Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

09/10/2018

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

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 Mohammad Asghar.

Exports to Countries outside the European Union

1. What action is the Welsh Government taking to increase the value of exports to countries outside the European Union? OAQ52714

We've long had a suite of support services designed to help Welsh companies to export their goods and services to all markets, both inside and outside of the European Union, and these will continue to be available after we leave the EU.

Thank you very much for the reply, First Minister. Welsh Government figures show that exports from Wales to the European Union, for the year ending 2018, increased by 6.8 per cent, compared to the previous year. However, export to non-EU countries increased only by 0.3 per cent. Given the failure of Welsh Government to diversify its export destinations, what action will you take to take advantage of the trading opportunities presented by Brexit? And will you follow the recommendation of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee and appoint a trade Minister to sell Wales to the world, please?

Well, I remain to be convinced of what trade opportunities exist post Brexit. For example, if you look at the top five export markets that we have, the top is Germany, second France, third the USA, fourth Ireland, fifth the Netherlands. Now, four of those countries are in the EU. If we look further down to the top 10, then we find a situation where eight are either in the EU or the customs union. Now, clearly, these are our major export markets. They are markets that we must seek to protect while at the same time looking to expand our markets elsewhere, which is why, of course, we've opened, and are in the process of opening, more offices around the world, in order to raise Wales's profile abroad.

First Minister, whilst it's true that, currently, the majority of Wales's goods exports go to the EU, the growth prospects, regardless of Brexit, are not promising. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund have all downgraded EU gross domestic product growth forecast to around 1.5 per cent, whereas China will see growth five to 10 times higher than that. So, what specific steps is your Government taking to capitalise on our growing trade with China and ensure that China becomes one of our major export markets for goods and services?

Well, China comes in at No. 11 in terms of the countries that we export to. We have, of course, three offices in China—looking to open another one—and their job is to promote links in every way between Wales and China. We will look to expand Wales's presence in every market around the world, including that market that is closest to us—the European market.

Industrial Heritage in Newport

2. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government policy for industrial heritage in Newport? OAQ52710

We are rightfully proud of our nation’s rich industrial heritage. Over 1,000 industrial structures in Wales have statutory protection, including the iconic, grade I listed of course, Newport transporter bridge—a truly significant historic structure not only for Newport, but for the whole of Wales.

Yes, First Minister, the transporter bridge, having been built at the turn of the twentieth century, is one of just six working bridges in the world today. It was originally built to transport steel workers across the river Usk to their place of work and it holds very many memories for local people. I remember being on the transporter bridge going to school games, in primary school, standing on one leg when it bumped at the end, to see whether you could remain on one leg, walking over the top, and, of course, the history of the miners' strike, when it was hijacked by striking miners, and when a USA businessman wanted to buy it, dismantle it, transport it to the states and reassemble it. There are so many stories around that Newport transporter bridge—the tranny, as it's known locally. I'm glad that Welsh Government is increasingly recognising this. Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge have an important project, with the Heritage Lottery Fund, to safeguard its future, and Dafydd Elis-Thomas just the other week, in answering a question from my colleague Jayne Bryant, committed to putting it at the forefront of Welsh Government policy for industrial heritage in Wales. I wonder whether you could reinforce that Welsh Government commitment today, First Minister, and perhaps give a little bit more detail as to how it will be taken forward.

I heard the Member for Newport East suggest that he'd walked over the bridge—whether he was meant to do that or not, he doesn't explain further. But he's right to say, of course, that the bridge has played a huge part in Newport's history and is held in great affection in the hearts of the people of his constituency and, indeed, Newport West as well. What I can say is that the Minister has asked his officials to work closely with Newport City Council to secure the project—the bridge—by providing technical support and advice, and in helping to identify potential sources of funding to help meet the current funding shortfall for the bridge, and certainly I know the Minister has been asked to be kept fully informed of developments. 

13:35

I'm pleased to hear that Welsh Government will at least be supporting work to see if we can secure funding for the transporter bridge, and I hope it may support it with its own funding, depending on how that work progresses. I wonder, therefore, if I could ask the First Minister whether he would also support the industrial heritage of Newport by funding an equally inspiring new bridge over Newport docks for the M4 relief road. 

Well, that is not within the portfolio of the Minister, I can assure him of that, and we will always look to ensure that the industrial heritage of Newport that is with us will continue to be protected. 

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the UKIP group, Gareth Bennett 

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, there's been a lot of publicity recently over the issue of food labelling. As you will be aware, there have been some tragic cases where people have died, quite possibly due to lack of information on the label of a food product that they consumed. Do you agree that, as a matter of course, there should be clear labelling for food products in Wales so that all the relevant information is readily available? 

Thank you for that very definitive answer and, of course, I entirely agree with you. Now, another related issue is the one of halal meat entering the mainstream food chain. As you know, halal meat, some 20 per cent of which comes from animals that are not stunned before they are slaughtered, is a growth industry in the UK. One issue related to this is that halal meat is only allowed for religious reasons, so that its consumption should be confined to those who have a religious belief that they need to eat halal meat. In other words, halal meat consumption should be confined to practising Muslims. But we know that, increasingly, food retailers are offering halal food as a normal part of their menu. Sometimes, it is hard even to see the labelling of halal food as such. So, you could enter a takeaway shop or a restaurant and find that you're eating food that you later discover to be halal, which was not clearly labelled as such on the menu. Is there a case that we need to adopt much more stringent measures over food labelling here in Wales so that people who are not practising Muslims do not unwittingly end up eating halal food? 

Well, I think people do understand and are able to make a choice. What shall we have next then? Should we insist that food is labelled kosher in order for people who are not Jewish to avoid eating that food? Should we label food, for example, so that it is acceptable to those who are Hindus, those who are Buddhists? Well, yes, we need to label food as accurately as possible, but I certainly don't take the view that, somehow, halal food should be singled out compared to other dietary regimes and other religions. If you're going to suggest that about Muslims, are you going to suggest the same about Jews? 

I take the point that you raise, First Minister, but there is no evidence that kosher food is entering the mainstream food market, but there is some evidence that halal food is. So, that is the reason why I raised the issue specifically of halal food. Now, I don't think we should be downplaying this issue. I remember that we had a scandal over horse meat a few years ago, and I think this lack of labelling of halal food has the potential to be, if anything, an even bigger scandal.

Now, your Government has talked about—[Interruption.] Your Government has talked about animal welfare in the past and, to be fair, you have done things in that line. The British Veterinary Association, the RSPCA and other organisations have called for an end to the non-stun slaughter of animals in the UK, which they say is cruel and painful for the animals being slaughtered. There has also been considerable academic research backing up this view. Now, it has already been banned in Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and New Zealand. It is now UKIP policy to ban the practice of non-stun slaughter entirely here in the UK. Would you agree that that is actually the best policy for the interests of animal welfare in Wales? 

No, and I do regret the fact that he, again, singles out one religious group he particularly dislikes. He starts with Muslims, he will move on to the Jewish people, he'll move on to Hindus, move on to Buddhists, because they're not exactly like him, and thankfully they're not—can you imagine a world of Gareth Bennetts, the kind of world that it would be?

The reality is that we are an open and tolerant society. We have in Cardiff one of the oldest mosques in Britain. The population that we have here of people who are Muslim has been integrated in our society for many, many, many decades and are respected for the contribution that they have made to Welsh life—a contribution, I have to say, that goes well beyond that which UKIP or the Member has made.

13:40

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, yesterday I was with the other First Minister, of Scotland. Anyone who visits Scotland and the Scottish Government nowadays comes away with a sense of a country that is confident, a Government that is effective and a leader that is respected in Scotland and further afield. Yesterday, when the Scottish First Minister called for any Brexit backstop affording Northern Ireland a special single market status also to be extended to Scotland, it was reported as major news by all UK media. Do you as First Minister of Wales echo that demand for Wales, and when you speak on these matters, why does no-one seem to take any notice?

I don't agree with what the First Minister of Scotland has said. I think all you do is shift the problem from the border in Ireland to the border between Scotland and England. The problem is then transplanted.

The real issue that we must keep sight of here is that it's important that the UK and the Republic of Ireland are within the same customs union and have the same arrangements with regard to the single market.

First Minister, your claim to be a strong voice for Wales would carry some greater weight if it wasn't for the fact that you're leaving the office of First Minister at this most critical time in our history and, within a matter of days of your announcing your intention to do so, your Government, led by one of your would-be successors, in stark contrast to the courage of conviction shown by the Scottish Government, caved in to Westminster in relation to your own continuity Act. Now, seeing as you're supporting the Scottish Government in their action at the Supreme Court, can you confirm that any proposal to repeal your continuity Act will be held in abeyance until a ruling is made, and if the court finds in favour of the Scottish Government, instead of ripping up the Act, will you declare your rather squalid deal with the Westminster Tory Government dead?

The reality of the situation is this: it is axiomatic in Plaid Cymru that somehow the people of Wales are misguided because they don't vote for Plaid Cymru and for him as First Minister. The reality is they have put my party in power in every election in this Assembly, and the reality is that we sit here as a Labour-led Government, of course with others within this Government.

No, I don't agree with what Scotland has done. We have come to terms with the UK Government. We expect those terms to be kept. What happens if the Scots lose the Supreme Court battle? They have nothing. They have nothing. We have an agreement. The Scots will have no agreement at all, and that, we think, is a far better prospect as far as Wales is concerned, rather than effectively playing blackjack with the future of the union.

You're being outflanked by the Scottish First Minister. You're even being outflanked by Northern Ireland, who don't even have a First Minister or a Government or an Assembly. It's less of a surprise, perhaps, that you're being outshone by the Government of the Republic of Ireland; after all, they're an independent state, and there may be a lesson for us there, First Minister. I was very pleased that Irish diplomats were able to confirm to me at the weekend that they will now be reopening the Irish consulate here in Cardiff. Are you able to confirm, First Minister, that your Government—. He laughs. He thinks it's amusing, but this is an important development in terms of our key partner here. Are you as First Minister able to confirm that you will reciprocate by opening an office for Wales in Dublin, and, to be clear, I don't mean a desk tucked away in a corner of the British embassy?

And finally, First Minister, given the Irish economy last year grew around three times as fast as the rest of Europe, and five times as fast as Wales, do you think that the Irish view with envy the economic success story that Wales within the union has so evidently been and deeply regret the economic catastrophe that independence has proven for them?

First of all, we have an office in Dublin. I'd expect him to know that. Yes, it is in the embassy, but the Scots are there as well. The point is the Scots are also in embassies around the world, as are we. So, the Scots have no problem with being inside British embassies when it suits them. I don't see a problem with that, as long as the presence is there. The consulate is coming to Cardiff because I kept on pushing for it. I've raised it in every single meeting I've had with Irish Government officials, with the Taoiseach himself, and with Irish Government Ministers, which is why it's come back to Cardiff, after all the work that I did in persuading them to do that.

Thirdly, yes, the Irish economy has grown, but from a base that was exceptionally low in 2008. Ireland was on its knees in 2008, the economy was wrecked, people were in huge debt, the banks were in a situation where they were going to fold. They were in a situation where the housing market had collapsed. Yes, things have improved, but I know Ireland very, very well: it does do well economically, it's got a strong profile around the world because of its diaspora, but it has no health service. If you want to go to Ireland to get health cover, be my guest, because health provision there is far, far, far inferior to what we have here. Things have to be paid for in Ireland that are free here. It's the reality, for example, that if you want to have a baby in Ireland, you pay. That's what happens there. The reality is the tax rates are higher, the cost of living is higher. Knowing Ireland as I do, I know that is the case.

And he doesn't address this fundamental point. He is honest when he says, 'I am in favour of independence', because that is what his party stands for. I don't criticise him for that. I don't agree with him, but that is his position. But what he must address, surely, is the gap that we have between spending and revenue raising in Wales. There's a 25 per cent gap. That has to be addressed in terms of, if we were to become independent tomorrow, how that would be addressed. Where would the cuts be made? Where would he make those cuts? Because there wouldn't be growth over night. If he wants to make the case for independence, he must explain to the people of Wales where those cuts would occur. It's beyond debate that the revenue that we raise is less than what we spend. It's beyond debate, unless he's arguing that that's not the case. If that is the case, if we became independent, there's a gap there, how will that gap be filled?

13:45

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, can you explain to the people of Wales why the new contract for delivering broadband services has still not been rolled out?

Well, that is a matter that we're taking up with BT. They are the only provider, of course—there's no competition in this market. And we are ensuring that BT will roll out that contract and provide the services that we've paid for.

Well, failing to roll out this new contract is another example of your Government's failure. This is the latest in a long line of broken promises. And let me remind the First Minister that the Welsh Labour party's 2011 election manifesto committed to ensuring, and I quote,

'that all residential premises and all businesses in Wales will have access to Next Generation Broadband by 2015'.

Well, that is clearly another broken promise by your Government. And I'm sure that Members from all sides of the Chamber will be able to give you examples of communities that are struggling with a sub-standard broadband service. Communities like Mynachalog-ddu in Pembrokeshire, Moelfre in Conwy and Newcastle in Monmouthshire are just a few that are at the back of the broadband queue, making those communities much more isolated and disadvantaged compared to other parts of Wales. First Minister, where has it all gone wrong?

Well, first of all, we have 96 per cent of premises that are connected to superfast broadband. Where are the Tory promises on this? If the Tories were in power, they'd have done nothing at all. There was no broadband offer from the Tories, nothing at all.

Where is the UK Government? Bear in mind, we've kept our promise in a matter that's isn't even devolved. It's not even devolved. Once again, we have the Tory Government in London saying that Wales has to pay for something that, actually, it should pay for. Actually, this is infrastructure that should benefit the whole of the UK, but that is not the way that the Conservative Government sees it, because they are so obsessed with the market. For them, the market must determine everything. If we left that to happen in Wales, most of Wales would not have superfast broadband. We have intervened as a Government, we put investment in, and that's why you raise it, because of the shame that his own party has done so little.

You have broken your Assembly election manifesto—that is quite clear from what I've just quoted to you. And your party's manifesto not only committed to ensuring that all residential premises and all businesses in Wales would have access to next generation broadband by 2015, but it went on to pledge that 50 per cent of properties or more should have access to 100 Mbps. Now, we know that Government will be making a statement on the new contract, but as we've come to expect from so many of the Welsh Government's schemes, the implementation of this has slipped and slipped and slipped.

This contract should have been in place at the beginning of this year, and whilst we are still waiting, schoolchildren like Grug Williams have to be driven a mile away from their homes near Gwytherin in Conwy to find a signal to download school work. Let me also remind the First Minister that the annual NFU broadband and mobile survey also showed that two thirds of NFU members asked in Wales said that they were not able to access sufficient broadband speeds, which has a significant impact on their ability to do business effectively and efficiently. So, with that in mind, First Minister, and in light of the very serious impact that the lack of adequate broadband provision is having on Welsh communities, will you now apologise for failing to meet your 2011 Assembly manifesto commitment? Will you also apologise to those people living without a decent broadband service in Wales for your Government's failure to properly deal with this issue?

13:50

First of all, mobile technology is certainly not devolved. That is something the UK Government should be ensuring rolls out across the whole—[Interruption.] Let me explain, then. There's a difference between mobile technology and broadband. He said mobile and broadband. Mobile is not devolved. Mobile phone technology and reception is a matter for the UK Government. The reason why we have relatively poor coverage around the UK is because of the model that was adopted for mobile coverage in the first place. Too much money was being paid to the UK Government and not enough money was then available to actually invest in the infrastructure.

When it comes to broadband, he sits there as somebody from a party with no policy on this. I've seen no policy at all. We have delivered for the people of Wales in many, many communities up and down Wales a broadband service that otherwise they would never, ever have had. I speak to businesses all around Wales that are able to access it. He raised the 2011 manifesto. He raised the issue of school broadband. There is one promise that I know the people of Wales are delighted the Conservatives never had the opportunity to implement from their 2011 manifesto, and that was the 20 per cent cut in education funding that they keep on forgetting about.

Animal Welfare in North Wales

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on animal welfare in North Wales? OAQ52723

The Wales animal health and welfare framework implementation plan sets out Welsh Government priorities. The Cabinet Secretary’s oral statement in June set out plans to maintain and enhance companion animal welfare in Wales and she will make an oral statement on farmed animal welfare next month.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. Finn's law is currently making its way through the UK Parliament's legislative process. This law proposes to give special status to service animals, like police dogs and horses, where they are harmed and removes the wiggle room around unnecessary suffering available to perpetrators under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. I understand this change will come before the Assembly for consideration. First Minister, will your Government please support Finn's law?

These are matters that I know the Minister is looking at and she will seek to look favourably in terms of implementing that law. These are matters the Minister will deal with in due course. 

I'm sure you'll join me in congratulating the winners of RSPCA Cymru's community animal welfare footprint awards in north Wales—Conwy council, Denbighshire council, Wrexham council, Ynys Môn council, Clwyd Alyn Housing Association and Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd—and also in acknowledging the delivery of animal welfare through local authorities being an important requirement of those local authorities. How, therefore, do you feel we should respond to concerns raised with me this summer, when I went out with an RSPCA inspector in Denbighshire, about the recent spate of animal injuries in the area caused by air rifles and crossbows?

That's deeply distressing. First of all, I join him of course in congratulating the local authorities involved. Where animals have been injured with weapons, people should have no compunction in reporting the matter to the police. I know that after the event has occurred it's far more difficult to track down the culprits, but where there is a pattern of behaviour in a particular area, at some point in time those people will make a mistake and quite often they get caught. It's deeply distressing, of course, for those who own pets and I would encourage them, even if they think that nothing will happen, I'd encourage them to register the issue with the police and report it as a crime. 

First Minister, I see that the Government in England is introducing a ban on third party puppy sales. I just would like to know from you, you're saying now that you're going to consider it, how long you're going to continue trying to regulate the misery instead of banning it outright.

The Minister plans to make an announcement on that before the end of term. 

13:55
Transport Fit for Future Generations

4. What assessment has the First Minister made of the Future Generations Commissioner's report, 'Transport Fit for Future Generations'? OAQ52748

The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’s sentiment on the benefits of investing in public transport, as well as walking and cycling infrastructure, is of course echoed by the Government, and the Cabinet Secretary responded to the commissioner on 28 September.

Thank you, First Minister. You'll be aware, I hope, that what the future generations commissioner's report has highlighted is that an M4 relief road would actually increase the numbers using the M4 by 42,000 vehicles a day, increasing the emissions by 500,000 tonnes. Given the extent of the congestion and pollution problem that my constituents are suffering, I'm extremely concerned that this relief road would increase the number of people commuting into Cardiff and, indeed, Newport by car. I'm struck by the argument from the future generations commissioner that a much smaller sum of less than £600 million on public transport and active travel would actually resolve the congestion problem at a fraction of the price. I wondered if you would be able to give us your views on that argument. 

It's not clear how that would operate, and some of the things that I've seen would be the introduction of bus lanes on the motorway. Of course, there would need to be buses that would run on the lanes, and in some parts of it, a dual carriageway; you can't have a single-lane motorway, clearly. Preventing people getting onto the motorway was one suggestion that was made; moving freight onto the rails, which, of course, we want to support, but it's easier said than done, particularly goods traffic because there are very few goods yards now. 

I take on board, of course, very much what she says about congestion. It will get worse—there's no question about that. When the Severn tolls go, there will be an effect on the tunnels, and I think we are deceiving ourselves if we think that the situation will improve in the near future. So, there has to be a solution. From my perspective, the decision that I will be asked to take is, 'Should it be the black route or not?' and that is something, of course, I have an open mind on because I have not yet seen the planning inspector's substantial report on this matter.   

The commissioner also said

'the Black Route is particularly weak...on the criteria set out in the Well-being of Future Generations Act'.

I think this is a key moment. I'm quite neutral on what the decision should be; I think there are arguments on both sides. But it's clearly going to be a key moment for the application of this Act for long-term projects and policies, and I do hope the Government will have some sort of method of responding in detail if it has to establish that it may be, in terms of the criteria set out, a decision that is not altogether aligned with it. At least that would take the Act seriously, or is it your position that the commissioner is wrong in making the assessment that she has on this?  

It's a shame that the commissioner didn't give evidence to the inquiry because, of course, this evidence then could have been tested and she would have been able to explain the basis upon which that evidence was given. It was produced after the inquiry had finished, which is perhaps not the most helpful way of doing it, but we will, nevertheless, take into account, of course, what the commissioner has said, and all relevant factors regarding the decision. The decision itself is not in an easy decision, but it has to be taken one way or another. The assurance I give Members is that I will take into account all relevant factors before coming to a conclusion.  

Regeneration Plans in South Wales West

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on regeneration plans in South Wales West? OAQ52751

Welsh Government regeneration investment supports schemes that create jobs, enhance skills and employability, and deliver the right environment for businesses to grow and thrive and ensure that prosperity is spread to all parts of Wales.

First Minister, as we've discussed in this Chamber on numerous occasions, the Swansea bay tidal lagoon has the potential to not only help us in Wales to increase our renewable energy generation, but also to provide a much needed boost to the economy of the whole of south-west Wales. There's been talk of Welsh Government investment, and a taskforce has been established by Swansea bay city region to look at this in greater depth. However, in terms of ownership models, will you confirm whether the Welsh Government would consider creating a Welsh energy company to take this project forward, when are you expecting the taskforce to conclude its work, and when do you envisage making a decision on your Government's role in this whole scheme? 

The first thing that has to be established is the market, and particularly, of course, the strike price. These things are hugely important in terms of determining the viability of the project. What the UK Government didn't do was look at the contract for difference and the strike price in terms of making the lagoon viable; it decided it would pay more money for other forms of energy. So, the first thing that has to be established is the market—there is a way of doing that, by working with local authorities and others. I know that Swansea city council is looking at alternative ways of funding the lagoon, and we want to see what those ideas are, of course, and we will work with them if there is a viable project that can move forward, after the UK Government's unwelcome decision. That is something that we will continue to work with them on. 

14:00

Well, both Swansea and Cardiff, of course, are benefiting from some regeneration work at the moment, not least through the city deal, but Bridgend, as you know, is on the very edge of the city deal footprint for Cardiff. While Bridgend taxpayers are handing over £11 million or more for the project, residents are starting to ask me now where's the benefit in it for them, and they're asking in Porthcawl as well. Specifically, they're asking: does Welsh Government expect further investment in Bridgend train station or the long-promised Brackla train station? And do you think that the city deal should be regeneration Bridgend town centre, not just the city centres? It may be the catalyst for that partial de-pedestrianisation that, as you know, traders are very keen to see happen. 

Well, first of all, Bridgend railway station's only just been refurbished, of course, as she will know, and very well. There was a real problem there with congestion when trains were coming in and passengers not being able to get through the gates, so that's very much welcome. In terms of the town itself, Vibrant and Viable Places has had an impact on the town. The redevelopment of the Rhiw car park into what is now a gym, a car park and residential accommodation—that will bring more people living in the town and so providing the footfall the town needs in the day and in the evening. We have the business improvement district as well that I know has been welcomed by town traders. Indeed, in fairness, there are a number of events now happening in the town centre that are drawing people in, and that's something I very much welcome.

She does mention the partial de-pedestrianisation. It is something, personally, that I support, but only that bit, because I remember what the town was like when there was traffic. I think properly done, it's possible to have a route through the town that doesn't cause danger to others, that doesn't let people linger either, in car parking spaces, but allows people to stop, collect and go—or stop, drop off and go—and I know that's something the council are keen to do and are looking to develop a bid in order to do so. 

First Minister, obviously economic regeneration depends on many issues in the seven constituencies across South Wales West, including Aberavon. Transport is a big issue to ensure that we can attract businesses and bring investment in. Now, there's been a report to the Welsh Government on the M4 pollution matters that gives a proposal to the Welsh Government to consider closing junction 41. The last time it did that, there was traffic chaos in my constituency and that would not attract businesses to come because that chaos happened at peak times and would cause huge disruption to businesses. Can you reaffirm the position given by the Cabinet Secretary two years ago to actually keep that road open and that the Welsh Government will not close junction 41 and put the traffic chaos back again for the people of Port Talbot? 

Well, this is a matter that's still, I believe, under consultation. Of course, as happened last time around, there will be full consideration given to the comments that people make. 

Universal Credit in Torfaen

6. Will the First Minister provide an update on the impact of universal credit in Torfaen? OAQ52752

Well, people are struggling, not just in Torfaen but elsewhere, because of the complexities of universal credit. The UK Government has to address these issues urgently before they proceed with any managed migration of existing benefit claimants to universal credit.

First Minister, Torfaen has had more than a year now of the full service roll-out of universal credit. In that year, we have seen people waiting six to eight weeks for payment, an increase in debt and rent arrears, more and more people needing to use food banks and a universal credit helpline where people are literally waiting hours to speak to a member of staff. I believe the local record in Torfaen is four hours, with most people, especially vulnerable people, giving up in that time.

will you join me in paying tribute to the excellent coalition we've got of Torfaen council, Torfaen citizens advice bureau, TRAC2 and housing providers, who are all working so hard to get people through this universal credit maze? But will you also join me in calling the UK Government to recognise that it's time to stop this now and sort out these problems before it causes any more suffering?  

First of all, can I add my thanks and congratulations, of course, to the fine example of co-operative working that we've seen there, helping the people who are most vulnerable at a time when they need to know which direction to go in and to find out exactly what they're entitled to. But, yes, it's quite clear to me and to many in this Chamber, that universal credit as it currently stands has not worked. And it's absolutely crucial, where there is a problem, that that problem is sorted rather than sorting it after more people have suffered, and that's unfortunately the situation we find ourselves in now.

14:05

First Minister, IFF Research recently carried out a survey of universal credit claimants on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. They found evidence of positive employment outcomes for universal credit claimants with a near doubling of the proportion of claimants being in a paid role eight months into their claim. They also reported an increase in the number of hours worked and overall income levels. Does the First Minister recognise that universal credit is tackling ingrained worklessness in areas such as Torfaen and that, as a result, people are moving into work faster? Thank you.

Well, should I be surprised that the department that has the responsibility for universal credit has commissioned a survey to say it's fine? I would have questions as to the objectivity—I don't know more about it—of such a survey. But let me say to him that the real effect of universal credit is this: Community Housing Cymru recently reported that housing association tenants on universal credit in Wales are already in over £1 million-worth of debt in terms of rent arrears. According to their survey, a sample of 29 housing associations in Wales—that survey was conducted with 3,475 people living in housing association homes in Wales, and that shows that each person is, on average, £420 worse off because of rent arrears. That's the reality of the situation when it comes to universal credit, and that's why it has to be halted and reversed.

The Irish Sea

7. What is the Welsh Government's assessment of the impact of a customs or regulatory border in the Irish Sea? OAQ52750

Our assessment is set out in 'Securing Wales’ Future'. 

First Minister, you spoke eloquently last week about the importance of Northern Ireland and its peace process for Brexit. Doesn't the European Commission proposing a border of any sort in the Irish sea act as a red rag to a bull for the unionist community in Northern Ireland? And shouldn't it instead apply its technical work for de-dramatising that proposed border to agreeing a free trade deal for the UK as a whole?

Well, I think the answer is to have a deal that works for both sides. I've said that many, many times, and the Member will know my view as to what that would look like. I think it's right to say that the suggestion of any kind of apparent political border between the island of Ireland and the island of Great Britain is anathema to the unionist parties, and it's something that we've seen, of course. There are occasions, of course, where there's a great deal of cross-border co-operation. When it comes to animal health, Ireland is one phytosanitary unit; Northern Ireland is in effect not in the UK as far as that's concerned, and if you go to Northern Ireland you are asked whether you're carrying food products. That makes sense from an animal health perspective. But, no, I don't think that's workable. It would be very difficult for a UK Government to agree to that. The unionist parties would not agree to it. What is the answer, then? Well, as I've said many, many times before: stay in the customs union; the whole thing's resolved then.

Speaking on Channel 4 News over the past few days, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Simon Coveney, said that it was ridiculous to argue that one could avoid a hard border if there is a 'no deal' Brexit. He said that 1,077 additional customs officials and veterinary inspectors and security officers would need to be employed in airports and ports to deal with trade east to west. Isn't it inevitable in such circumstances that huge damage will be done to trade through the port of Holyhead in my constituency? Doesn't that demonstrate how irresponsible the supporters of a hard Brexit are within the Conservative Party and how irresponsible Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has been in not having insisted from the outset that there would have to be membership of the single market and the customs union?

First, of course, nobody argues that there should be any kind of hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom—nobody's saying that they wish to see that. But of course the risk is that that might happen without any kind of deal. In the days pre the single market, there were checks at Holyhead. If I remember rightly, not everybody was checked, but there weren't any kind of passport checks at all. But there is a risk in this, of course, because, as I said before, if it looks as if it’s easier to get through the Northern Ireland ports rather than the Welsh ports, then, of course, trade will be impacted because of that, and it will have a negative impact on the Welsh ports’ trade. So, once again, what is the answer? Well, the answer is to remain within the customs union and to keep access to the single market. There is no need to remain in the European Union in order to have those.

14:10
Mental Health Problems in Young People

8. What is the Welsh Government doing to tackle mental health problems in young people? OAQ52747

We're working with our partners to deliver a whole-system improvement to the mental health support provided to young people, building on our successful work and investment since 2015, and delivering, of course, on our 'Prosperity for All' commitments.

This is not the first time I've raised this subject with you, but after the recent Panaroma programme on mental health provision for young people, I was inundated with messages from parents in the Rhondda who feel that their children and teenagers have been let down by the system. The programme certainly touched a nerve, First Minister.

One thing that could help is for school counselling services to be improved. Now, it's a statutory requirement for secondary schools in Wales to have an in-house counsellor, but provision remains patchy, according to the Children's Society. They say that some schools provide an excellent service while some schools provide no counselling services at all. This is an area under your control, First Minister. Many children and teenagers are being failed by the health service primarily, but also they're being failed within the education system as well. So, will you commit to evaluating the service to make sure that there is a high-quality service and that it is good and consistently provided for all secondary school pupils right throughout the country? 

I'd be extremely disappointed if secondary schools weren't providing the service that they're meant to provide. I think the—. I've said in the Chamber before how much money we put into the child and adolescent mental health service, but I think where the emphasis has to go now, and what we're looking at, is what happens in that gap between the counselling services and CAMHS. Many young people won't go and see a counsellor in school because it's a little bit too close to home and people think that people will find out about it, and many young people don't actually need the kind of medical intervention that CAMHS provides. So, the emphasis now is going to be on: how do we provide a level of counselling services outside of school for those who would benefit from that service without having to go into CAMHS? So, as far as the 2019-20 draft budget proposals are concerned, they do refer to planned investment in CAMHS, but that will be targeted at meeting the needs of those who don't need the most specialist treatment and to meet the needs of that missing middle. I think that's where we have to ensure that no gap exists.

First Minister, 10 October is World Mental Health Day, and I'm sure that you would want to join me in offering our full support and gratitude to the many mental health service providers and charities who help our vulnerable people across Wales every day. However, suicide rates in Wales, and particularly amongst young people, are a very serious issue. Childline Cymru is reporting a 20 per cent increase in the number of calls it receives from children and young people suffering with suicidal thoughts and feelings. More worryingly, of late, children as young as 10 are now contacting these services. Will the First Minister make a statement on what action the Welsh Government is taking to reduce levels of suicide in children and young people and what services he's providing to charities such as Childline Cymru in dealing with the rise of the number of cases?

I remember some years ago there was a spate of suicides in Bridgend—I'm sure the Member will remember it—stoked, I have to say, by the media coverage of the time, which, there's no doubt in my mind, led to so some young people taking their own lives. That was a very difficult time for the people of Bridgend, and not just the town but the entire county. So, I've seen what can happen when there is a panic in terms of suicides. I had to deal with that myself in my own constituency.

In terms of Childline Cymru, what's not clear, and never can be clear with these things, is: does that mean that there are more young people who are feeling suicidal or does it mean there are more young people who are reporting the issue even though the numbers may well be steady? We can't know the answer to that question, but either answer is possible. She asked particularly what we're doing for young people. Well, again, we have school counselling, we have the money that we put into CAMHS, and it is right to say that the waiting list for CAMHS was unacceptably long at one point. It was 112 days at one point, now it's 28 days from referral. So, performance has improved significantly since 2017, but, of course, more work needs to be done now in, as I said earlier on, plugging the gap between the school counselling services and the specialist medical help, or psychiatric help, that CAMHS can provide. What, then, can we do for those who fall between the gap at the moment?

14:15
2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house, Julie James, to make the statement. Julie James.

Diolch, Llywydd. There are two changes to this week's business: the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services will make a statement shortly on Cwm Taf maternity services, replacing one on the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest action plan, which will now issue as a written statement. Additionally, Business Committee has agreed to withdraw tomorrow's debate on the Culture, Welsh Language and Communication Committee's report on its inquiry into non-public funding of the arts. Draft business for the next few weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Leader of the house, can I call for two statements today, please? One is from the Cabinet Secretary for transport infrastructure. I was very pleased to see the announcement of investment in the south Wales Metro that was announced this week—£119 million—but it's left a bit of a bitter taste in the mouths of people in north Wales, who are looking for investment in our own infrastructure. The leader of the house will be aware that I raised, just a couple of weeks ago, the concerns around the fact that the A55 is choked up, our rail infrastructure is also ailing. I think it is about time that we saw some significant investment in our roads and rail infrastructure in north Wales. So, I wonder if we could have a statement coming forward from the Cabinet Secretary on that particular issue.

Can I also ask for a statement on libraries in Wales? The leader of the house will know that it is Libraries Week. I took the opportunity to visit Colwyn Bay library in my own constituency just yesterday to hear more about their Reading Well project and their Books on Prescription scheme, which they're participating in—a wonderful scheme that gets people together, helping to overcome issues related to dementia, in particular, and helping to overcome social isolation. So, as a bit of a bookworm—and I'm sure there are others in this Chamber as well—I think it would be good to know what the Welsh Government's strategy is for the future of libraries in Wales so that the sorts of schemes that I'm seeing on my doorstep, in places like Colwyn Bay, can be extended into other parts of the country.

Taking, in reverse, that we're in Libraries Week, it gives me the chance also to highlight the fact that I'll be visiting the central library in Swansea on Friday as part of my constituency work, and I was actually at another library in Swansea last Friday. I'm also a bookworm, but it is important to point out that libraries provide an enormous range of services. They happen to also have books. So, I was very impressed by the services that were provided by the local library that I was holding a surgery in last Friday. They included a range of digital communication services; they included some social services, in the sense of social isolation and community opportunities to meet; they included services for children and a large range of other community services. I'm sure the librarian there is cringing as I don't remember some of the things that she showed me, but it was very impressive and I would encourage all Members to take part in Libraries Week, and, indeed, actually to support their local libraries, and I'm sure that all Members do do that.

In terms of his question on transport, the Cabinet Secretary's indicating to me that he'd be very happy to bring forward a statement that will allow him to highlight the very large amount of investment and work that's been going on in the transport network.

Leader of the house, you will be aware that bookshops the length and breadth of Wales are finding difficulty in the face of business rates and competition from online booksellers. As a result, over the past few years, very many independent bookstores have closed. The Booksellers Association notes that online booksellers have a huge commercial advantage as compared to high-street booksellers, who pay far more in rates. I’m sure that many of us would agree that bookstores play an important part in Welsh culture and would want to support these businesses in the face of very difficult economic circumstances.

Given the contribution that booksellers make to the society, culture and economy of Wales, would the Welsh Government be willing to make a statement on the additional support that it can provide, particularly in terms of business rates? We know that child minders in Wales are now exempt from business rates. Therefore, could the Welsh Government look to give further business rate relief to bookshops, given their social and cultural role?

14:20

I think the Member makes a good point about the role of bookshops, but, unfortunately, retail services are changing very rapidly and online sales of almost all retail products are having the knock-on effect that he mentions. We already have a very generous non-domestic rate relief scheme in Wales. I'm sure that most bookshops are of the size that they can take advantage of that. And I fear that the way that people shop for books and everything else has changed fundamentally and it will not be possible to roll that back.

However, I will say that a number of bookshops in my area—and, actually, the same area as Dai Lloyd's, and he'll be familiar with them—have been very successful in diversifying and holding a large number of other type of events inside the bookshop, and have cafes and groups and discussion groups and so on, and he will be as aware as I am of the success that some of those have had. I certainly applaud them, as I very much like attending a bookshop myself.

I would like to ask for two statements. One is a Government statement providing an update on Welsh Government support and progress with the digitisation programme across the whole of the Welsh public sector. The second one—I know we had a written statement from the Cabinet Secretary yesterday regarding Virgin Media closure and action being taken, but I would like to ask if we could have an oral statement on it for me and, I'm sure, you and other Members representing the area. The loss of what is the best part of 900 jobs is a substantial blow to the area. I would hope that we could have an oral statement that would give us an opportunity to ask questions of the Cabinet Secretary over an issue that, to you, like me, is a very important one.

Yes, I will certainly discuss with the Cabinet Secretary the possibility of that, or of how we could communicate where we are with the taskforce on Virgin Media. I share the Member's concern about the actions of the company and some of the stories that are happening there. So, I'll certainly have that discussion with the Cabinet Secretary to see how we can best facilitate those discussions and public information on that.

In terms of digitisation, I am actually planning to make a statement on digital transformation sometime before Christmas, so I'll make sure that that gets timetabled accordingly.

Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for housing on what more can be done to tackle homelessness in Wales, please? A constituent recently contacted me to bring his case to my attention. A letter, actually, has come to me written by a homeless person in Newport high street. He's only 24 years old. Instead of reading his letter, which is very emotional, I'd rather say a few lines about what he's actually going through. He says he was working and living in a public house that the brewery decided to close down. He received one month's notice to leave. He went to Newport City Council for help, but they said his case was not a priority, because he was single and with no children—don't forget that he's only 24 years old. They placed him on a waiting list for a hostel. There again, there is an 18-month waiting list for homeless people. He says he just wants to get somewhere to live that is safe for him and he can get a job and move on with his life. Please could we have a statement from the Minister on what can be done to help our constituents in similar situations or conditions all over Wales? In a civilised society, we must look after homeless people and some measure must be taken by law not to have people sleeping rough, especially with the type of weather that we are facing, with extreme winters and extreme summers. Thank you.

The Minister is due to make a statement next month on changes to our homelessness policies, but I do think that the Member should take into account the effect on homelessness of his own UK Government party's universal credit roll-out and general assumption that young people can stay at home, because he's just pointed out that that's very frequently not the case.

I'd like to ask for a statement from the health Secretary, if possible, on the ability of private companies to access hospitals. The company Bounty, we know, provides starter packs to many new mothers and they also come to the wards to offer to take photos of the babies, and they do gather information that is then used to send marketing information to those mothers. Apparently, according to a freedom of information request, Bounty has paid £1,922 to Betsi Cadwaladr health board to have unfettered access to these maternity units across north Wales. I would like to know whether the Government feels that this is acceptable. Is the Government confident that measures are in place to ensure that this is safe? I’ve had mothers complaining that these people disturb them and their babies on the wards in question. Some mothers also say that they’ve received hundreds of marketing e-mails in the months and years after providing that information to companies such as this. We need assurances that the safety of babies, mothers and data is more important than the relatively small income that Betsi Cadwaladr gets for such a service.

14:25

Yes, actually, I share his concern around the data and I'm the Minister responsible for that, in fact, so I will look into that and come back to the Member.

I just wonder if we could have an explanation about why the out-of-hours cardiac arrest plan statement was withdrawn. I would understand if it's due to the very sad events of this weekend, but I really would appreciate it if we could get confirmation that we will get an oral statement rather than a written statement on this. I, for one, would certainly like the opportunity to ask questions in the Chamber on the plan. So, perhaps if the health Cabinet Secretary would reconsider and bring an oral statement, perhaps shortly, then I for one would be very grateful. Thank you.

To be fair to the Cabinet Secretary, that's a problem of the amount of business that it was possible to fit in. He was more than—[Interruption.] Well, he was more than happy to do it, but a number of things happened over the course of the last couple of days around business coming in and out of the agenda. So, it will issue as a written statement. It's my responsibility to see whether we've got enough time and I will discuss with him whether there is an opportunity to bring forward an oral statement, but we have actually got a pretty packed agenda. So, I will look to see if there's an opportunity to do that. But, in all fairness, it was not—. He was more than happy to make the oral statement; it's just that business prevented it.

3. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services: Implementing the Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest Plan
4. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services: Cwm Taf Maternity Services

Item 4, therefore, is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services on Cwm Taf maternity services. I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make the statement. Vaughan Gething.

Thank you, Llywydd. Further to my written statement on Friday, I thought it important to update Members on actions that are being taken to support maternity services at Cwm Taf university health board. Reports over the past week are clearly very concerning, and Members will want to understand how the situation occurred. As a parent, I do appreciate how distressing this is for all those affected. I expect the health board to provide support to families and to be both open and transparent about individual review findings and any improvement actions that are needed. Whilst an adverse outcome cannot always be prevented, it is important that care is reviewed to identify any potential learning. Families, understandably, may also have questions that need answers. 

When women go into hospital, we rightly expect them to have good quality, safe care. Childbirth can be stressful, but also an experience that brings joy, so the welfare of women and babies must be our immediate concern. I've made it clear, through my conversation with the health board chair, that I expect every possible action to be taken to provide assurance that services are providing safe and compassionate care. My officials are also monitoring the situation closely and seeking such assurance. 

I also appreciate that this is a very difficult time for our staff, and they must be appropriately supported too. A key focus must be on ensuring safe staffing levels and strong clinical leadership. At a leadership level, we're ensuring that additional senior midwifery and medical management support is in place to provide both oversight and advice. The health board has successfully appointed a consultant midwife and recruited 15 additional midwives, of which 4.8 whole-time equivalent newly qualified staff take up post this week. Experienced midwifery support is also being provided by neighbouring health boards, including a clinical supervisor of midwives, and actions are in hand to increase medical staffing, including the appointment of an additional middle-grade doctor. 

I know that concerns have been expressed that Parentcraft antenatal classes have been cancelled, but I am advised that they will be reinstated within weeks—early next month—as staffing levels improve.

My officials will be receiving regular updates on the staffing situation. They will be visiting this week, and have a regular presence, going forward. My officials have also kept Healthcare Inspectorate Wales fully briefed, so that that they can determine what action they may wish to take.

A number of systems have been set up to support patient safety. This includes a 24/7 on-call rota for senior midwife advice, and safety briefings at each shift handover, to ensure any potential concerns are triggered without delay. Revisions have been made to the incident-reporting system, including a daily review of data, to ensure there is no opportunity for incomplete reporting. The NHS delivery unit will be working with the health board to urgently review its arrangements for incident reporting and investigation, in addition to providing oversight of the maternity incidents under review.

All organisations must have robust incident-reporting arrangements in place, with the necessary escalation arrangements. I have asked my officials to seek assurance from all health boards in this regard. It is important that we learn from this, and understand what happened to lead to this situation. Members will be aware that, in the light of the seriousness of the situation, I announced on Friday that an external review should be independently commissioned by the Welsh Government. I felt it was important to take this action to ensure public confidence in the process. The chief nursing officer and the chief medical officer are in contact with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives. I hope the review will be up and running within weeks. This will take the place of the external report the health board planned to commission, but will very much build on the review they have undertaken to date. The terms of reference for the review, and, ultimately, its findings will, of course, be published.

We must remember that, across Wales, the great majority of women receive excellent maternity care. Since the introduction of 'A Strategic Vision for Maternity Services in Wales', in 2011, there have been significant improvements across the whole NHS Wales system. To ensure a consistent drive for improvement, national performance indicators were set that cover areas such as smoking cessation, weight management, support for women with serious mental ill-health, caesarean section rates, breast feeding, and staffing levels. Annual maternity performance boards are held, where performance is measured against these indicators, as well as sharing new or innovative practice. In terms of workforce, all health boards are asked whether they are Birthrate Plus compliant for midwifery staffing, and compliant with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists standards on consultant obstetrician presence on labour wards.

Every woman has a choice about where she will deliver her baby, depending on her personal circumstances and risk factors, whether that is at home, by midwife-led care, in either an alongside or free-standing unit, or obstetric-led care. There has been a growth in midwife-led care, and every health board now has a consultant midwife to provide leadership and to support midwives. Every midwife in Wales has a designated clinical supervisor who is an experienced midwife, to support them in their practice. And we have seen a fall in the number of caesarean sections performed in Wales as a result of providing women with more information and support.

A national maternity network provides clinical expert advice. Part of their work has been to address the stillbirth rate in Wales. Over recent years, this multifaceted programme has seen: the introduction of national growth assessment protocols—GAP and gestation-related optimal weight—GROW foetal growth charts; new national standards for managing gestational diabetes; the introduction of practical obstetric multiprofessional training—PROMPT multidisciplinary training to improve communication and decision making within teams; a new perinatal mortality review tool and guidance to staff on seeking a post mortem; as well as improved cardiotocograph—CTG foetal monitoring training; and standards for intelligent intermittent auscultation. The network ran a successful safer pregnancy campaign, which promoted important messages to women about what they can do to look after themselves during their pregnancy. Evaluation showed a high level of knowledge and awareness among expectant mothers about what they need to do, with the support of their midwife.

There have also been developments and significant investments in neonatal care. The neonatal network issued revised neonatal standards in September 2017. That's based on the most up-to-date evidence and best practice guidance, to make them clinically and operationally relevant. And they are influenced by neonatal developments across the United Kingdom, and take into account the recommendations of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine, the national neonatal audit programme, the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health, Bliss, and other standards published in both England and Scotland. 

Building on the success of the 2011 plan, a new vision for prudent maternity services is being drawn up in collaboration with professionals and informed by a survey of nearly 4,000 women who gave birth in Wales. It will also be important to ensure that any learning from the Cwm Taf review informs the plan to ensure Wales-wide learning and improvement. I will, of course, keep Members updated on progress.

14:35

A number of Members were late for the start of this statement, and if there is time, you will be called, but I'll call those Members who were here to hear the whole statement first. Someone who was here, Angela Burns. 

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First of all, I would like to put on record how incredibly sorry I am for the affected families. A moment of maximum joy is what they should have been feeling, but it turned to events of terrible despair, and we are appalled by what's happened. 

In July of this year, a young couple came to see me. It's an appalling situation. They are part and parcel of what's happened here: a consultant who didn't visit the mother's bedside because of his rage at being put on a rota he wasn't expecting; warning signs that were ignored; a baby, barely alive, who was moved to another hospital and put on a cold cot, but to no avail. Having read their horror story, what really struck me, Cabinet Secretary, was the health board's reaction. They wrote to the chief executive officer saying what had happened and asking for help to understand it and for more information. They were essentially palmed off to a junior staffer who was reluctant to engage. There seemed to be a total lack of compassion for people at their lowest ebb, a dismissive attitude, a dragging of heels, no apology of any meaning—and I'm not talking about financial, I'm talking about the sincerity level. There was no timely response to letters.

So, how will you, Cabinet Secretary, ensure that the health board provides proper support to these families who've been affected? In your statement, you say that you expect them to provide support for the families, but I can tell you that, from the evidence that I saw, the reports that were written and the letters that were sent to this young couple, that did not happen. So, I'd really like to understand in what meaningful way you can ensure that this health board do what they should do, and actually come alongside these families. 

Of course, at the time, I didn't realise that this seemed to be part of some kind of systemic failure. So, Cabinet Secretary, the independent review that you are going to put in—will they be going through each case themselves, because in your written statement you say that some have now been reported and are being fully investigated? Again, from the paperwork that I was given by this young couple, within Cwm Taf health board, an independent paediatrician actually wrote a report that was pretty scathing about what happened to them, and it was ignored by the health board. So, will you be able to get your independent review, or ask the independent review, in their remit, to really dig down into the individual cases to ensure that there is no possible forgetfulness of the events or an abrogation of transparency, because I think it is the least that these families deserve? And do you have a timetable for when you would hope to have this review report back? 

And, of course, you'll know that throughout Wales, at the moment, we're going through quite a significant transformation agenda; there's a lot of centralisation going forward in other health boards at present. So, how will you ensure that lessons learnt from the Cwm Taf experience are actually translated really well into all those other health boards, because I think that we need to put these health boards on notice that if we're going to do this stuff, we have to do it safely and we have to remember that the patient is what it's all about, and that these mothers and babies—wherever they are in Wales—deserve the chance to have a successful outcome?  

Cabinet Secretary, I was also really concerned that this trend didn't seem to be spotted earlier. So, will your independent review be looking at that? Will they be looking to see whether or not the agencies that are responsible for monitoring performance and outcomes within health boards—where were they? Why didn't they spot it earlier? Did anybody step in to say, 'Hang on, something here doesn't look right,' because we've got access to mortality figures? We should know what should be the right trend and what shouldn't be the right trend.

I will say that my young couple are now in the safe hands of an Assembly Member on another bench to mine, because that individual is actually their constituency Assembly Member, but I just want to say that, of all of these families who have been affected by this, if their stories are anything like the young couple who came to see me with their sheaf of paperwork, and told me of the fear that they have of trying to have another baby, having lost their little girl at six days through a catalogue of errors that was nothing to do with them, then we should be absolutely determined to make sure that Cwm Taf are held to account, the right people are held to account, whoever they may be, and that we learn these lessons in a meaningful way. There's a very big health board in England that's going through a not dissimilar process at the moment. We should be learning from each other. This shouldn't happen. It is a real tragedy.

14:40

I thank the Member for her comments and questions, and, of course, I'm sorry for any family who suffers the loss of a baby or a young child. I would not want any family to feel the way that you described. Now, I can't, obviously, comment on the individual circumstances, but I do want to be clear that part of the point of this review is to try to learn what has happened. We're now looking at 44 cases in that cluster of cases to be reviewed. It's not clear at this point that care has gone wrong in any or all of those cases, but the cluster of cases of concern is why there is an imperative to investigate, and hence the now independent review with the two royal colleges, with oversight from the chief nurse and the chief medical officer.

The health board do, of course, now have that additional scrutiny that I've outlined in my statement—additional scrutiny and support to look at both clinical practice, clinical culture, but also one of the points you made—clinical leadership. In fact, we're having the review now because a new head of midwifery services saw some of the data and flagged it up as a concern, and that's led to the issue being escalated. But part of our challenge is to make sure that it doesn't need to have an additional fresh set of eyes at that level.

So, there are good reasons to have the review and to want to learn from it, but I'd be cautious about saying that in every single instance there has been a failure of care. That's why we have the review—to look at those individual circumstances, to understand what is individual, what is cultural, what does it tell us about practice, and to help us to make recommendations for the future as well.

Now, I've been clear in my statement on publication so the recommendations and any response to those recommendations from the review will be published. What I can't tell you is that there is a timetable. It's regularly the case that, for politicians, you would want to set a timetable that is prompt or long, depending on your perspective. I think it's important the colleges have the terms of reference to allow them to do what they need to do in a properly independent and robust manner, and I don't set an artificial timetable, but, obviously, I'd want the review to be as prompt as possible. The sooner we have something that is robust and understood, then the sooner we're able to understand what measures do or do not need to take place, and also what is individual about the health board and what is system-wide learning, and what is a system-wide challenge across Wales.

On your point about centralisation, these services have not yet been centralised, and so the model itself, a new model, isn't a contributory factor. We're looking at practice, but there are arguments that I'm sure the colleges will want to look at in terms of the optimal organisation of the service, and we know that in the past, though, our royal colleges said that the move that we're making is towards a better model to provide better care. Well, they're matters that I'm sure will be commented on in the review, and, as I say, that will be published together with any response to it.

Can I say that I also, not least as a parent, feel for everybody affected and those concerned? Perhaps I could start, actually, by asking, Cabinet Secretary, if you could tell us what services are going to be put in place locally to provide support for those affected or who may be anxious about giving birth in the Cwm Taf area.

We need to be sure about what happened. That's the purpose of reviews. We also need to be sure about the scale of what happened, and, certainly, I welcome the Government action in taking over the process of commissioning the review. It's vital, of course, to restore confidence that the investigation into what has happened is genuinely independent, and an internal review, I don't think, would have achieved that. Can you confirm that this will, indeed, be an independent review that will have scope to expand the investigation if necessary, as has been the case in Shropshire? And I think this is also important, because, on Good Evening Wales on BBC Radio Wales last Thursday, the interim director of nursing seemed to imply that this was somehow an exercise that every health board was undertaking and that the challenges themselves were faced by every maternity service in the UK. But I think that the number of serious incidents that we're talking about here quite clearly suggests that there may be a more severe problem. And I wonder whether you regret that already it seems the board seems to have gone into some crisis-management, public-relations mode in seeking, somehow, to downplay the seriousness of the situation, which, to be fair, the Welsh Government isn't doing.

Moving on to staff, it's been heavily implied that staff shortages are a factor here. Your statement says that one doctor and 15 midwives have been recruited, with 4.8 whole-time equivalent midwives starting this week. I'm just not sure about why you go from roles to full-time equivalent numbers side by side. Can you give the actual numbers starting this week, so we know where we're at?

We'll have time to explore many issues, but a couple here: the statement also announces a number of new systems to improve safety, including a 24/7 on-call rota for senior midwife advice and safety briefings at each handover. Why weren't these things already in place, because they seem to me to be pretty basic? And your statement also tells us that antenatal classes will restart within weeks as staffing levels improve. Now, the fact that these were cancelled in the first place is painting a picture of some quite serious cuts that had happened recently in services. So, can I ask what the alarm systems are that Welsh Government has to identify when these kinds of negative effects are coming towards us, if you like, and are any of these early alarm systems that you have presumably in place alerting you to problems elsewhere, currently?

14:45

Thank you for the series of questions. In terms of the support being provided to the health board, I outlined that in my statement. My officials and the delivery unit are providing support and challenge in addition to the co-opting of senior leadership support from experienced midwives in neighbouring health boards, and in addition, of course, to the steps that the health board themselves have taken.

And I note the point you make about the numbers of staff. The point I was simply making was that a number of staff of the 15 that have been recruited are due to start this week, as opposed to recruiting 15 and they won't necessarily come on stream to work in the service for a period of months. So, that's why we can be confident that antenatal classes will start in the near future, because they will have additional staff there within the week. 

On the point you ended on—the point about the surveillance—again, in the statement I made reference to a number of different points that do help us to have an overview and a look: the Birthrate Plus tool that we look at for staff numbers and the fact that they'd withdrawn from antenatal classes because they had a short-term challenge on staff numbers. Those are things we definitely look at, in addition to the broader performance boards going through the range of issues that I outlined in my statement. All of those things will matter, and the chief nurse and her officials will review those together with the health board. 

Now, I'm not aware, and my officials are not aware, that there is a similar issue of concern in any other health board in Wales. However, we have not waited until an issue has been reported. My officials have been in direct contact with health boards, and the chief nurse has written to all health boards seeking formal assurance about the quality of care being provided, including issues around staffing and for that assurance to be provide within the next two weeks. So, we are not waiting for there to be a challenge uncovered. We are seeking that assurance, as I'm sure you would expect us to do. 

I don't think the health board are downplaying the seriousness of the challenge. They understand very well that this is a serious matter that needs to be properly reviewed, as any other health board would do. And what should happen in every health board is that, of course, a serious incident is reviewed and learning taken from it. That is, I think, the normal process that was being referred to, but, of course, this additional measure and the measures that the health boards themselves are proposing to undertake are not usual, everyday occurrences. You don't ask two royal colleges to come and review your practice as an everyday, standard course of action.

I'm happy to finally deal with your point about staff shortages potentially being a factor, and also the royal colleges will. It's part of the concern and it will be part of the terms of the colleges to look at whether those staff shortages play a part or not. It'll also be part of them looking at whether it's clinical practice or clinical leadership—the whole range of factors that we'd want to properly understand to make recommendations for the future. In that sense, if the royal colleges wish to go further, then their terms of reference will not restrict them to an artificial review. They will have the scope to look where they need to, provide the sort of review that they themselves, professionally, would want to sign up to, and to give us and the wider public the sort of confidence that we'd all want to have.

14:50

Can I thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your statement, and can I also place on record my deepest sympathy and concern to anyone who's been affected by the situation in Cwm Taf health board? As you would expect, I've had long and detailed conversations with Cwm Taf health board about the situation there and how this came about. I was given no indication or impression that they were in any way downplaying the seriousness of what has happened there, but it does seem to me that, when a vital service has not performed as expected, as with the review of these adverse outcomes, we then need to do two key things to reassure the women using this service as well as the wider public. Firstly, we do, as you've already outlined, need to provide an independent means to examine the circumstances and to report any action points for further learning and improvements to ensure that there is confidence in the system. I would hope that your actions, in addition to those actions already taken by the health board in relation to the peer review that they're introducing, will deliver the necessary improvements that my constituents would expect in the service in the future. They would not be expecting anything less. 

Secondly, do you agree with me that we must make sure that we continue to encourage a culture where the health and care systems, especially in our health boards, are not in any way discouraged from identifying problems or issues themselves, as was the case in Cwm Taf when the health board itself identified the failures of its own process? We should always be signalling to the health boards and to staff that reporting their concerns, like with these adverse outcomes, is helpful to allow for a response by the wider health system where that is necessary. And just as importantly, while our response must be handled in a sensitive and robust manner, they should not be sensationalised or politicised, given the importance of the services that we're discussing and the need to provide reassurance. 

Yes. I particularly welcome your point about not trying to overly sensationalise what has happened, and, equally, that's at the same time as not trying to downplay the seriousness of the concern that exists as well. It is entirely possible to recognise the serious situation, with 44 cases being reviewed—it was 43, but we've identified literally very recently a further case that should be reviewed as part of this. It's very easy to launch into an attack upon the service when you do have significant concerns to review, but I think it's important that we do resist leaping to judgment in this case, but that must go alongside having the proper, independent reassurance that you refer to.

I'm also pleased that you have had direct conversations with the health board, because I think it is important that they are open with all stakeholders, and that of course includes Assembly Members, as well as the public, as well as the families who are directly affected.

The point about the independent review is that the health board were doing the right thing in asking the royal colleges to come in and review what had happened, but there is always a challenge in the impression of independence and it's really important if the public are to have confidence in it. That's why I took the decision to make sure that the Welsh Government commissioned that, so that there's no impression the health board are being allowed to mark their own work. I think that would have been the wrong thing to have done. I do not think that would have helped either the health board, the staff or the women who rely upon the service.

I think your second point is really important too, about making sure there's a proper, open culture to identify and address challenges at an early point, so that people aren't fearful of talking about challenges or concerns they have with the service, and to make sure that you don't somehow have an expectation of suppressing or covering over potential bad news, because that ultimately makes the situation worse, because people lose faith and confidence in a process that the public really should trust, but also because those opportunities to learn are then lost. That will be important to understand within the review, and whether, from a cultural and practical point of view of the way that the service is delivered, we have the right culture and practice in place, and, if not, then to openly want to address that. As I said in my statement, maternity services and midwifery services in Wales are recognised across the United Kingdom as having made significant improvements. So, I want to see that improvement continue, but this review is equally important in that sense to make sure that we maintain public confidence in our system and in our ability to properly and critically look at where something might have gone wrong.   

14:55

I, too, join Members' sentiments about this terribly tragic sequence of events that have led to, obviously, the cases coming to public attention. It is worth noting that the Cwm Taf health board, from a senior management level, has been heavily engaged in a merger with the Princess of Wales Hospital, and I'd be grateful to understand from the Cabinet Secretary as to whether that merger has deflected from the day-to-day running of the health board. As I understand it, the two areas of concern are, one, on staffing, and, two, on reporting of incidents. Now, both of those things are down to the management and structure of the day-to-day delivery of the service. It's good to hear from the Cabinet Secretary that a significant number of midwives have been employed by the health board recently, but one can only wonder why such a huge staffing issue had been left to fill for so long. If they were 15 midwives short, why was that situation allowed to happen in the first place? 

And secondly, can he indicate at what level this reporting of incidents on the ward was not getting through the system so that events could be looked at and that each and every case could be looked at? Above all, I would hope—and I think I did hear the Cabinet Secretary correctly—that the review that he has commissioned will be looking at all areas of delivery and won't be stuck in very fixed terms of reference that the Minister might set out, but that the review board will have the ability to look at areas they deem necessary to complete their inquiry, so that we can have confidence that all areas of delivery have been looked into.  

Thank you for those, broadly, three questions. On the first point, I'm not aware that the proposed merger has had any impact on the delivery of services; it's not been a point that's been raised by anybody with concerns that, somehow, that's a factor in the quality of care and in this cluster of cases of concern. The serious incident reporting is what's led to us looking again at the cluster of cases, the number of them, the timeliness of reporting and the learning to be taken from those. There have been internal reviews of each of these, but, to look again to understand that, for this number clustered within the health board, we should take the opportunity to review matters now and not wait for a later point of reference. And that's why I've commissioned the independent review. That's why I've been clear in my statement and announcement today, and I think that the terms of reference will be broad enough for the two royal colleges, if they think it is necessary, to look further, because broadly this cluster of cases happened over a two-year period. If they wish to look back further, then they should have the ability to do so, and I'm certainly not looking to set either a timescale to prevent that or terms of reference to unnecessarily trammel what they would wish to review and look into, to provide us—as I said in answer to Angela Burns, Dawn Bowden and Rhun ap Iorwerth—with the sort of review and the sort of report that they're prepared to put the professional names of the two royal colleges to, to give the public the sort of confidence and reassurance that we would all want and, equally, to provide us with recommendations for further improvement and action, whether that is in this health board or, more broadly, across the whole healthcare system.   

Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary. Are you concerned to know how a maternity service suddenly discovers that it's 15 midwives short? At what point did they find out they were 15 midwives short? A dedicated and hardworking staff, behind whom you will no doubt hide today, must have been sounding the alarm about staff shortages and their consequences for a long time; they mustn't have been listened to. The Cabinet Secretary has said that it's a very difficult time for staff; I'd suggest that's an understatement. There can be nothing more distressing for a healthcare professional to see patients, in particular babies, dying because of institutional failings they are powerless to do anything about. That things work well for the majority of families in Wales is no comfort to bereaved families, and my heart really, really does go out to those families who have been bereaved because of those failings.

However, it does display the typical complacency with which the Cabinet Secretary for health responds to failures in the health service for which he is responsible. Fifteen must be quite a large percentage of the midwifery staff. Can the Cabinet Secretary tell us why Cwm Taf health board thought they could get away with so few midwives before this situation came about? Is the Cabinet Secretary concerned that when he talks about a peer review that this board's peers are also failing to provide good care and outcomes for their patients? This Government has run the NHS into the ground and there is poor delivery in Labour's NHS everywhere you look. Where would the Cabinet Secretary suggest they turn for decent peer reviewing and should we not be concerned that an NHS board trusts its own judgment so little that they're going to ask other trusts for a second opinion? Shouldn't they know what makes a good and safe service and what doesn't?

The report makes mention of what they're going to do—hire a new doctor and a number of other staff—but it doesn't allude to what they think has actually gone wrong so far. So, what exactly led to 43 baby deaths in 2016? I think everybody deserves to know. Does the Cabinet Secretary think that the public forced to use these services should have a bit more of a handle on what has gone wrong so far? If the board believes that the employment of 15 more midwives and an additional mid-range doctor and certain other roles will help solve the problem, they must think they know something about how the problems have been created in the first place. If they can't or won't tell us how this awful situation has arisen, what comfort can we take from their current proposals to try and fix it? The hospital statement only says that they will share their findings of what went wrong with the families involved. Will the Cabinet Secretary now undertake, in the interest of future patient safety, to share all the findings with this place?

Many people say and believe that the NHS is above party politics and there is some merit to that, so I would hope that the Cabinet Secretary would not hide any of the findings to reduce his party's political embarrassment over this matter. Will the Cabinet Secretary give us that assurance? 

The Cabinet Secretary has ordered a review into the health board but we can't take any comfort from the Cabinet Secretary's promises and assurances, can we, because even when this Government takes direct control of a board, as you have with Betsi Cadwaladr, this Government sometimes manages to make things even worse? So, will the Cabinet Secretary tell this Assembly what he will do to ensure that, unlike the cases seen so far, the treatment of patients won't get even worse once his Government gets involved? We heard recently that Betsi Cadwaladr has not learnt lessons from the complaints and multiple reviews into failings there. So, what assurance can pregnant women and healthcare professionals in the service take from the statement made by the Cabinet Secretary today that there will be improvements? Not much, I'd suggest. I'll end my comments there. 

15:00

Well, the first part of your question I thought was entirely reasonable, to ask again about staff shortages, and that is part of the review that's been commissioned. The health board themselves have recognised that staff shortages may have had a part to play in the failure to report promptly some of these matters. The point about the independent review is to understand properly and in a robust manner whether there have been any failings in care, and to what extent any failings in care have contributed, whether there are any additional points of learning, whether there have been problems in care or not.

As I say, we use a Birthrate Plus tool and, more broadly, our system is Birthrate Plus compliant and we should be proud of that fact because of the additional investment we have made over a significant period of time in training more midwives. So, these are matters, of course, that are reviewed on a regular basis, as I said both in my statement and in particular in answer to a number of the questions asked by Rhun ap Iorwerth. 

I'm afraid to say that a large part of the comments were exactly what Dawn Bowden called for us not to do in using deliberately over-sensationalised and aggressive attacking language about either politicians or staff within the health board. I am certainly not seeking to hide behind our staff. In taking on the responsibility to commission an independent review, I'm in fact putting myself front and centre, because I will be responsible for making sure that the review is published, together with any recommendations and, of course, any response to that. It is actually an act of taking responsibility rather than hiding from it. 

The review: I appreciate you may not have heard or listened to all of the comments that were made, but the review itself is an independent review by royal colleges. That is the review that is taking place. Individual reports will be shared with individual families, and I would certainly not expect to publish any individual reports; those are matters for families themselves to receive. What we will be able to provide, as I have stated on several occasions before the Member got to her feet, is the report that we can provide and publish together, as I say, with recommendations and a response. But I do think that when you talk about the health board getting away with it, when you talk about babies dying because of institutional failings, you reveal yourself to be somebody who is much more interested in political capital than the real issues we face.

15:05

Presiding Officer, can I also record my sympathies to those who have been affected in any way by what will be seen as adverse outcomes that could have been, possibly, prevented? Obviously, the Cabinet Secretary's quite right: we must await further examination of the evidence. I do think that, when an event like this occurs and requires investigation—and this is really as a result of ongoing structural changes in the service that the statistical anomalies were revealed and the recording irregularities—. You know, those themselves are serious issues. I do think that this Chamber has the right to expect, on behalf of the people of Cwm Taf, a very clear assurance. I quote that you have said this afternoon that you have sought assurances from the health board that services are 'safe and compassionate' and that, quote:

'My officials are also monitoring the situation closely and seeking such assurance.'

So, I just want to ask you simply: when will you be able to come back to this Chamber and give us the assurance that you've examined it and now believe the maternity services to be of a safe standard? Because you've not said that this afternoon, and we want to know when you'll be in a position to say it.

Thank you for the comments. Of course, these—. I politely disagree with him about the first point that the structural change is what's highlighted the anomalies. It was actually a new head of midwifery services coming in and doing what she should have done in reviewing the position and looking at the cluster of cases and recognising that those matters needed to be escalated. So, actually, it's a professional leader coming in to do her job and doing her job properly and escalating those concerns. And that has been properly escalated, and we now find ourselves here with a genuinely independent review taking place.

The assurance that I have sought is for every health board in Wales, and I want to be able to come back and to be able to provide a statement to Members about that assurance being provided. I've asked for that within two weeks, but I do think that women and expectant mothers in Cwm Taf should continue to have confidence in the compassion of the care that they receive and in the quality of it, with the additional staff who are arriving. Any woman who is concerned should discuss that with her midwife—any concerns at all, either about the more general points that are raised in the public eye or their individual care. 

And I do have to say that some of the most inspiring people I've met in the health service have been midwives, committed to learning and committed to improving the care that they provide. And we have seen a significant change in midwifery care in the last five to 10 years—a much greater move to having more midwife-led care and to re-normalise that and not have a significant medical intervention as being the norm, and that's actually been better for mothers and babies as a result. But it should of course be the case, as you say, that where we have significant issues of concern, we are prepared to review them, to look at that and to properly learn and apply that learning to further improve services in the future. But I will provide a written note to every Member, and I'll turn it into a written statement so that it's publicly available, about the assurance when we receive them from every single health board in the country.

I'd like to also place on record my sympathies to any families within the Cwm Taf health board area who've been affected by these adverse outcomes. I welcome the fact that, in your statement this afternoon, Cabinet Secretary, it seems that the terms of reference for this inquiry are flexible and can encompass many different strands. I've been involved in one case relating to maternity services in Prince Charles Hospital where I and my office have closely supported the affected family. There, we were told that just one senior midwife was covering both Prince Charles Hospital and the Royal Glamorgan at that time. So, I welcome your comments in response to the questions by Rhun ap Iorwerth that the review will be looking at whether staff shortages are a part of these issues. With patient flows from the bulk of Cynon Valley moving in the direction of Prince Charles Hospital, what reassurances can you give around the continued delivery of maternity services at the site? And that is specifically in relation to this crucial period in the meantime, before the findings of any review are published.

15:10

Yes. I'm happy to come in on the two points. The broader point about the quality of midwifery services and maternity services more generally: my understanding is, and the assurance that I've initially had from officials is, that women should continue to have confidence in the quality and compassion of midwifery-led care and broader maternity services within Cwm Taf. I've committed to making sure that—not just within Cwm Taf, but across the whole system—that I am to come back after the two weeks to provide that reassurance to Members more generally, and I'll make sure that that is specifically covered within Cwm Taf as well. What we've managed to do is we have managed to provide additional senior midwifery support. As I've outlined in my statement, that includes, actually, the head of midwifery services in ABMU moving across to help for a limited period of time to provide additional leadership support within Cwm Taf at this time, and that does show our system flexibly working to make sure that neighbouring health boards help each other to provide the right quality in the service. When I do provide the written note that I've indicated I will do for Members, I'll make sure that I'm able to address the broader points Members have raised today about immediate action, immediate impact on staffing numbers, what that's meant in terms of leadership, and the assurance that mothers across the country will want to hear, in addition, of course, to mothers and expected mothers within Cwm Taf. 

5. The Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Act 2017 (Site Restoration Relief) (Amendment) Regulations 2018

The next item, therefore, is the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Act 2017 (Site Restoration Relief) (Amendment) Regulations 2018. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to move the motion, Mark Drakeford. 

Motion NDM6824 Julie James

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

Approves that the draft Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Act 2017 (Site Restoration Relief) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 20 July 2018.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Llywydd. I am pleased to introduce the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Act 2017 (Site Restoration Relief) (Amendment) Regulations 2018.

Can I begin by putting on record my thanks to both the Finance Committee and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for their work in considering these regulations? The regulations are made under section 33 of the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Act 2017 and relate to the relief available to landfill site operators when undertaking approved site restoration activity.

At present, the Welsh Revenue Authority may only grant relief for disposals forming part of site restoration activity where the material disposed of is a qualified material as listed in Schedule 1 to the Act. The purpose of these regulations is to extend the scope of the relief in respect of disposals made as part of approved site restoration activity to include the disposal of material consisting entirely of topsoil. The effect of these regulations is to ensure that all material required properly to restore a landfill site in line with an environmental permit or planning condition is relieved from tax. Although a minor amendment, these regulations will remove any incentive to use no or minimal topsoil and encourage good site management. This will help to deliver the social, economic and environmental benefits associated with proper site restoration, and I ask Members to support the regulations this afternoon.

I recall at committee stage discussing with the Cabinet Secretary when he'd be bringing forward regulations and the extent to which these would turn on questions of detail or be more substantive. I'm not quite sure which this falls into, but I've got a couple of questions for him. Firstly, has the Welsh Revenue Authority been disapplying or giving a relief in terms of tax to date in the circumstances you fear may be addressed by this?

And, secondly, in these regulations, we're replacing section 29(1)(a), the reference, 'consisting entirely of qualifying material'. That is changing to:

'(i) consisting entirely of qualifying material, or

'(ii) consisting entirely of top-soil'.

And I just wondered, we have in Schedule 1 already the list of qualifying material and soil is part of that. I mean, what is the problem? It says at 1, 'rocks and soil', and there's a condition: it must be naturally occurring. Is the issue as to whether it's naturally occurring, or is this being read as rocks and soil, and therefore soil isn't allowable unless there are also some rocks in it?

Could the Cabinet Secretary also clarify whether he is suggesting that topsoil is something different from soil? And I know he's got an allotment in Pontcanna and is maybe more knowledgeable on these matters of soil than I, but is it suggested that the soil and topsoil are separate categories—the thing—as opposed to the topsoil being covered by the meaning 'soil'? And if the latter, is this really a necessary regulation to bring forward?

Also, just to ask him finally, when he has 'consisting entirely of qualifying material' or 'consisting entirely of top-soil', if that just said, 'consisting of qualifying material or top-soil'—a statutory interpretation, I understand, would allow an inclusive meaning of that and it wouldn't matter if it were both of them. But the way he's written it, 'consisting entirely of qualifying material' on both of them, doesn't that suggest that a mix of qualifying material and topsoil would not be allowable under these new regulations?

15:15

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. On the Member's final point, that's not my interpretation of the change we are introducing here. This is simply to ensure that there is not a perverse disincentive not to use topsoil when restoring a site. We could, as the Member suggested, have changed the list of qualifying materials to include topsoil and to have brought about the change in regime in that way, but to add topsoil to the list of qualifying materials would mean applying the lower rate of tax on topsoil in all circumstances, whereas what we are trying to do is to make sure that the relief is available only when topsoil is being used in a proper way to enable site restoration to take place. If you were to allow the lower rate of tax on topsoil in all circumstances, this could perversely incentivise sending topsoil to landfill. Of course, topsoil is a finite and valuable resource; it's certainly regarded in that way on the Pontcanna allotments, and it should therefore not be disposed of in landfill.

The way we have gone about bringing forward this amendment I think sensibly separates those aspects of restoration material that would qualify through being on the list, and topsoil, which is a very particular part of restoration. And, indeed, as the Member said, it is the work of the Welsh Revenue Authority in these early months of having landfill disposal tax that has exposed this matter as an issue. The WRA has been collecting tax and allowing tax relief on qualifying material used in site restoration. It has been brought to their attention that that restoration is not being properly completed in a number of cases because landfill operators are reluctant to use topsoil because it does not qualify, at present, for relief while other aspects do.

If Members are prepared to support these regulations this afternoon, they will ensure that landfill site operators can continue to use topsoil as part of approved site restoration work without incurring a liability to tax. And in that way, as I said, we believe that that will incentivise the delivery of the socioeconomic and environmental benefits that are associated with proper site restoration.

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with standing order 12.36. 

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. Debate: The Prosperity for All Annual Report and the Legislative Programme

The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Darren Millar.

That brings us to the debate on the 'Prosperity for All' annual report and the legislative programme. I call on the First Minister, Carwyn Jones. 

Motion NDM6827 Julie James

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 11.21(ii):

1. Notes the update on the Welsh Government’s priorities as set out in the Prosperity for All Annual Report.

2. Notes the Legislative Programme.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Llywydd. Over the past decade, I have been presenting regular reports on the notable success of this Government in terms of improving prosperity for all. We have never been fearful, of course, of taking the route right for Wales, even if that route is different from the one taken by others, or, indeed, if we are the first to walk that particular route.

Since the Assembly became a full legislature, we've introduced 34 Bills that have become Acts and 18 Government-proposed Measures. We've used these powers to develop a framework for growth and to deliver improvements for the people of Wales. We've led the way in the UK with legislation to introduce the first deemed consent system for organ donation. We're using legislation to protect and promote health, introducing the ban, of course, on smoking in public places in 2007, and most recently to establish a minimum price for alcohol. In the coming year, we'll be bringing forward legislation to establish a duty of quality for the Welsh NHS and a duty of candour for health and social care.

Llywydd, our violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence legislation was the first of its kind in the UK and will improve how we respond to and tackle these issues. We've also taken the lead in protecting children's rights in the landmark Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011, and we'll continue to act to protect children and children's rights with the introduction of a Bill to remove the defence of reasonable punishment prohibiting the use of physical punishment.

Llywydd, we passed the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which is not only internationally acclaimed, but also provides the basis on which we can invest in the long-term interests of Wales. Of course, none of this is a solo endeavour, and I want to pay testament today to the hard work and scrutiny of the Assembly and its committees. Scrutiny is not always comfortable, but without a doubt, it has made our legislation stronger and better.

Llywydd, April of this year marked the introduction of the first Welsh taxes for almost 800 years—land transaction tax and landfill disposals tax. The ability to raise taxes gives us new levers to deliver our ambitions for Wales and will strive to deliver an approach to Welsh taxation that is transparent and fair and that meets the needs of the people, businesses and communities of Wales. Our focus on delivering improvements for the people of Wales continues. Our economy has improved over the last 20 years, with the unemployment rate for the three months from May to July 2018 standing at 3.8 per cent compared to 7 per cent in 1999.

We've seen long-term and sustained improvement in educational attainment. The percentage of pupils leaving primary school with at least the expected level in maths, science and either English or Welsh has significantly increased and it stands at 90 per cent. For the first time in a decade, the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training fell below 10 per cent. Our approach is paying dividends.

Llywydd, we've also taken a more integrated view of a sustainable health service. We not only recognise but act on the fact that there is more to health and well-being than treating illness. We've maintained our investment in social care and taken steps to influence the wider factors that affect health and well-being. Spending on health and social care per head is higher in Wales than in England and has been increasing at a faster rate too.

Llywydd, last September, we published the first cross-cutting national strategy for Wales, 'Prosperity for All: the national strategy'. This sets out our ambitious programme for government and our priorities for delivering for the people of Wales. It drew on the opportunities of the well-being of future generations Act to think about how we deliver for Wales and how we can better work with all of our partners, using every lever available to us. The strategy set a long-term aim for a Wales that is prosperous and secure, healthy and active, ambitious and learning, and united and connected. It set out the actions that we will take during this Assembly term. From the outset, we identified five priority areas where we could make the greatest contribution to long-term prosperity and well-being. They reflect the times in people's lives when they may be most in need of support and when the right help can have a dramatic effect on their lives. These are: early years, housing, social care, mental health and employability and skills.

As we assessed our progress, it was clear that we were delivering the actions to help reduce emissions, however, if we want to meet our ambitions, then we need to increase our focus across the whole of Government. The benefits of reducing emissions are great and contribute to many of our priorities, such as improving health and well-being and, of course, the opening up of new economic opportunities. And so, we've decided to make decarbonisation the sixth priority area. 

15:20

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

Dirprwy Lywydd, we are committed to delivering tangible improvements for the people of Wales now, but also by laying the foundations for the future. I published an annual report last Tuesday setting out the progress we've made in delivering commitments towards our long-term objectives. We have wholly delivered, for example, two major commitments. First of all, the £80 million new treatment fund, ensuring everyone in Wales can have the same fast access to new drugs and treatments. And also our high-street rates relief scheme, which has delivered tax cuts for small businesses right across Wales.

And we are on track with our other major commitments: 16,000 people have started in our flagship all-age apprenticeship programme in the last academic year alone. We've already increased to £40,000 the amount of money people can keep before they have to fund the full cost of their residential care. We've extended the number of places where working parents can access 30 hours of free childcare for their three and four-year-olds, with more than half of local authorities now covered by our pilots, and the Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill currently before the Assembly will support delivery of our childcare offer. We've continued as well to prioritise school spending, and we're on track to invest £100 million on improving our schools' performance, alongside planned reforms to the curriculum.

Dirprwy Lywydd, this year saw the introduction of a new economic contract, a crucial element of our plans for a prosperous and secure Wales. We're streamlining funding for businesses and investing in their future. In return, we expect them to play their full part in spreading prosperity, adopting the best employment practices, investing in their staff, and planning for a sustainable future, because we want to support high-quality, well-paid jobs. The employability action plan sets out, for example, how we will invest in people, how we will help people to access jobs, and how we equip them with the skills to progress. We're reforming how we fund post-16 education so that it's more responsive to the needs of the economy and reflects regional priorities. 

We're committed to a modern and sustainable health service, 70 years after its establishment. We know that people's expectations and needs of the NHS have changed. In 'A Healthier Wales', we've set out how we will further integrate social care and health, putting a preventative approach at the heart of our services, and we're backing this up with a £1 million transformation fund. We're investing in measures to help people stay healthy and active through our £5 million healthy and active fund, and our clean air Wales programme reflects a cross-Government approach, alongside a new £20 million air quality fund, which will help to improve air quality.

Llywydd, we've continued to invest in school improvements and in a modern education estate through our £1.4 billion twenty-first century schools programme. This year, we completed the one-hundredth project. An investment in school buildings goes hand in hand with our investment in the teaching profession, through the National Academy for Educational Leadership and our changes to the curriculum. Working hand in hand with teachers, we're developing an education system that will meet the nation's needs. A lifelong engagement with learning should be available to everyone, and we're investing to close the attainment gap through an expanded pupil deprivation package—the most generous in the UK—and that's helped to remove financial barriers, and it provides support for part-time and postgraduate students, opening up new opportunities.

We're connecting communities to one another, investing in infrastructure projects the length and breadth of Wales. This year saw Transport for Wales award the £5 billion Wales and borders rail service contract, driving improvements in rail services and paving the way for the south Wales metro. And the Superfast Cymru project has been completed, and has provided 733,000 premises across Wales with access to fast fibre broadband.

Over the past year, we have laid the foundations to reach our target of 1 million Welsh speakers—Cymraeg 2050. I hope to be around to see the realisation of that target, although not particularly in this job. We've awarded £4.2 million to organisations across Wales to promote Welsh as a living vibrant language.

Llywydd, we know that strong local government is essential to the effective delivery of good-quality integrated public services, and a Bill on local government will be introduced in the coming year to deliver a major package of reforms, aimed at reforming and strengthening local authority democracy, accountability and performance.

Dirprwy Lywydd, we have delivered all of these improvements despite a decade of cuts inflicted by the UK Government, but we've not allowed this to be the defining feature of this Government, because we know that austerity continues to affect the lives of people in Wales, and they need our support more than ever. We are now preparing ourselves for the reality of a future outside the EU. Whatever the form of Brexit, there will be disruption, and we must continue to plan for all possible outcomes. This work inevitably impacts on our legislative programme, and across the business of Government, but our priority continues to be to fight for the best outcome for Wales, because Wales remains a great place to invest and work in—a message that is at the heart of the economic action plan.

So, Dirprwy Lywydd, this Government is delivering for all parts of Wales, driving forward our challenging agenda. We are delivering improvements that directly impact on people's lives, and laying the firm foundations for the benefit of future generations.

15:30

I have selected the amendment to the motion, and I call on Paul Davies to move the amendment, tabled in the name of Darren Millar.

Amendment 1—Darren Millar

Add as new point at end of motion:

Regrets that the Welsh Government’s Prosperity for All annual report and its legislative programme do not address some of the long-standing issues facing the people of Wales.

Amendment 1 moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm pleased to move the amendment tabled in the name of Darren Millar.

It remains the view of Members on this side of the Chamber that the Welsh Government has had sufficient time to introduce a programme that enhances the lives of the people of Wales, but, sadly, the Welsh Government's legislative programme simply hasn't done enough to address some of the long-standing issues facing the people of Wales. It's also deeply concerning that the Welsh Government has refused to do more to support legislative campaigns from outside its own camp in this Assembly. Indeed, I know from my own personal experience just how tribal and difficult it can be to get support for primary legislation, even when that legislation can make a real difference to people's lives in Wales. Therefore, I hope that, in responding to this debate, the First Minister will reflect on the Welsh Government's approach to legislative proposals, and why, particularly in this Assembly, the Government has been reluctant to support calls made from outside of its own Government.

Now, the First Minister has made it clear that the Welsh Government is committed to bringing forward legislation to impose a duty of quality for the NHS in Wales, and a duty of candour for health and social care. Indeed, the ongoing events at Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board have shown that accountability is seriously failing in our health service. And the recent announcement to downgrade hospitals in west Wales without guaranteeing funding for a hospital specifically demonstrates the lack of transparency and accountability of some health boards, and that desperately needs to be addressed. It's absolutely crucial that any legislation coming forward strengthens the patient's voice for the future. So, perhaps, in responding to this debate, the First Minister could tell us a little more about the timescales that his Government are currently looking at in terms of delivering this legislation, and how this legislation will impact any of the decisions made by health boards recently that have clearly gone against the will of the people that they actually represent.

Now, the 'Prosperity for All' annual report indicates that a local government Bill will be introduced that will include the reform of local authority electoral arrangements and changes to the governance and performance arrangements for local government, amongst other proposals. The Welsh Government has made it clear that at the heart of this Bill is the issue of one of empowerment of local councils. And he knows the views of Members on this side of the Chamber, that creating bigger authorities does not mean that they will be better authorities. Given that the Cabinet Secretary has confirmed that he will be jointly developing solutions with local authorities, I hope that we can now forget the supersized structure that keeps being threatened every few years.

Now, the 'Prosperity for All' document notes that the Welsh Government has 'delivered sustained improvements in educational attainment', which I believe is completely at odds with the most recent A* to C GCSE results in Wales, which we know are the lowest since 2005. Estyn has identified that educational attainment gaps have not narrowed for pupils in receipt of free school meals, and we also know that Estyn has found shortcomings in a third of primary schools, and three out of five secondary schools, in the way that they ensure pupils use and develop numeracy skills. So, perhaps the First Minister could tell us where sustained improvements have taken place in educational attainment, because this simply doesn't appear to be the case.

Dirprwy Lywydd, there is also a significant disconnect between the objectives of 'Prosperity for All', the Welsh Government's legislative programme, and the draft budget for 2019-20. The idea of delivering more integration, more preventative services, and delivering public services fit for the future, is significantly undermined by further cuts to the local authority spending, real-term cuts to capital budgets in health, and further amalgamation of key budget lines, which further hinders transparency in spending. Sadly, we're still no further forward in understanding how the Welsh Government is tackling the lack of accuracy and reliability of estimated costs provided by the Welsh Government in the regulatory impact assessments accompanying legislation. So, again, some further guidance on this issue would also be welcome.

It's also important that the Welsh Government ascertains exactly how any costs identified in the regulatory impact assessments will be funded, and perhaps there's room for more clarity to be provided by the Welsh Government to committees as legislation moves through the legislative process. Each year, the Assembly passes more and more legislation, and I believe we're at a point where we need to perhaps be more reflective of the legislation previously passed, by giving enough focus on post-legislative scrutiny. And I'd be interested in the First Minister's general view on how legislation from here has been revisited and scrutinised in subsequent years to ensure its effectiveness, and whether he believes there's room for improvement in this particular area. The Government's 'Prosperity for All' document comes with little insight, detail or direction on how any of its objectives will be driven forward, and it's also crucial that any legislation that comes as a result of the 'Prosperity for All' document is meaningful, has a real impact and delivers value for money for the Welsh taxpayer. We, on this side of the Chamber, will continue to constructively engage in the legislative and post-legislative process where we can to see real improvements for the people of Wales. Thank you. 

15:35

Prosperity is an important word. We all want a prosperous Wales—prospering economically and socially. We can talk about prosperity in public services, in health and education. I want a Wales that is prospering as a real nation to take its place among the nations of the world. Certainly, we can't take that word 'prosperity' for granted and underplay its importance. But I’m afraid I don’t see that the 'Prosperity for All' programme put forward by the Government faces the scale of the challenges facing Wales, and it certainly doesn’t show the ambition to respond to those challenges.

Let's be honest, progress has been limited in the almost 20 years since the inception of devolution. I can give you numerous examples: Welsh gross value added is down, lower than it was at the beginning of devolution; we are losing our young people, their skills and knowledge. In the summer of 2017, a report by the Resolution Foundation showed that Wales had seen a net loss of over 20,000 graduates between 2013 and 2016. On the environment, the Welsh Government will not reach its target to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020. The latest figures show that emissions in Wales three years ago were only 19 per cent lower than they were in 1990. Across the UK, emissions have reduced by 27 per cent over the same period.

If we look at the First Minister’s legislative statement in July of last year, it’s more notable for what isn't included than what is: no clean air Act for Wales to tackle the public health crisis of air pollution, which is causing 2,000 early deaths every year in Wales, and no legislation to establish an energy company that could push renewable projects and even the Swansea bay tidal lagoon.

The legislative programme made reference to the First Minister’s legacy, talking about the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the active travel legislation. What’s the purpose of legislation if it doesn’t lead to a change in the way that things are done and to improvements in people’s lives? Almost five years since the passing of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, active travel rates are still the same and fewer children are walking or cycling to school. Expenditure of some £10 per head per year is far less than the £17 to £20 per head that was recommended by the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee.

Where's the progress in terms of tackling climate change, air pollution and plastic waste? Rather than waiting for the Conservative Government of the UK to take this issue seriously, Plaid Cymru would take the reins ourselves and introduce a clean air Act for Wales. We would aim to scrap the sale of petrol- and diesel-only cars by 2030, as a number of other nations are doing, which is a far more ambitious target than has been set by the UK Government. We would introduce a deposit-return scheme and a levy on single-use plastics to deal with excessive plastic waste. In the words of the Marine Conservation Society:

'if we don't change things, by 2050 we could have more plastic than fish (by weight) in the sea'. 

In terms of improving educational outcomes and giving children from all backgrounds the best start in life, the Government's free childcare offer will actually increase the gap in school readiness between children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and the most prosperous. Families earning up to £200,000 per year will benefit from free childcare for every child between three and four years old, but the parents of children who are seeking work or are in education or training won't benefit from this offer. An inclusive offer, as Plaid Cymru has suggested, would enable parents to return to the workplace, as well as giving the best possible start to every child. 

I will conclude with Brexit and the impact on agriculture. We are still waiting for the Welsh Government to introduce legislation to safeguard our environment, farms and fisheries rather than choosing to give powers back to London. And, rather than following the Michael Gove route, a Plaid Cymru Government would maintain the basic farm payment to farmers, because we believe that that direct payment is needed by farmers in Wales. We must realise and understand the needs of Welsh farmers and not look at what is happening over the border. The Welsh Government's plans as noted in 'Brexit and our land' include scrapping payments gradually from 2020, and, as the FUW says, that will mean the greatest change since the second world war in agriculture in Wales.

To conclude, Llywydd, securing prosperity for Wales is something that should be driving all of us. I'm afraid that we are still waiting for the Labour Government and the Liberal Democrats here to deliver a programme that can provide real hope for our communities.  

15:40

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, for calling me to speak in this very important debate, which looks at how we're faring in Wales and looks at the legislative programme. I'd like to congratulate the Government on the progress that has been made. I'd like to focus on a couple of issues.

Housing is one of the biggest issues I deal with in my constituency office, and I'm sure that is true of many of the Assembly Members here. Having a secure home is one of the fundamental building blocks in society and I know that the Welsh Government has done a lot of work in this area. I particularly welcome the fact that we have ended the right to buy this year—in January this year—which will keep the much-depleted stock of council housing for those who need it most. I think that was a very bold, progressive measure for the Government to take, and I hope that it will result in more of the stock remaining now in local authorities' hands.

I also welcome the efforts to prevent homelessness, and I note that the annual report says that more than 16,000 households in Wales have successfully been prevented from becoming homeless. I know this legislation has been much admired in other parts of the UK and has been adopted in some, because putting a duty on local authorities to prevent people becoming homeless, I think is obviously the key—to get in there before it becomes too late.

One cause of homelessness is the insecurity of tenure for tenants in the private rented sector, and I know that the Government is discussing getting rid of section 21, the so-called no-fault evictions clause. I think it's very important that the Government does press ahead with this because rented accommodation was where we used to expect students and maybe young people in their first jobs to live, but now it has in many cases become the place for families with children and for older people and disabled people to live. In fact, there are 460,000 people in Wales living in the private rental sector, and obviously I think that we as a Government must make sure that they should not be in constant fear of being evicted without good reason. There's also evidence that section 21 disproportionately impacts on women, who are more likely to have dependent children and who will be experiencing in some cases poor housing conditions, and also fear revenge eviction if they complain. I know that the Government has tackled that particular issue.

So, I hope, as I say, that the Government will press ahead to get rid of no-fault evictions, because as things stand at the moment families can be evicted after six months, with a consequent disruption to family life and children's schooling. I also welcome the target to provide 20,000 more affordable homes over this Assembly term, and I'm very pleased that Cardiff council is building the first council houses in a generation to help tackle the waiting list in Cardiff, which is nearly 8,000 people.

However, I do think it's very important that we make sure that these new houses are built sustainably. SPECIFIC, which is based at Swansea University, came—I think it was last week—to the Assembly to tell us about the provision of active buildings, which use solar energy that is integrated into the building and storage technologies to provide heat, power and transport at the point of use. So we do now have the technology to build energy positive buildings, and I believe that all buildings built in Wales that are publicly funded should be active buildings. So, it's huge progress that these technologies have been developed here, and I do believe that we should ensure that all public buildings should be active buildings.

I'd, finally, like to turn to children's rights and I welcome the progress on children's rights that's been made in Wales. I think Wales has led the way, really, on children's rights, appointing the first children's commissioner in the UK, having school councils in school, passing the rights of children and young persons Measure, which means that we should be considering children in all the legislation that we plan. And I'd also like to welcome the progress that is due to be made on the issue of the legislation to prohibit the use of physical punishment of children. As the First Minister knows, this is something I've campaigned on for many years, but I'm very pleased that this Assembly, this Government, is now planning to actually bring this to fruition.

15:45

Well, it would be surprising if any Government didn't have anything to boast about as a result of 12 years of activity, and I acknowledge that there's been progress on numerous fronts in the course of the last year. Obviously, we all welcome such things as the new treatment fund, the tax cuts that have taken place for small businesses and so on, which are laid out in the foreword to this document, which has a charming photograph of an unhirsute First Minister.

And I certainly would be churlish not to commend the leader of the house for her efforts in relation to the extending of broadband coverage and so on in Wales. Whatever remains yet to be done, significant progress has been made in the last 12 months.

But beyond that, I said last year that 'Prosperity for All' reminded me of a hymn that I used to sing as a boy at Sunday school, 'Tell me the old, old story,' but this year I think we've moved on, and now it's 'There is a green hill far away'. Adam Price, last year, in his speech on 'Prosperity for All' said that it was 'Taking Wales Forward' on steroids—it had gone up from 15 pages to 27. And, indeed, this year's document—the report has gone up to 32. So, given what Rhun ap Iorwerth said about the Government's failure to meet its recycling target, I suppose when these documents come to be shredded, this may well assist them in that aim.

But the reality of the background to this document, of course, is that Wales is still at the bottom of the heap in the income tables of the regions of England and the nations of the United Kingdom. Although economic growth has been better in the last 12 months than it has been in recent years, and we are closing the gap on the north-east, which is next to the bottom on the table, the progress is painfully slow. Gross value added per head in Wales is still stuck at £19,140 a year, and whereas, 20 years ago, Northern Ireland was lower than Wales, now it is significantly above. So, we've had 20 years of Labour Government in Wales and we've actually gone backwards.

Now, I acknowledge at once, of course, that, despite devolution, there are many of the levers of economic change that are not within the power and control of the Welsh Government, and those remain with the United Kingdom, not least business taxes, which, unlike some in my party, I'm anxious to see devolved to Wales, so that we can change the economic climate in a significant way that will, if used imaginatively, open the way to the attraction of more industries to Wales, making it easier to do business within Wales and to produce in Wales.

That, of course, is not fully available to the Welsh Government at the moment, but the mood of pessimism that the Welsh Government continually pours out, particularly in relation to Brexit, is certainly not calculated to inspire confidence in investors, although we have had success stories, of course, like Aston Martin. I think the Qatar Airways decision to come to Cardiff is going to be a potentially massive boost to Wales, and I acknowledge the role that the First Minister played in that respect as well.

But, nevertheless, it's, in general, I think, a story not so much of success but of failure. If we look at the Barclays entrepreneurial index, Wales has the second lowest number of high-growth companies in the UK at 77. The number of private equity-backed companies in Wales has increased from 40 in last year's research to 50, but that's small progress indeed. The number of companies receiving venture capital funding has increased from 23 last year to 32, but the value of this investment hasn't increased—it's stable year on year at only £9 million. So, there's a lot more that's yet to be done. So, the Government sets the tone, more than anything else at the moment, and I think the tone that is being set is not one that is calculated to attract business to Wales. 

I just want to say one more thing in the short time available to me. The Government has added decarbonisation to its list of desirable objectives, but what's happening in China and India is the opposite. They are putting development before decarbonisation and they are not accepting any limits on carbon emissions because they put economic growth at the top of the table. Wales is the poor relation within the United Kingdom. We should, I think, take the same attitude towards this as the countries that, admittedly, are way down the income scale in world terms, but have made massive progress in recent years in improving the material lives of their people.

Wales is responsible for 0.06 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Rhun ap Iorwerth was talking about an Act to improve air quality. I'm totally in favour of that, but carbon dioxide is not a pollutant like sulphur dioxide or nitrogen dioxide. So, I think what we need to do, instead of piling costs upon industry that are unnecessary, and exporting jobs as a result and exporting industry, we should put economic growth at the top of our agenda—[Interruption.] I have read the Stern report, but we can't go into that now. The Stern report is political propaganda by somebody who's not a climate scientist. So, what we need to do is to put what matters to ordinary people first, and in Wales, at the bottom of the income scale, we need to improve their standard of living.

15:50

I just wanted to take part in this debate to reflect on some of the challenges that are ahead. I have to say I did regret the rather self-congratulatory tone of the First Minister in his opening speech and I don't think it reflected many of the challenges that are still ahead. We know, for example, that the performance of our education system is lagging behind other parts of the UK. That's, of course, partly due to the significant spending gap per pupil between England and Wales, which we've debated and discussed many times. It doesn't matter which organisation you look to, everyone says that there's a funding gap and the outcomes are actually worse. 

We also, of course, don't have a service pupil premium for those children whose parents are in the armed forces here in Wales, which they do in other parts of the UK, and, as a result of that, there are challenges that service children have to face as a result of the difficulty, sometimes, of being posted to different places in the UK with their parents, which has an impact and we can't overcome that. 

Now, there has been some progress. This party has welcomed elements of the future generations Act, and I want to pay tribute, of course, as we have in the past, to the work of the former Cabinet Secretary Carl Sargeant in terms of his work on that front. We also, of course, welcome the childcare funding Bill that is currently making its way through the National Assembly. That's not to say that we won't be tabling some amendments to improve it, but we welcome what it's trying to achieve in terms of encouraging people back into work through the provision of free childcare. 

But what this party will always stand against is a smacking ban, a smacking ban that is not popular in the country at large, that no-one has been clamouring on the doorsteps to ask us to put through in terms of legislation. We've got many bigger things to do in terms of the challenges that our country has to face. So, I urge you, First Minister, to consider the growing evidence that there is out there about opposition to this sort of approach here in Wales.

A ComRes poll back in 2017 suggested that 76 per cent of people in Wales do not think that parental smacking of children should be a criminal offence. Yet, that's precisely, effectively what is going to happen as a result of the legislation that you are bringing forward. Seventy per cent of those questioned were concerned that a smacking ban might flood police and social workers with relatively trivial cases, which would mean that they would struggle to stop the serious abusers of children. Seventy-seven per cent think that it should be the role of parents and guardians to decide whether or not to smack their children, not the state. Sixty-eight per cent of those surveyed said that it's sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child. And, 85 per cent, of course, of adults across the country were smacked by their parents or guardians as a form of discipline. 

The current law is working. It safeguards against abuse, and the defence of reasonable chastisement isn't one that is being used in the courts system. The Crown Prosecution Service said that across England and Wales between 2009-17, there were just three cases reported to them where the defence of reasonable chastisement was actually used. All of those cases—all three of them—emanated from England, there wasn't a single one in Wales, and it suggests to me that the system is therefore proportionate and it is working. 

Now, as far as I'm concerned, there are many more important things that you ought to be focusing on in terms of opportunities for children and young people, in particular, the disgraceful state, I have to say, of the Welsh education system after being run by your party for the best part of 20 years. That's what you need to be getting to grips with, not legislating for something that most parents don't want you to legislate on, and that most members of the public don't want you to legislate on either. It will result in many decent, loving parents being criminalised by a system, and the system being absorbed all the time in focusing their energy on trivial things when the serious abuse that does take place in this country needs to be the focus of social workers, and needs to be the focus of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.  

15:55

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd, and can I thank Members for their contributions? 

I listened, first, to what the leader of the opposition had to say, and he went through issues where he had criticisms of what the Government has done, and that, of course, is his right as leader of the opposition. But not once did I hear any suggestion of what a Conservative Assembly administration would do. There's no alternative programme for government, there's no, 'You're doing this, but we would do this'. There's no suggestion of—[Interruption.] Yes, of course I will. 

We set out a legislative programme in our manifesto before the last Assembly elections, and in addition to that, of course, my colleague Paul Davies, the leader of the opposition, is bringing forward legislation on autism that your party is opposing. 

Indeed, in our manifesto we had a commitment to removing the defence of reasonable chastisement, which we intend to keep to. But no indication of what a programme for government of a Conservative administration in the Assembly would look like, which is disappointing. 

In terms of legislation outside this Chamber, there's no tribalism involved—we don't see it in that way—but there is a serious issue in terms of capacity, if I'm honest with you. We have a heavy legislative programme. We have Brexit, which will cause us more difficulty in terms of capacity, and it can be difficult to offer support to Bills from outside the Government programme because of that capacity. These are busy times, and it can be difficult to do that. So, there's no question of tribalism here; it's a question of ensuring that we can get our own business through first, which, as a Government, I believe we are entitled to do, and then we'll have to see if there's any spare capacity, taking into account Brexit, to see what can be done for legislation outside Government. So, it's not a political decision, necessarily—it's more to do with what we think we can do without jeopardising our own programme. 

When it comes to health, well, in terms of the Bill itself, there's a White Paper the Member will know has been published. As he will know, we are putting more resources into health, again, as we've done year after year, because we know that health is an area that people will judge us on when it comes to how we perform as a Government. 

He talks of empowerment of local councils. His view is there is no need to restructure local government. There is a need, definitely, to ensure local government works together because he cannot, surely, suggest that the structure of local government in Wales has been marvellous for years. We had six local authorities in special measures for education, we had one local authority that had completely collapsed to the extent that we had to take it over, and his own local authority had real problems in terms of the then chief executive and in terms of its delivery. What I have noticed is that the education consortia have done wonders in terms of ensuring better results in schools, in terms of provision of courses across regions, and that is one of the areas where local authorities have to work together in the future.

Regional planning is another. My colleague here, Hefin David, has made this point many, many times. You cannot, if you're a planning authority, just simply plan for within your own area; you have to work with other local authorities in order to ensure that there is a proper regional plan to deal with housing need.

And, of course, we know that we have provided more support for local government than would be the case in England; that's not to say they've got more money—we know there have been cuts in local government—but it's been far worse in England, with even talk now of the revenue support grant disappearing in England. That is a recipe for rich areas to get richer and for poor areas to get poorer. So, we will work with our local government colleagues to help them through the difficult times that they've had—there's no question about that—and there are difficult times, certainly, ahead.

When it comes to GCSE results, I'd remind you that we introduced this year a more difficult and more rigorous process when it came to GCSEs, making sure that young people tried the exam at the time that was right for them, not right for the school. We made sure that more and more pupils, for example, are taking double science GCSE rather than the BTEC, and all this, we thought, would have a significant effect on results that would push results downwards this year, but that's not what's happened. So, even though more rigour has been introduced to the system, we have seen results, at the very least, stay steady. 

In terms of post-legislative scrutiny, in some ways that's a matter for the Assembly and its committees, but as a Government, of course, we understand the need to review legislation and, of course, we work with the Law Commission to take forward that process to see how we can further improve Welsh law in the future. 

Am I over time, Dirprwy Lywydd? 

16:00

Very quickly.

With regard to Rhun ap Iorwerth, at least I knew what some of the ideas were that came from Plaid Cymru, in terms of the way ahead, as they saw it. I don’t think that an energy company can solve every problem. With the clean air Act, well, legislation is one thing, but what’s vital is that we act and that’s what we’re doing as a Government.

In terms of the childcare plan, the aim of that is to help working people—that’s what it is. I was in the Rhondda a fortnight ago, and people told me, 'Well, we thought it was only for people with benefits, but I’m only working 18 hours a week and I can’t believe I’ve got free childcare.' So, those people do see great benefit in that scheme.

Very quickly, in terms of what Julie Morgan said, I take the point about the no-fault evictions, that's something to look at. On reasonable punishment of children, well, yes, we'll take that forward. Darren Millar said that the defence hadn't been used in Wales in the last year. Well, what's the point of it then if it's never been used? It will not criminalise parents. Yes, it will create a situation where somebody could potentially be convicted of an offence, but that's the very last resort. I know that the Minister is working with the police, with the Child Prosecution Service and other agencies to make sure that the first port of call is not prosecution. It doesn't happen with other offences of this type, so why should it be for this one? The intention is not to criminalise people at the drop of a hat, it's to help people at the beginning, and if things are not resolved, then ultimately there is the possibility of prosecution. That certainly isn't the way the police or the CPS or indeed ourselves would see it. 

I think I've covered—. Just one thing Neil Hamilton said about China. The Chinese people are not stupid and nor is their Government. They've a real problem with pollution, which is why they're investing so much in renewables. They are under pressure from their own people because of the horrific air quality that they have in some parts of China, and they are very much aware of the work that they need to do in order to clean up their own act. That's something the Chinese are moving forward with and are developing the technology to do even as Britain has gone backwards in terms of developing that technology. Carbon dioxide: it's poisonous, it's a greenhouse gas, that's established. The vast weight of evidence says that, but unfortunately he relies on one or two people who disagree. I know from my previous experience in my previous job, you'll always find one person who is an expert who will have a different view to everybody else. You have to look at the weight of evidence. The weight of evidence is clear: climate change is happening, human beings are affecting it, and it's something we need to do something about across the world. I'm sorry I've rushed, but my time is up. Forgive me, Dirprwy Lywydd.  

Thank you very much. The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Thank you. You need to be a bit faster than that, I'm afraid. [Laughter.] Therefore we defer voting under this item until voting time. 

Voting deferred until voting time.

7. Debate: The Wales Governance Centre Report—Imprisonment in Wales—A Factfile

The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1 and 2 in the name of Darren Millar.

Item 7—it's a good job we've got some time, isn't it? Item 7 is the debate on the Wales Governance Centre report, 'Imprisonment in Wales: a Factfile'. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services, Alun Davies. 

Motion NDM6826 Julie James

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales notes the Wales Governance Centre Report, 'Imprisonment in Wales—a Factfile', published on the 5th June 2018.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Members will be aware that on 5 June this year the Wales Governance Centre published, 'Imprisonment in Wales: a Factfile', which highlights Wales-specific data across the prison system. Can I state at the outset that I'm very grateful to the Wales Governance Centre and to Dr Robert Jones for this work? We recognise that it is a snapshot rather than an in-depth analysis, but it also tells us a great deal about the prison service and about the way it serves people across Wales.

We also know that this report is a very timely report. We've seen all too often over recent months controversies over safety and performance. I was listening this morning to news that the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office are allowing pepper spray to be used in our prisons—not possibly the best way to respond to some of the difficulties being faced on the prison estate either in Wales or elsewhere.

But the report also does highlight the importance of having Wales-only data in understanding the impact of justice policy and practice on people in this country. All too often, when we look at the justice system, we look at it on a UK basis—Darren Millar seeks to make the point in his amendment—because it isn't a UK system; it is an England and Wales system. And whilst we are happy to note the existence of the UK Government's policy, it would be wrong and improper, I think, for us to seek to imply that there is a UK solution to this.

One of the things that I've found in fulfilling this role over the last year is that devolution matures, which means that we face new questions, new challenges and new understanding of how devolved and reserved matters interact with each other. And I hope that, in justice policy, we're beginning to see some of that understanding.

Some of the key findings of the report include that prisons in Wales are performing less well than prisons in England on a range of safety measures. Since 2010, the number of recorded self-harm incidents and prisoner assaults in Wales have increased at a higher rate than in prisons in England. Despite an increase in prison capacity in Wales, in 2017, nearly 40 per cent of all Welsh prisoners were being held in English prisons. In a large number of cases, Welsh prisoners are placed in establishments far from home. Welsh prisoners were held in 118 different prisons in 2017.

Deputy Presiding Officer, I know from my own constituency, this report describes that there are 52 prisoners being held from Blaenau Gwent, and those 52 prisoners are being held in 20 prisons, not simply in Wales or local to Wales in the south-west of England, but in prisons across the whole of England—in northern England, north-east England and north-west England as well. There may well occasionally be reasons why people are placed in a particular facility, but this is not about individuals; this is about a system that isn't working for people across Wales.

Much of the data we've seen published in June makes for unhappy reading, but nowhere is that more true than when we describe the place of women in the system. The number of Welsh women handed immediate custodial sentences has increased by almost a fifth since 2011. The majority are sentenced to immediate custody and convicted of non-violent offences. Three quarters of all Welsh women receiving immediate custodial sentences in 2016 were given sentences of less than six months. The number of Welsh children in custody has fallen by 72 per cent since 2010; however, a large number of them are being held in establishments across the border in England. So this, as a whole, is not a picture that many of us will want to see.

We recognise that many of the reasons for this are historic. We recognise that we do not have the secure estate that we would require in Wales. And this is why rejecting amendment 2 in the name of Darren Millar is actually very, very important. If we look at the prison estate, the secure estate that we have inherited, this is not a secure estate that is designed for the needs of people in Wales. Up until a couple of years ago, up until 18 months ago, we had no secure accommodation anywhere beyond the M4 corridor. We didn't have any secure facilities serving north Wales at all. Is that what the people of north Wales want from the service? And then when we do see a prison opened in Wrexham, it is opened with a capacity far, far beyond that which is required in the region. It is not there to serve Wales's needs; it's not there to serve the communities of north Wales; it's not there to serve the interests and the needs of the people we represent here in this Chamber.

16:05

I'm very grateful to you for taking the intervention. The Welsh Government supported the establishment of HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, so I'm astonished to find you now criticising the significant investment and the skilled jobs that have been brought to north-east Wales as a result the UK Government's decision.

I'm talking about a system and a structure of secure estate, and I'm asking the question: does that serve Wales's interests? And I think you would be very hard pressed to find the answer 'yes' in examining that.

And if you do look at the secure estate we have here in south Wales, along the M4 corridor, I want to see significant investment in that secure estate. If you walk into either Swansea or Cardiff, you will see conditions that I do not believe we want to see in this country today. I believe that we should be investing in a secure estate that respects human beings, that respects the need to hold people in custody, but also has a very clear focus on the community and on rehabilitation. I hope that all sides of this Chamber will agree that what we need is a secure estate in Wales that is modern, that is up to date, that serves the needs of the community as a whole. And we will see as well, if you look at the youth offending institution we have in Park—an institution for young offenders in the centre of an adult prison—that that is not the sort of facility that we require and we need if we're serious about seeing prison as not only a punitive process, but a means of intervention and rehabilitation as well. And this is why there is no UK solution to this and why I invite Members to vote against amendment 2 to this motion: because we need a holistic and coherent structure to justice policy in Wales.

I have already argued, Deputy Presiding Officer, from this place, that the Welsh Government wants to see the devolution of policing to Wales to ensure that policing, alongside all other public services, are managed as a single, coherent system, and the Welsh Government will continue to make that case, but we also need to have a prison and a penal policy that meets the needs of Wales and is coherent with other services. When I look at the system, when I visit prisons, when I speak to prisoners, when I speak to families and when I speak to those people working in the system, I speak all too often to people who have been failed by that system, whether they are being held in custody or whether they are the people holding those people in custody. I have spoken to too many people working in the system who go into work day in, day out knowing that the system itself does not deliver for the people who are being held in custody on the secure estate in Wales. That is unacceptable. It is unacceptable today and we cannot, as a Government and as a National Assembly, as a Parliament for this country, stand back and simply say, 'That is not our responsibility.' I believe we need to argue for a different policy and a different approach.

Deputy Presiding Officer, I am looking, at the moment, at how we work with the prison and probation service. I have tabled a debate in Government time in two weeks' time for us to discuss the future of the probation service. I've been working with the Ministry of Justice and with the prison and probation service in order to deliver a blueprint for female offenders and for youth offending in Wales. In due course, I will ask the National Assembly to endorse that policy and that approach. But all too often, at the moment, we find ourselves in a situation whereby neither the United Kingdom Government nor the Welsh Government is able to deliver a coherent approach to policy and a coherent and holistic approach to dealing with people who are in the criminal justice system. The report of the Wales Governance Centre provides us with a snapshot with the understanding of that. It is our role, as the elected representatives of the people of Wales, to articulate a way forward. Thank you.

16:10

Thank you. I have selected the two amendments to the motion, and I call on Mark Isherwood to move both amendments, tabled in the name of Darren Millar. Mark.

Amendment 1—Darren Millar

Add as new point at end of motion:

Notes the UK Government's agenda on prison reform.

Amendment 2—Darren Millar

Add as new point at end of motion:

Recognises the need for a UK-wide solution to the issues identified in the Wales Governance Centre report, 'Imprisonment in Wales—a Factfile'.

Amendments 1 and 2 moved.

Diolch. Well, as this report shows, almost two thirds of Welsh offenders are being held in Wales and 70 per cent of all offenders held in Wales had an address in Wales prior to entering custody.

In referring to the extent of distance problems facing Welsh people in prisons, it provides the example of male offenders from Flintshire being held at 44 different prisons in England. However, over three quarters of these were imprisoned in adjacent north-west England, and over 40 per cent in nearby Her Majesty's Prison Altcourse. On my own previous visits to HMP Altcourse, I've seen the targeted work of their north Wales resettlement unit. Of course, it would be prejudicial and counter-productive if offenders were segregated according to where they previously lived. Further, such an approach would not take account of the practical considerations applying when decisions are made about where a prisoner is to be held. Our amendments, therefore, note the UK Government's agenda on prison reform and recognise the need for a cross-border solution to the issues identified in the Wales Governance Centre report. The UK Government's reforms are not about increasing capacity but about replacing ageing and ineffective prisons with buildings fit for today's demands, and to share the wider economic benefits, not just in England, which is why they were welcomed predominantly in Wrexham.

Contrary to the Wales Governance Centre's report, the UK Government does not continue to place faith in the one-size-fits-all model for the superprison. For example, Berwyn prison in Wrexham, a training and resettlement prison, is divided into three houses, each divided into eight communities plus a small care and support unit. In terms of distance travelled, HMP Berwyn is 152 miles from Pembroke, 140 from Cardiff, 81 from Aberystwyth, 77 from Caernarfon, 70 from Birmingham, 54 from Manchester, 40 from Liverpool and 13 from Chester.

Following his recent visit to Berwyn, Labour's Wrexham MP, Ian Lucas, stated that he was, quote,

 'very pleased that there were constructive signs for the future.'

He reported that the constructive work taking place in the prison had included offenders

'working on different projects such as conducting phone surveys and other meaningful work which can only help in providing training for jobs when sentences end.'

He added that he was delighted that the kitchen service had been helping in the community with voluntary projects and that

'Particularly outstanding was the gardening work.'

Instead of five community prisons for women in England and Wales, the UK Government has announced that it will trial five residential centres to help women offenders with issues such as finding work and drug rehabilitation, as well as accommodating children, where those on community sentences are less likely to commit further crimes than those who've served short jail terms. As the executive director of Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service for Wales told the Welsh Affairs Select Committee last month:

'we do not have the provision in Wales to deal with lots of different things…an example: we do not have…anywhere to put high-security offenders or anywhere to house terrorists.'

She added:

'we have a system in England and Wales that is not designed solely on the basis of geographical location. It is also designed on the basis of the needs of the prisoner, and they can be geographically dispersed…You have to weigh…what the regime, the provision and the intervention are that you want to give the individual, versus closeness to home.'

You cannot, she said,

'compare all prisons to all prisons; you have to do prisons in comparator groups…both Swansea and Cardiff are performing better than their comparator groups against safety and order…On…self-harm and violence, both Swansea and Cardiff…are performing better. Usk and Prescoed have some of the best levels of performance in their systems.'

Most of Wales's population lives near England and criminal activity does not recognise national boundaries.

Scottish prison services are devolved, but the issues they face are broadly similar to those outlined in this report. Scotland's chief inspector of prisons highlighted recently an increase in instances of psychoactive substances, a lack of capacity within treatment programmes, and work needed to reduce female prisoners in custody.

Unlike English prisons, Welsh prisons do not offer integrated drug treatment. The Welsh Government is also responsible for health and education of offenders within the Welsh prison estate, yet the report does not include outcomes for offenders on the Welsh estate, nor of Welsh prisoners in English prisons. And the ridiculousness of calls for the criminal justice system to be devolved are exposed by the First Minister's claim that dangerous offenders could be sent across the UK after devolution to address the lack of category A prisons in Wales. What a nonsense.

16:15

I'd like to start with the amendment. I'll take the second one first. It's remarkable how anyone could read this report and think that UK-wide solutions are going to address the specific Welsh issues in this report. It's the sort of amendment that looks like it's been tabled by somebody who didn't bother even reading the report, and I'll say no more on that.

The first amendment adds nothing to the motion. There is, of course, a UK agenda on prison reform, but it's an agenda of underfunding, overcrowding and warehousing that isn't worth even noting outside the context of arguing for Wales to do things differently.

I welcome this timely report from the Wales Governance Centre. It's hard to believe that we're still having this debate as to whether Wales should have control over its own criminal justice system. Not only that, but the Westminster establishment continues to believe that giant prisons are good for prisoners as well as for economic development when neither is true. There are obvious conclusions that can be drawn from this report. Having no control over criminal justice has led to the situation where Westminster sees Wales becoming a net importer of prisoners. At the same time, we lack the facilities to ensure that Welsh prisoners can serve their sentences closer to home and be properly rehabilitated. Having no control has also meant Westminster not recognising Welsh needs. All the data gathered for this report had to be obtained through freedom of information requests. Doesn't that say it all?

Welsh language needs, which are clearly crucial to rehabilitation, are often not even recognised, let alone catered for when those responsible for collecting the data don't know or care how many prisoners are Welsh speakers. Westminster has had 11 years since the Welsh Affairs Committee asked the Ministry of Justice to collect and publish this information, and still nothing. I wonder why.

The current prison set-up is discriminatory against Welsh women, and I've made this point on numerous occasions. Women are sent further away. They will be separated from their children for longer. They will be more likely to reoffend and they will fail to receive the support that they need when returning home. This report has also shown that 75 per cent of women who obtain custodial sentences in Wales receive a sentence of less than six months for a non-violent offence. This demonstrates that the majority of women are not dangerous people, yet we're imposing more severe punishment on women offenders and placing them into a faraway environment that makes rehabilitation much more challenging.

We can also see that prisoners who stay in Wales and are closer to family—again, crucial to preventing reoffending—face an environment that sees record numbers of self-harm and assault. This is despite not one of the prisons concerned being a category A prison, where we would expect to see the more dangerous and violent prisoners housed. This tells me that we've got too many people in prison with serious mental health problems. Should they all be in prison? I doubt it very much. Is this related to the question of quality of prison management? Well, having set out a total of 212 recommendations within its previous inspections in Wales, HMIP's most recent findings reported that only 77 had been fully achieved. Why would management bother implementing these recommendations anyway? It's not as if anyone from the MOJ is actually bothering to check. No-one is watching.

I presume that the reason that Westminster has resisted the devolution of the criminal justice system for so long is because they genuinely believe that they can do a better job, or maybe they're afraid that Wales would do something different and focus on rehabilitation and the reduction of reoffending rates, which is what I think the majority of us in this Chamber and in our country would want to see.

But it's no good just blaming Westminster when we still have a First Minister who has been ambiguous at best about taking responsibility for the criminal justice system and whose Government's initial reaction to the Port Talbot prison was to negotiate the price for the land required with the MOJ. And I'd like to pay tribute to all those campaigners for their victory on that front. It remains the case that we have a Government whose instinct is against taking responsibility. As a former probation officer, I know that the first stage in anybody's rehabilitation is that you have to take responsibility for yourself. The Welsh Government needs to begin its own rehabilitation and seek and take the responsibility so that we can correct the injustices that are highlighted in this report.

16:20

I welcome this debate today, and the opportunity to discuss these very important matters regarding prisons in Wales and the Wales Governance Centre report.

We have a rising prison population in Wales, as the report states, which is also the position in England. Similarly, we have rising numbers of assaults, self-harm and disturbances in prison. We have cross-border issues where people from Wales are travelling distances to be imprisoned in England, making the visits by services and family much more difficult and making the rehabilitative effort that much more difficult accordingly, and similarly with people who live in England coming to prisons in Wales. So, with that sort of background and those sorts of problems, I very much welcome the Welsh Government's Commission on Justice in Wales, and the consideration of a distinctive approach to penal policy that Welsh Government has stated it wants to consider very carefully and, hopefully, take forward.

I think it's fair to say, Dirprwy Lywydd, that if we look at UK Government's prisons policy, it's nothing short of a horror story. Very many people who are in prison simply shouldn't be there. Imprisonment isn't used as a last resort. Very many people incarcerated have mental health problems. They have drug and alcohol problems. They have very low skills. The effort to help these people is not one that should be taking place in prisons; they shouldn't be in prison in the first place. And, of course, many of them have short sentences, which makes rehabilitation very difficult, because they're not in prison long enough, really, for a proper rehabilitative experience to take place. And if they only receive those short sentences, again that raises the question: why was there a need to imprison them at all? So, given the understaffing that's also an issue, and the overcrowding, we know that meaningful rehabilitation in prison is just not taking place on the scale or to the degree that's necessary. And what's the result of that? More reoffending, more victims of crime, more recidivism. You know, it really is a very counterproductive and wrong-headed vicious circle that is happening at the moment.

So, in my view, Dirprwy Lywydd, the sooner Welsh Government has more responsibility for the criminal justice system, for prisons, the better. Because, I think as Leanne Wood rightly said, I'm confident that the consensus within this Chamber and politics in Wales would push us in a very different, much more productive direction, which was about keeping people out of prison, and then when people have to go to prison, not having the overcrowding and the lack of staffing that makes rehabilitation so difficult. So, we could have a system when people have to go to prison where they're properly rehabilitated, and when they're then released, they do not commit further crimes to the scale that currently happens.

So, if we look at the sort of picture we could have in Wales, Dirprwy Lywydd, I believe it would be much better for the people who are committing offences. It would be much better for victims of crime. And it would be much better for our communities and society generally, because we would have proper humane conditions and proper rehabilitation in our prisons. We would have far fewer people, as I say, coming out, committing further crimes. That would benefit them, it would benefit their families, their communities and society in general. So, if we look at matters in the round, I think most people in this Chamber, Dirprwy Lywydd, would come to the view that the sooner we get Welsh Government in charge of these matters and this Chamber determining scrutiny and policy, the better.

16:25