actions are being taken. I haven't heard him refer to that once in his questions so far.

Over this weekend, Ministers were in discussions with a whole range of different interest groups. We were talking with our local authority colleagues; we were talking with the trade unions; we were talking with the enforcement authorities; we were talking with the sector itself. There are no easy decisions here. There are no easy decisions of any sort at this moment. We looked very carefully at the tier 3 restrictions in England where businesses are closed completely; they don't open their doors at all. We looked carefully at the level 3 restrictions in Scotland. We looked at the SAGE review of both of those approaches, and the SAGE approach suggests that there is no public health difference between the two measures—both are successful. Because of that, we opted to follow the Scottish model, in which those businesses who choose to open will be able to go on trading up until 6 o'clock in the evening. And that was our decision, in discussion with the sector, to do what we could to balance the difficult balance between saving people's lives and having to attend to people's livelihoods. And the help we will offer to people whose businesses are affected will go beyond anything that has been on offer up until this point in Wales, and beyond anything that would be on offer to them anywhere else in the United Kingdom.


First Minister, you've just referred to SAGE, but SAGE said in September that a curfew on bars would have a marginal impact on reducing transmissions. You say there is evidence; well, if there is evidence, publish that evidence so that people can see the results of your proposals. And let's be clear: nowhere else in the UK are hospitality businesses facing these sorts of measures on a national basis. Here, in Wales, a pub will be open but won't be allowed to sell any alcohol whether it's in Cardiff or Conwy. Do you except these businesses to survive on pop and pork scratchings?

Now, First Minister, Carlsberg UK have said this, and I quote: 'Leaving pubs open, but only until 6.00 p.m. with no service of a responsibly enjoyed beer or glass of wine shows a complete lack of understanding or respect for this crucial part of our society and the sector.' And Alistair Darby of Brains has said that the new rules for pubs are a 'huge slap in the face' for the sector. Of course, the Welsh Government must now ensure that business support is made available urgently, and that it's accessible to those that need it.

Now, you'll have to forgive businesses across Wales if they're not entirely confident that they'll get the help that they need. The shambolic handling of the economic resilience fund phase 3 must not be allowed to be repeated. However, we've just heard from your economy Minister that businesses will not be able to apply for financial support until January. First Minister, that is simply not good enough. Do you seriously believe that businesses will survive this period, given that they will not be able to access support until January, and, therefore, will you now reconsider this catastrophic decision and ensure that businesses get the help they need now and not in four or five weeks' time?

Well, Llywydd, I listened again to what the leader of the opposition said. I offered him an opportunity to recognise the public health emergency, the lives that are at stake here, and for the third time this afternoon, he failed to do it. Now, it's all very well for him to sit there claiming that, of course, he believed it, but he could have said that, couldn't he? He could have said that. Instead, he acts as though this is a very easy set of decisions in which the balance that we have struck could have very easily been made in another way.

Let me just say this to him: just as we want to reduce coronavirus infections to save lives, so reducing them is the key to saving the economy.

'Think for a moment what would happen to our economy if we allowed infections to reach such a level that our NHS was overwhelmed. Would families seek out crowded bars and buzzing restaurants if they knew they could be infecting friends and relatives who could not be treated if they fell ill? Would we flock to the January sales if the doors to our hospitals were shut?'

Not my words, Llywydd, but Michael Gove's words at the weekend. Yes, Michael Gove's words. You would not recognise them, of course. But what Michael Gove was saying was exactly this: that unless you are prepared—[Interruption.] Unless you are prepared—. Don't point at me. No pointing.

Andrew R.T. Davies, this is the question from your party's leader, you don't need to be pointing fingers at—. I don't want fingers pointed, please, in this Chamber. First Minister to continue, please.

The balance we strike is always between saving people's lives and attending to their livelihoods, and that is the balance that we have struck in the package that we have announced over the weekend and then on Monday.

The Member asks about the help that has been provided to businesses here in Wales: 64,000 business rate grants have been awarded already—already—to businesses in Wales, worth £768 million. In the 175 lockdown business fund, only available between 23 October and 9 November—so, a matter of just weeks ago—already 31,000 grants have been awarded to businesses, worth nearly £100 million. Of course, we will do everything we can, working with our hard-pressed colleagues in local government, to get the help that we have announced into the hands of those who need it, as fast as we possibly can. Most people who work in the sector recognise the scale of the help that is being made available to them, the efforts that are being made to put that help where it is most needed, and the fact that, by acting in the way that we have, we are protecting both the health of people in Wales and the long-term prospects of those businesses.


Diolch, Llywydd. As the most recent technical advisory cell report states, the positive effects of the firebreak have largely been lost. We supported the firebreak on the condition that lockdown wasn't the default strategy. We warned that the restrictions coming out of the firebreak needed to be stricter. That mistake and the continuing failure to sort out the testing system have led to yesterday's regrettable announcement. Yet again, the hospitality sector is bearing the brunt. Many businesses will not survive, and there is an understandable public backlash. Can the First Minister give us the detail of the scientific advice and evidence that underpins the decision to close cafes, restaurants and bars at 6 p.m. and to ban alcohol sales completely, and can we ask that this be published in full today? And can you say, First Minister, as well as looking at the Scottish tier 3 model and the English tier 3 model, did you also model a uniquely Welsh solution to balancing saving lives and livelihoods in a different way to the decision that you came to?

Well, what we have is a unique model to Wales, Llywydd. It does not replicate either the English or the Scottish approach in full. We never intended to have a drag-and-drop approach from elsewhere, so you will see significant differences between the measures that we have here in Wales and those that are employed elsewhere. They are more generous in a number of ways. In the Scottish model, it is not possible for four people from four households to meet together in hospitality. So, the Member will find that there are very important differences, designed specifically to meet the circumstances we face here in Wales in that very difficult balancing exercise.

The science is already available to Members. It was published by SAGE on 11 and 19 November. It's referred to in our TAC reports already. It is the same science, Llywydd, that led the Scottish Government and his colleagues there to take the decisions that they took. It is the same science that was available to English Ministers when they introduced tier 3 measures in England. It is the same science that convinced our chief medical officer and the chief executive of the NHS in Wales to recommend this course of action to the Welsh Government. There is no absence of evidence; the evidence is the same evidence that has led Governments across the United Kingdom and, indeed, across Europe to take the actions we are having to take.

I'm a bit puzzled at the Member's reference to the testing system, because in the testing system here in Wales, since 21 June until 21 November, the whole of the period of our TTP regime, 98 per cent of index cases have been reached and 92 per cent of follow-up cases have been reached. Of those index cases, 87 per cent of those successfully reached in the last week were reached within 24 hours, 80 per cent of those contacts who were successfully reached were contacted within 24 hours, and last week, Llywydd, 91 per cent of tests requiring a rapid turnaround were completed within one day. Now, that says to me that the system we have here in Wales is a successful and succeeding system, and part of that is because of the additional investment that was agreed for that system during the firebreak period.

Public trust is being eroded, because people don't understand the logic of the decision as it's currently being communicated. How can four people from four different households having coffee together be safer than two people from the same household having a pint? Why is alcoholic mulled wine served in the open air in a Christmas market a danger? This lack of logic risks undermining adherence overall, and there's a danger then that more people will be going into each other's homes as a result.

Our alternative proposal would be to allow cafes, restaurants and bars to stay open until 8 p.m. with alcohol served until seven. This could follow stricter guidelines that included limiting the number of alcoholic drinks, with pre-booked table service only. The sale of alcohol could also be banned in off-licences and supermarkets after the 7 p.m. cut-off to discourage people from gathering in homes. Would you not agree, First Minister, that this would be a simpler, clearer, and more consistent compromise that gets the balance right between the COVID and non-COVID harms as the latter become ever more evident the longer the pandemic persists?


Well, Llywydd, I think it is helpful to have different approaches and different ideas rehearsed. I think, though, that all that would happen would be that one set of anomalies would be substituted by a different set of anomalies, because there is no getting away from the fact that, in the complex systems that we have to implement, there are always marginal things that can be pointed at and people can say, 'Why is this allowed when that's not allowed? Why can't I do this when the evidence for this is that it is safe?' Those anomalies are just unavoidable when you are trying to respond to the complexity of the position that we face today. The course of action that the Member has advocated, which, as I say, I think is a useful contribution to the debate and thinking about all of this, would simply lead us into a different set of compromises, a different set of anomalies. There is no getting away from the fact that, when you're trying to devise responses to the rapidly changing and very challenging set of circumstances we face, it isn't possible to have a logic that is watertight on every single occasion and in every single aspect. What we have to ask people to do is to take the package as a whole, and the package as a whole is designed here in Wales to put us back in a position where the numbers of cases of coronavirus can be coped with by our health service, that the health service can go on doing all the other things that we need it to, where lives will be saved. That is the prize that all of us have to keep in front of us. 

While the additional package of financial support announced yesterday is clearly welcome, it does not fully compensate the hospitality sector for the lost revenue over the festive season, and there are other sectors that are continually being locked out of sufficient support—the taxi drivers whose trade in December largely depends on taking people to and from bars and restaurants, and workers in the gig economy, reliant on seasonal work. For so many people, these restrictions as currently conceived are all stick and no carrot, and the support does not adequately compensate them for the loss of earnings. We've had the announcement with Debenhams today and the announcement by Brains; since the beginning of 2020, there has been a 41 per cent increase in unemployment in Wales compared to 18 per cent in England, meaning an estimated additional 20,000 people are looking for work. To protect jobs and in the interests of people's wider well-being, and to sustain public trust in the overall public health policy, can I urge the First Minister to reconsider yesterday's decision?

Well, I doubt very much that reconsidering yesterday's decision would add to public trust, but what I can say to the Member is that of course he is right to point to the devastating impact of coronavirus in so many people's lives. The package of help that we have announced is not focused exclusively on hospitality itself; £180 million of it will be provided to those 8,000 hospitality businesses and the 2,000 businesses that support them in the supply chain, but the remainder of the £340 million package is available to help a wider range of businesses that are affected by the decision, and that includes retail businesses, where they can demonstrate that there has been a direct impact on their trading capacity, but it also includes sole traders as well. There is an important strand in the package that will allow cleaners, for example, who clean hospitality places—they're not employed by the business, they are employed by themselves—to be able to get help from this package, as will taxi drivers, Llywydd. I met with a group of taxi drivers on Sunday, myself. I was asked earlier which groups we had talked with over the weekend. I made a mosque visit myself on Sunday, expressly to meet with a group of people in the taxi trade, and they've had a desperately difficult time during this period, but there is help available to them, partly through the Welsh Government and partly through the UK Government. And this package goes on helping people, not just in hospitality but those whose livelihoods surround it. 

Community Health Facilities

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on community health facilities in mid Wales? OQ55949

I thank Russell George for that question, Llywydd. Local services have made rapid advances in implementing key aspects of the primary care model for Wales. In mid Wales, the Powys health board is progressing the Bro Ddyfi redevelopment in Machynlleth and a new practice in Llanfair Caereinion.


Can I thank the First Minister for his answer? I'm aware of both those proposals. First Minister, I'm aware that Powys Teaching Health Board and Powys County Council have now formally submitted a bid for a new-build health facility in Newtown. The new well-being hub would be, of course, a huge benefit to thousands of people across north Powys. If the Welsh Government approves the proposals, we could see a cutting-edge state-of-the-art facility in Powys, which could offer more services locally and bring the latest technology and training to mid Wales. The new facility would also allow for checks and appointments to be offered locally, rather than people having to travel out of county as they do now. I'm also aware—as you will be—that there's been a real difficulty in recruiting health professionals to mid Wales, particularly GPs, so I do firmly believe as well that the new facility will encourage health professionals to locate to mid Wales. So, would you, First Minister, be able to confirm your support for this health facility to support the people of north Powys?

I thank Russell George for that and thank him, indeed, for his support for the developments at Machynlleth and Llanfair Caereinion, which I know he's on record as doing. I know that from a mid Wales perspective, he will also have welcomed the fact that, in a statement on 16 November, my colleague Vaughan Gething was able to confirm that we've now recruited 200 GP trainees to Wales in the three rounds of recruitment in 2020. That's up from 186 last year, and it's well above the 160 target that we have set. In the same statement, the health Minister announced that we are going to continue to fund the academic fellows scheme for mid and West Wales for a further two years in an effort to respond to the point that Russell George made about the need to attract GPs and other health professionals into that part of Wales.

The Newtown development is part of the three regional rural centres that the local health board have identified. The programme business case for the multidisciplinary campus at Newtown has been submitted to the Welsh Government and is being scrutinised by officials. As Russell George said, Llywydd, it provides for health and social care facilities, but more than that; there's a new primary school as part of the development and there's new housing in the development as well. It's therefore a complicated proposal and funding from different streams will need to be brought together in order to be able to get the funding behind it. But it is a very good example, I think, of the work that that imaginative health board is doing, and I hope that people in Newtown take heart from the fact that they have an imaginative, creative and, I think, effective set of proposals that are now coming to this point in their development.

Question 4 [OQ55953] is withdrawn. Question 5, Rhun ap Iorwerth.

The Port of Holyhead

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on arrangements in the Port of Holyhead after the transition period comes to an end? OQ55984

I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for the question, Llywydd. The UK border operating model is a reserved matter. Where that model has an impact on the functions of Welsh Ministers, and communities in Wales, we are looking to manage and mitigate its effect.

Brexit transition ends a month today, and the sheer shambles of the lack of preparedness has been laid bare, I think, by the apparent decision by UK Government to take over the Roadking truck stop in Holyhead to be used as a freight checkpoint from July next year. I'm told that 28 staff have been told they'll lose their jobs, and we need assurances that they'll be re-employed at the new border post. Whilst this might have helped resolve one piece of the Brexit jigsaw, it's created new problems, because the truck stop is a vital part of the port's infrastructure, stopping trucks from having to park all around town. What we needed was a new border development in the Holyhead area, but at this eleventh hour, we're just seeing blind panic, I think, from a UK Government that's paid scant attention to the needs of Holyhead. Part of Holyhead's border infrastructure is still earmarked for Warrington, as far as we know.

Can I ask what the Welsh Government knew about the Roadking plans? Take us back to why it was decided that HMRC would take the lead on providing all necessary border posts and port infrastructure for Holyhead. Because as I understand, Welsh Government could have had a role to play here. What assurances were you given by UK Government? Couple all this with the nervousness around the as-yet-untested new electronic checks on exported goods being introduced on 1 January, and we can see the risk Holyhead faces now. It's the best Irish sea crossing, and I get very nervous with all the talk about increasing direct freight between Ireland and continental Europe to avoid land bridge problems. So, what steps can Welsh Government take now to help overcome these problems that remain, and to stop Holyhead port and port jobs from being undermined?


Llywydd, can I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for that question? It's three and a half years since the Brexit referendum, and with weeks to go now, the state of preparations at Holyhead does indeed demonstrate just how shambolic the UK Government has been in delivering the outcome for which the Prime Minister campaigned. I sat in a meeting, Llywydd, in this building in July—the July after the June referendum—with the then Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis. The previous First Minister asked him specifically then about the issue of Welsh ports and traffic that comes from the island of Ireland through Wales. They've known about this problem from the very start, and here we are—the Member has identified the site on the island that is apparently to be the UK Government's preference, but I've not seen them formally announce that as the location even today. And of course, Rhun ap Iorwerth is right: the electronic customs systems are even yet to be tested.

Now, we first knew of the difficulties the UK Government was in when they shared this with us at the end of August, and that was because they'd failed to secure the agreement of the local authority to the plans that they then had in place for dealing with the impact of leaving the European Union on the port of Holyhead. Ever since then, we have worked with the port authorities, the local council and the Irish Government. The Irish Consul General to Wales is visiting Holyhead today, as I know the Member will know, and with HMRC and the UK Government to try to resolve some of those just intensely practical matters that they've had three and a half years to grapple with, and still, at this very last minute, are in a scramble to resolve. It's just a sign of what is to come, and those who argued for it are responsible.

The NHS in North Wales

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on NHS improvements in north Wales? OQ55964

Llywydd, the improvement in NHS services in north Wales has been evident in the coherent and comprehensive response of the health board to the coronavirus crisis. This and other evidence of improvement underpinned the recent recommendation that the organisation should be de-escalated to targeted intervention.

First Minister, since the announcement of the de-escalation of special measures to targeted intervention, I've been contacted by many constituents who are frankly absolutely bewildered by the decision to reduce the level of intervention at that health board. You will be aware, because you put this health board into special measures, that at the time that it was put into special measures, there were serious concerns about mental health services and, indeed, its relationship with the public. It was told that it needed to reconnect with the public, regain public confidence, and sort out its mental health services, and yet here we are, over five years on, still in a situation where public confidence is very, very low, and where mental health services are still wanting. There isn't even an effective strategy to implement on mental health in order to drive those services up. Why is it that given the absence of evidence of improvement in metal health care, and indeed the absence of evidence of an improvement in the relationship with the public, in particular, that this organisation has been taken out of special measures altogether?

Well, the organisation's been taken out of special measures, Llywydd, because the tripartite system that advises the chief executive of the NHS led him to recommend to the health Minister that this was the right moment at which de-escalation should take place. That is a routine matter in the health service—health boards move up and down escalation measures. In August 2019, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board was de-escalated to routine monitoring, and in September of this year, Swansea Bay and Hywel Dda were reduced from targeted intervention to enhanced monitoring. The Member may believe that his efforts in persuading people to take a dim view of the health service in north Wales have succeeded, but it hasn't succeeded amongst everybody. Unison, I was very glad to say, issued a press release on the day that the decision was made. This decision, it said,

'is a vindication of the hard work of every single healthcare employee at Betsi, those people who have worked tirelessly to see BCUHB taken out of special measures.

And more generally, Llywydd, the population in north Wales will know that cancer services in north Wales, both the 62-day performance and the 31-day performance, are the best in the whole of Wales, that the record number of GPs recruited that I referred to in my last question come as a result of the work done in Betsi to devise the new training module that has now been scaled to the whole of Wales, all the GP trainee places filled in Wrexham, in Bangor and in Dyffryn Clwyd. Professionals have confidence in the work of that organisation, even if the Member does not. 

Road Safety

7. What measures is the Welsh Government taking to improve road safety in Monmouthshire? OQ55985

The road safety framework for Wales sets out the actions we and our partners are taking to improve road safety in Wales. Monmouthshire will also benefit from the actions taken to roll out the 20 mph speed limits on restricted roads and tackling pavement parking.

Thank you. First Minister, can you provide an update on plans to improve road safety on the A4042 in Llanellen? There's a spot where there's a humpback bridge over the Usk, and I know there are footways leading up to the bridge on both sides. Any walkers are forced into conflict with vehicles by having no option but to walk on the carriageway. This is the only section of the A4042 between Llanellen and Abergavenny that has no footway, which seems bizarre, and I can't imagine there are any comparable places on a trunk road in the rest of Wales. Local residents are complaining about the lack of progress and are understandably frustrated by the delay. Some time ago, 18-plus months ago, the Minister for Economy and Transport confirmed that options were being pursued for the pedestrian bridge at Llanellen, and measures would be taken to improve the safety of walkers. I'm just wondering if you could give us an idea roughly of how or advise when the promised works to improve road safety will commence on this road? Thank you. 

Llywydd, a safety and speed limit review was carried out across Wales in 2019; 413 sections of trunk road were assessed and 114 locations recommended for work over the five-year programme. On the A4042, drainage work was carried out by the Welsh Government in May of this year, again, a direct road safety issue to improve the difficulties which that stretch of the road had previously experienced. I'm not familiar enough, I'm afraid, with the specific part of that road to which the Member refers, but I'm sure, if she wishes to write to me or to the transport Minister, we will be able to provide her with an update on it.  

Poverty in the Rhondda

8. How is the Welsh Government tackling poverty in the Rhondda? OQ55974

I thank Leanne Wood for that question, Llywydd. We tackle poverty in the Rhondda through a series of programmes that place or leave money in the pockets of those who most need it. Since April of this year, for example, the discretionary assistance fund has made over 11,000 awards in Rhondda Cynon Taff, providing £1 million to those who would otherwise have gone without.

First Minister, poverty was an acute problem in the Rhondda before the COVID pandemic hit, and things have got considerably worse for many people since. I know that because I run a food share scheme where demand is increasing and it's relying on some fantastic volunteers to do some pretty essential anti-poverty work. And we also know that the situation is soon to get worse with the changes that will be made to universal credit. Now, Plaid Cymru believes that a universal income could be a way out of this. The current piecemeal system of grants and financial support has meant that many, many people have fallen through the gaps. Now, Westminster will not look at this, so would you be prepared to consider a basic income pilot? And if you would be prepared to consider that, would you consider a location for that to be in the Rhondda, in an area where need is clearly quite great? 

Llywydd, I thank the Member for that question. I've always, myself, been interested in universal basic income. Again, I've discussed that with a number of Members around the Chamber here, and indeed I discussed it in some detail with the Scottish National Party leader of Glasgow City Council, where an attempt at a pilot was being mounted. She described to me some of the real practical difficulties that there are, given the interface between a basic income provided by a devolved Government and the benefit system, and I think that a pilot approach is the right one to try to be able to explore in a practical way what those barriers might be. Whether it is best to do it on a geographical basis or whether it is better to do it on a sectoral basis, choosing a group of people—that was the approach, at the time, that Glasgow was exploring—a particular group of people and then mounting a pilot scheme with them, I think, is something that we should debate and discuss further. And I also think, Llywydd, that the whole basic income debate needs to join with those people who argue that a universal basic service guarantee would actually do more for people who rely on public services than simply a basic income. But this is a rich area for policy debate and exploration, and I think it would be very good if we were able to have that on a cross-party basis here in Wales.

Hospital-acquired Coronavirus Deaths

9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the number of people who have died after acquiring coronavirus in Welsh hospitals? OQ55957

Llywydd, neither the ONS nor Public Health Wales publish mortality figures on this basis. A comprehensive explanation of mortality data sources for Wales was set out by the chief statistician earlier in the pandemic.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister, and our thoughts are with all the families, obviously, who have lost loved ones, wherever they are in Wales, to coronavirus. But in my own electoral region, Cwm Taf health board has suffered a tremendous amount of death, regrettably, in the hospital setting, and it seems to have gone through all the three district general hospitals that sit within that local health board. It is important that lessons are learnt and it is important that what's learnt from those lessons is put into practice. I cover the Cardiff and Vale health board area, being a regional Member, and in that health board area, thankfully, we haven't seen such a number of deaths in hospital. So, there clearly is good practice going on in other health boards. What assurance can you give me that the lessons learnt exercise that undoubtedly is being undertaken by Cwm Taf will implement more stringent control measures so that we do not see a repetition of the tragic scenes that we've seen at the Royal Glamorgan, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles Merthyr hospitals?

Llywydd, I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for that. I agree with much of what he said. The deaths that we have seen from coronavirus in the community and in hospital are always an individual tragedy for families involved and our thoughts really do need to be with them. For the week ending 22 November, Public Health Wales data shows that 94 per cent of all confirmed cases were acquired in the community, and 3 per cent of cases were acquired in hospital, but that does mean that hospitals have a particular obligation to make sure that they do everything they can to prevent the spread of virus once it has gained any sort of footing within a closed setting such as a hospital.

We learnt lessons earlier in the summer, Llywydd, from an outbreak in the Wrexham Maelor Hospital, and they have been advising colleagues in Cwm Taf as well, and the lessons that are being learnt there are being spread to other parts of the health service here in Wales. It's just an unfortunate and inescapable fact that as community prevalence rises, the chance of the virus getting into a closed setting, whether that's a care home or a hospital or a prison, rises at the same time. In those communities where coronavirus has been in particularly violent circulation—that's certainly been true of RCT—then those risks are even greater. But learning the lessons from the experience and making sure that they are available to others who may face the same challenges is a very important part of the response, and very much, I know, part of the way that Public Health Wales and the specialists in this field are working together.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Diolch, Llywydd. I have three changes to this week's business. Firstly, the statement on economic reconstruction has been withdrawn. Secondly, the debate on the legislative consent motion on the United Kingdom internal market Bill has been postponed until next Tuesday, 8 December. And, finally, the First Minister will make a statement on coronavirus December restrictions as the last item of business today. 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.


Trefnydd, can I say how disappointed I am that we don't have a debate taking place this week prior to the very restrictive regulations that are going to come into play across the whole of Wales on Friday? You've had the opportunity. You could have tabled a 'take note' debate this afternoon for this Chamber to discuss the Welsh Government's proposals and to give an indication of its view on them. You and I both know that these restrictions are going to have a significant impact on the hospitality and indoor entertainment industries. Many of those businesses that will be affected are already on their knees, with tens of thousands of jobs hanging by a thread, and your restrictions are going to cause even more pain for those businesses. 

Many people regard these proposals as being completely disproportionate to the level of risk in those establishments, which, of course, are already regulated and COVID-safe environments on the whole. And, of course, your restrictions pay absolutely no regard to the fact that the virus is circulating at very different rates in different parts of the country. In north Wales, it's much less, for example, than in some parts of the south. Can you explain to the Senedd today why on earth the Welsh Government hasn't provided an opportunity to have a vote on these regulations prior to this Friday?

Well, Llywydd, the Senedd will have the opportunity to vote on the regulations fully within the timescale set out by the Standing Orders of this Senedd. And also it gives the legislation—the LGC, the legislation and—the constitutional affairs committee the opportunity to undertake its work. So, all of this will be done fully within the timescale set out in the Senedd Standing Orders, and, of course, we have a statement from the First Minister this afternoon, at the earliest opportunity for the First Minister to come forward with a statement for Members of the Senedd to scrutinise him on the regulations. 

I have, in the last month or so, repeatedly raised concerns about the need to make schools safer places for teachers and pupils. Most parents in Wales will now have had direct experience of their child being off due to a positive case in class, or they will know someone else whose child has been off as a result of the pandemic. The prevalence of COVID in schools has had fatal consequences for staff in England, and I understand that the Government here is reviewing arrangements to manage infection and transmission in education settings. And I would urge the Government to consider more means, like mass and regular testing, like additional childcare and financial support, and protecting those people who need shielding. 

I'd also like a statement on emergency department capacity across the south of this country. My local hospital, the Royal Glamorgan, has seen some grave pressures recently. And I understand that problems in other accident and emergency departments are adding to that pressure. So, I'd be grateful if the Government could look into this matter and report back to Members as a matter of urgency. Diolch yn fawr. 

Thank you to Leanne Wood for raising both of those issues. On the first, I will make a point of speaking to the education Minister, because your request for a statement did cover quite a wide range of aspects, including testing in schools, support for people who are shielding, and also financial support for those parents who have to also take time off when their children are required to be out of school. So, I will make a point of having that conversation with the Minister to explore how best to update, and keep updated, Members of the Senedd on those issues. And, again, we have questions to the health Minister tomorrow, so there may be opportunities to discuss in some further detail the question about pressures on hospital sites across Wales. So, that might be the earliest opportunity to have those discussions. 

Can I ask the Trefnydd to consider a report to this Chamber on the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales's investigation into boundaries in local authorities in Wales? I've got a particular issue facing those people in Forge Mill in Ystrad Mynach, whereby they've been moved from one community council area, which they associate strongly with—Gelligaer Community Council—to another community council area, which they don't associate with, which is Llanbradach community council. I've never had so many people complain to me about local government boundaries before—528 electors are affected, and it will effectively move them from Ystrad Mynach to Llanbradach, and Ystrad Mynach is the community that they are most closely associated with. And indeed, living nearby, I can understand those feelings. There is also an issue whereby Bargoed and Aberbargoed are being linked together. Well, Aberbargoed is in the Islwyn constituency, and Bargoed is in the Caerphilly constituency, and the only thing those two towns have got in common is they've both got 'bargoed' in their name, and that's it.

I've raised those concerns directly with the Minister last week, and she has to act in a quasi-judicial capacity, therefore she's unable to make a statement on it prior to her determination. But what I would like is a report to this Chamber about that determination. And also can I have a timescale for how long it will take for that determination to be made? It will be six weeks after the deposit of the paper, which is 5 November, but, during these difficult times, it's difficult to say when exactly that will be—so, some form of timescale about how that decision will be made. People, particularly in Forge Mill, have made very strong representations about this.


Thank you to Hefin David for raising this important issue on behalf of his constituents. And I know that he's had the opportunity to make some very strong and direct representations to the Minister for Housing and Local Government personally as well, so that they could hear directly from him about the concerns of his constituents. As Hefin says, there'll be a six-week period, and the Minister will be considering all of the representations received, including those from Hefin David. But I'll be sure to provide the Member with some more detail on the timescale—I'm not sure of that myself today, but I will certainly find that out for him, and obviously also convey that request for the more detailed report to the Senedd.FootnoteLink

Minister, I wonder if you could help me on three matters, please. The first is whether Welsh Government would be prepared to make a clear statement of advice or guidance to employers of employees who are single parents whose children are sent home to self-isolate from school. It's currently an offence for children to be left alone if they're at risk—there's no particular age limit set on that, but I think there may be some confusion for employers about when they should agree to the requests made by employees who worry about leaving children over the age of 12 alone at home.

Secondly, I wonder if we could have a statement from Welsh Government about the conversations they've been having most recently with supermarkets. I understand that Asda, because of the reappearance of priority delivery passes, are only prioritising addresses in England. I'm sure we don't want to be revisiting this again as we're heading towards Christmas. Welsh addresses should be treated with the same respect as English addresses.

And then finally, if we could have a statement from the economy Minister about the progress on the Brocastle site, which was, you may remember, abandoned by Ineos, thereby dampening the economic hopes of many, many of my constituents, as well as taking up £1.4 million of public money. I'd like some reassurance that all that money has been reclaimed now, and that there is still some hope on the horizon for those Ford workers, in particular, who were looking forward to opportunities for them at the Ineos plant. Thank you very much.

Thank you to Suzy Davies for raising all of those issues. Certainly, we would hope that employers would do the right thing by their employees who are parents of children who are sent home from school, but I'll certainly discuss with the Minister for economy and transport how best we can provide advice to those employers. And again, on the matter of supermarkets, I'm very disappointed to learn, if that's the case, that Asda are prioritising addresses in England. I know that the Minister with responsibility for this area will be keen to have conversations with the supermarkets in that regard, and again I'll ensure that you're updated on that. And I will further seek an update on the latest regarding the Brocastle site as well.

The Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs has regularly emphasised over many months now that it is her intention to publish a White Paper on sustainable farming before the end of this year. Now, I'm looking at the business statement published, and there is no oral statement related to that White Paper scheduled at the moment. That brings me to the conclusion either that she won't make that announcement before the end of the year, or, of course, that it's the Government's intention to publish or announce that White Paper not to the Senedd first of all, via an oral statement, but via a written statement.

Now, you will understand as well as I do how significant this White Paper will be, because it does make recommendations on a once in a generation change to the way agriculture is supported in Wales. It's also contentious, and I would very much hope that it's not the Government's intention to release this White Paper, let's say, as I've heard suggested, on the last day of term, on 16 December, which would allow Ministers, then, to run away and hide under a stone until the new year, in the hope that the fuss will have died down a little by the time Members have an opportunity to discuss the White Paper in the Chamber. So, can I ask for an oral statement to correspond with the release of that White Paper?

And may I also ask for a statement from Government in response to the spending review by the Chancellor of the UK Government? You, as well as anybody, will be aware of the implications of that for budgets here in Wales. I'm thinking specifically here, of course, of the cut, which is what it is, in the financial support for agriculture in Wales—many of us are deeply concerned about this. You, as a Government, are clearly aware that it is a cut, the Scottish Government describe it in the same way, the Executive in Northern Ireland and the agricultural unions—the message is clear. Many of us have warned on underspend within the rural development plan, and I know that we have additional years to spend that money, but it is now clear that we are being penalised as a result of that. 

So, I would like to hear, either from the agriculture Minister what implications this cut will have for the sector in Wales, or from you, more broadly, not only on this issue, but also on the implications in terms of the change in the way of expenditure on transport in England for Wales, and other issues around the spending review, because they will be very far-reaching indeed. 


Thank you to Llyr for raising both of those really important issues. I will convey that request to the Minister with regard to an oral statement pertaining to the White Paper. I'm afraid I don't have a date on the papers in front of me, so I'll ensure that I do have that conversation to establish the intentions there and to convey your particular request.

On the spending review, I was able to provide the Senedd with a written statement immediately following the spending review last week, which was disappointing for us in Wales on a number of levels, but particularly so regarding the issues facing farm funding and what has been a complete, I think, betrayal of rural Wales, with £137 million less next year to invest in that particular area. I am currently, in my role as finance Minister, working with colleagues across Government now to fashion our draft budget in response to that, which I will be laying before Christmas. But, obviously, I'd be keen to look for further opportunities to update colleagues on the spending review and the implications for us, and I'm aware that I've had an invitation to Finance Committee, so that might be another opportunity to have those discussions. 

First, I wondered if we can have a statement to clarify the international policy of the Welsh Government, as to whether it covers the deforestation of countries across the world, particularly the poorest countries, so to ensure that we are developing a sustainable agriculture in Wales that doesn't rely on importing food stuffs to feed our livestock that is grown in areas of the world where people are cutting down trees in order to grow soya and corn. 

Secondly, I wondered if we could have a debate in Government time on the excellent report by Lord Burns and other experts, which was published last week, to make transport connections within south-east Wales fit for the twenty-first century, as well as the climate emergency that affects us all. I particularly am encouraged by the central role given to the four rail lines between Cardiff and Newport and beyond, which I've long advocated could be better used to tackle the unnecessary congestion on the M4. I hope that the debate can start now as to how we can achieve the ambition in this report, despite all the challenges that are faced in the transport sector from COVID.


Well, on Jenny Rathbone's second request, I'm really pleased to be able to respond positively and confirm that there will be a statement next week in the Senedd, on 8 December, by the Minister on the Burns recommendations and the next steps pertaining to that. So, I think that that will be a very welcome statement on a very important issue of concern to all of us.

And then, on the matter of to what extent Welsh Government considers the international implications of its procurement from overseas and so forth, I'll ask the Minister previously with responsibility for international relations to write on the subject of the international strategy and to what extent we're factoring those important aspects into the requirement that we have under the future generations Act to be a globally responsible Wales, and ensuring that our commitment to sustainability isn't just something that we practise at home, but actually something that we ensure that we do when we're looking to make our investments overseas as well.

Organiser, can I seek two statements, please? One in relation to the cancer plan that comes to an end at the end of this month, 31 December. To date, the Welsh Government haven't tabled a successor document despite this date of termination well known to Government. I appreciate that the function of Government has been focused on COVID, but this isn't something that's just appeared on the dashboard. And one thing we've learned through COVID, regrettably, is that, obviously, the demise of cancer services in the early part of COVID has led to many people now, regrettably, as Macmillan have identified, walking around Wales with unidentified cancer—they estimate nearly 3,000 people—and regrettably nearly 2,000 people, in their estimations, will die prematurely from a cancer because, obviously, they weren't able to access the services that they would, in normal circumstances, have been able to access if COVID hadn't hit the health service. I think it is of vital importance that this document is brought forward as a matter of urgency from the Welsh Government so that there is a successor plan in place when we go into the new year, because this is a critical pinch point within the NHS in Wales, and I'd hope that the Welsh Government has been working to develop that plan. So, could we have a statement from the Minister for health as to how he's going to bring forward the new plan and, importantly, how that plan has been tested with professionals in the cancer field to make sure that it is robust enough?

The second statement I'd seek, off the health Minister again, is around ambulance services. I wouldn't ask you to respond directly to the case I'll highlight to you, but this week, in Cardiff, I was alerted to a case where an ambulance was called at midday on Saturday for an industrial injury, where a gentleman had fallen from a lorry and cracked his head on concrete. He was left for eight hours waiting for an ambulance to arrive to the southern part of Cardiff, in a city where its A&E department, as the crow flies, would've been about a mile and a half or two miles from that incident. The ambulance finally turned up at close to 8 o'clock in the evening. I have the pictures on my phone; they are too graphic to show in any meaningful way without being the cause of upset. I wouldn't expect you to respond to that specific incident, but the evidence that we've taken in the health committee has indicated that there is growing pressure on the ambulance service, for perfectly understandable reasons in some instances—the use of PPE and disinfecting and cleansing of ambulances after each use—and this is a growing pressure point as we go further into the winter. I cannot recall a statement recently from the health Minister around ambulance services, and it is important that we understand how the Minister is engaging with the trust to make sure that, where possible, such delays as I've outlined this afternoon are not experienced by people who require an ambulance to attend as a matter of urgency.

Thank you to Andrew R.T. Davies for raising both of those important issues, and I'm as concerned as he is to learn of the particular case that he's described this afternoon. I will ask the health Minister to write to you with some more information on the latest engagement with the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust in terms of response times and so forth, so that you have the very latest picture on that. 

I'll also seek further information on the intentions regarding the successor to the cancer delivery plan, because, as Andrew R.T. Davies has set out, there are very many harms related to COVID, one of which is about people who aren't coming forward to receive treatment or diagnosis for other conditions as well, and that's obviously of real concern to us.FootnoteLink


Minister, I'd like a statement, please, that will provide some reassurance to my business owners and which justifies how you've taken those decisions to restrict the sale of alcohol and actually close pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants and hospitality businesses from 6 o'clock on Friday. I want some explanation why, and what evidence you've used to decide that, but also how you're going to fund this terrific loss of business that many of our businesses are going to incur. The economic resilience fund lifeline you are offering is simply not good enough and, according to Business Wales, some payments will not even start to reach businesses until January. So, your Government's actions will see hospitality businesses lose even more money. Businesses have now to make an online application to their respective local authority for the discretionary elements. Like last time, is there a likelihood that this money will run out? Applications are still going to be dealt with on a first-come, first-served basis. We saw what happened last time—it crashed after just a day. I've still got people who've not had any funding yet from phase 3, so what confidence can I have that, as a Government, you're going to take some responsibility for these lockdowns that you've forced on our businesses?

Will you please provide a statement on that and how you will ensure that all applications are appraised, whether an appeals process is likely to be made available and, finally, whether commercial galleries that sell art—I have a very good gallery in my constituency that sells art—will have to close? If they do, how is it, therefore, fair that shops can sell art to the public? There are so many questions that we have, Minister, and I think, as finance Minister, you should really be putting some more information out there that we can explain to our businesses, and I'd like it on record that I'm absolutely appalled by the decision made by you, your Government and the First Minister.

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

Well, of course, the First Minister answered several of those questions during First Minister's questions this afternoon, in relation to those questions posed by the leader of the Conservative Party here in Wales. Also this afternoon, the First Minister will be taking questions for at least 45 minutes from Members across the Chamber, so that will be the perfect opportunity, I think, to raise these particular concerns. I would also draw colleagues' attention to the statement that the Minister for economy and transport has published this afternoon, which sets out more details about the considerable funding package that the Welsh Government has put in place to support businesses, which is by far the most generous package of support available anywhere in the UK.

3. Statement by the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales: Economic Reconstruction

Item 3, which was a statement by the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales on economic reconstruction, has been withdrawn.

4. Statement by the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip: Marking the International Day of People with Disabilities

Therefore, we move to item 4, which is a statement by the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip marking the international day of disabled people. I call on the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, Jane Hutt.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Prynhawn da. This Thursday is the United Nations international day of disabled people. Since 1992, the United Nations has designated 3 December as a day for promoting the rights and well-being of disabled people and celebrating their achievements across the world. The theme for 2020 is building back better towards a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world. The pandemic has shone a light on and amplified the problems within our society. Many of these are not new or specific to COVID, but they've become more obvious to us all. During the pandemic, isolation, disconnect, disrupted routines and diminished services have greatly impacted the lives and mental well-being of many disabled people.

The latest available data from the Office for National Statistics shows that in the period from March to July in Wales, 68 per cent, or almost seven in every 10, of COVID-related deaths came from our disabled communities. It has also been reported that people with a learning disability were disproportionately more likely to die from COVID, and I'm sure we are all greatly saddened by this. It is also emerging that this death rate was not the simple, inevitable consequence of impairment, as many of these deaths were clearly rooted in socioeconomic factors. Building on the admittedly slow progress made over the last 25 years since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in November 1995, we must take positive action so that we can do better as we recover from the effects of COVID.

Since 2002, the Welsh Government has adopted the social model of disability, a model that recognises that people with impairments are in fact disabled by the actions of our society and not by their impairments. When we say 'actions of our society', we must remember that disabling actions are designed and carried out by people, and it is people and systems that disable people, whether that is driven by organisational culture, ignorance, prejudice or simple indifference. While much of our work has correctly been focused on trying to mitigate the actions of our disablist culture, I intend to explore how we can directly address disablism, in itself.

It's important that we all understand this model, as it changes the way we think. It means we focus on identifying and removing barriers to disabled people's contributions. We must build this approach into all our work developing and delivering policies across the whole of the Senedd’s work. That's why I'm pleased to support the Minister for Housing and Local Government's current consultation on the establishment of a new fund to provide support to disabled people to seek elected office for the 2021 Senedd elections and the 2022 local government elections. This is a proactive step to reduce some of the barriers that may otherwise prevent an individual from participating in local democracy and representing their community by standing for elected office. I very much hope that this fund will encourage disabled people to stand as candidates in next year’s elections. Their voices need to be heard in every part of society.

Disabled people also play a key part in our economic recovery, and this is why, in Wales, we will soon have disabled people employment champions. These champions will support employers across Wales to create a workforce that is representative and open to all. I'm pleased to announce employers will be supported by a new toolkit, 'A more equal Wales: a practical guide for employers employing disabled people', which will be launched this Thursday to coincide with the international day of disabled people.

I regularly speak to stakeholders and representatives of disabled people’s organisations through our disability equality forum. I've chaired six meetings of the forum since the start of the pandemic, and the last meeting was held on 21 October. Their advice and guidance has helped us to understand how the pandemic is impacting on different communities, what is concerning people, and what we can do to make things better, easier, and equitable. I also want to thank the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee and the cross-party group on disabled people for the part they played in exposing the inequitable impacts of COVID-19. Disability forum members contribute to the Welsh Government’s accessible communication group, who have informed us of the difficulties faced by various groups, including disabled people, when accessing information during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disability equality forum members provided essential feedback on the ‘Creating safer public places: coronavirus’ guidance, ensuring the inclusion of accessibility considerations when developing and adapting urban centres and green spaces. So, I'd like to thank everyone who's contributed to our understanding over the past months. In these challenging times, being able to work so closely with our partners has been a huge asset.

One of the harsh side effects of the pandemic has been the impact on the economy and, in particular third-sector organisations' ability to fundraise and maintain their income. This in turn has reduced their ability to support their members and is making their future less certain. That's why I'm pleased £200,000 from the Welsh Government’s reserves for reconstruction package has been allocated to fund disability projects across Wales. It will augment the £100,000 allocated to Wales from a UK-wide COVID emergency scheme. This funding will be distributed as small grants to nine disabled people’s organisations across Wales, supporting vital work, providing information and advice and developing new ways to respond to the COVID-19 needs of disabled people. 

I am delighted that Professor Debbie Foster from Cardiff University has agreed to lead a project to produce a report on the impact of COVID on disabled people. Members of the disability equality forum will work alongside Professor Foster to bring together information, evidence and case studies. 

Finally, it is my intention that this important report will inform a refresh of the 'Action on Disability' framework that I launched in 2019. By revisiting the framework in the light of COVID, I'm determined we will be able to act quickly to embed the learning from this pandemic. With such a range of important work taking place in Wales, I'm pleased to invite all the Members of the Senedd to celebrate with me the contribution of disabled people in Wales on the United Nations international day of disabled people.


Thank you, Deputy Minister. I welcome this statement today on the international day of disabled people, which aims to identify and address the discrimination, marginalisation, exclusion and inaccessibility that many people living with disabilities face. It was back in 1992 that the United Nations called for an international day for celebration of people living with disabilities to be held at this time, on this date in December every year. It provides us with an opportunity to outline and reiterate our commitment to create inclusive, accessible and sustainable communities here in our country, Wales. This objective has been made more urgent by the effects of the coronavirus, as the Deputy Minister just outlined.

Many disability charities here in Wales have united to call on the Welsh Government to act decisively to safeguard the well-being and survival of disabled people and others categorised as being at high risk of contracting the virus. For disabled people, much of the advice on how to avoid infection, such as self-isolation and social distancing, is impossible to follow. Many disabled people require daily assistance and need the support of personal assistants and care workers. Concerns have been expressed about the quality of care that can be delivered when care workers go into isolation or become sick. Disabled charities have called upon the Welsh Government to put co-ordinated plans in place on how to respond to a shortage of care workers. It is clear that disabled people are likely to face harm, not just through the coronavirus itself but through the general strain on the health and social care system. The Welsh Government must ensure social care delivery and the provision of accessible information and support is adequately resourced in Wales. We have a duty to ensure that disabled people are not treated as unavoidable casualties in this pandemic, and therefore we welcome the money that you've just outlined in the light of COVID-19.

I would ask the Deputy Minister, in her reply, to confirm that disabled people will be treated as a priority in the forthcoming vaccination programme here in Wales. Hate crime is an increasing problem in the UK, and, sadly, Wales is no exception. There was an 84 per cent increase in the number of on-line disability hate crimes reported to police in Wales last year. Although hate crime legislation is not a responsibility devolved to this Parliament, Welsh Government has a duty to ensure that adequate funding for advocacy and support for victims is provided. We must continue to encourage the police service to work in partnership with disabled people and their organisations to ensure accurate recognition, recording and reporting of disability hate crime.

The Deputy Minister will know of my support for the Purple Vote campaign, which is geared around raising the subject of disability awareness to those in elected roles at all levels. Society still presents significant challenges for disabled people, and it's critical that all voices from all sectors of Welsh society are heard and are equally valid. I understand the Welsh Government has launched a consultation on the establishment of a new fund to provide support for disabled people to seek elected office for the 2021 Senedd elections and the 2022 local government elections. I welcome this and look forward to seeing more candidates who have disabilities standing for election at both local and national level in the future. It would add such great value to the work that's done here.

Finally, Deputy Minister, may I ask about the opportunities for disabled people to participate in sport in Wales? Sports governing bodies need to adopt a more coherent, planned and co-ordinated approach to disabled sport in Wales. Do you agree that sports governing bodies should set targets for raising participation rates among disabled people, and how is this Welsh Government going to monitor that progress on achieving greater participation by disabled people in sport? And do you agree with me that more all-weather facilities in Wales are needed to ensure participation is possible all year round? Participation in sport can play an important role in making disabled people feel more involved and integrated in society. This is one of the objectives on the International Day of People With Disabilities, and I thank the Deputy Minister for her statement today.

Well, diolch yn fawr. Thank you very much, Laura Anne Jones. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. And I am very grateful for her support to join that celebration and recognition of the positive endorsement of the United Nations International Day of People With Disabilities, and thank you for not only welcoming the statement, but also bringing out other issues, particularly issues that I didn't address, for example, in terms of disability sport.

It is important that we start, of course, in terms of responding to the very many points that you've made, by looking at the impact that disabled people have been experiencing as a result of COVID-19, and the importance of us learning, listening and working with disabled people to address these issues. I'm very conscious of the fact that, earlier on in the pandemic, we recognised that there were many difficulties, for example, faced by blind and visually impaired people: social distancing, and you mentioned that point about changes to physical environment, and difficulties in terms of maintaining the 2m social distance. They were raised—those points—at an early disability equality forum, and it was very helpful that there was a briefing drafted by RNIB Cymru and Guide Dogs Cymru, back in May, highlighting concerns around proposed sustainable transport measures. And, of course, those points had to be reflected in equality impact assessments; Guide Dogs Cymru sending a briefing to both myself and to the Deputy Minister for economy and transport, then communicating that to local authorities in terms of changes to physical environments, and then, in June, as I said, publishing guidance entitled, 'Creating safer public places: coronavirus'. These are all key issues to explain how we have worked with disabled people and their organisations to try and get this right, as much as possible, in terms of impacts.

And, of course, it has been important too, the fact that we have made funding available to the third sector, and particularly to say £1.1 million of support to 24 organisations supporting disabled people—the voluntary services emergency fund. Fourteen organisations, including Sparkle (South Wales), Mirus-Wales, RNIB, Disability Can Do, Vale People First, Cerebral Palsy Cymru—all these organisations being able to be supported as a result of that fund that we made available.

It is important that you raise the issue of hate crime, and the fact that the hate crime statistics that we more recently received did still identify that 11 per cent were disability hate crimes. This is very concerning. We have got to raise awareness. We've provided funding of £22,000 to All Wales People First for a hate crime consultation with all their networks of adults with learning disabilities. It's crucial that that, of course, had to be done through remote sessions, engaging with All Wales People First, to explore options. But also I have written to the Home Secretary to urge the UK Government to recognise hate crime and, of course, that is something where we await now for the position from the publication of the Law Commission review.

You raise a number of key points, many of which I have addressed in my paper today, but I think it is very important—as you have yourself acknowledged—that the access to the elected office fund is going to make a difference. Disability Wales actually was awarded the contract to deliver that fund—pilot project—to provide support for disabled candidates, in both our Senedd and local government elections, and we hope that fund will help them to compete on a level playing field with non-disabled candidates. So, I do welcome all your comments, on particularly recognising the scope and the recognition that it is through working with and learning from disabled people who want action—not just listening, they want action—that we can then bring this together and account for ourselves in the statement today.


Thank you very much for the statement.

The Plaid Cymru group welcomes this statement, Deputy Minister. We support the aims of identifying and removing barriers to disabled people's contributions to public life, and we will be happy to promote this new fund to enable and support people to elected office. Now, on that fund, I'd like to know what is being done, in an ongoing way, to ensure that the fund is administered and used in the most effective way. I welcome the fact that Disability Wales is going to do the administration, but it does need to be monitored on an ongoing basis.

Now, the COVID pandemic has disrupted everyday life for everyone, however, it is critical that it doesn't go unnoticed how disabled people have been disproportionately affected. Isolation, loneliness, disconnect, disrupted routines and diminished services have greatly impacted on the lives and mental well-being of people with disabilities. So, what discussions has the Minister had with disability and neurodiversity organisations to ensure that the Welsh Government COVID restrictions are proportional and do not either directly or indirectly discriminate against people or disadvantage people with disabilities?

Disabled workers have dealt with the disability employment gap and disability pay gap since way before the COVID-19 crisis. A culture of ableism means that disabled workers struggle to be employed, to develop within employment and to be paid fairly. Therefore, I welcome the disabled people employment champions programme and the new guidance for employers, but will the Minister explain to us what she can do to ensure that employers are engaged with the new programme and the guidance to ensure the best possible outcomes for people? Diolch yn fawr.


Diolch yn fawr, Leanne Wood, and thank you for acknowledging the statement, and also, I think, implicit in that was the acknowledgement of the importance of the social model of disability. It's about the actions we have to take to remove the barriers, where we are disabling through policy and practice because we have not taken into account the impact of these barriers.

I'll go first to your—just more clarification on the access to elected office fund. And I'm glad, as I'm sure all of us here in the Senedd—all parties would accept that this is important. Disability Wales were awarded the contract. It is going to be about providing crucial support to enable disabled candidates to access Senedd and local government elections, because they are likely to face greater costs due to their impairments, so the fund will help them in terms of access to meeting those costs. Up until recently, there's been a limiting factor in terms of establishing a fund, because it's been difficult to exempt the additional costs associated with an individual's impairments from the candidates' expenses limit, but we're now addressing that. Legislation is expected to be in place by the end of this year, to facilitate this approach for both Senedd and local government elections.

But it is important that this is taken forward, and there will be an advice service to encourage and support disabled people to seek election, financial support to assist prospective candidates—so, this is all important public information for political parties today—to meet the additional support cost, administration of the fund and management of allocations made available to support disabled candidates, and there will be an evaluation report prepared by December 2022 to inform the development of a longer term scheme, which I'm sure, Leanne, was what you were seeking in terms of the outcomes of that, to increase disabled representation at all levels of representation in Wales. So, the consultation opened on 11 November and will close on 21 January, and I urge everyone to respond to that.

I'm also grateful that you've raised issues about the impact of COVID itself, the lockdown and social restrictions, and restrictions on disabled people's lives. We have engaged with disability and neurodiversity organisations through not just our disability equality forums, but through many other arenas where we have been able to come together and listen and learn from their experience.

Of course, there have been some pluses expressed to working from home, to virtual working. It hasn't meant so many issues around access to transport. But this has also led to loneliness and isolation, and, of course, there are also disabled people who can't work from home in terms of the impact of their employers and expectations. We have to work very closely with the Wales Trades Union Congress to look at their rights as well, because disabled people play a key part in our economic recovery.

In terms of the employment champions, this is a strong message to employers on the importance of inclusive recruitment and retention of disabled employees. They are disabled employment champions and they will be central to our work going forward. We've got a comprehensive package of support for employers, as I said in my statement—an online toolkit, a network of disabled people, employment champions to be launched. But also as part of the COVID-19 employability commitment, we've recruited six disabled people's employment champions. There are much greater collaboration opportunities with business leaders, HR professionals and employer representatives. And the role of those champions, I believe, will be inspirational and aimed to not only dispel misconceptions but also to actually take action to see where employers can have the tools to remove the barriers, by applying the social model of disability in their workplace. But there is a disability pay gap as well as a gender pay gap, as well as a race pay gap, and we have to look at all of those socioeconomic issues as well. 


I thank you, Minister, for your statement today. To mark the international day on Thursday, I, along with others, will be taking part in a panel discussion for Leonard Cheshire Cymru, and the topic is political engagement, encouraging young disabled people to use their voice and vote in the political process. So, today's discussion will be a good jumping-off point for that event. This year, of course, the day is framed by the pandemic, and I have a couple of questions concerning disability and coronavirus. Firstly, Minister, have you had discussions with Unison about its research on disabled employees and home working? According to their research, disabled employees working from home have been more productive and have taken fewer sick days than when they were in an office. So, would the Welsh Government support the union's call to give disabled people new rights to work from home if they wish as part of the 'reasonable adjustments' protection they already have under equality legislation? 

My second point is that not all disabilities are visible, as has been mentioned several times here today. Some, obviously, are more visible than others. This week also marks Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week, and it's estimated that a quarter of people with those conditions have been classified in the 'extremely vulnerable' category. One of the major issues they have faced throughout the pandemic is access to free, clean and available toilets. So, will you back the Crohn's and Colitis UK campaign to ensure that all public services, businesses and employers display appropriate signage on their toilets to indicate that not every disability is visible? And specifically, will the Welsh Government work with Crohn's and Colitis UK to prioritise access to toilet facilities with appropriate changing and waste disposal services to allow everyone with ostomy bags to be able to change these with dignity in a private and hygienic environment, and not disable these individuals from living a full life like everybody else does simply because they can't access the appropriate toilet facilities? Thank you.  

Thank you very much, Joyce Watson. I think it's so important that you are going to be marking the day, as you say, on Thursday, by joining Leonard Cheshire. In fact, I spent time not just with the disability equality forum but also with other organisations like Leonard Cheshire, who have engaged with me and with other Ministers, with young people raising questions with us about the issues that affect them. I know that you'll be able to participate and hopefully reflect on this statement on Thursday.

I think one of the hallmarks of the last few months has been the intensity of the engagement that we've had with organisations. In some respects, we've been able to engage virtually, perhaps, with more organisations, because they've been able to engage from home. From north to south-east and west Wales, we're engaging with disabled people. Tomorrow I've got my Wales race forum; we'll be engaging in the same way from Anglesey to Newport. I know in terms of representations that the Wales TUC also has been meeting regularly. I've been meeting with their equalities committee and, of course, then you hear from all the different unions about the particular issues and challenges and good work that they've been doing in terms of surveys.

But certainly, in terms of Unison's work and representations, we will be looking at that, because as you know, the Welsh Government is itself developing remote working policies and looking at the impact that has on people who can and wish to work from home, given that often, it is perhaps more difficult for front-line people who can't work from home, or who are on lower pay and have less power within their organisation. So, I think the Unison work and evidence and representations will be very important to that. I certainly make sure that for every policy stream that's coming forward, there is an equality impact assessment and that we are asking for the views and engaging with those who are most disadvantaged and don't have as strong a voice as perhaps others do who are perhaps socioeconomically in a better position.

So, yes, we will be looking at that very carefully, and I'm glad that you've used this opportunity, Joyce, to raise those issues around those who experience and suffer from Crohn's. Crohn's week is an important week for raising awareness of extremely vulnerable people, but people who can live their lives—and, of course, where it isn't always visible, as you say; impairments aren't always visible in a whole range of impairments. But Crohn's week does enable you to bring forward these particular calls relating to public toilets, accessibility, signage, and recognition of the particular needs of those who suffer from Crohn's. Thank you.


I look forward to speaking and listening at both Leonard Cheshire's young disabled persons' political engagement day and Disability Wales's launch of the disabled people's manifesto on Thursday. All public authorities have a duty under the UK Equality Act 2010 to ensure they meet the needs of disabled people and actively involve disabled people in the design and delivery of their services. The UK Equality Act also states that service providers must think ahead and take steps to address barriers that impede disabled people, and that you should not wait until a disabled person experiences difficulties using a service. However, I know from both my own casework and my work as chair of the cross-party groups on disability, autism and neurological conditions in this Welsh Parliament that too many Welsh public bodies continue to tell disabled people what they can have, rather than work with them to agree their needs and ask them what they want to achieve. This is damaging, costly and entirely avoidable and applies in particular to people with hidden impairments. Given that the 2020 theme of the United Nations international day of disabled people on Thursday is 'not all disabilities are visible', when and how will the Welsh Government therefore ensure that public bodies involve disabled people in the design, evaluation and review of services in accordance with both the Equality Act and your own legislation?

Thank you very much, Mark Isherwood. As I said, I thank the cross-party group for the work you've done. I've appeared before you and it's been such an important contribution, again from a cross-party perspective. But also I very much welcomed the report from the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, which covered the whole range of inequalities exposed as a result of the pandemic. But in a sense, I suppose that's one of the messages of the UN day, and what will be discussed on Thursday is not just how lessons can be learned; it's actually how we can now address—. We have the legislation, as you say, we have the Equality Act; it's about implementation—I think this is the key point—of legislation to address those barriers.

I think in my statement I mentioned—well, I know I mentioned—the 'Action on Disability' framework, which I launched in 2019 and which, in fact, was co-produced with disabled people's organisations covering every aspect of Government policy. I think it's crucial—and I know you recognise this, Mark—that this is not just about health and social care; it's about transport, it's about culture, it's about housing, it's about education. And of course that then has to be delivered through the public sector equality duties by public bodies. I also think that, when we pass, as I'm sure and hope we will, the socioeconomic duty that will be coming before the Senedd very shortly, this will also be important in terms of impacts on disabled people.

I hope you will welcome the work that's being undertaken by Professor Debbie Foster of Cardiff University. She's doing the work now with disabled people on the impacts of COVID. This will help us to learn the lessons, but also find a way forward in terms of addressing these issues so that disabled people are truly influencing public policy from their own lives' perspective, from the evidence that we've got, the data we understand, and that that will influence not just the Welsh Government, but every public body in Wales.


Thank you very much, Minister. We'll now suspend proceedings to allow change-overs in the Chamber. If you're leaving the Chamber, can you do so promptly? The bell will be rung two minutes before the proceedings restart. Any Member who's arriving after the changeover should wait until the bell has been rung before entering the Chamber. Thank you.

Plenary was suspended at 15:26.


The Senedd reconvened at 15:34, with the Deputy Presiding Officer in the Chair.

5. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport: Digital Innovation—Responding to the Brown Review

We now reconvene on our agenda, and we move to item 5, which is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport on digital innovation—responding to the Brown review. And I call on the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters. 

Thank you very much. Just over a year ago, Professor Phil Brown published his final report into the impact of digital innovation on the economy and the future of work in Wales. Professor Brown spoke of Wales facing a race against time, with the pace and scale of digital innovation having the potential to overtake our ability as a nation to respond.

The global pandemic has brought the challenges of the Brown review to the fore, with digital now integral to many of our lives. The stark reality is that the next phase of our industrial transformation will take place whether we embrace it or not. It is against this backdrop that I want to address Members today.

Digital innovation has become a powerful and disruptive force, and one that cannot be ignored. It's important that we do not lose sight of this as we look beyond the pandemic. 

The Royal Society of Arts has warned that, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the equivalent of five years' worth of automation and digitalisation has taken place, with jobs in hospitality, retail and manufacturing being some of the hardest hit. They argue that the response to the virus is potentially giving false hope to many workers in these industries without a long-term future in the age of automation.

The world of work is undoubtedly changing. More people are working remotely, and we want to see that continue as the norm beyond the crisis. The way services work, and how tasks are performed, are also being redesigned as digital transformation and automation take place. It's not just a case of what we do, but how we do it that is transforming. The pandemic has forced us to rapidly adapt at an individual level, with many businesses also shifting to new delivery models as customer habits and expectations have changed.

Despite the scale of the changes, we should recognise the positive role digital innovation has played, and will continue to play, in modern society. There are some real benefits in releasing people from mundane tasks, creating new innovations and supporting higher-skilled jobs of the future. We need only to look to Caerphilly, where parents looking for immediate support from the council for free school meals no longer have to wait five agonising days for a decision, but can now enrol immediately. Robotic process automation, embraced by the council, and developed in partnership with Codebase 8 Ltd, a small digital business in Llanelli, has taken away the paperwork, improving the service for the citizen, and freeing up staff from repetitive tasks to help with other urgent work.

But best practice is often a poor traveller. It's for this reason we've established the Centre for Digital Public Services in Ebbw Vale, who are creating a hub of expertise. They are already sharing best practice in using digital approaches to improve public service delivery, and, crucially, offering practical help and training to design services based on the needs of the user. The first of their digital transformation squads are currently working with three local councils to understand from the users of adult social services how they can improve the service for them. And that's what digital is about: tackling old problems in a new way to benefit the citizen, and creating new skills and innovation as we do it.

The pandemic has forced the pace of change. Wales has led the way in issuing IT equipment to support individuals to connect with the world, from home schooling, to providing access to those in care homes. We've witnessed the rapid advances being made in healthcare video appointments through the Attend Anywhere service. In all of these cases, deployment was based on an immediate need, and the teams involved should be applauded for their efforts in introducing services in weeks that in normal times could take years to deliver.

But despite our successes, I'm keen to avoid complacency. There are lessons we should be learning from the roll-outs, including the sometimes uneven application of services. For example, more than a third of the devices requested by care homes have yet to be switched on, which shows that providing equipment alone is not enough. We need to build the confidence and the skills of everyone to use technology. And it's a reminder that more needs to be done to ensure users continue to be put at the heart of service design.

Dirprwy Lywydd, Wales is punching above our weight when it comes to tech jobs and skills, and the most recent Tech Nation visa report was highlighting the standout success for Wales. We've seen a seismic shift in demand for cyber and artificial intelligence skills in Wales, and a 200 per cent increase in demand for AI jobs over the past three years. The forthcoming economic recovery plan promises to build on that. Taking on Professor Brown's recommendations to accelerate industrial transformation, a focus of the plan will be to encourage the evolution of digital innovation clusters. This will include working with industry, research institutions and other stakeholders to co-produce the partnerships that these clusters will need to thrive.

Later this week, we'll be engaging with employers in an online event to accelerate the take-up of digital in their businesses. Our Superfast Wales programme continues to offer practical help, and the most recent findings of our digital maturity index will show the progress we are making.

Universities play a crucial role, too, and I'm very encouraged that Cardiff, Swansea, Aberystwyth and Bangor universities have come together in a joint project for a data nation accelerator. This was a specific recommendation of the Brown review, and has the potential to give Wales an edge in applying research, development and innovation in AI and data science. We're engaging with the UK Government and UK funders to make the case for this partnership to be supported.

Today, we are ready to launch a new digital strategy for Wales, but instead of publishing it as a finished product, I'm keen to embrace a crowd-sourced approach. We're putting it online, in draft, for people to comment, criticise and improve. Digital is not about just technology, Llywydd, it’s about an open approach to innovation, and in that spirit, I'm also publishing the first in a series of blog posts for citizens to shape our digital strategy. We will take on board suggestions and aim to publish a final version in March.

Members will be aware that this is a policy area I've been passionate about since I joined the Senedd in 2016. We have made some progress over the past four years, but there is certainly a lot more to be done. I recognise the role Government can play in providing direction for this agenda, but this journey is not exclusively for Government to lead. Government alone cannot move fast enough to keep up with the rapid pace of digital change, and citizens, businesses and institutions must play their part to effectively grow this movement in Wales. Change is not an option, and unless we are content to let it happen to us, we must all work together to harness the change to benefit the citizens of Wales. Diolch.


Can I thank the Minister for his statement today and the advance copy as well? Of course, as the Minister said, he's been passionate about this since he came into the Senedd in 2016, so I'm aware of that as well. Can I also thank Professor Brown for his report as well in terms of the challenges and opportunities of digital innovation? And from my perspective, I think we've seen a step change in terms of technological advances as a result of the pandemic. I'm working from home today, and actually having quite a challenge with technology, as it happens, today. 

But I wonder if the Deputy Minister could set out what the Welsh Government has done to evaluate how public services have adapted in the context of the pandemic, perhaps both negative and positive. There's also the traditional delivery of services, and I'm just keen that we ensure that it isn't inferior for those who remain digitally excluded, of course. Professor Brown has previously said that digital innovation should not be seen as just technological advances—it's about transforming organisational cultures and increasing digital inclusion needs as a priority. So, how does the Welsh Government intend to ensure that everyone is taken with them on this particular agenda, I suppose, in terms of those who are vulnerable, those who might come from areas of multiple deprivation, those who come from a different starting point, I suppose, in terms of their confidence in using particular technology and various skills?

I know Professor Brown has said that he wants to have a national conversation in regard to digital invitation, so I am pleased that the Deputy Minister has just talked about putting out his proposals in draft, if you like, first. I welcome that. He does say he welcomes challenge and criticism, so I look forward to that because sometimes the Deputy Minister doesn't like criticism, so I'm pleased with that.

I know, in the past, that others, academics and experts, have suggested that there should be a digital inclusion tsar—a digital inclusion tsar—so I wonder if perhaps the Deputy Minister can outline what he thinks of that particular proposal. And in terms of, then, how Government is going to be scrutinised—how he is, his officials, departments—how are they going to be scrutinised and held to account in terms of delivering digital innovation across the whole of Welsh Government? I know on 29 September the Deputy Minister said that he would provide a further update in November in regards to covering Superfast Cymru deployment. I don't think there's been any update and we're now in December, so correct me if I'm wrong, but if the Deputy Minister could update on that, because, clearly, there is that divide between the haves and the have-nots, which often—not exclusively—is between urban and rural Wales. So, perhaps you can update on that.

And again, this is one of the Deputy Minister's favourite talking points, but, in terms of automation and artificial intelligence, advances are being made so quickly that perhaps business and even Government can't keep up. So, in terms of that, there are those that are being skilled at the moment perhaps whose skills will not be needed in perhaps even a shorter time than perhaps we might have expected. So, how is the Government dealing with that, and in terms of what the Government is doing in reaping the benefits of digital innovation as well? And finally, I wondered perhaps if the Deputy Minister could outline what discussions he's had with the finance Minister in terms of increases in research and development funding to achieve what, essentially, he wants to achieve.


Well, thank you for those comments, Russell George. I can sense that his energy levels are not quite the same today because of his IT problems, and I think it's probably because of the absence of Winston Churchill hanging behind him, who has been a regular companion of Russell during his digital presence in the Chamber. So, I think he's missing his spirit today, perhaps.

I certainly don't recognise the picture that I'm not somebody who likes criticism. Certainly, I am keen for criticism and keen to encourage it. It doesn't mean I always agree with it when I have it, of course, but that's a different matter, and I think, by publishing this strategy as a crowd-sourced document, we recognise that, too often, Government sits in rooms by itself and comes up with a plan and doesn't test it with the people who have to implement it in the real world. That's why I'm keen on this. The expertise in this lies out in civil society, and I really want them to feel they own this strategy and can change it, so that when it is published in March it's got a far greater chance of being implemented if there's a feeling that it resonates with real-world priorities and problems.

He asked how we are evaluating how public services have adapted. I think that is a good question, and I mentioned in a moment of candour during the speech how some of our initiatives, though well intentioned, have not gone quite to plan. So, the roll-out of digital devices to care homes I mentioned in the statement. We have rightly congratulated ourselves for how quickly we've got them out, but we've been surprised to note that so many of them have not been used. That's not untypical with previous experience. I just anecdotally was aware previously of tablets being handed to schoolteachers, and many of them lay unused in drawers. I think that goes to one of his points about skills and confidence, and to the concept of being excluded, because when we talk about digital exclusion, we, I think, conjure an image in our head of people who have no skills at all, but actually exclusion is far broader than that. It's about the ability to gain the full potential of the technology. So, some people may be able to only do basic things and not get the full range of benefits from it.

So, we certainly are aware already from the services we've rolled out that it's not simply good enough just to give people kit. You have to change the culture and you have to enable them and skill them to be able to use it. I think that, for me, is the key point of this digital approach. And he asked how we make sure people are not given an inferior service. I think these two concepts are linked. The whole point of setting up this digital centre for public services in Ebbw Vale was based on a discovery process, as it's called, a research exercise to understand what the needs were, and we found that lots of leaders and public servants didn't feel confident in digital, didn't understand its potential, and didn't really get the concept of designing services with the end user in mind. So, we're now rolling out rapidly a training programme for public servants to get this. And once we get that right, a service that's designed with the user in mind will be designed for those who are online just as much as it'll be designed for those who are not online. So, the ability to engage with the service shouldn't depend on how proficient you are with technology; the service should be designed in a way that it can used by people who are switched on, as well as those who are switched off. And I think that's a really important change of culture that we are embarking upon, and that is vital, to take on his other point about the need to take people with us. So, we shouldn't need a digital inclusion tsar; we should mainstream inclusion into the way we design services, and I think that is the approach that we are setting out on.

He asked about the Superfast update during November. I apologise if that is a day late. I have certainly signed that off and I hope that'll be with him before the end of today, if not, tomorrow. But we are certainly committed to keeping that stream of information flowing and to aid in him in his ability to hold us to account for delivery. His question about how we are held to account is an interesting one, because he referred to delivery in the Welsh Government, and I think that this is the point I've really come to realise since taking on this role—and I mentioned this in the statement—the Welsh Government is a small player in this, and I think we should not see the Welsh Government as the main driver of this change. We are a catalyst, and we have to work with others—other institutions and other partners—to make this happen, because the Welsh Government simply cannot move fast enough, nor does it have the heft to really be able to meet the scale of change and challenge that automation presents to us. It has a role, and I don't seek to shirk that, but I don't think we should see ourselves as the lead on this; we are part of an ecosystem that needs to bring about change.

His final question on R&D—we are looking forward to further details of the UK Government's announcement that it will increase spend on R&D. We certainly have had discussions in the run-up to our own budget of what more we can do in this agenda, and I look forward, as he does, to hearing what the finance Minister has to say about that.


I thank the Deputy Minister for his statement and, obviously, for the advance copy. I'd like to begin my comments by just saying that I think the Welsh Government is to be commended to be looking forward at a time when so much energy is concentrated on dealing with the here and now. I think we can all be very glad that this work has been able to be progressed, faced with the big pressures both on Ministers and, obviously, on their officials at this very, very difficult, challenging time.

The Deputy Minister is right, of course, to identify, as the report itself does, that digital—the digital age, automation—is a powerful and disruptive force, and disruption can be positive and it can be negative. I'd like to explore a little bit more what the Deputy Minister said about sharing best practice, because I'd agree with him that, in Wales, we're sometimes very good at developing a new initiative, but then we're not always very good at spreading it. I wonder if he can say a little bit more in his response about how the digital hub is identifying some of those barriers to change. I suppose I'm interested to know, as well, on this particular topic, whether some of what they're learning about those barriers to change, particularly in the public sector, and how those are overcome, might be lessons that we can overcome when we're trying to spread good practice, potentially, in other fields.

I was glad to see him highlighting the importance of the data innovation accelerator. It's very positive to see our universities collaborating in that way; it's not always easy for them to do so. I wonder if he can say a little more in his response to me about how the UK Government and UK funders are responding to the case that he's making for supporting this initiative, and whether there is more that the Welsh Government could do. I'm asking that in the context that, of course, if there are UK-wide resources that we can bring in to support this work, that's very much to be encouraged.

I want to welcome the approach that the Deputy Minister is taking to finalising the new digital strategy. I think that kind of collaborative, open approach is a good practice model, especially in a world like this where, as the Deputy Minister said, nobody knows all the answers, because this is such a new world for everybody. I wonder if he would consider, or if he is already, taking steps particularly to encourage young people to participate in that process. I know that some of our major youth work charities have had collaborations with Microsoft, with Google—young people who you perhaps wouldn't expect to have good levels of digital skills actually know an awful lot about this, and certainly know more about it—you know, the digital-native generation, where they take these things for granted. So, I wonder, if he hasn't done that yet, whether he might consider how that might be done.

Finally, Dirprwy Lywydd, the Deputy Minister is right, of course, to say that this is going to come and he's right to say that this will be a huge transformation, and I think it's right that the approach to that transformation should be proactive and positive, but I wonder whether the Deputy Minister will also acknowledge that we can expect the world of work to be totally transformed by this over time. When he mentions the removal of mundane tasks, well, that, of course, is the case, but we have to consider how those who now make their living doing those mundane tasks will make their living in future.

I'm sure the Deputy Minister will agree with me that the last major transformation in our economy in Wales—the end of coal mining, the end of much heavy industry—was profoundly traumatic for many communities, like those of the Gwendraeth valley, which he and I both know well, and some of those communities are still living with the bad effects of that transformation.

There may not be enough work to go round as we have traditionally known it, as this transformation goes out, so I wonder if the Deputy Minister would agree with me that, in addition to developing that positive national digital strategy and, as he rightly says, Government taking the lead but not exclusively, and working in partnership, we also should be looking at, potentially, more radical responses to how we think about work, what constitutes work, what matters. Should we be considering a shorter working week? Should we consider the potential role of a universal basic income that could free citizens up to be more creative, to spend more time with their families, whatever they wanted to do?

I'd like to recommend that the Deputy Minister considers looking at the work of the Just Transition Commission, established by the Scottish Government, which aims to ensure that this coming digital industrial revolution is managed in such a way that it really does improve the lives of people and communities, rather than, if we leave it purely to the market, the risk that we make them worse. 


Can I thank Helen Mary Jones for the positive tone of her contribution and for the very relevant questions that she's asked? I'll try to deal with those in turn. So, in terms of spreading best practice and understanding the barriers to change, the way that we've set up the digital centres—. So, I led an expert panel two years ago, before I joined the Government, looking at public service digital reform, and then have been involved in putting that into practice. Sally Meecham, who is now leading the centre for us, undertook a discovery phase, which was to understand, speaking to a whole range of people across public services, what the need was. One of the principles of digital change is that it's based on the need of the user—you understand what the needs are and then you design and test and iterate a service that meets those needs. You're constantly innovating, changing and responding, and that's what digital is about—it's not about IT; it's about an open approach to learning and change.

So, that was very much done to set and make the case for the digital centre, and we're now in the early phases—obviously, COVID has slowed it down—of rolling that out. It has a number of key roles: one is to be a centre of expertise and to be the go-to place where public services in particular can go to get advice on good practice, but also then to carry out the change. So, the digital transformation squads that I mentioned are hosted as part of the centre, and they're working, in the first instance, with Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen and Neath councils on social care. I'm hoping there'll be a separate squad working in Blaenau Gwent council on waste.

We want to see more and more of these digital transformation squads in every organisation, because they work across disciplines and they work as a team and they tackle a problem with a whole-system change in mind. By doing that process properly, the barriers to change will be addressed as you go, because by understanding the needs you then figure out solutions. So, I hope—the point of digital reform is that it's, as I say, a new way of tackling an old problem. It's a fresh chance to come at public service delivery shortcomings and use digital as a way of trying again.

The early signs of the centre's success are very encouraging. They've recruited a very high calibre advisory board to help the work. There's a lot of goodwill, and the other thing we've done as well alongside it is to create, now, an ecosystem of digital leadership. So, we have a new Welsh Government chief digital officer; we've just appointed a chief digital officer for local government, hosted by the Welsh Local Government Association, to raise skills and expectations, to be a leader in the field; and we have a commitment to create a chief digital officer in the NHS also. And those together will have a leadership role to set the digital standards, because that's the other key part of the centre's role. We've seen before, and when I was on the Public Accounts Committee we saw a number of examples of this, where we had an approach of what was called a 'once for Wales' approach, which effectively was the right principle, but in effect worked at the pace of the slowest. So, how can we achieve consistency without slowing everybody down? And through setting common standards is the way to do that, and that's going to be the other role of the centre. So, I'm excited about its potential, and it's only just getting started.

The digital nation accelerator, I've met a number of times with the vice-chancellors to discuss it. Again, huge potential. It's still being shaped and we are having early conversations about how we can shape that in a way that is useful. Because, from my point of view, it's impact that matters, and what I don't particularly want is a set of universities going away and coming up with a research-led project, which gets them very excited, but doesn't really help us to bring about the change that Phil Brown identified that we need to tackle. So, the conversations I've been having with them are that I think this if for the UK funding bodies to put the significant lion's share into, because, as you know, we do not get our fair share, our population share, of funding from the UK funding bodies, so it's important that this is a project they should embrace. But we, as a Welsh Government, are prepared to play our part in shaping that, so long as what they're developing meets our needs in public service and economic reform. So, I think that's a fair trade.

The point on the digital strategy is an excellent one of how we engage young people. When I sit down, Dirprwy Lywydd, I'll be putting up the first of the blogs, and there will be more to follow in rapid succession, and they're open for everybody to engage with. They'll be done in themes and chapters, so people with a particular interest in different elements of it can respond in their field of interest. But I think the point about how we're engaging specifically with young people is a very well made one, and I shall reflect quickly about how we can try and do that, and any suggestions she has I'd gratefully receive them. She made a couple in her statement, so I shall, as I say, reflect on them.

And then her final point about the world of work being transformed and it being traumatic for those involved is absolutely right. The fourth industrial revolution is going to bring enormous benefits for a small number of people, and it will displace and disrupt and harm a number of people through the transformation too. And it is the role of government and governments to intervene to make sure that those benefits are spread widely, and those who are displaced are helped to adjust. And I think that is really important, because if we don't handle this right, this could be a hugely negative force and it could be a source of great social unrest and disruption and economic harm. But it doesn't need to be that way.

So, what I particularly liked about the example I quoted in Caerphilly, where they've used robotic process automation, which has been used in some cases to bring about financial savings and a reduced headcount, is that what Caerphilly have said is, 'We want to use this to take staff off boring stuff that people don't need to be doing and that are best done by algorithms.' But not see that as a reason then to get rid of those staff, but to free those staff up in public services, which are stretched, to do other stuff, because we know there are roles that human beings do better than machines, involving empathy and helping people, and that's something people should be freed up by technology to do. If we follow that framing that Caerphilly are leading the way with, then I think we've got a good chance of pulling this off in a way that helps society and doesn't harm it. Though, no doubt, there will be jagged edges along the way.

And the final question about a universal basic income, I too think, in the long term, that this is something that is attractive, and I think the First Minister said earlier in the Chamber that he's keen to look at exploring a pilot of this on a cross-party basis, and I was very pleased to hear him say that.


Thank you. We are two thirds of the way through this 45-minute statement, and I've got a number of speakers left, so I'll just put that—[Interruption.] No, no, I'm just putting that on the record. Jenny Rathbone.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Brown speaks presciently about the shift to online shopping, and that's of course echoed in today's devastating news about the collapse of Arcadia and Debenhams, undoubtedly accelerated and exacerbated by the pandemic. It can't just be the poor leadership of the private equity ownership to extract maximum surplus value; it has to also be the change in shopping habits. As you said, if we don't change, we die.

So, how do you think that the fourth industrial revolution could be applied to assist Cardiff to re-engineer its commercial centres to become community spaces as much as places where we continue to shop? I wondered if you could tell me a little bit more about Caerphilly's NearMeNow, which, I think, is helping maintain those links that are essential in the foundational economy, putting local shops in touch with local shoppers.

Secondly, how can the Government help the workforce whose jobs are disappearing today in retail to retrain to meet that 200 per cent increase in demand for AI jobs that you spoke about in your statement? Would that be a role for digital public services in Ebbw Vale or through the data nation accelerator, led by these four universities? I wondered if you could say a bit more on that, because I'm sure many retail workers would be very keen to hear that.


Thank you very much to Jenny Rathbone, and she makes a very strong point. Clearly, we are seeing today the reality and the result of digital disruption—we've seen it in many other areas too. We can see it in the fate of local media, which has been a perfect case study in digital disruption. There's no doubt there's a huge question for the future of town centres and shopping centres as people move online, and I don't think we can stop this trend; I think we need to try and harness it. So, I think, as I said in the statement, I'm keen to look at how we can help small businesses become more digitally savvy themselves to be able to sell and trade online. And I think the NearMeNow app that Jenny Rathbone mentions is an excellent example of trying to help town centres and small businesses to be able to get online to offer their goods, and I'm keen to see what more we can do to help SMEs in particular to do that.

I don't think the digital centre in Ebbw Vale or the digital nation accelerator are the right vehicles for that. The centre in Ebbw Vale is about public service reform and delivery, and the accelerator is about research and development and how it's applied. But there is a huge role for reskilling people. The ReAct project that we already fund has the ability to help people to retrain digitally. There is, in fact, a whole range of initiatives from degree apprenticeships in IT and frameworks to essential skills qualifications that we have, the Wales Union Learning Fund and the DigiTALent project, which allows people already in work and recent graduates to upskill. But I do think we need to do more in this area, and I think the challenge for all of us is: how do we help people to upskill as they go, rather than wait for their jobs to disappear and then realise that they no longer have skills relevant for the marketplace? Welsh Government is doing a lot on skills, but I think this is one of these areas where all of us know that society needs to do more to help people to adapt.

In opening my contribution to this debate, I would echo the words of Professor Brown, in his presage to his report, where he says he hopes 

'this report acts as a catalyst to ignite a national conversation on what digital innovation means for the people and communities of Wales, not just the high-tech innovative businesses of the future.'

The report also identifies in depth the effect AI may have on employment in Wales, often talked about in a negative context. However, given the right leadership and financial support, I believe the catastrophic effect that some predict for Wales can be substantially avoided. I'm hugely impressed by the innovative way outlined by the Deputy Minister, by way of publishing a draft report, which would allow input from interested sectors. But can I ask how the draft will be promoted?

People have been predicting the loss of jobs through automation since the time of the Luddites; the reality is that automation has meant fewer working hours and more holiday periods, which has created a huge expansion of jobs in the service and hospitality industries. But Wales should look at the fourth industrial revolution as a great opportunity to move away from the low-paid jobs sector, and seek to become world leaders in some of the niche markets that digital and AI will generate. Indeed, we have to congratulate the Welsh Government on its support for the cyber innovation hub, created in south-east Wales, aiming to make Wales a world leader in this area. This proves that, in such specifically targeted sectors, we can be at the forefront of new technology and thus create a new technology based economy for Wales. Could the Deputy Minister indicate such niche markets he intends to explore in the future?

In order to establish such an economy, we should implement immediately the first recommendation of the report in the creation of six industrial innovation clusters, to develop industrial transformation road maps. These ITRs would help to identify current strengths and potential digital innovation at a regional, national and international level. In order to achieve this in the most effective and efficient way, I believe there should be a restructure of local government into six regions, each with more power and larger budgets, to help facilitate a greater integration, cleaner streaming and more comprehensive implementation of these digital innovation centres. Would the Minister indicate whether he will be following this advice?

The Welsh Government should also implement, as a matter of urgency, the second recommendation of the report, that of integrating existing business, skills and innovation support to form a single business diagnostic and transformation process, and to ensure—


Yes. [Inaudible.]—to support the transformation of a new digital industry.

Thank you. There was a lot in there, and not much time to respond, so I'll try and be brief. I welcome the positive comments David Rowlands made about the approach we are taking, and particularly for the cyber innovation hub, which, I think, as he recognises, has got significant potential.

I did mention, in terms of the digital industrial clusters, that we are taking up that recommendation of the Brown review. I don't think, as I said, that it is for the Welsh Government to lead each of those clusters; I think it's important we play our part with others in making them relevant to the sectors that they are designed to advance. I think the digital nation accelerator project by the universities is a really good example, where it's the universities who've led and who've taken the initiative there, and they're now coming to us to ask how can we help them to realise their vision, and I think that is the right way around. This shouldn't be a top-heavy Government-led approach; this has got to be based on the needs of the economy.

In terms of his point about niche markets, I think it's an interesting point and is reflected back to a point earlier in his contribution: I don't think this is just about the shiny and the new and the high-tech industries; this has got to be about everyday economy as well. So, the question I'm interested in is: how do we integrate this agenda into the foundational economy, which, too often, have been characterised as being low skill, low productivity, low wage, but they needn't be? So, how do we get this innovation agenda into the everyday services? So, the foundational economy challenge fund, for example, has taken up a number of those projects. One project in Denbighshire is looking at how we can use automation and robotics to help people in care to adapt, tackle loneliness, for example. So, I think there are all sorts of positive niche ways, to use his term, that we can draw on this agenda to help other problems that we have.

And finally, on his first point about how do we promote the consultation, well, I'd be grateful for all Members' help in drawing people's attention to the fact that this is now live. We'll be tweeting it this afternoon, and let the crowd do their best.

I won't take too much of your time. Many important points have already been made, but as it's so important, I think, to draw in ideas from across the Senedd, I wanted to draw attention to the cross-party group on digital that I am in the process of establishing. I think there is agreement that it is so important to get the strategies right on digital, and I think it's important that there is a platform in order to bring various partners together in order to seek to influence Government. I think this opportunity to discuss the consultation on the digital strategy does mean—well, it suggests to me at least that this is the right time to do this. So, thank you to those who have shown support for this. I thank the Minister too for the positive response—or rather the Deputy Minister—to this. There are so many social and economic changes and opportunities emerging from digital—we have M-SParc and the DSP centre here, Compound Semiconductor Application Catapult in Newport, the spectrum centre in Aberystwyth. There's so much to discuss, economically and socially, and I invite everyone to play their part in that discussion.


Thank you very much for those comments. I welcome the tone and the content of the contribution, and I just add my support to the initiatives that M-Sparc are doing in Ynys Môn. I think they really are leading the way in the application of innovation, from a project of theirs I'm recently aware of in hydroponics in food production, but also, I think, particularly exciting is their use of LoRaWAN, which is low-frequency gateways that can be adapted to bring the 'internet of things' agenda to life. So, they've done some very good work there on simple things like farm gates, to help farmers with real-time intelligence to help them manage their livestock and their land, and the Patrwm project in a number of town centres across north Wales, where they're able to monitor in real time the number of people coming to town centres. This has been stemming from a project that began in Cardigan, where Councillor Clive Davies, the current mayor of Cardigan, has done excellent work, working with local traders to use the free broadband signals that have been funded to get data to help the shopkeepers understand where people are coming from, what times of day they're coming for, are they responding to events. I think the challenge now is to use that data to drive policy. So, it's great to get the data, but now we need to understand what the data is telling us that further brings about innovation and change. I think M-SParc are to be hugely commended for the leadership they've shown in this, and there's much more they can contribute to getting this agenda mainstreamed across Wales.

6. Legislative Consent Motion on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Item 6 on the agenda is the LCM on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which has been postponed until 8 December. 

7. Debate: The Second Annual Report of the President of Welsh Tribunals

Item 7 is a debate on the second annual report of the president of the Welsh Tribunals. I call on the Counsel General and Minister for European Transition to move that motion—Jeremy Miles.

Motion NDM7490 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the second annual report of the President of Welsh Tribunals on the operation of the Welsh Tribunals.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I am very pleased that we're staging this debate on the second annual report of the president of Welsh Tribunals, which covers the financial year 2019-20. This is the first debate that we've had on these annual reports published by the president. His first annual report covered the period 2017 to March 2019, and in that report, the president, in his own words, said that 

'We are at the commencement of a journey towards providing for Wales a tribunal system which is modern, flexible, capable of responding to the reasonable needs of all tribunal users'.

Sir Wyn Williams is the first to undertake the role of president of Welsh Tribunals. His appointment is extremely important to Wales, not only in terms of the legal guidance and the wealth of experience that he brings to the role, but also because this is the first high-level judicial appointment since 1830 relating to Wales only. We must bear in mind, in terms of the tribunals we have, that we have a judiciary in Wales that, although small in size, is entirely separate to the English judiciary in this sense.

Before I muse briefly on the annual report, I'm sure Members would wish to join with me in thanking Sir Wyn for his commitment to the role of president of the Welsh Tribunals. I'm also sure that Members will wish to join with me in congratulating Sir Wyn on his appointment as chair of the UK Government inquiry into the Horizon ICT system of the Post Office. Clearly, there is great respect for him in Government in Wales and in Westminster.

The Llywydd took the Chair.

Members will have had the opportunity to consider the president's second annual report, and, like me, I think, will have read it with interest. The past year has seen the Welsh tribunals operate effectively, ensuring tribunal users have continued to be able to properly access justice. The president's next annual report will, I would anticipate, reflect in more detail on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

There is no doubt that the public health crisis that emerged at the end of the reporting period has posed significant risks to access to justice, and, for those who would have recourse to the mental health review tribunal, the potential to infringe on their right to a fair trial. But with only some postponements, the Welsh tribunals have continued to operate, and I'm reassured in particular by the way in which the mental health review tribunal has continued to be able to dispose of cases without the need to rely on the emergency measures that are set out in the Coronavirus Act 2020, which has effectively protected the rights of patients as a result. In my opinion, the way that all those who are involved in the Welsh tribunals have responded in truly exceptional circumstances has been very impressive. 

Turning to the wider justice agenda, the second annual report comments on the commission on justice, and particularly on the recommendations concerning Welsh tribunals. Sir Wyn Williams was, of course, a commissioner himself. The Thomas commission referred to the work to be taken forward by the Law Commission into Welsh tribunals and that the Law Commission would be able to consider reform in greater detail than the Thomas commission itself could. And whilst it has been slightly delayed, I'm pleased that the Law Commission project is now under way and is likely to report in the summer of next year. 

While I'm disappointed that we're not able to report further progress than we have on taking forward the justice commission's report, the justice agenda remains a key priority for the Welsh Government. The greatest impacts on reforming the justice system lie in progressing matters that require input from the UK Government. And the reality of the current situation, of course, is that there are more immediate priorities facing both the Welsh Government and the UK Government, where the coronavirus pandemic and the approaching end of the EU transition period, of course, dominate the agenda. But there is no doubt that the response to the pandemic has actually shone a light on the very wide extent of the Welsh Government and the Senedd's competence in areas traditionally perceived, perhaps, as reserved.

If we can legislate in these areas in the context of public health, why not for other purposes that integrate justice with areas of responsibility that are already devolved? If anything, the arguments made out by the commission on justice for constitutional change and the devolution of justice have been strengthened by the exceptional circumstances we've found ourselves in over the past six months and that will continue for the foreseeable future. We will continue to progress what we can in Wales, and we will draw on our collective experiences here in Wales to seek to build consensus and support for the argument for change, to take that forward with the UK Government when the time for that is right. 

Dirprwy Lywydd, in closing, I hope Members will join me in thanking the president of Welsh Tribunals for his second annual report. 


Can I apologise if anything I raise in my contribution was already addressed in the part of the Counsel General's speech delivered in Welsh? The translation feed did not work on my device, I'm afraid.

I think this is a very useful report in analysing the operation of tribunals in Wales, and therefore will be of general interest to people, because the statistics on tribunal use can be a very good indicator of the smooth running of key public policy areas within the competence of the Welsh Government and Welsh law. I'm sure that those who have looked at the report found that part very interesting—to see the various changes in use, both up and down. There are often particular reasons for that, of course, but it's still a very good indicator.

Of particular interest to me is what the president of Welsh Tribunals, Sir Wyn Williams, has to say about recommendations 25 and 27 of the commission on justice in Wales, which the Counsel General did refer to. Recommendation 25 states that all public bodies, ombudsmen, as we still call them, and other tribunals established under Welsh law by the Welsh Government and which make judicial or quasi-judicial decisions should be brought under the supervision of the president of Welsh Tribunals, and recommendation 26 states that the Welsh Tribunals unit should be structurally independent and Welsh Tribunals should be used for dispute resolution relating to future Welsh legislation. As Sir Wyn observes, if accepted and implemented, these recommendations would substantially increase the workload of some tribunals. He notes how substantial the volume of disputes arising from health, education, housing, and agricultural law would be.

In particular, Sir Wyn cites housing legislation, where disputes currently have to be resolved by the county court. But as we know from current legislation going through the Senedd at the moment, in terms of the renting homes Bill, it will end no-fault evictions, but I think everyone who's looked at that Bill realises that to be effective law, it must allow landlords to have effective access to law when they do have cause to evict. Because we have shifted, quite rightly in my view, to a fault-based system, away from the, in effect, no-fault system that has prevailed since the late 1980s. But at the moment, access to the county courts and the expense involved and the time taken is often a very considerable deterrent. So, the Stage 1 committee report reflected on this and did indeed ask the Welsh Government to look at the concept of a housing tribunal relating to this part of housing law and dispute resolution.

So, I think that's a very clear example of how tribunals could be used more effectively, and I think we all believe that the use of tribunals in administrating public law is often very effective and allows more access to the legal system than citizens would get through the county courts. So, I do welcome the approach that's been taken, and I do commend, as the Counsel General did, this second report of the president of Welsh Tribunals. Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd.


Thank you very much, Llywydd. It's a pleasure to participate in this important debate, which is groundbreaking in our history, of course—the report on the second annual report of the president of Welsh Tribunals, Sir Wyn Williams. In the first instance, I would also like to thank Sir Wyn for his work over the years and echo the kind words spoken about him already, particularly the contribution of the Counsel General.

The background, as set out by the Counsel General—. Because naturally, some of us have been crowing for years on the need to devolve prisons, policing, probation and justice to this Senedd. It's easy, then, to forget that one part of the justice system is already devolved, and that's what we're discussing today. We sometimes forget that—well, in fact, we often forget that. It's the administrative justice system, which looks at how we administer the legislation that is already devolved; it's these various tribunals in six different areas. As a Member of this Senedd over the years, I have been involved with a few tribunals in representing constituents, who have a dispute, usually, with the local authority on the special educational needs system.

Another tribunal, of course, is the mental health review tribunal, and in looking at the figures, that is the most active of all of them. But as the Counsel General has already stated, the tribunals already cover ground such as agriculture, mental health and special educational needs. There is also the Welsh language and the residential property tribunal. I won't cover the same ground as David Melding, but there is scope to strengthen the work of these tribunals, particularly now as the Government in this Senedd is legislating anew in certain devolved areas such as housing, and there is the potential there to generate activities for the tribunals, and we would welcome that. There is also the adjudication panel Wales.

So, there is a great deal of work that is already ongoing, and I'm sure most of us, perhaps, didn't understand that that work in the sphere of justice is already devolved to this place. Of course, the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee of this Senedd did scrutinise the work of the tribunals and has done in the past, and I'm sure that the Chair, if he has an opportunity to contribute, will set out our role as a committee here in the Senedd, including inviting Sir Wyn Williams to meet with us virtually as a committee.

As the Counsel General's already set out, the background to this is the Thomas report on justice in Wales, which outlines the current situation in terms of justice of Wales, and he stated that it needed to be strengthened. The tribunal system is part of that, of course, but we do need to safeguard the independence of the tribunals from the Welsh Government, too. And just to emphasise that point, in terms of the way tribunals are funded, directly or indirectly from Government, of course, they are expected to make decisions independent of Government in all of these different areas such as housing, education, mental health, and so on, and that's a challenge. There's also a challenge there for the Welsh language tribunal in ensuring the independence of the tribunals as their powers increase. We do want to see those powers increase as the years pass.

Of course, my final point is that the COVID pandemic has had a significant impact on the activities of the tribunals, as it has in every other sphere, and many of the tribunals have gone online, they've had virtual meetings dealing with problems, particularly in terms of mental health. They haven't been able to meet face to face because it wasn't possible to do so for most of this year, but the work of the tribunals continues.

Therefore, to conclude, we are starting on this journey. Many of us in this Senedd want to see the justice system devolved in its entirety to this Senedd. We're focusing here on the one section that is already devolved, and we want to see that strengthened, too, so that we improve the way that we deal with justice here in Wales. We need to build on the foundations that we have leading to the day when we do see the devolution of policing, prisons, probation—the criminal justice system in its entirety in the hands of the people of Wales, here in Wales. Thank you very much.


Llywydd, earlier this year I had the honour to chair the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee to lead the scrutiny of the president of Welsh Tribunals, Sir Wyn Williams, on his second annual report, and it was an honour because it was a historic session. It was the first time in Welsh history that a committee of this Senedd, the Welsh Parliament, had been able to scrutinise the operation of that part of the justice system that is devolved to the Senedd since the establishment of the Council of Wales in 1571 by Edward IV, and since the abolition of the Welsh courts, the Great Sessions, in 1830. It is important because it represents the emergence of a renewed Welsh judicial system and legal jurisdiction, and it accompanies other legal and constitutional changes that are emerging in Wales and in the UK in the light of our departure from the European Union, and presents real challenges for Welsh Government in the development of the administration of our courts and tribunals system. These predominantly relate to accessibility, the independence of the appointment and operation of those judicial and quasi-judicial functions, and the administration of justice.

Now, as the committee scrutinising these functions, we are very aware of the dysfunctionality of our current judicial arrangements. UK legal aid is very limited, and in recent years has been decimated, leaving most Welsh citizens and communities with minimal access to justice, other than the single advice fund provided by the Welsh Government and administered by Citizens Advice Cymru. In many other important areas of social policy, Welsh Government is not currently the responsible Parliament, yet many relevant parts of the judicial system remain in the hands of Westminster under the auspices of an England and Wales jurisdiction. Courts have closed across Wales, so the concept of justice for people administered in the communities in which they live has become a thing of the past. Proposals by the UK Government to enable it to bypass the courts and to breach international obligations also undermine the integrity of the rule of law and our judicial systems. The administration of justice in Wales must not become a power struggle between Westminster and this Parliament, but should rather be based on the best system of the administration of justice for the people of Wales and a recognition of the integral relationship that exists between the legal system and social policy. 

Turning more specifically to Sir Wyn Williams's report, there are a number of issues that will need to be pursued in the next Senedd. The operation of the Welsh tribunals and the role of the president are at the core, so I very much support the focus of his report on these areas, the need for a unified system under the supervision of the president, and the independence of the system for Government. The work of the Law Commission to address these issues is long overdue and vitally important in ensuring the development of our Welsh judicial system, and that it is based on sound principles that will provide a foundation based on the principles of natural justice and the rule of law. Key to this is the point made by Sir Wyn Williams in the report that it is important that the Welsh Government begins to formulate its own proposals about the future role and development of the presidency within this context. And he says this so that the Law Commission is given as much assistance on this issue as is possible. 

Now, where the public ombudsman fits in within these considerations is also something that needs to be addressed. I believe also, in the next Senedd, that it is vital that the Welsh Government establish a Minister for justice. The view that this is dependent on the further devolution of justice is not, in my view, justified. We need a voice in this Parliament to speak up for the justice system as it operates in Wales as a whole, devolved and non-devolved. Such a Minister would address the current dysfunctional interface between devolved and non-devolved functions. Justice and injustice, as we know, have no boundaries, and I believe that this would begin to address recommendation 61 of the Thomas commission that  

'Clear and accountable leadership on justice in the Welsh Government must be established under the current scheme of devolution'.

Lord Thomas called for a co-ordinated leadership through a single Minister or Deputy Minister in the Welsh Government with the oversight of all justice matters, and that the Senedd should take a more proactive role in the appropriate scrutiny of the operation of the justice system. Llywydd, this is the process that we have launched today with the discussion of this historic annual report. Thank you, Llywydd. 


Firstly, can I say thank you very much to Sir Wyn Williams as the president of the Welsh Tribunals, both for his annual report but also for everything that he and his judges have been doing? The challenges have been greater because of coronavirus, but even in the normal scheme of things, the day-to-day work is rarely glamorous and I think it is important that we put on record our appreciation for what is done. 

Reading the annual report, I hope nothing I say will be taken as a criticism of the president or the report, but more of an interest in what he has written. Firstly, I think it's important that the annual report should be self-standing. I haven't had the extent of exposure to the previous report that perhaps some others have, and just as one example, the reference in paragraph 2.5 to cross-ticketing, I don't know what cross-ticketing is, and it's not explained, as far as I can see, within the document. It refers to a member of the Welsh Tribunals cross-ticketing, and then gives a specific tribunal. I'm assuming that they're likely to be a member of another Welsh tribunal and are then cross-ticketing to one that they're not a member of, but I'd liked to have been clearer on that. There's also a reference to one individual who cross tickets from the first tier property tribunal for England into the Residential Property Tribunal Wales, so I'm not sure if it's just a general thing when someone does something that's not on the tribunal to which they're appointed.

The previous speaker, after speaking, I think, with some excitement and positivity on his behalf about the re-emergence of a renewed Welsh judicial system—. I don't support that in the way he does, but I do share his concerns about what I think he rightly observes as a dysfunctional interface, and I think the quality and the extent of the work that happened on the commission for justice is in a different league to the appetite for the UK Government to respond to it and to upend the system and to make it anew. I'm struck by how small some of these tribunals are, and also how disparate their level of functions are. So, they have the commonality of being Welsh tribunals, but then there are very significant differences between most of them and what they do.

I also look with interest in light of the degree of emphasis put on Welsh language in the development of a Welsh judiciary and appointments, as to how widely it was used in the tribunals, and note that, outside the Welsh language tribunal, of 2,251 cases, only nine were conducted in Welsh. 

I have, if I may, a question to the Minister about the Welsh tribunal unit, and how we deal with issues such as independence of the judiciary when the president of the tribunals is looking, as I understand it, to two civil servants within the WTU as a structure whereby legal advice can be sought and obtained when necessary. Is the WTU seen as an embryonic Welsh ministry of justice, and if so, when the Minister refers to it having great structural independence, is that in the way that the MoJ would, for the UK Government, often, with respect to England, or is he looking at something stronger than that?

I note that the president refers to his term and the Law Commission report and how a decision needs to be made in the short to medium term about the role of the president, and he notes that his role is mainly administrative and pastoral, and I'm sure there are very valuable and important things that he does—very much so—but I was a little unnerved to note that there's no clear statutory basis for the president to serve as a judge on tribunals. It's generally accepted that they can, or potentially should, but then the current president sets out his views as to how he's conducted his own role, and I just wonder if we need a greater clarity of understanding here, amongst judges, but also primarily, perhaps, between the Welsh Government and the UK Government, because I think the degree of divergence between the ambition of the commission on justice—. And the president was one of those commissioners and refers in this report to some of the things he learnt through that and has made me understand aspects of that report in a way I didn't before, because of what he says in this annual report today. Is that difference of view between Welsh and UK Government such that we are not getting pragmatic, sensible solutions to the operation of the system?

And I agree with Mick Antoniw; there has been a dysfunctional interface, but there are two potential ways of dealing with it. What we tend to hear here is how that means we must see devolution of justice. The other way of dealing with it is to operate some things on a UK or at least England and Wales basis, rather than further devolving, and I'm unclear where the UK Government stands. It doesn't take as much interest in this as we do, but I listened to David Melding and I'm not sure whether his stance and emphasis necessarily reflects that of his group or the UK Government. So, there is a degree of confusion. I sympathise with the president in some of his calls for that confusion to be resolved, even if I wouldn't agree with some of the ways he might wish that to happen. Thank you.


I think this is a timely moment to be discussing how we dispense justice in Wales, and I'm sure, Counsel General, you will agree that justice is not easily available or timely or cheap to access, and I wanted to particularly talk about how we could improve access for tenants to justice where they've got landlords who are breaching the law. I've got lots of cases where landlords have been disapplied as appropriate licensees, where electrical certificates have not been forthcoming, gas appliance certificates ditto. And by the time anybody could ever get into a court to get it heard, the tenants have moved on and the problem has been inherited by new tenants. So, I wondered if it's possible to consider setting up a Welsh housing court dedicated to these issues so that that might be able to free up a bit more time in the main courts for criminal matters. I'm wondering if you could just say anything about that.


I therefore call on the Counsel General to respond to the debate.

Thank you, Llywydd, I think, because of the translation—it may be an issue at my end—I'll make my remarks in English, if I may.

I thank Members for their contributions to this debate. I think it is important that we are having this debate for the reasons that many contributors have outlined, as an important step in the growing role of the Senedd in scrutinising the operation of parts of the justice system in Wales, in particular those that affect other policy areas for which we are responsible through the devolved settlement in Wales.

A number of the speakers, starting with David Melding, made the point about a need for a sort of rationalised approach, if you like, to the work of the tribunals overall, and the importance of the independence of the tribunals. Mark Reckless and Dai Lloyd also made similar points. And I would want to associate myself with the statement that Mick Antoniw made when he was Counsel General, underlining the Government's commitment to the independence of the tribunals here in Wales. It is, of course, an essential principle. I joined the First Minister in his recent meeting with Sir Wyn to hear Sir Wyn's thoughts about how that might develop into the future, and it's certainly the ambition of the Government for the structures that we have in place to serve the work of the tribunals to become more independent over time. I think an important milestone in that journey will be the report of the Law Commission next summer, which is designed specifically to look at the overall operation of the tribunals system in Wales—questions of appointment, organisation and so on. So, they will be important considerations in how we make sure that we shore up the independence of tribunals in Wales.

A number of speakers made the point about the growing visibility, the growing recognition, if you like, of the body of administrative justice in Wales, which has a very significant impact on the daily lives of citizens right across Wales in very meaningful ways. There's a growing understanding and discussion of it here in the Senedd, in the world of academia, but also, most importantly, in the practical business of getting remedies for people. And both David Melding and Jenny Rathbone had suggestions about that how could be enhanced even further into the future.

I just want to echo the point that Dai Lloyd made in his contribution around the importance—the significance, rather—of the fact that the tribunals system has maintained its capacity to deal with issues, even against the backdrop of coronavirus. I think there have been a very, very small number of hearings that have been postponed because they may need physical visits to land, for example, and none of those, as I understand it, are envisaged to have particular impact on the case. So, I think that's testimony to the innovation and flexibility that the tribunals system has shown in the last few weeks and months as a consequence of COVID.

Obviously, I disagree with Mark Reckless's point about the journey that lies ahead, but would very much want to associate myself with the points he made about the appreciation that we should show to all people who've participated in the tribunals system over the last year in the report.

I think Mick Antoniw's remarks, just to close, are the guide for us here. It is important that we have this debate here in the Senedd not just because the work of the tribunals touches on policy for which we are otherwise responsible, but also as part of that growing responsibility in the field of justice that many, if not most of us, wish to see. And I think part of that role, which Mick described as a more proactive role, is discharged by having these kinds of debates and bringing the work of the tribunals system into the mainstream of our thinking and considerations here in the Senedd.

So, thank you to everyone for their contributions, and thank you to Sir Wyn once again for his work.


The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes, there is an objection and I will, therefore, defer voting until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

I'm given to understand that there was an issue with interpretation, but that that has now been resolved.

I understand that there has been a translation issue. If Members using the translation have understood what I've just said in Welsh, can you indicate on Zoom that you're hearing the translation? Yes, I can see that, so we can proceed in both Welsh and English with some confidence. 

8. Statement by the First Minister: Coronavirus—December Restrictions

So, we will move to the statement by the First Minister on coronavirus and the December restrictions, and I call on the First Minister to make that statement—Mark Drakeford.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. On Friday, we will strengthen our regulations in response to an increase in coronavirus cases in Wales. A written statement was issued yesterday drawing Members' attention to these new rules. This afternoon, I will provide further information to explain the background and why we must act now.

Briefly, the virus is still spreading quickly in Wales, and we must react in order to reduce the pressure on the health service as we prepare for the Christmas period. Last month's firebreak was successful in reducing case numbers across Wales, but there's no getting away from the fact that numbers are increasing once again, as we have seen across the UK, in Europe and globally. 

Llywydd, coronavirus is once again spreading across Wales, eroding the gains achieved during the firebreak period. Unless we respond now to the growing number of people infected with the virus, the advice from our scientific and medical advisers is that by 12 January the total number of people with the virus in hospital in Wales could rise to 2,200.

Our modelling suggests that, unless we act, between 1,000 and 1,700 preventable deaths could take place over the winter period. On Friday, the all-Wales seven-day incidence rate was 187 cases per 100,000 people; this has risen to almost 216 cases per 100,000 people today. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Welsh Government has listened to the scientific advice and taken action to suppress the rate of transmission. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, SAGE, has reviewed the restrictions applied across the United Kingdom. They have pointed to the tier 3 measures in England and the level 3 measures in Scotland as providing evidence of shrinking the epidemic in those areas.  

Now, we already have many of the equivalent restrictions in place across Wales. The key differences have been in restrictions on hospitality, on entertainment businesses and on indoor tourist attractions. These are places where the risk of transmission is higher, as people can be in close proximity to one another for significant periods of time. With increasing rates across Wales, these are the places in which we have to intervene.

The restrictions, which will come into force on Friday, focus on adapting what has been effective elsewhere to add to the repertoire of measures already available in Wales. From Friday, pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes will have to close by 6 p.m. and will not be allowed to serve alcohol in the premises; after 6 p.m., they will only be able to provide takeaway services.

It will be for hospitality businesses themselves to decide whether to remain open, but those that do so will provide a place for people to meet. This is particularly important for young people and those people who haven't been able to take advantage of our extended household arrangement. That, Llywydd, is why we are keeping the rule-of-four arrangements. With the restrictions we are setting out, including on hospitality, the risks of meeting in such small groups are diminished.

And because of the seriousness of the position we face, from Friday, all indoor entertainment venues, including cinemas, bingo halls, bowling alleys, soft-play centres, casinos, skating rinks and amusement arcades, must close. Indoor visitor attractions, such as museums, galleries and heritage sites, will also have to close. Outdoor visitor attractions will remain open.

Llywydd, of course, placing further restrictions on hospitality was not an easy decision. We recognise the enormous effort made by the sector to comply with the regulations, and I'm very grateful for everything that they have done. Unfortunately, similar restrictions have had to be introduced in all other parts of the United Kingdom and, indeed, across the world. The consumption of alcohol has been identified by health officials and policy makers internationally as increasing the risk of transmission, as social distancing can break down as people have an altered perception of risk. Feedback from incident management teams in Wales repeatedly highlights issues associated with alcohol and with some hospitality venues. Data from the TTP system regularly highlights hospitality as venues where contacts of infectious individuals are identified.

Llywydd, these changes will apply across Wales. We know from our own direct experience that the volatility of the virus means that those areas that have relatively low prevalence today can see very rapid rises in just a matter of days. The advice of the SAGE committee is clear: measures are most effective when taken early. The measures we are taking will protect all parts of Wales at a time when the virus is rising in 15 of our 22 local authority areas amongst young people, and where that rise is already translating into infection rises amongst the over 60s. Indeed, 14 of our 22 local authorities see rises in the 60 and over age ranges today. And while the position remains as it is at present, national measures in support of a national effort remain the most effective way of safeguarding us all.

As a Government, we recognise that these new restrictions will be particularly difficult at one of the busiest times of the year for the hospitality sector. To support those businesses affected, we will provide a support package of £340 million. This is the most generous anywhere in the United Kingdom, and is, of course, in addition to the UK Government's support schemes. This will include a £160 million grant scheme specifically for tourism, leisure and hospitality businesses. We're working with partners to ensure that, where we can, we will make payments to affected businesses as quickly as possible before Christmas.

Llywydd, as we know, there is more than one form of harm that this virus brings. Our decisions have been informed by equality and children's rights impact assessments, which have helped identify where we can minimise adverse impacts and put in place additional support. This includes maintaining, as far as possible, the remainder of the current regulations in Wales. The rules on meeting indoors and outdoors are therefore unchanged. Two households are still able to form, together, an extended household. As is currently the case, schools, gyms, non-essential retail and close-contact services will remain open. Allowing people to exercise has a positive impact on mental health and well-being. We know that keeping schools open is vital for schoolchildren, especially those that are vulnerable and from more disadvantaged backgrounds.   

Finally, Llywydd, all this remains under regular review. As part of that, this week the Cabinet will consider travel restrictions, the rules on self-isolation, our fixed-penalty notice regime, and other associated matters. We will then bring forward new regulations to come into force on Friday at 6 p.m. We will formally review these restrictions by 17 December, and then every three weeks. 

Llywydd, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, we need to act now to put ourselves in the best position we can ahead of the relaxations over the festive season. These strengthened restrictions will protect people's health, slow the spread of the virus and, with the help of us all, will keep Wales safe. Diolch yn fawr.