Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

24/09/2019

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

Emergency Question: The Supreme Court Judgment

I have accepted an emergency question, under Standing Order 12.67. I call on Adam Price to ask the emergency question. 

Will the First Minister make a statement following the Supreme Court judgement that the prorogation of the UK Parliament was unlawful? (EAQ0006)

Llywydd, thank you. The judgment of the Supreme Court was striking. It was totally clear and unanimous. It showed that the Prime Minister had tried to stop the Parliament in Westminster and the democratic House of Commons from holding the Government to account on the most important issue of the age. As a result of the court's decision, Westminster is not prorogued and the Prime Minister will have to report on his unlawful advice. The Welsh Government was totally correct to intervene in this case in order to defend the democratic rights of the people of Wales and the United Kingdom.

First Minister, this judgment by the Supreme Court is a hugely important issue, stating that the UK Government had behaved unlawfully. Lying to the people, lying to Parliament, lying to the Queen is a trinity of grave constitutional crimes. What's totally clear is that the UK Prime Minister had closed the doors of Parliament with the relish of the dictator that he is, and I'm very pleased that my party played a central part in the case that held the Prime Minister to account. Today we saw the true meaning of taking back control. When the voice of our advocates is silenced, we will shout more loudly than ever. When attempts are made to turn the legislature into an impediment, we will turn it into the anchor of our democracy. When a Prime Minister tries to ignore a law that states that we cannot leave the European Union without a deal, there must be implications, whatever Dominic Cummings may have been tweeting over the past few minutes.

A Prime Minister who evades scrutiny, who is blind to the rule of law and does so under the banner of a destructive Brexit is not competent to be in post. In light of Boris Johnson's dirty tricks, do you agree with me that the Prime Minister now needs to resign immediately? I noticed that you didn't respond to the question asked by journalists a minute ago. Will you answer that question now? And for the avoidance of any similar situation arising again, where a Government runs riot over democracy, will you ensure that your party in Westminster supports remaining in the European Union and unconditionally prioritises a people's vote now, before a general election?

May I thank Adam Price for those questions? I have already said, Llywydd, that I cannot see any way in which Boris Johnson can remain in office following the judgment of the court today.

The court found against the Prime Minister unanimously on every single point that Lady Hale said was in front of them. She rehearsed, as those of you have seen her judgment know, four separate questions. Was the Prime Minister's advice to the Queen justiciable? Now, the Government had argued that it wasn't, that there was nothing here for the courts to be interested in. And the court rejected that, saying that the power to prorogue, used as the Prime Minister had used it, was an attack on the foundational principle of our constitution. The court then asked, if that is justiciable, then by what standard is its lawfulness to be judged? And the court said that there were two fundamental principles at stake here—that of parliamentary sovereignty and parliamentary accountability, and on both those counts the court found that the Prime Minister's actions could not be supported. If those are the standards, then was the advice that the Prime Minister provided to the court lawful? And this really, I think, goes to the very heart of what the Supreme Court decided today. Lady Hale referred directly, Llywydd, to the position of this National Assembly and the Scottish Parliament—the fact that, as our QC said in evidence to the court, everything we had done here in providing consents to pieces of legislation, which we had a legitimate expectation would then proceed to a conclusion in the House of Commons, all of that had been swept away as a result of the Prime Minister's actions. It is impossible for us to conclude, the Supreme Court said, that there was any reason, let alone a good reason, to prorogue Parliament. It follows that the decision was unlawful. When a Prime Minister is found to have acted unlawfully and undemocratically, I don't see how that person thinks that he can legitimately continue in office.

13:35

First Minister, let me reassure you that, within the Conservative Party, we respect the rule of law and the outcome of today's Supreme Court proceedings. But let's look at the root of this particular issue, shall we? This Brexit impasse—[Interruption.]—this Brexit impasse, and the position—

Let the leader of the opposition continue his questioning. [Interruption.] Allow the leader of the opposition to continue his questioning and for it to be heard.

This Brexit impasse, and the position we now find ourselves in, has been created as a result of your Labour MPs having frustrated—[Interruption.]—yes, having frustrated the Brexit process, against the will of the Welsh and British people. [Interruption.]

You may disagree with what the leader of the opposition is saying, but he does deserve to be heard. I want to hear him.

Diolch, Llywydd. You know full well, First Minister, that if your colleagues had voted for the previous UK Government's withdrawal Bill, then we wouldn't be having this conversation. We would have left the European Union by now in an orderly fashion. But we can now see that, given your own Government's position, you don't respect the result of the referendum, because you've now made it clear that you want to stay in the European Union, full stop. Clearly, First Minister, the only way—the only way—we're going to get out of this situation now is to have a general election as soon as possible. And, as you know, the Prime Minister sought a general election just a few weeks ago, and your party, despite having called for one months and, indeed, years, had the audacity to vote it down. Come on, First Minister, what are you afraid of? So, will your Government therefore now support a general election as soon as possible, because this is the only way we can actually resolve this situation?

Llywydd, the leader of the opposition begins by saying that his party respects the rule of law. The last thing I heard before I came to the floor of the Assembly this afternoon was the Prime Minister attacking the decision of the Supreme Court, which I thought was disgraceful. [Interruption.] I heard him myself—he attacked the decision of the Supreme Court. He said he didn't agree with the Supreme Court, that he couldn't see how they had come to their conclusion. I don't think that sounds much to me like respecting the rule of law. Then he said that he was determined that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union by 31 October, despite the fact that there is a law passed in the House of Commons preventing him from doing that. Where is the respect for the rule of law there? It has always seemed to me, Llywydd—[Interruption.]—it's always seemed to me, Llywydd, that people who decide to be law makers give up the right to be law breakers. There are other people who take other contributions to debate, and they have other choices to make. But if you are elected to a legislature, where we make the law, as the law is made in the House of Commons, then you cannot at the same time claim the right to break the law that you have a hand in making. And that seems to me to be the position that this Prime Minister has been prepared to take time after time. That's the substance of what's at issue today.

It would have been—[Interruption.] I think it would have served this institution and people in Wales a bit better if the leader of the opposition had got up to explain to us how his party is now going to explain to them how they put us all in this position. How, as a result of his party's actions, Parliament has been prevented from scrutinising the actions of his Government, something that the Supreme Court today has found to be unlawful. And wasn't it interesting? Did you not think it was interesting that the president of the Supreme Court had to go out of her way to make it clear that everything we have been hearing from members of his party about how the Prime Minister could simply prorogue all over again, that he could get round anything the Supreme Court said—. She had to go out of her way to make it clear that Parliament has never been prorogued and that that avenue to frustrating democratic accountability in this country has been blocked off to him by the actions of the Supreme Court today. Those were the things the party opposite ought to have been dealing with this afternoon, rather than trying to divert attention in the way that he did. The nonsense of suggesting that—a deal that his party would not support.

Where was his Jacob Rees-Mogg, the man sent to Balmoral, as the Scottish Supreme Court said, to tell an untruth to the Queen? Where was he when Mrs May's deal was being voted on? Yes, I think it's time that—[Interruption.] I think it's time the opposition leader in this party looked to his own party and offered some explanation of its actions. That would have been what he should have been doing here this afternoon. 

13:40

The First Minister admonishes the leader of the opposition about respect for the rule of law, but I do recall, last week, what he and his Counsel General said about the then binding judgment of the High Court in our jurisdiction, and they decided they would prefer to take the ruling of the court from another jurisdiction. 

What I would ask Members to think about—[Interruption.]—if I may continue—in responding to this judgment today, I think all of us would see it as being far stronger and greater in scope than had been anticipated prior to the judgment. The corollary of that is that the Supreme Court has gone further than what we expected in light of the prior constitutional norms. And I just think, in terms of considering how exorbitant the judgment is, we should focus a bit on paragraphs 49 and 50 of the judgment, which does most of the heavy lifting, where the court says,

'a prerogative power is only effective to the extent that it is recognised by the common law: as was said in the Case of Proclamations, “the King hath no prerogative, but that which the law of the land allows him”. A prerogative power is therefore limited by statute and the common law'. 

The Case of Proclamations was about the Crown unmaking a law that had been passed by Parliament, and what the common law found then was that the executive could not act against the law or unmake laws where the legislature had restricted the prerogative through passing a law. That is not the case here. Parliament has had over 400 years since then to restrict the prerogative and control how it could be used. It has chosen not to, yet the Supreme Court has done so itself through the principles that it has discerned today.

Similarly, in the previous Miller judgment, on the treaty on the functioning of the European Union we saw that Parliament had restricted the use of article 49—the passerelle clause—but did not restrict the use of article 50. Yet, the court departed from previous principles of statutory interpretation to impose its own restrictions on article 50. One area—[Interruption.]. I'm describing how its judgment is exorbitant. Exorbitant is not the same as wrong. I am a lawyer and I would be cautious before going in the direction that the Member heckles to the effect of.  

In paragraph 60 of the judgment, quite rightly, the court doesn't stray into the areas of parliamentary procedure, but it does presume that Parliament controls its own timetable. Yet, it doesn't. It doesn't have a business of the house committee. The Government allocates days to the opposition or to a backbench business committee, but the Government controls the agenda. Standing Orders say it does. Standing Orders say votes must be forthwith, and there is a mechanism for Parliament—the House of Commons—to revise that on a motion from the Procedure Committee, but the Speaker didn't do that, because the Procedure Committee has a majority that backed Brexit. It's elected by the House. So, instead the Speaker ignored Standing Orders, read something into them that was not there and did things that way, contrary to the rules of the Commons in order to drive forward the law.

We have a very important judgment today. I just about managed to read it since it came out, but I think we should all take further time to reflect, and I would encourage people to approach this very calmly, because, while I respect the rule of law, and I’d be cautious about criticising judges, I fear that many, many people out there see this through the prism of 'leave' and 'remain'.

13:45

Llywydd, I’m afraid I’m left a bit confused by the Member’s contribution. He describes the Supreme Court as exorbitant and then urges us all to respect the rule of law. Last week, he was busy trying to dismiss the views of the most senior court in Scotland as though they counted for absolutely nothing. I’m not certain today whether he hasn’t applied the same approach to the Supreme Court as well. I too have the judgment here. I agree with Mark Reckless that Members would want to read it. It is an exceptionally clearly argued judgment. The Member says that the court has departed from existing norms. It was asked to adjudicate in a situation where, as the judgment makes clear, the Prime Minister had departed from existing norms entirely, and to the detriment of the rule of law and to our democracy. That’s the conclusion that I think anybody who cares to study this judgment will come to, and that’s why it has the seriousness and weight that we ought to attach to it.

We face this afternoon the deepest political crisis that I have seen in my 20 years of politics. I have to say that I have seen at least one Conservative MP attack the Supreme Court—David Davies. He said they were part of a pro-EU establishment. We all, First Minister, are the subject of court judgments sometimes that we don’t like, but we have courts for a reason—they’re there to take decisions. I listened carefully to what the leader of the opposition had to say, and I regret that what is a question of democracy, a question of the constitution, a question of the supremacy of Parliament elected by the people in 2017, a year after the referendum—a year after the referendum—was reduced by him to party political point scoring. He is better than that. He is better than that; he’s somebody who I have respect for, but, really, this is not about party politics.

First Minister, it is an occupational hazard for Ministers to find, when they take a decision in good faith, that the court then says the decision is unlawful. That is not unusual. What is unusual in this case is the Court of Session in Edinburgh said that Parliament had been prorogued for an improper purpose. 'Improper' is a stinging rebuke. The use of the word ’improper’ is a stinging rebuke to the Prime Minister. It implies dishonesty, and it implies that the Prime Minister gave the Queen misleading and illegal advice. That is a step that no Prime Minister has taken before.

A coach and horses has been driven through the constitution; it is no longer fit for purpose. A written constitution depends on people being reasonable and conventions being respected. They have not been. They have not been over the course of the past year, and it puts the Queen in an invidious position. If the Prime Minister comes back to the Queen and asks to prorogue Parliament once again, how can the Queen be sure that the advice she is being given by the Prime Minister is not unlawful? And yet she has no discretion as to what to do. She can be misled by illegal advice from a Prime Minister once again and can’t do anything. That is an invidious position for the Queen to be in. First Minister, given the crisis that we have, is it not time for sense? Is it not time for compromise? Is it not time for reconciliation? And is it not time to have a new Prime Minister?

Well, Llywydd, I listened very carefully to what the former First Minister has said, as I think other Members in this Assembly should do, because of his role as a Privy Counsellor, because of the fact that he has actually attended those forums that have been at the heart of the issues that the Supreme Court has had to deal with, and, as he said, the Scottish court found that the advice given in the Privy Council was not advice based on good faith. Now, of course, what Carwyn Jones has said is right, we all of us, I'm sure, make decisions in good faith that then turn out not to be as soundly based as we had thought. The issue here is one of good faith—the fact that the Prime Minister, when providing his advice, said that he wanted to prorogue Parliament for one reason, whereas in fact it was clear from decisions that he had made that that was not the case. And that really does go to the heart of the way that our constitution operates. It goes to the heart, Llywydd, I would say, of arguments that people on different sides of this Chamber have made about the need for a constitutional convention and for a written constitution, which would avoid some of the risks that we have seen the current Prime Minister able to take and thought that he would get away with, and today he's been found out. But it should never have got to that stage and a different constitutional settlement would prevent that from happening. I agree with his final point; I have thought, ever since I heard the judgment and heard the way that the president of the Supreme Court was so unambiguous in her finding, the Prime Minister has been found to have acted unlawfully and in a way deliberately designed to subvert our democracy. How does anybody in that position think that they can carry on?

13:50

We're clearly at a watershed moment and we have an 11-0 judgment—perhaps 'exorbitant' is a fair way of describing that. But, clearly, what has happened is that prerogative powers are not now considered to be beyond the rule of law and they are subject to judicial review. Given that prerogative powers are so vast, potentially, and are not amenable, or at least previously, to any other review, and we've clearly seen that in the way the Crown was involved—now, it is the case that in previous centuries the Crown could deny the exercise of the prerogative by the Prime Minister, but, clearly, in our democratic age we've gone a long way beyond that. Therefore, given all those grey areas in how far prerogative powers can be extended, we absolutely need the principle of judicial review, and I warmly welcome this morning's judgment. It really does establish beyond any question our democracy and the proper rule of law.

Prorogation clearly needs a clearer set of rules, based on all-party agreement. It is about when Parliament can sit, and it's much more than a suspension, because, for that time, it wipes out all parliamentary activity. It seems to me that all this talk comes down to this: should Parliament sit during a national crisis? And are we seriously going to say that it should not? I know many people may not agree with what Parliament does with that time, but it seems to me extraordinary that we would think it fit that Parliament would not sit at that time of importance.

If you accepted that, the most extreme would be that, in May 1940, Neville Chamberlain should have prorogued Parliament so the Government could concentrate fully on the external and vicious threat Britain was under. Clearly, that would have been wrong. You need the institution of Parliament and Crown, i.e. Government and Parliament, acting together. The independence of the judiciary is at the heart of the rule of law, and that means you've absolutely got to accept what the judgment is, especially when it is so emphatic. In private, you may not agree with it fully, but to come out then and question a judgment, however you do it, and there are elaborate ways of saying you disagree, is not at all helpful.

I would however say this, given the tenor of some of the exchanges, in their proceedings the judges were very keen to divide this case away from the issue of Brexit, and I think we should do the same. It does come at this important time of the question of Brexit, but this is about much more than Brexit, it's about the viability of the British constitution.

I thank David Melding for that. It was good to hear those points being made from the Conservative benches here this afternoon. David Melding is right, the checks and balances in our constitution worked, but they worked at the final hurdle. It had to go all the way to the Supreme Court before the checks and balances operated in the way that they should do, and that's why some of us here believe that that is an overly risky way to run our constitution and that we should build new defences into it so that a Prime Minister would never be tempted to do what Boris Johnson did.

I heard the Prime Minister disagree with the Supreme Court, and I didn't think he did it particularly elaborately. He simply took the line that these 11 people had got it all wrong and, yes, he'd abide by what they said, but he was quite sure that he'd been right and they weren't. I really think that is so much the wrong way for a Prime Minister to have reacted in the position that he found himself, if you believe in the rule of law, because I don't think that helps to support it at all. And, of course, David Melding is right, the judgment takes place in the context of Brexit, but it is not about Brexit. It is about the way in which powers are used in our constitution, whether they are used lawfully and whether they are used in a way that stands up to scrutiny. And on all of those points, the Supreme Court unanimously, the 12 Supreme Court justices sitting together—the 11 Supreme Court justices sitting together—found against the Prime Minister.

13:55

Like others, although this takes place within the context that we're living through at the moment, I believe that this is about power and this is about the British constitution. I don't believe that this is about Brexit, as much as many people would prefer that.

I agree with what many people here have said: this is both about the powers available to a Prime Minister, but it is also about the behaviour of the Prime Minister as well. I'm tempted to think that it takes an Old Etonian to tell a lie to Her Majesty the Queen; certainly we were taught better in Tredegar Comprehensive School and we wouldn't have thought of behaving in such a way. And it reflects poorly on the opposition here, on the Conservative Party in this country, that they're not prepared to stand with the constitution and the law of this country but to defend a rotten Prime Minister. That speaks volumes.

But we need to do more than simply condemn the poor behaviour of the current Prime Minister. He has attempted to subvert our constitution and he has attempted to subvert our democratic institutions. David Melding is absolutely right, prerogative powers must be subject to judicial review, but prerogative powers also have to be subject to democratic accountability and not simply judicial accountability.

First Minister, do you agree with me that, not only must the British Prime Minister resign when he returns to the United Kingdom overnight and before he faces the UK Parliament, but we need a constitution now that reflects the sovereignty of the Parliaments of these islands? The Parliaments of these islands. And what that means is not simply a constitutional convention, but an agreement with the United Kingdom Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and this Parliament of our right to sit unfettered by the Executive, to hold the Executive to account and to ensure that, as Parliaments, we're able to represent the people without fear and favour and that we cannot be bullied by a Prime Minister who believes he is above the law.

Well, Llywydd, I agree completely with what Alun Davies has said, that the case is about power and about constraints on that power and about the way that power is exercised. And of course he is right to say that those powers, in this case, were exercised by an individual, and there is an individual and his actions at the centre of this case. It's about that person's actions, it's about the unelected people he gathered around him in order to bolster him in the course of action that he thought he could get away with. And the way to defend us in future against that is through constitutional reform and, of course, Alun Davies makes that fundamentally important point that, in a devolved United Kingdom, this is about Parliaments, plural, not simply Parliament in Westminster. And I want to see that constitutional convention entrench devolution by recognising that, 20 years into devolution, sovereignty is a dispersed concept. It is not held at Westminster and handed out to others to be taken back whenever they don't like what we do with it. Sovereignty is entrenched here for the things that we have responsibility for, and it is entrenched in other places too, and then shared back together again for common purposes when we decide that that is the way to create solidarity between people across the United Kingdom.

So, the respect for Parliaments, not simply Parliament, should be at the heart of that new sense of how our constitution needs to operate, and then there will be other checks and other balances built into it that would have prevented us from being in the position we have found ourselves in today.

14:00
1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on our agenda, therefore, according to the order paper, is questions to the First Minister. The first question under this item is from Huw Irranca-Davies.

Jobs and Economic Development in Ogmore

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government is helping to support jobs and economic development in Ogmore? OAQ54381

Llywydd, I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that question. The Welsh Government helps to support jobs and economic development across Wales, including in Ogmore, through our economic action plan. Between 2011 and 2019, the unemployment rate in Ogmore fell by 52 per cent, and that exceeded the fall in the rest of Wales and the fall across the United Kingdom.

That is welcome news, First Minister. Last week's announcement—confirmation of the investment of Ineos in my neighbour's seat in Bridgend—was welcomed throughout Bridgend and Ogmore and the whole region, showing once again that the Welsh Government has indeed stepped up to the mark to support our manufacturing base and jobs. Whilst this can't replace in its entirety the 1,700 jobs, it shows a confidence in the area and in the skills of the workforce that is hugely reassuring.

But could I ask the First Minister about the wider and sustained investment and support by the Welsh Government and its agencies in the Ogmore constituency over the last three years of this Assembly term: how many jobs and training places created and sustained, how many business start-ups, how many business support grants and loans and advice provided? If the Minister could give me a flavour in his response today, I'd be grateful, though I'm happy to have chapter and verse in a more detailed answer afterwards. And would he confirm that the Bridgend and Ogmore M4 belt is still home to some of the largest concentrations of manufacturing in Wales and some of the most highly skilled workers?

I thank the Member for that question. I thank him for what he said at the start about Ineos—the culmination of long and intense negotiations carried out by officials in the Welsh Government, led by my colleague, Ken Skates. We were delighted to be able to bring those jobs to people in the Bridgend and Ogmore area, given what has happened there earlier this year.

Of course, Huw Irranca-Davies is right that the Bridgend and Ogmore M4 belt is still home to a large concentration of manufacturing in Wales—Invacare, Sony, for example—and they're there because of the benefits of having a highly skilled and motivated workforce.

The Member asked me, Llywydd, about chapter and verse of the things that have been done to support the economy and manufacturing industry in that part of Wales. Here are just three examples: since 2015, Business Wales has helped in the creation of over 200 new enterprises in the area that is represented by Huw Irranca-Davies and by the Member for Bridgend. Since 2016, the Development Bank of Wales has invested over £9 million in businesses in Bridgend alone. And, since 2018, the economy futures fund has approved projects in the Bridgend and Ogmore area that are valued at over £8 million.

All of that shows the determination of this Government to go on investing in those places and those people that have created such success in manufacturing in the M4 belt around Bridgend and Ogmore in recent times.

I'd like to acknowledge the work of both our Governments in bringing Ineos to just outside my region, but for the benefit of the whole of the region and beyond. The economic development that Huw Irranca-Davies referred to, of course, needs a well-prepared workforce who've had the best out of their school and college experience. I wonder if one of the greatest risks to that sustained economic development that he was talking about, including Ogmore, will be cross-sector employer loss of confidence in the robustness and accountability of the education system. Do you share Jeremy Corbyn's views that an independent school inspectorate is unnecessary? 

14:05

Well, Llywydd, there were some imaginative leaps in that question; I congratulate the Member. If there was an academic qualification in that, she'd be well advanced. Look, the reason why employers go to Bridgend is because of the qualifications and skills that the workforce already have. The proportion of working age adults in Bridgend with at least two A-levels or the equivalent has been increasing year on year, and last year, 2018, reached the highest it had ever seen. And our investment in education, in apprenticeships here in Wales, in skills and employability, gives us confidence and gives employers confidence to invest in that area because they know that they will have a workforce there ready and willing to do the jobs that can be attracted to it. 

We have a very different education system here in Wales. Education is devolved—I remind Members of that. Decisions that other people make about what is right in their areas have no direct read-off for us. We think we have an inspection regime and system here in Wales that works for schools, that works for students, that works for parents, and we're very happy that we have that in place and can continue with it. 

First Minister, the news that Ineos will be producing project Grenadier in the region will be welcome relief for my constituents in Ogmore and the wider South Wales West region. However, we must diversify and futureproof our jobs market if we are to change the economic fortunes of Ogmore and the wider region. First Minister, how will your Government equip the current and future workforce with the necessary skills to compete in industry 4.0? Thank you.  

Llywydd, I thank the Member for what she said about Ineos, and I agree with what she said, that the future of the Welsh economy does rely on diversification, responding to the challenges that we know will be there for jobs in the future, including automation. We have agreements with employers in all parts of Wales. Our economic contract approach means that we see this as a shared responsibility, a responsibility that is shared between Government, between employers and between employees as well, and the work the trade unions in Wales have done in mapping out some of the opportunities that will come to jobs in Wales through automation is amongst the best contributions that you will see to the response to diversification that Caroline Jones has suggested that we need. But it isn't the responsibility of any one partner—it is the responsibility of everyone; that's why we have a social partnership approach here in Wales. And, by working together in that way, we can have confidence that we are able to face the challenges and the opportunities that will come the way of the Welsh economy as a result of changes that we all know are happening in the world around us.

Free Schools

2. What is the Welsh Government's policy on free schools? OAQ54361

Llywydd, the Welsh Government remains committed to a comprehensive education system that ensures everyone, no matter their background, has the opportunity to reach their potential. There is no evidence that free schools have raised standards in England, while the Sutton Trust has found that the policy has failed to fulfil its purpose.

Thank you, First Minister. Do you agree with me that the Prime Minister's intention, as he put it, to create 30 free schools across the UK—perhaps that's an improper comment—shows his ignorance of devolution, because, as we all know in this Chamber, education is devolved? Will the First Minister continue then to assure the people of Wales that we will not see the marketisation of education in Wales via the establishment of free schools? 

I thank Carwyn Jones for that supplementary question, Llywydd. I hope he's right; I hope that it was simply that the Prime Minister didn't understand devolution. That would be one thing. But I have an anxiety that behind that statement may lie some intentionality. Some Members here will remember the speech that Michael Gove made in Edinburgh during the Conservative leadership election, when he said that the way to cement the United Kingdom was for the UK Government to set up, in devolved areas, schools and hospitals for which they would have responsibility. It was, I thought, an idea designed to lead to the disintegration of the United Kingdom, and let us hope that when the Prime Minister referred to 30 free schools across the United Kingdom he wasn't echoing that particularly unhappy idea. Education is devolved to Wales; we have deliberately, intentionally, and over the whole time of devolution turned our back on the idea that creating a market in education is the best way to drive up standards. It absolutely doesn't. It simply results in those who have advantages already becoming even more advantaged in future. Our education policies have always been based on our belief that every child should have an equal chance to make the very best use of all the talents that that child possesses and that it should not be an accident of the sort of school that they go to and the type of education that they receive that should determine those chances in life. That's what free schools do. That's why we won't be having them in Wales.

14:10

I think it's a bit rich of the former First Minister, frankly, to criticise the education policies in England when, under his leadership, the Government delivered the worst Programme for International Student Assessment results that this country has ever seen and we're still at the bottom of the UK league tables as far as English, mathematics and science is concerned. Now, one of the reasons for that—. You said you want all young people to have equal opportunity: the reality is they don't have equal opportunity here in Wales, because there's a funding gap of £645 per pupil, per year, according to the unions, that needs to be addressed.

Now, the one good thing, of course, First Minister—the one good thing—is that the UK Government announced a significant spending boost for education very recently, which means that as a result of that spending boost Wales will have £1.2 billion to spend on education in addition to the current sum over the next three years. Can I ask you: what action will you take to close that funding gap, eliminate it completely, to give a level playing field so that young people here can have the opportunity to prosper?

Llywydd, the Member's contribution is a tissue of outdated, and therefore highly misleading, assertions. The figure that he quoted is from 2011. You'd think he might have updated his figures a little since then. You'd think he might have read the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who said that the gap between funding in England and Wales had been virtually eliminated, and that was because of cuts, cuts—[Interruption.] The gap had been virtually eliminated because of the cuts that had been made to education budgets in England. [Interruption.] Well, you can say 'nonsense', Darren, if you like, but it's the IFS who said that, not me. [Interruption.] The IFS—and they reported again yesterday. Good idea, I think, to update your figures and, perhaps, your understanding.

Were we to get money on the scale that you suggest—and we're certainly not guaranteed to get it; we have a one-year settlement here in Wales, whereas your Government has been prepared to offer three years in England, but not to Wales or to Scotland. If they hadn't spent some of the money before we got it—£50 million to fill the gap in teacher pension contributions, which should have come from the UK Government and which they've refused, despite the rules of the funding formula, to provide to us—and if we did get that money, Llywydd, we will not waste £140 million on free schools that never opened, or opened and closed. If we get money here, we will be investing it in a way that will support those young people in our schools who delivered those record results in A-levels and in GCSEs in August of this year. That's the truth of the matter, and the Member's attempt, as ever, to throw some pall over the achievements of children in Wales does them no good, but it does his party no good at all.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. Leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has announced the average working week in the UK would be cut to 32 hours within 10 years under a UK Labour Government. Do you as a Government support that policy?

I think it's an excellent policy, Llywydd. I was very glad to be able to discuss it with John McDonnell earlier this week. Workers in Wales will welcome that ambition. They would like to be in the same position as their counterparts in other parts of Europe and, by the actions that we will take in Government to drive up productivity, to rebalance the economy in favour of working people, then that is an ambition that, absolutely, on this side the Chamber we support.

14:15

Well, First Minister, at least you agree with your party at a UK level on one policy, anyway, given you disagree with it on the Brexit issue.

Now, First Minister, responding to the announcement, the CBI director Carolyn Fairbairn made it clear that without productivity gains, it would push many businesses into loss. And it's not just businesses in Wales that would be affected by this, is it? We've long debated the recruitment crisis caused by your Labour Government in our Welsh NHS, and we know that the health service is already struggling to cope with demand for doctors, nurses and other health professionals. First Minister, can you tell us how many extra doctors, nurses and other vital NHS staff will be needed to meet the extra pressures that this policy will create, bearing in mind you've failed to recruit enough to meet the current needs?

Llywydd, I was very glad to meet with Carolyn Fairbairn during the summer and to agree with her how close the views of the CBI and the Welsh Government are in relation to Brexit and to the economy. We discussed the issue of productivity in that meeting and agreed that the policy of his Government in keeping labour cheap has had the effect of keeping productivity levels down in this country. It's inevitable, isn't it? If you make people cheap, then businesses don't invest in those machinery and other reforms that lead to greater productivity. The French experience tells us clearly that if you reduce hours, you improve productivity. That's what we want to see in this country.

The problems of recruitment in the health service are far more badly affected by the policies of his party and his Government, in which people who come from other parts of Europe to work in our NHS no longer believe that under his Government they're welcome to be in this country. That is a far greater threat to employment in the NHS than anything that says to people who work in it, 'We would like you to be able to have a better balance between the hours you spend in work and the hours you have to spend with your family', and that's what a Labour Government will deliver for you.

I remind the First Minister that he is responsible for health policy here in Wales. And this is not just about hospitals, this particular policy, but it's also about our schools too. A paper published by the Nuffield Foundation and UCL Institute of Education showed that a quarter of teachers work more than 60 hours per week in the UK. We know that your Government has made it clear that it has no plans to close schools for an extra day a week, which effectively means that headteachers, under a future UK Labour Government, would have to hire additional staff and drastically change their rotas in order to achieve a reduced working week. First Minister, what magical money tree does the Welsh Government have to actually meet this objective? And how will you attract teachers to Wales, given that your own Government has missed its own targets for new secondary trainee teachers by 40 per cent already this year?

It's just beyond credibility, Llywydd. I couldn't quite understand. The leader of the opposition began his questions to me apparently complaining that we were going to ask people to work fewer hours. He then complains that teachers are working too many hours. Well, I'm not sure which he prefers. The policy of this Government will be to work with the next Labour Government in the United Kingdom to help those families to work fewer hours, to help our public servants to be able to make the efforts that we know they want to make. And as to the magic money tree, maybe he would like to give me the map that led Boris Johnson to the magic money tree that he has been shaking, because after a decade of telling us that there was no money for everything, his Government has been busy shovelling it out of the door as though there was no tomorrow.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. With a salary range of up to nearly £60,000, the Welsh Government has recently advertised the post of child poverty review lead. Can the First Minister explain what's the key task mentioned at the top of the job description?

We are looking for a child poverty review lead to help in the work that my colleague Julie James has set in motion. We want to make sure that all the actions we take right across the Government are making the maximum possible contribution to dealing with the scourge of poverty in the lives of children in Wales and the fact that there will be 50,000 more children living in poverty at the end of this decade than there were at the start, as a result of the deliberate decisions of the Conservative Government. I want this Government to take all the practical actions it can to interrogate the policies and procedures we have in place to make sure that they are doing the maximum they can to assist families in that position, and that's what we will be looking to a lead officer to assist us in bringing about. 

14:20

The job description reads as follows: the first task of the successful applicant will be to develop a better understanding of what is happening in the lives of children living in poverty. Now, I say this with the greatest of respect, but after 20 years of devolution, surely your Government should know the answer to that question. A third of our children—over 200,000—live in poverty, 90,000 live in severe poverty and Wales was the only UK nation to see a rise in child poverty last year. In 2016, you dropped the target, as a Government, of eradicating child poverty by the end of the decade that you just referenced, and you got rid of a specific Minister responsible for achieving that target, moving to a coordinating role. Now, at that time, the Children's Commissioner for Wales called for a child delivery plan similar to that in Scotland, but there hasn't been a progress report even, since, because there's been no progress. Isn't the biggest poverty of all poverty of ambition?

Llywydd, I'm disappointed that the Member doesn't think that having a better understanding of poverty and how it impacts the lives of children in Wales today is something that is worth a Government pursuing. I remember sitting with him in discussions when Plaid Cymru were proposing an observatory in the child poverty field so that we would have just that better understanding available to us. I don't think that's an ambition that is not worth having, because if we have a better understanding, and particularly if we have a better understanding through the eyes of children themselves, then we will be able to do what is something that I know is shared between our parties. We want to make the greatest difference that we can in the lives of children in Wales, and we particularly want to make that difference in the lives of those children where money is the barrier to those children having the sorts of lives and experiences we want them to have.

Now, I read the children's commissioner's report and met her to discuss it, because I thought it was an excellent report. I have had to say a few times on the floor of the Assembly—questioning those who advocate to me that what the Welsh Government needs is a new child poverty strategy, and saying that I prefer the advice of the children's commissioner, which is that what we need is a refreshed delivery plan, looking at the practical things that we can do. My colleague Rebecca Evans and other have met with the children's commissioner since to look at those practical actions. That's why we want a lead to be involved in all of this. Because in that way, we use the levers that we have in our hands to make the biggest difference.

I remember when the last Labour Government in Westminster appointed a poverty tsar nine years actually after coming into Government, and I said to them what I say to you now: 'Where have you been?' quite frankly. The Scottish Government has adopted binding statutory targets to reduce child poverty. It's fast tracking its delivery plan to commit to a £10 a week per child payment for families who are receiving universal credit. Four hundred thousand children in Scotland will benefit and 30,000 could be freed from poverty immediately. The senior Scottish economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has praised this as a beacon of progressive policy. Now, Plaid Cymru in Government in 2021 will commit to going even further, but where the UK Government has cut back, surely the Welsh Government needs to step up. It's staggering, First Minister, that you are only now waking up to the effects of poverty on children's lives. When will we see real investment and when will you set an ambitious target so that children don't go to school hungry and to bed cold?

Wel, Llywydd, it is nonsense, isn't it? The Member always manages to spoil a serious point he's making because he can't avoid a rhetorical flourish at the end. The idea that this party and this Government have not been interested in child poverty over the whole of the period of devolution simply wouldn't bear even a few seconds of examination.

When the Labour Government appointed its poverty tsar, child poverty in Wales had been falling for a decade. And that's the story of devolution: the first decade in which child poverty fell year after year—not far enough, not fast enough for many of us, but heading down every year—and a second decade in which, year after year, more children are in poverty because of the actions that a very different sort of Government with very different priorities has taken. Over the whole of that period, Llywydd, we have taken actions that leave money in the pockets of families who need it the most, whether that is free breakfasts in primary schools at the start of the period of devolution, or whether it is our holiday hunger scheme, which we have instituted in this Assembly term and which Scottish Government colleagues have been very keen to talk to us about to see how that can influence their actions in that sphere.

I want to learn from Scotland. I think that's the way—. Devolution is not a contest between good people over here and bad people over there. Devolution is a way in which we can learn from one another. There are lots of things that Scotland is doing in the field of child poverty that we talk to them about and we can learn from here, and there are lots of things that we do in Wales that Scottish colleagues come to Wales to study in order to inform the shared task that I think this Government and the Scottish Government have, which is how to deal with the onslaught on the lives of people in Scotland and Wales by a Conservative Government that has no interest in their futures, and to do everything that we can do to put different futures in place.

14:25

I tuned into the parliament channel on Sunday morning, and enjoyed listening to the First Minister's speech in Bournemouth. It's only after listening to a bit more of the Labour conference that I came to see his contribution as a highlight. Could I ask him, though—? He failed in his efforts to persuade colleagues to break their promise to respect the result of the referendum by campaigning for 'remain' now. It seems others only want to tell people that after the election. But given there's now a prospect of the Labour Party in the UK campaigning to leave the European Union on a supposedly better deal, yet in Wales the Welsh Government is committed to having Wales remain in the EU, does that mean that, if necessary, he now supports the Plaid Cymru policy of leaving the UK in order to stay in the EU?

Llywydd, I'm glad that the Member enjoyed my speech in Bournemouth. I was speaking in Brighton myself—[Laughter.] So, maybe it was some other opportunity that came his way. The policy of this Government on Brexit is absolutely clear. We are very pleased indeed that the Labour Party at UK level is now completely committed to a referendum on the Brexit issue, and people who want to have that second chance to vote on leaving the European Union need to know that if they want to secure that, then a Labour Government is the only way that they will ever have that second chance. When that chance comes, this Government will campaign, as we have said we will for many, many months now, for Wales to remain in the European Union, because that is the best answer for Wales. We want a strongly devolved Wales in a strong and successful United Kingdom inside a strong and successful European Union. We want the Labour Party in Wales to be able to make decisions about the things that we know best and the things that matter most to people in Wales while we remain in the UK Labour Party.

Given the First Minister accepted my correction on the number of Supreme Court judges, I accept his geographical correction with equally good grace.

Could I ask him about another potential divergence between UK and Wales policy? At his conference today, there seems to be a big move to change climate change policy and have a policy of net zero by 2030—that's just 11 years away. Does the First Minister agree with me that that would be an absolute disaster, would lead to a collapse in the economy, even without the group's proposal that we pay reparations for past climate emissions, and that it would undermine any possibility of any joint working with anyone else on this issue? He talks a lot about net zero by 2050, but will he also confirm that the policy of the Welsh Government is not net zero by 2050, but a 90 per cent reduction, as the Committee on Climate Change said it was unachievable to get net zero for Wales? 

And would he also reflect again on the M4 issue, because we spoke last week about the decision notice? I pointed out that his decision notice on the M4 said nothing whatever about climate change, and twice the First Minister interrupted me and claimed that it did. Fortunately for him, it's only recorded as 'interruption' in our record. But will he reflect again that when he ruled out the M4, he said nothing about climate change in that decision notice, which is the legally binding document, and he did that for good reason, because the inspector concluded that the scheme would, perhaps uniquely, be carbon neutral over time?

14:30

Llywydd, I want us to have the most ambitious, achievable climate change targets that we can put in place. For that, we rely on the climate change commission and their advice. If the context across the United Kingdom changes, if we have a different Government in the United Kingdom pursuing different policies there, such as the green new deal that my party have been talking about this week, then, of course, the advice from the climate change commission will need to be sought again in that new context. And I want us, in Wales, to be as ambitious as we possibly can be, within the limits of those who know the most about the topic and provide us with the most authoritative advice. 

In my decision on the M4, to say it again, I distinguished between the financial costs of the M4 relief road, which I concluded were not sustainable 10 years into austerity, and the environmental matters. And I rehearsed the environmental matters there. And I've read in detail what the inspector's report said about carbon neutrality. And from memory—I'll have to check, and I will write to the Member to tell him if I've remembered it incorrectly—with the series of assumptions that the inspector made, he said that this road would be carbon neutral by 2073. Now, if you think that that's sufficiently ambitious for us, then I certainly don't. 

The Government's Position on Brexit

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's current position on Brexit? OAQ54364

I thank the Member for that question. The Brexit crisis should be resolved by returning the decision to the people in a second referendum. The Welsh Government will campaign hard to secure our future inside the European Union.

Thank you, First Minister, for that answer. In today's climate, waiting until question 3 to talk about this most probably is a bit optimistic. But, surely, the one thing you didn't respond to in the leader of the opposition's remarks to you in the urgent question was the point that the people can have their say, the Prime Minister wants them to have their say, via a general election. Will you be putting the Welsh Government's political will behind the calls for a general election, so that a deadlock Parliament can be broken up and a new Parliament convened to resolve these issues?

I always want to have a general election when there is a Conservative Party in power, because that offers some hope to people that things could be different and things could be better. 

But, if you think that everybody else is simply going to dance to the tune of a Prime Minister who was found today to have acted unlawfully and undemocratically, and think that he will manoeuvre things so that it happens at a moment of his choosing and his convenience, then you've got it badly wrong. We don't think the Prime Minister is to be trusted on this matter. I hope that an election comes, and I hope it comes very quickly, but it will be at a time of Parliament's choosing, not the time that this Prime Minister would find it convenient for himself.

In his earlier exchanges with the leader of the opposition, the First Minister was fulsome in his praise for the Supreme Court judgment. But would he agree with me that what we've seen today is the making of new law, which the Supreme Court, of course, does have the power to do? There's no doubt that prerogative powers are governed by the common law; that's been the case for 400 years, and nobody disputes that general proposition. But, previously, the use of the prerogative power to order a prorogation, and indeed the length of time for which that prorogation lasts, has always been regarded as inherently a political matter. And that for the courts to stray into this political arena carries with it certain dangers, which are obvious.

In her summary of the judgment, Baroness Hale said this morning that,

'prolonged suspension of Parliamentary democracy took place in quite exceptional circumstances: the fundamental change which was due to take place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom on 31st October. Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons as the elected representatives of the people, has a right to a voice in how that change comes about.'

One glaring omission in the judgment, of course, is any reference to the referendum, and the role that the British people have to play in their future. And when she said that Parliament, the House of Commons, as the elected representatives of the people, have a voice, what if they are not representing what the people voted for in June 2016, when 17.4 million people voted to leave, and now a remain Parliament is doing everything it possibly can to frustrate what the people voted for?

14:35

Well, the Member, I'm sure, will want to congratulate the Labour Party on resolving this issue by putting that decision back in the hands of the people. All his problems of the House of Commons will evaporate, people will be able to vote on this again. Now I hear the Member shout at me for, I think, at least the dozenth time this afternoon, 'What about a general election?' And I say to him that I think a referendum is best addressed through a second referendum. A general election can be won on 35 per cent of the voting population. That does not seem to me to be a sound basis for overturning or readdressing an issue that, as he tells me week after week after week, elicited the largest number of people ever to vote on a subject. Better, I think, that we put that decision back in the hands of the people, in a second opportunity. He will have his opportunity to make his case—I know he will make it whenever he has the chance. But others will have an opportunity to make their cases as well. It's always been baffling to me, Llywydd, why Members on the floor of this Assembly are so allergic to the idea that people could be asked again for their view on the most important topic that faces us. My party is committed to that; I think democrats ought to be.

I think things are moving pretty quickly in response to the Supreme Court ruling earlier today. We know that, in the United States, Democratic Senators are beginning impeachment steps against President Trump and we are hearing that opposition Members of Parliament are considering beginning impeachment processes against Boris Johnson, should he refuse to resign. Now, as a party, we will support that; it's understood that Members of your party too are willing to support those steps. Would that be a step that you would like to see taking place, as First Minister?

Llywydd, I think the Member probably has the advantage of me, in being able to follow the unfolding events from where he is sitting in the Chamber, whereas I have been standing here and unable to see anything for well over an hour now. He'll forgive me, I'm sure, if I say that I want to study those emerging ideas before coming to a view on them, without having had any chance to see them for myself.

Railway Services in Islwyn

4. What actions are the Welsh Government taking to improve railway services in Islwyn? OAQ54401

I thank the Member for that question. Transport for Wales will deliver additional services, with improved rolling stock and stations in Islwyn, as part of our ambitious plans for the south Wales metro. A statement on railway matters in Wales will be made by the Minister for Economy and Transport, scheduled for next week.

Thank you, First Minister. In 2018, the Welsh Labour Government announced, as part of the new Wales and borders rail contract, run by Transport for Wales, direct rail links between Newport and Ebbw Vale to be restored in 2021. And this is tremendous news for my constituents in Islwyn, in Newbridge, Crosskeys and Risca. The link was closed to passengers in April 1962, following the infamous Beeching report. So, First Minister, what is the current progress on the hourly service between Ebbw Vale, through Islwyn, to Newport, when will it begin, and, First Minister—[Interruption.] I hear comments to my left. What does the announcement that every railway station in Islwyn will receive a share of the £194 million of investment from Transport for Wales, which shows and demonstrates the commitment of Welsh Labour to radically improve the experience for Islwyn railway commuters?

14:40

Well, Llywydd, thanks to Rhianon Passmore for, once again, pointing to the improvements that are coming the way of citizens living in Islwyn, and the fact that we are committed to delivering direct rail links between Newport and Ebbw Vale, as part of the new Wales and borders franchise, demonstrates that when these decisions are in our hands we are able to make them in a way that is both designed in Wales and delivers benefits for people in Wales.

Constituents in Islwyn will start to see the introduction of class 170 trains from December of this year. The outline business case for the Ebbw Vale line is at the third stage in its development process and well under development. And, as far as the £194 million station improvement programme of Transport for Wales, it will see in Islwyn, as elsewhere, free Wi-Fi, new passenger information, improved cycle storage facilities, deep cleaning at every station under the control of Transport for Wales, and citizens in the Member's constituency in Risca, Crosskeys and Newbridge will see all those advantages too.

First Minister, an issue that is raising concern is the lack of toilets on the new trains that are planned for the network, which serves Islwyn and the south Wales Valleys. And it seems that the proposal that's being put forward for people who are disabled, elderly or with medical conditions is to get off the train to use a toilet at a station and then wait for the next train. I wonder if you think that that approach is acceptable. 

Well, Llywydd, I do think it is important to be clear about what we're talking about. We are not talking about the generality of trains. We're talking about tram trains, and tram trains, at the moment, are proposed for introduction on those lines because they will provide access to far more communities than the current system is able to do. Trams will be able to go on the road, reach places that the current system cannot reach and they will increase access to those lines not restrict it. 

Now, Transport for Wales has looked everywhere around the globe to see if it is possible to procure new tram trains that have toilet facilities on them. There is only one place that we have been able to find anywhere in the world where there is a toilet on a tram train, and those are toilets that do not allow for disability access, because if you are driving a tram train, for safety reasons, the driver has to be able to have unimpeded sight lines from where he is driving the train right to the back of it. Nevertheless, the Minister has asked Transport for Wales to continue to see if it is possible to persuade a manufacturer, or to find a manufacturer capable of providing toilet facilities on tram trains in a way that would avoid the difficulties that the Member has identified.

In the meantime, if you look elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the Edinburgh tram system doesn't have toilets on it; the—

Greater Manchester. I stood for 40 minutes yesterday on the underground in London with millions of other people and there are no toilet facilities there either. There, they have toilet facilities available to you at stations and that is what we will be doing with the tram trains. But if we can find a better solution, if we can find a supplier able to do what we would like to do, then that is what Transport for Wales has been asked to pursue. 

City Deals in South Wales West

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress of city deals in South Wales West? OAQ54398

I thank the Member for that. The release of an initial £18 million of city deal funding was agreed by the Welsh and UK Governments in July. Detailed arrangements for the first two projects are now going ahead. I want implementation of the deal to accelerate, delivering economic growth across south-west Wales. 

While I'm very pleased with that last response it was a question about both deals actually, because things look very quiet for the Bridgend area in my region from the Cardiff end of things. The announcement for Yr Egin and the Swansea waterfront digital district, of course, was very, very welcome. I understand from the board that the money will be released. That time is very close. But I also understand that it won’t be released until the recommendations of the rapid review of both Governments have been completed. That review was completed in February. It recommended what’s now being called a programme director should be appointed. I think we all remember that. The job advert for that appeared on 20 August and is actually closing this week. So, I’m wondering what ‘very close’ actually means. This programme is so important to my region, First Minister. It’s a quarter of the way through for the Swansea bay deal, and even further ahead for the Cardiff deal. Is there anything at this stage that Welsh Government can do to pick up that pace, as we both seem to want?

14:45

I just want to agree with what Suzy Davies has said. Both the UK Government and the Welsh Government are very anxious to be able to put in the hands of the city deal itself the funding that we have agreed should be made available to us. The rapid independent review that was commissioned in January was a joint review commissioned by both Governments. We are obliged, I think, to abide by its conclusions and to make sure that the city deal has everything it needs in place, including that programme director, so that there can be confidence by both Governments that the money we release will be effectively used for the purposes for which we will provide it. Our officials are working hard alongside officials of the city deal to try and make sure that all those pieces of the jigsaw are there. When I was finance Minister, I wanted this money out of our budget and in the hands of the city deal because it caused some technical issues in the way that we treated that money in our accounts. I’m still very anxious that we do what we can to accelerate the money that has now been agreed for those two projects, but then to accelerate other projects that can come round the same track, and further money, which is agreed, waiting, ready to be released, can be put to good use right across that south-west Wales region.

I've been a cheerleader for the city deals ever since they were being first thought of. I believe in the importance of the city deal for south-west Wales. I welcome the Welsh Government’s support, and, before anyone else says anything, the Westminster Government's support, because I don’t care where the money comes from as long as it comes into my area. What I would say is the city deal has shown us the need for regional policy within Wales. Has the Welsh First Minister given any thought to actually having a regional policy within Wales that can support areas such as the south-west Wales region?

I thank the Member for that, which is a prescient question given the work that my colleague Ken Skates is doing on a regional economic approach, and that we now have leads in all the areas for regional developments working with the Minister for Finance and the Minister for local government, creating those new footprints, doing all the work that our colleague Huw Irranca-Davies is doing to lead a new regional economic approach for funding post Brexit. We need to bring those things together, to have common footprints for them, and to add those different strands together in a way that adds up to a genuinely regional approach. And I absolutely recognise the work that Mike Hedges has done in always supporting the Swansea city deal because of the transformative effect it can have not simply for the city of Swansea, but for the whole region that Swansea helps to lead.  

Strategy for Older People

6. What progress has been made in delivering the aims of the Welsh Government's Strategy for Older People in Wales? OAQ54355

I thank the Member for that question. Successive strategies, since 2003, have challenged traditional stereotypes of older people and promoted a culture in which we value and celebrate the contribution of older citizens to all aspects of Welsh life.

Thank you very much for that reply, First Minister. Your strategy for older people recognises that opportunities for older people to enjoy and participate in their community rely on access to transport. It clearly states that one of its strategic outcomes is to enable older people to access affordable and appropriate transport, which assists them to play a full part in family, social and community life. Do you accept, First Minister, that your proposal to raise the age of eligibility for a free bus pass is in direct conflict with the aims of your strategy for older people? And will you accede to the request of the Older People's Commissioner for Wales and reconsider this proposal, please?

14:50

Well, I don't think that is a fair characterisation of what has been suggested and which is still being discussed and debated. Any person who holds a concessionary bus pass, should the law be changed, would not lose their entitlement to that pass in any circumstances. We have to think at least about the way in which things around us are changing, including the changes that have been made to eligibility for free bus travel across our border by the Member's own Government. When free bus passes were introduced in 2002, then the state pensionable age for women and men was 60 for women and 65 for men. That has changed over time. The pensionable age next year will rise to 66. What we are doing is making sure that this part of what the Welsh Government offers keeps pace with other changes in older people's lives, and it's a conversation we are keen to continue to have with the older person's commissioner and others who represent older people in Wales.

Supply Teacher Contracts

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the changes to supply teacher contracts through agencies across Wales? OAQ54397

I thank the Member. A new framework for supply teachers was awarded by the National Procurement Service on 1 August and became operational on 1 September. Amongst other features, it ensures that supply teachers are properly supported and have access to professional learning and development opportunities. 

I thank the First Minister for that answer. I was a member of the CYPE committee in the fourth Assembly and we did work on supply teaching, and one of our recommendations was actually to bring it back in-house rather than keep the agencies. I appreciate the Welsh Government has gone through a different approach and uses the NPS as a framework guidance. I very much appreciate your comment upon the fact that it's there to ensure teachers get fair play through the agency process. I have seen an e-mail from one of those agencies, which has won some of those frameworks—actually, 22 of them, so it's across all of Wales—which indicates to schools a way of getting around and circumventing the framework and encouraging schools to think about employing teachers out of the framework, therefore reducing the cost but also reducing the terms and conditions of the individual teacher, and, of course, making more profit for that agency. Will you look very carefully at all these agencies to ensure they're not circumventing the framework, kick them out if they are, quite rightly, and ensure that teachers get the due regard and respect they deserve, and supply teachers are part of that?

I completely agree with the Member about the importance of supply teachers and the fact that they are an essential part of the teaching workforce, and, of course, the new system is designed to be carefully monitored. It's been going only three weeks, so these are early stages and it's not surprising in some ways that the full rulebook has yet to settle completely. But, just to be completely clear, NPS will pursue full compliance with the terms on which companies have been placed on the framework, and where there are any allegations or evidence of non-compliance against the framework, then those things will be raised with the agencies, warnings will be issued and, if in the end it is clear that this is not just settling in but a deliberate attempt to get round the framework to which those companies have applied and been successful in being placed on that contract, then of course they will be removed from it.

Rough-sleeping

8. What progress is being made by the Welsh Government to reduce rough-sleeping in Wales? OAQ54400

I thank John Griffiths for that. One person sleeping rough is one person too many. The Welsh Government has set up an action group, lead by the chief executive of Crisis, to identify a series of immediate actions to be taken this winter to reduce rough-sleeping, and that group's report is expected early in October.

First Minister, the committee that I Chair—the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee—reported on rough-sleeping and made recommendations 18 months ago. We continue to scrutinise Welsh Government with regard to progress, and we, indeed, held an event last week and will be holding another one this week. I also met with the chair of the action group. Amongst our recommendations I believe are many important matters that the action group are addressing, First Minister, and I think the central message from the committee is that we want to see the work of that action group and the necessary improvements take place with real urgency and pace, given, as you say, that one person sleeping rough is one person too many, and it's still tragically a very visible and serious problem on our streets.

14:55

Well, can I thank John Griffiths for that and thank the committee as well for their work? I read the 'Life on the streets' report when it was first published, and I felt it made a real contribution to our understanding of the issues and to helping develop solutions. And the principles that that report outlined, the importance of primary prevention, the need for rapid rehousing when homelessness does take place and for our key ambition to be that homelessness in Wales, where it does happen, should be rare, brief and not repeated, those are things that have had a real impact on the Government's policy approach ever since. The Minister, I believe, is due to attend committee again on 17 October. That will, we hope, be after the report has been produced and it will be a further opportunity for the Minister and the committee to discuss progress towards our shared ambitions. 

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item, therefore, is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement. 

Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically. 

Trefnydd, can I ask for a statement from the Government on the future of the Veterans' NHS Wales service? It's appreciated by many people, that particular service, and, of course, there are hundreds of veterans who have benefited from it since it was established. One of the issues with that service, though, has always been the capacity of the service to be able to deal with the demands that are placed upon it. They were very fortunate in securing some grant support in order to reduce some of the waiting times for people accessing the service from the charity Help for Heroes, but unfortunately that grant support will come to an end in 12 months' time and, obviously, the organisation, Veterans' NHS Wales, is very keen to ensure that there can be some continuity after that. So, I wonder whether we could have a statement on what the Welsh Government will do to support the capacity of this service beyond the grant period, because I think it would be very much valued if the Welsh Government was able to put some more resource in. 

Can I also ask for a statement on the future of school liaison officers in Wales? I know that, in the past, the Welsh Government has provided funding to support school liaison officers through the police funding that it makes available to forces, and, of course, there has been an element that has come from the health side of the funding in order to support the substance misuse work that those officers do. Now, clearly, we all know in our own constituencies about the valuable work of school liaison officers, and I understand that the cost of these around Wales is about £350,000. I would be very grateful if the Welsh Government could confirm that, in the budget in the autumn, that money will be available to enable these important posts to continue beyond 1 April next year. 

Thank you very much. I will have a conversation with my colleague the Minister for Health and Social Services with regard to your interest particularly in the Veterans' NHS Wales service and the support that it receives but also the available capacity within that organisation to meet the needs of veterans.

In terms of the school liaison officer role, you asked how they might or might not be reflected in any budget decisions that are made. Obviously, we're at the very early start of our budget considerations, but I'm sure they will be discussed with the relevant Ministers during that budget-setting process. 

I want to raise the problems that constituents in Porth are having regarding mobile phone coverage. This follows a fire around a mobile phone mast nearly a fortnight ago, and there's been an absence of mobile signal in many areas around the town since then. As you can imagine, this is causing a great deal of inconvenience not just to individuals, but also to local businesses. Is there any guidance that the Government can issue to mobile phone providers in terms of best practice for them to adhere to for restoring mobile phone coverage as quickly as possible? Also, does the Government have a view as to how long it should take before financial compensation is triggered for customers without mobile phone coverage?

I was alarmed to see that the monarch's second son has been invited to attend a campus of the University of South Wales. While I'm a firm believer in the principle of innocent until proven guilty, this member of the royal family has been accused of some very serious crimes and abuses of power. We don't know yet if he will answer the allegations in court or not, and many believe that his connections with the upper echelons of the British establishment will shade him from the justice system, even if there is a strong case to answer.

What we do know is that this royal maintained his friendship with a notorious paedophile, Jeffrey Epstein, after he pleaded guilty to procuring an underage girl for prostitution. This was the same Epstein that his wife, Sarah Ferguson, accepted £15,000 from to pay an employee to whom she owed money. Furthermore, there has been no explanation as to how this royal came to be pictured with his arm around the waist of a 17-year-old girl—a woman who says she was procured by Epstein as a teenager to have sex with him.

In the light of #MeToo and Time's Up, this should be enough to ensure that this man is not welcomed to the University of South Wales while such serious allegations, without any adequate explanation, are hanging over his head. The allegations should not mean business as usual, and I wonder if you share my concerns about the damage that this could cause to the university's reputation internationally. What pressure can the Welsh Government bring to bear so that institutions under its charge do not have guests in this unsavoury situation welcomed onto the campus with open arms?

15:00

Presiding Officer, mobile phone coverage, and any compensation, is an issue that is not devolved to the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government, so that might be something that Leanne Wood would wish to take up with the appropriate Minister in the UK Government.

On the second matter, universities in Wales are independent and autonomous institutions, and it is a matter for universities as to whom they invite onto their campuses. The Welsh Government has no say in such matters.

Trefnydd, I'd like to request two statements today, if I may. Firstly, last Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting Sheppards Pharmacy in Abercynon to find out about their new sore throat test-and-treat scheme that's being run as an extension of the Choose Pharmacy common ailments scheme. This innovative practice is another example of the way in which community pharmacies can be used to relieve pressure on our general practitioner services, and will be offered in every Cynon Valley community pharmacy from November. So, could we have a statement from the Welsh Government on how it's supporting community pharmacies and how it's working with them to encourage them to offer new, effective services like these, which will, of course, be so especially important in the coming months as we look to relieve winter pressures?

Secondly, this lunchtime, I hosted a drop-in event with UnLtd, the UK foundation for social entrepreneurs, so that they could tell Assembly Members more about the work they do in finding, funding and supporting social entrepreneurs in Wales—social entrepreneurs like Janis Werrett, of Cynon Valley Organic Adventures, whose community garden, as well as promoting sustainability, offers educational and employability opportunities. I know there are some quite wide-ranging discussions taking place within the sector, but could we have a statement from Welsh Government on what work it is doing to provide support to social entrepreneurs, who, with the right support, can strengthen our communities and our economy simultaneously?

I thank Vikki for raising both of these important issues this afternoon. On the first, I will ask the health Minister to explore how we can best update the Assembly on how we are supporting community pharmacy, especially at this time of year, when they play an absolutely crucial role in terms of helping people access flu jabs, for example, but also in terms of the myriad things they can do to help people stay well but also be a first port of call for certain conditions as well. So, I'll ensure that there is an update provided on that.

On the second issue, thank you for hosting the event at lunchtime. I had the pleasure of being able to come along and meet some excellent social enterprises that are working in Swansea. I met People Speak Up, Vibe Youth and also miFuture. I think just speaking to those three organisations, it really gave a strong picture of just the breadth of social enterprise and the vibrant sector that we have in Wales, which I know the Minister for economy is keen to continue to develop and support.

15:05

Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for health about hospital maintenance in Wales? According to a recent report, the seven health boards in Wales face a bill of at least £260 million for urgent repairs and refurbishments, out of a total repair bill of more than £500 million. In my own health board area, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, which is one of the better performing areas, over £23 million of urgent repairs are required, out of a total sum of only £100 million. So, please can we have a statement from the Minister on what action he will take to address this serious issue to put our hospitals in the right order, to make our people's health better and the hospitals also? Thank you.

I can say on behalf of the health Minister that we have committed over £370 million for investment in health capital projects this year, and £338 million next year. This includes over £8 million of discretionary spending in each of those two financial years. Health boards and trusts have a responsibility to ensure that they do maintain a robust risk profile of maintenance requirements, and that they're able then to prioritise the work within that. But alongside maintaining the existing health estate across Wales, we're also providing health organisations with funding for major infrastructure projects that will enable to us to deliver on the vision set out in the 'A Healthier Wales' strategy, and that, of course, includes delivering the new £350 million Grange university hospital currently being built in Cwmbran, and also the refurbishment of Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil. And alongside this, we've also allocated over £70 million over three years for the delivery of 19 new primary and community care projects across Wales, which are key to delivering our aim of providing care closer to home.

Last week, the Scottish National Party Government okayed the cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi, which is something that I and others in this Chamber, I'm sure, will welcome. But also last week, Corbyn tweeted, and I quote:

'People with cystic fibrosis in England, Wales and Northern Ireland still don’t have access to the life changing drug #Orkambi…The government must act.'

Well, I know he doesn't really understand devolution very well, but when he says 'the government', obviously, he is wrong, because health is devolved. Now, I would like to understand what the Welsh Labour Government will do in relation to Orkambi, given the fact that some people in Wales have said that they are now considering moving to Scotland if Orkambi is not okayed here. We simply can't live in a situation where people are being denied this life-saving drug. What is the Welsh Government going to do on this particular matter?

The Minister for Health and Social Services did make a statement on the availability of medicines for the treatment of cystic fibrosis in August, and he was clear that we will make all medicines recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group available within 60 days of their first recommendation, and we'll make all medicines available where their costs appropriately reflect their benefits. To determine if that's the case for Orkambi and Symkevi, it does require Vertex Pharmaceuticals to engage with our internationally recognised medical appraisals process. But since 2016, we've repeatedly invited Vertex Pharmaceuticals to engage with us in that appraisal process, and they have made a commitment to do so, but as yet, they haven't, and Welsh Government strongly encourages them to make a submission urgently.

Could I ask for a statement or a debate on three important issues, firstly on the matter of flood resilience and response? Once again, parts of Ogmore and many parts of Wales have been deluged overnight, and this is a pattern we'll see more and more of in years to come, thanks to climate change and the prevalence of hard, non-porous surfaces within our communities? So, a statement would be welcome to show what more the Welsh Government can do to promote sustainable drainage, partnership working on flood forums, and also, I have to say, a chance to praise the work of local council workers and contractors, and even local councillors individually, who've been rolling their sleeves up to help residents affected by the horrors of flooding today.

Could I also ask for a statement or a debate on pernicious anaemia? Further to my hosting a reception here in the Senedd earlier this year, which many fellow AMs attended, I attended this weekend a meeting of the Bridgend support group for pernicious anaemia to hear of the ongoing problems with late diagnosis, inadequate testing, inconsistent advice, and the need for training with general practitioners and healthcare specialists, and the lack of clinical guidance and more. The massive impacts on an individual and the massive costs to society of untreated and unmanaged pernicious anaemia will be astronomical, bearing in mind that up to 350,000 people in Wales have low levels of B12. So, could we have a debate or a statement to explore further the work that Welsh Government could lead on tackling pernicious anaemia in Wales?

Finally, the First Minister, the active travel Minister and many Assembly Members joined with our cross-party active travel group last week as we showcased, with the support of nextbike, Raleigh, ICE Trikes, Pedal Power and Cardiff Council, some of the very best in the new e-bikes and the potential for transforming travel, not just in cities but in rural areas too, helping people move out of their cars and into more sustainable modes of travel. It's fair to say that a bit of fun was had by Assembly Members too, whizzing around the courtyard outside the Senedd. A debate would allow us to explore the ways in which Welsh Government could help further in promoting this rapidly growing sector, not least by corporate buy-in—and I know the Presiding Officer will be listening—so that civil servants and Ministers could avail themselves of this rapid, eco-friendly urban transport around Cardiff, and also to ask Ministers whether the UK-wide eCargo bike grant fund, run by the Energy Saving Trust for the Department for Transport, is also available in Wales and how people can access that fund.

15:10

Thank you for raising those issues. The event that you sponsored for e-bikes certainly did look fun. I've seen some of the photographs and I thought it was a great way to show the benefits of e-bikes and just how accessible they can be and how adaptable they can be as well. I know that the Minister for Economy and Transport has asked officials to look at the potential of e-bikes and similar transport models and how they can benefit active travel as part of our Wales transport strategy, and I know that he'd be keen to keep you updated on that particular piece of work.FootnoteLink

The Minister for environment has indicated that she'd be happy to provide you with an update on work that's being done to tackle and prevent flooding,FootnoteLink but also, I think, we need to recognise the important work that local members of the community do, community councils, town councils and councillors, when responding to events of flooding as well, because the work that they do inevitably is always extremely important to those people who have been affected by flooding. Over the life of this Government, we'll be investing over £350 million in flood and coastal erosion risk management across the whole of Wales. We have at the moment a consultation on a new draft strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management for Wales. Actually, this has only very recently closed and the Minister will be considering those responses, with a view to publishing a new strategy in 2020. So, I'm sure that that will elicit the appropriate responses as we move towards that.

And I know that the health Minister would welcome the opportunity to let Members have a written statement on the current ongoing work across the NHS on pernicious anaemia. It is one of the key and top priority areas of the blood health national oversight group, which oversees the NHS blood health plan.

I'd like to request a Government statement and time to question the Government's proposals as set out in the draft national development framework. The proposals were, of course, issued over August, when Assembly Members were in summer recess and were unable to ask questions at that time. I do fully appreciate the Minister facilitated a drop-in event for AMs last week, which I did attend, and I am meeting the Minister separately to discuss the issue, but there are a number of AMs that represent constituencies where there would be significant impact on those areas with regard to proposals as set out in the energy section of the NDF. We had a lot of talk about democracy earlier today.

Thousands of my constituents descended on this Assembly back in 2011 to propose that the Welsh Government scrapped its technical advice note 8 guidance that saw areas of Wales very much focused on large-scale wind developments in those areas. The NDF does exactly the same, except it goes even further in accepting landscape change. Thousands of tourism businesses are dependent on the landscapes of mid Wales and thousands of people are employed in that sector. This is a significant issue that really should be debated in this Chamber, and I hope that the Government will allow time to do that.

15:15

Thank you, Russell George, for raising the national development framework here this afternoon. I know that the Minister for local government is very keen to hear as many voices as she possibly can and get as much engagement as possible on this issue.

The framework is in draft at the moment—it's out to consultation until 20 November—but the Minister has indicated that she'd be happy to meet with individual AMs if they've got particular interest in this, or to facilitate a further opportunity for a briefing with officials and the opportunity to have discussions there.

Trefnydd, over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Abergavenny Food Festival, now in its twenty-first year. The festival continues to go from strength to strength, with local companies such as Sugarloaf Catering playing key roles, and also companies from further afield as well.

I also took part in the Love Zimbabwe march for Africa, along with the mayor, Tony Konieczny, and others, demonstrating the diversity and reach of the festival. Could we have an update from the Welsh Government, perhaps a statement, on support for food festivals as valuable parts of the local economy, but also as vehicles for really getting the message of Wales out there on the global stage and connecting with countries from across the world?

Turning to the FSB report, which was mentioned by the leader of the opposition in his questions to the First Minister earlier, that report highlights the need to tackle local infrastructure problems to help small businesses. It may well be that there's already a statement, a policy announcement, in the pipeline from the Welsh Government in response to that report. I wonder if we could have an update on how the Welsh Government intends to liaise with local businesses across Wales to get their view on how infrastructure issues locally could be prioritised to help improve local economies.

And thirdly and finally, the Welsh Government has, of course, declared a climate emergency, which we've heard a lot about in this Chamber; local authorities across Wales have been following suit. Of course, we need action, not just words. So, I wonder what support and encouragement the Welsh Government is giving to those local authorities and organisations out beyond this Chamber who are trying to do their bit to try and prevent future global temperature increases. What are you doing to support them? So, perhaps we could have a statement from the environment Minister on action that's being taken to make sure that there is action on the ground and not just well-meaning, but, nonetheless, words.

Thank you very much, Nick Ramsay, and thank you for highlighting the importance of food festivals to communities and to small businesses, particularly, I think, within our food sector across Wales. I will ask the Minister to write to you with an update on our support for the food industry, but with a particular view to addressing the interest of celebrating local produce through festivals or other work as well.FootnoteLink

In terms of local infrastructure, I know that the Minister for economy and the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport both have a strong interest in terms of how we can best engage with small businesses. The work we're doing on the foundational economy, for example, is really based on working with businesses right at the grass roots within local economies, but I'll ask them to explore whether or not there's more that we can be doing in that particular area.

And, on the climate emergency, when the Minister announced the climate emergency, she said that she wanted it to be a catalyst for action, so it's not just what Welsh Government can do—we can do a lot—but we can never address a climate emergency alone. And it was about giving inspiration to local councils, community councils, town councils and so on to be doing similarly within communities, but also to inspire individuals, as well, to explore what we could be doing differently in our own lives in terms of the context of the climate emergency. I know that it's something that is very much on the mind of all colleagues at the moment in terms of how we can ensure that the policies we're all pursuing very much reflect the climate emergency. But I will consider with colleagues how we can best have those discussions with local authorities to ensure that the kind of leadership that we want to provide is being felt at that local level.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Organiser, could I seek two statements, if possible, please—the first one in relation to the evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee yesterday by the, I think it was, director general Andrew Slade, from the economy department of the Welsh Government, in relation to Cardiff Airport? He touched on two very important issues. One is that, certainly for the future as he could see it, it would rely on continued Welsh Government funding unless some serious policy decisions were taken by Welsh Government to change the way the airport was being supported. And, secondly, he highlighted that there are active discussions about more loans being made available to the airport for its continued development. No-one disputes the ability to invest to create new gateways to the international market—we all support that—but considering that in excess of £100 million has gone into Cardiff Airport—the purchase price and loans to date—I think it does warrant a statement from the Minister as to how advanced these discussions are (1) on additional moneys being made available to the airport and what those moneys might be made available for, and, secondly, what will the forward-looking policy position of the Welsh Government be in relation to supporting the airport going forward, given that every indication in the evidence that was given to the Public Accounts Committee yesterday indicated that substantial sums of money are going to have to continue to be made available to the airport? It's not good enough that we, as Members, when we seek that information, are told, 'It's Cardiff Airport's information; they will make it available to you', and then they'd cite commercial sensitivity, commercial confidentiality. That is just not good enough, I'm afraid, so I'd welcome a statement from the Minister.

Secondly, if we could have a statement in relation to any Government work that is being undertaken by the education department—I appreciate the announcement in Brighton about independent schools, and we can argue and debate the merits or not, as the case may be, of independent schools, but there are a significant number of independent schools in my region, Howell's School, for example, St John's College, Westbourne School, Kings Monkton School—I could go on—and, around Wales, you have Llandovery College, Christ College, St Michael's School and Monmouth School, for example, and when the Government, if it was to be a Labour Government—God forbid—is looking to take control of the assets of those individual institutions, that is deeply, deeply concerning. Now, I've said it's not about the merits of independent schools, this isn't; this is about the policy position of the Welsh Government, in particular when you have significant employers in local economies such as I've just mentioned now, and also employment opportunities that, basically, through one policy made by the UK Labour Government—if there was a Labour Government—could wipe out those businesses. It's important to understand what role Welsh Government, if any, has to play in this. Because, whilst I appreciate that education policy is devolved, the law around charities and land ownership and ownership more generally is a reserved matter for Westminster and those are important implications that need to be worked through.

15:20

On the first issue regarding Cardiff Airport and any potential future support that the airport would require from Welsh Government, I think, in the first instance, we should let PAC do its work and then PAC will obviously report and Welsh Government will respond to that. But I'm sure there'll be plenty of opportunities to discuss future support for the airport with the economy and transport Minister.

As you say, in relation to the second point, certainly policy under education is very much devolved to Wales, so our approach specifically regarding independent schools in the short term, in terms of what we're able to be doing here in Wales, is very much looking at their charitable rate relief. So, you'll be aware that I've committed to consulting on removing the charitable rate relief for independent schools to bring them in line with other schools across Wales, and we should be able to bring forward that consultation within the next 12 months. But that's as far as the work in that particular area has gone at the moment.

Diolch, Llywydd. Can I first call for a statement on the Cystic Fibrosis Trust? In response to Bethan Sayed, you referred to a statement by the Minister in August, but the Scottish Government announced that people with cystic fibrosis there could access Orkambi and Symkevi as part of a five-year agreement with Vertex on 12 September. So, things have moved on and it's in that context that Cystic Fibrosis Trust have stated that it seems there were preliminary discussions between Vertex and the All Wales Therapeutics and Toxicology Centre looking at the possibility of submissions being made some weeks and months ago, but the data submissions to the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group haven't taken place, as far as they're aware. And, with the news from Scotland, they're saying that it's very disappointing that these discussions haven't got to this stage with Welsh authorities and they're urging Vertex to ensure that they follow the necessary procedures to make this happen. But they're also saying it would be really useful if we can ensure the Minister here can continue to update the Assembly on progress and look at what his department can do to ensure that this stays on the agenda and Welsh people with cystic fibrosis aren't spending too long without access to treatments their Scottish counterparts do have access to. So, the diary has moved on, and it's in that context I feel, across parties, we would welcome that statement.

Secondly, and finally, I call for a statement on the modern slavery helpline. On 7 May, Jane Hutt, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, made a statement on the modern slavery helpline, hosted by Unseen. As she said, Unseen

'work with a range of partners including the UK and devolved Governments...working to build a better understanding of how modern slavery is affecting our communities and our people so that effective and timely action can be taken to address the problem.'

And she said:

'Our Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group works closely with Unseen to help promote the Helpline, which aims to increase levels of reporting and subsequently leads to more victims being identified, rescued, and where possible to the prosecution of offenders.'

However, serious concerns have been raised with me about the organisation Unseen and the helpline, where, despite having received £2 million in two years, it seems that, without urgent funding, the helpline is now under threat of being closed. In fact, their website—I've checked this morning—says:

'SAVE THE UK MODERN SLAVERY HELPLINE..Without urgent funding it will close on 30th November'.

And also, yesterday, in the North Wales Chronicle, we read that the Human Trafficking Foundation has welcomed an increase in the identification of potential victims, including 70 potential victims recorded by North Wales Police in the 12 months to June—that's significantly up on the previous 12 months. But she has cautioned—or they have cautioned—that the proportion of people entering the national referral mechanism who are then recognised as having been trafficked has remained stagnant. Only about 7 per cent of cases investigated go to the Crown Prosecution Service, only about 1 per cent receive compensation, and, she says, perhaps most shockingly of all, the Government, and presumably both Governments in the context of the Minister's previous statement, have no idea what happens to these thousands of victims when they exit the national referral mechanism. This is a terrifying oversight.

Again, I call for an urgent statement in that context, where the helpline the Welsh Government is contributing to and dependent upon might be about to close.

15:25

Thank you. Just to reassure you that the health Minister is keen to keep all Members up to date on matters relating to the availability of medicines for the treatment of cystic fibrosis, following the statement that he made last month, and to be clear again that we really do encourage Vertex Pharmaceuticals to engage with the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group appraisals process and make that submission urgently. But, as soon as there is further to report on that, I know that the health Minister will be very keen to do so.

The Deputy Minister and Chief Whip has heard what you said regarding your concerns relating to the modern slavery helpline, and she will certainly follow up what you've said.FootnoteLink

Motion to Allocate a Committee Chair to a Political Group

The next item is a motion to allocate a committee Chair to a political group, and I call on a member of the Business Committee to formally move the motion, Rebecca Evans.

Motion NDM7146 Elin Jones

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.2A, agrees that the political group from which the chair of the committee is elected will be as follows:

(i) Committee on Assembly Electoral Reform—Labour.

Motion moved.

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? If not, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

3. Statement by the Minister for Housing and Local Government: The Innovative Housing Programme—Year 3

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Housing and Local Government on the innovative housing programme, year 3. I call on the housing and local government Minister, Julie James.

Diolch, Llywydd. I'm very pleased to be able to brief Members on the third year of the innovative housing programme. We cannot ignore the scale of the housing challenges we are facing. We are not building enough homes, we are in the midst of a climate emergency we must act upon, our population is ageing, and the availability of traditional house building skills is in decline. The IHP programme identifies and tests solutions to these problems. It stimulates the design and delivery of new, high-quality, affordable homes through new housing models, new delivery pathways and new construction techniques.

Wales is at the vanguard of housing innovation, creativity and new thinking. How do I know this? Firstly, the programme is hugely oversubscribed. It is a record-breaking third year, with 52 applications for the programme from a mixture of both public and private sector organisations. I have received bids this year totalling in excess of £230 million.

Joyce Watson took the Chair.

15:30

Secondly, the quality of bids has been impressive. Selecting which schemes to recommend for funding has created a real headache for the independent panel. And finally, I've met many organisations across all of Wales since I launched this year's programme in February, all wanting to participate in the IHP programme. I've been struck by their flair, enthusiasm and sheer entrepreneurialism to try and work with us to figure out what type of homes we can and should be building. Indeed, the IHP community has grown this year to include over 300 businesses. Regular IHP events have been hosted across Wales to enable the learning from earlier years of the programme to be disseminated. These events have proved extremely popular, stimulating conversation and fresh ideas, as well as growing professional and organisational networks of like-minded people to come together to figure out what’s possible.

Collaboration is key. No single organisation can solve all of the issues we face on their own. So, growing the IHP community has been a priority this year, and I am really pleased to see the emerging collaborations. Examples include the joining together of organisational resources to eliminate fuel poverty, build near-zero-carbon homes, and test new approaches to building homes, which can then be retrofitted to existing ones. The sheer amount and quality of applications demonstrates that people know Wales is open for business, that this Government welcomes forward-thinking organisations interested in helping to address the housing challenges we face as a nation, and that the Welsh Government is keen to work with those in the market and affordable sectors to deliver the homes we need. I want to see homes built in Wales using these new methods, and I also want to see the new supply chains and jobs that come with these new methods created in Wales.

And of course, acting Presiding Officer, I should thank my predecessors, Rebecca Evans and Carl Sargeant. They had the courage to create the innovative housing programme in order to seek out new approaches to affordable house building in Wales. Funding innovation, by its very nature, carries risk. They had the vision to recognise that, whilst not every funded scheme would become the solution of the future, it was only through embracing and encouraging the sector to think creatively that we would find scalable new approaches.

In this third year, I wanted to push the programme further and set the bar even higher. I want more affordable homes more quickly. So, I challenged the sector to bring forward schemes that upscaled the tester schemes this Government invested in previously. I asked for schemes at scale, and the sector has delivered. The average size of the schemes funded will triple between year two and year three of the programme. I challenged the sector to give me near-zero-carbon homes, and again, they have responded magnificently with a swathe of schemes delivering at least EPC A levels of energy performance. Lastly, I challenged the sector to bring me beautifully designed homes, to help deliver great place making. Once again, they have fulfilled this challenge. This programme has some great designs, which I look forward to visiting once plans have been transformed into bricks and mortar, or, increasingly common, new materials and modes of construction that bring them to life.

The IHP programme has now invested in 55 schemes to build social housing and affordable homes. The schemes I announce today see a further £33 million of funding invested, meaning 600 new homes will get under way this year—much-needed new homes, for those who need them most. I am also delighted to see schemes submitted from 19 different local authority areas across Wales. This demonstrates that in most areas of Wales there is now a growing willingness and appetite for change in the sector.

I am always mindful that whilst building more homes is vital, what matters equally is how they are built. This is not just a numbers game. This programme is committed to supporting SMEs in Wales, the Welsh timber industry, local supply chains and local labour pools. Through this investment, we aim to build homes our future generations will truly thank us for. It is with this eye firmly on the future that IHP programme applications are framed around the well-being of future generations commitments. A full list of successful bidders will be published shortly, but I’ll just give you a flavour of those I will be supporting going forward.

Clwyd Alyn Housing Association will be funded to build 76 homes in Ruthin, north Wales. These could be the first in the UK to deliver net zero, whole-life carbon, with renewable energy offsetting the carbon impact of production and construction. Homes will have air source heat pumps, solar power and intelligent batteries, with heating and lighting costs estimated at less than £80 a year for tenants. I will fund two sites developed by Monmouthshire Housing Association in Chepstow to create 17 properties for people who are downsizing and first-time occupiers whose households might expand. The homes will have designed-in opportunities to add an additional bedroom to create life-long flexibility, so homes can grow and adapt to ageing and to changing populations. I am excited about Cartrefi Conwy’s scheme to deliver 32 zero-carbon homes over two sites using the Beattie Passive timber-frame, off-site construction approach. The scheme also demonstrates a normalising of the innovation supported previously, to a level that would not need the support of the innovative housing programme in a short space of time. I do not believe the tenure of a property should be obvious from the outside of a home, nor do I see any reason why communities should not be truly mixed. I am pleased to fund Cardiff council, together with Sero Homes, to build 214 low-carbon homes, a mix of council housing and homes to be sold on the open market in Rumney—all beautifully designed, of course.

As well as capital funding, I have made available a small amount of revenue funding. Yellow Sub Geo propose to develop a feasibility screening tool. This will identify and prioritise the potential for employing low-carbon energy and heat sources across the varied geography, weather, geology and hydrogeology in Wales. The approach will allow users to make better-informed decisions around the choice and use of low-carbon energy and heat options available in a given area. It will be a digital screening tool, accessed through a web user interface, open source and free to users. It will be hosted by a not-for-profit entity, meaning that its primary purpose is to engender social and environmental change.

Our challenge is to build genuinely mixed communities, with more homes that are truly affordable. And we need to act now if we are going to deal with the climate and demographic changes that are already upon us. This third year of IHP proves that solutions to many of these challenges are available right now. Furthermore, the overwhelmingly positive response to the programme from housing associations, local authorities and private small and medium-sized enterprises shows that I am not alone in being prepared to do things differently—not alone in being prepared to take more risks, and have the will and ambition to build more and build better. To this end, I have asked officials to revisit the applications for this year’s IHP, and work across ministerial portfolios, to see what support can be provided to applications that didn’t secure IHP funding this time, but can help this Government deliver on our housing priorities.

I intend that the homes built with IHP today will become the norm for homes receiving social housing grant, and other sources of Government funding, in the future. What may be regarded as novel approaches now will soon be considered mainstream. Be reassured: investing this £33 million today will help bring forward and mainstream the high-quality homes of tomorrow. Diolch.

15:35

From the start of this programme, three years ago, I have been keen to commend it; I think it's a good approach. I do think that we are moving to the time where we need some assessment of those projects that have been supported to date, particularly to see where the innovations have been normalised, or brought to market, or produced at scale. Because, as the Minister said, that is really the objective here. But I do particularly welcome from this statement the fact of the oversubscription of applications—I think that's a very healthy sign; the quality of the applications; going round and visiting various housing schemes and what's going on in the sector—I can well appreciate that; more schemes at scale; and the design quality. I'm always pleased when people use words like 'beautiful' of buildings, because I think that's what we've got to aspire to.

I have two, however, substantive points to make. I am concerned that we aren't modernising quickly enough in relation to modular building. Though 3D printing is still rare, modular certainly isn't in the rest—well, in some of the other parts of the UK, and indeed very much in the rest of the world, nor is it particularly novel. I read an article yesterday that Britain was exporting modular buildings to north America as early as 1624—they were probably going to Jamestown, which I know quite well. But this method, I think, has now once again shown itself to be of high quality, and really great in the speed of delivery, just in terms of house building by this method compared to traditional ones. In some countries, it's very standard now. In Sweden, 84 per cent of detached homes use manufactured timber elements; that compares to just 5 per cent in the UK. Yet these forms of construction are greener, cheaper, come with many fewer defects, and also lend themselves to the sort of beauty that the Minister was talking about, and what we often see in television programmes like Grand Designs. So, I think that's really, really important. And also, the energy bills, typically, can be cut in half by this form of technology, so it's fantastic.

Secondly, I'm keen to see how this programme now can merge into—or at least be used to improve skills and education in the building industry. One recent analysis found that more modern methods of construction would help increase site management and assembly skills, and create more jobs requiring digital skills, such as 3D visualisers and architectural technologists. Earlier this month, I read about the launch of the UK's first modular housing academy, in Yorkshire, which was created to train people to manufacture homes in factories, in a bid to halt the housing and construction skills crisis that we are seeing. And in particular, if we look at the age profile of people in the construction industry, it's too high. We appreciate the experience of the older workers, of course, but it must be made attractive to the millennial generation, and I think innovation and modular is often done in a nice roomy factory setting, so it's ideal in the winter time. It's just a win-win. I do genuinely think this is a good programme, and it just shows you what we can get out of Government when it gets something right. But, as ever, there's always a way of improving on work well begun, and I offer those suggestions. 

15:40

Thank you very much for that. We largely agree, really. On the modular point, I couldn't agree with you more. We encourage people always to think Huf Haus rather than prefab. Although, actually, the prefabs that people often decry are very sought after, particularly in my constituency. There are still people living in temporary prefab houses, which are lovely.

I've seen some really great small modular factories around Wales. We're supporting them in their efforts. I'm very keen that we make sure that this industry stays fit for Welsh purposes with Welsh supply chains and low-carbon supply and delivery models. So, therefore, we're very keen to have them dotted around Wales serving the communities that they're building the houses in and not centralised in a big factory. I'm also very keen that the modular build is, as far as possible, carbon neutral and with Welsh supply chains. So, I'm very delighted that in the innovative housing programmes we've been able to include an enormous number of projects that are built with Welsh timber, for example. So, it's totally a win-win situation.

We are in the process of mainstreaming some of this and, as I said in my statement, I'm really pleased to scale up some of the things we did earlier. I'm really, really keen that these are not pilots but testing grounds for mainstreaming. So, I was very keen to emphasise that once something's gone through the IHP and it's delivered what it set out to deliver, and we've monitored that and made sure it is, it becomes eligible for social housing grants and other Government support in order to push it into the main stream. So, I couldn't agree more. And in doing all of those things, we want to be looking to sometimes the public sector assisting the private sector to upskill. So, this public underpinning of this investment is also looking at the skills necessary.

Everything you said about building modular in a factory I completely concur with. You don't have to build at height, you don't have to build in risky weather conditions, it's only assembly on the site and so on. The other thing about it is that it is much faster, and so actually we have quite a crisis on our hands and it means we can upscale the number and the size of houses that we build. And then the last thing is to emphasise that, despite the fact that they're modular and assembled in a factory and all the rest of it, they meet all of the design standards that we regard as beautiful. And whilst beauty is a subjective point of view, there are some things that most human beings think a good house has, and we know what they are, and we're very keen to make sure that the programme also delivers those. I've very straightforwardly said we're encouraging builders across Wales, both in the public and in the private sector, to build homes that they themselves would be proud and happy to live in. 

It's good to see an increase in social housing being funded through this. I've just got a small number of questions to ask you. I wonder if the Minister could please outline how these schemes are interlinking with private sector developments, so that we can avoid creating ghettos. The statement hints at this, but it doesn't provide wider details, such as changes to planning law, for example. So, when can we have more detail on that? What lessons have been learned from the first two years of this scheme that can be applied to the future? And my only other question is: the final part of the statement implies that this will become the norm, so can the Minister please outline the road map for that? 

Certainly. Going backwards on that, in terms of a road map, what we're very keen to do is make sure that the analysis over the three years, as we go forward, is fed immediately back in to both the programme and to the main stream. So, as I said earlier, where we see that something has been built, it's being lived in, it's stood that test, so it's delivered what it set out to do—so, for example, it is in fact carbon neutral, it does in fact deliver lower energy bills for people, they enjoy living there, we're getting feedback from the tenants who go in—. Some of the technology is very innovative. So, tenants in social housing that go into these programmes have been asked to volunteer and have some training on how to use your air source heat pump and so on. It's not intuitive; you have to learn to use the technology and we're getting feedback about how they found that.

Where it’s been possible to get that information quickly, and it has been on some schemes, we've fed those in, and that’s what I was saying about encouraging people to come forward to upscale what we'd already done and make sure that it did work at higher scales. And there are some great sites around that people are delighted to show you around and show you how that works. So, we're very keen to get that test-and-feedback model, and then to feed it into our social housing grant model so that when they come forward with a scheme of that sort, we are very keen to fund it through the normal mainstream funding and not through the innovation stream funding. So, that’s the first thing.

In terms of the private sector, coming up to half of the bids—23 of the 52 bids that have been successful—are private sector. So, it’s pan-sector this. What we're looking to do is develop sites of mixed tenure, because we know that single-tenure sites of any sort—all owner-occupied or all social housing or any other 'all'—don't work. We want mixed tenure estates. So, what we're doing is we're encouraging public authorities, including the Welsh Government, to utilise their land in order to facilitate those kinds of developments. 'Planning Policy Wales' in its last iteration, which my colleague Lesley Griffiths was in charge of just before we changed jobs, and the new national development framework are underpinning that as well. And we're encouraging councils in negotiating with people bringing forward private land inside the local development plan to ensure that mixed tenure as well. So, you still have the conversation about how much affordable housing might be put in by a private developer, but we're encouraging the public sector to come forward and say, 'Is there another way to look at the funding envelope for this so that we can drive a different scale of mixed tenure?'

And then the last thing is, and I can't emphasise this enough—I said it clearly in my statement—that you should not be able to tell from the outside of the house what the tenure is. So, they all look the same, everybody lives together in a mixed community, in a place and not an estate. And that cannot be emphasised enough. That’s why the NDF is important as well, because that requires the infrastructure to have been planned out in advance, so that we know where the schools and the GPs are, we know where the work is, we know where the public transport routes are, and we know that there are cycle paths and walks to school and all that sort of stuff. So, we're developing exemplar sites around Wales. I went to visit one in Newport just last week, and then we're taking other people there and saying, 'Look, this is what you can do with these kinds of funding streams', just to mainstream it.  

15:45

Can I very much welcome the Minister’s statement? The Minister has identified the four key challenges: not building enough houses to meet the need; the climate change emergency; an aging population; and not enough qualified building trades people. I think it’s unfortunate that we're in a part of the world today where this, which should be the key issue that we're talking about, will, almost certainly, I think, be overshadowed by other events, when this is what really does affect the lives of people and the people that I represent.

Can I say that quality is most important, and it’s important to learn the lessons of history? The Minister, like me, remembers the steel houses, the high alumina cement, the other non-traditional builds that didn't last 25 years. So, I think it is important that the quality is there so that the houses do last.

We know that the private sector will not meet housing demand. If they did, it would affect both house prices and the profits of the company, so they like to keep demand up and only meet part of it in order to maximise their profits. That’s not a criticism of them, but that is the business model that private sector building in this country uses.

We need more social housing. Does the Minister agree with me that the only way to meet demand is for councils to build more houses using local trades people at the scale of the 1950s and 1960s, which is the only time since the second world war and one of only two occasions in the whole history of this country when houses were built at the scale necessary to meet demand?

And I would also like to ask about co-operative housing. I think that there is a role for co-operative housing. We are very poor at it in this country, not just in Wales, but right across the United Kingdom, and it’s something that in many other parts of the world is the norm—parts of the world that vary from the United States of America and Canada to Sweden. So, it’s not the political will. And for anybody who watches any American tv programmes, when they talk about going to the co-op, they mean co-operative housing. And it’s unfortunate that we don't seem to have got that mentality across in this country, so what further can be done to increase the amount of co-operative housing available in Britain?

I completely concur with Mike Hedges's analysis of this. We absolutely do need to get councils to build again at scale and pace. We've been very clear about that. We've been working really hard with the councils across Wales to change the rules, now that the cap has been lifted on the housing revenue accounts, both with stockholding and non-stockholding authorities, to make sure that they all utilise their borrowing sufficiently to get the pace and scale that he talks of.

I grew up in one of the steel houses, as he knows. My grandmother could not believe that she had been allowed to live in a house with a fitted kitchen and a nice, big bathroom in a spacious place with cupboards to put things in and so on. And whilst the cladding didn't stand the test of time, the houses are still there, they've just been re-clad with more modern materials. We need to be able to duplicate that. But, we also need to have the kinds of mixed housing opportunities that actually existed then. We built enough social housing and people who wanted a social house could have one, and so the estate that I grew up on had people from every walk of life living together in it as a proper community. That's what we aspire to put back. We know that we can help them put back that aspiration by having mixed tenure.

I could not agree with him more about co-operative housing and mutuals. There are a number of models available and we are looking very hard at how we can support those to be developed using the various grants and loans that we have available. I don't think it's too much to admit, acting Presiding Officer, that I've had to have a lesson in financial transaction capital and its uses from the director of the Welsh Treasury, with Rebecca's help, in order to understand all of the various funding mechanisms that we can do in order to produce the kinds of co-operative models that he's talking about. So, I completely agree with that.

The last thing I want to say is, I know he wasn't able to attend, but I did attend last Friday a new development that Swansea council is doing in his constituency—he and I visited when the ground was first broken—and it's quite amazing. It has two Olympic-sized swimming pools buried in the ground to take storm run-off, so that we address the pollution of overwhelmed drains. It has vertically drilled ground source heat pumps. It's just an amazing site—absolutely amazing—and we know that people will be very happy living there, and that's one of the other big things. So, I completely agree with all of the points that he made. 

15:50

Thank you for your statement, Minister. The need to address Wales's desperate need for housing, particularly affordable housing, whilst at the same time tackling climate change, is crucial, which is why schemes such as the innovative housing programme are so important, because a lack of affordable housing impacts upon so many lives and our communities. So, I welcome this latest update on the IHP scheme.

The fact that so many low to zero-carbon homes are being built is great news. Our ability to mitigate climate change relies upon reducing the energy required to build and run a home. So, schemes such as the one in Ruthin not only help us address our climate emergency, but also help to reduce fuel poverty.

However, whilst all these schemes are welcome, they are a drop in the ocean compared with the challenges that we face. We need tens of thousands of new affordable homes. These schemes all seem to address the energy needs, but not really the scale of the housing that is needed. But, I acknowledge that we have to start somewhere. So, Minister, Cardiff University demonstrated energy positive housing with the Solcer house four or five years ago. How many of the schemes coming through the IHP scheme are building upon the findings of the Solcer house?

Modular housing has the potential to quickly address housing shortages, and with the use of innovative materials made from recycled products, they even have the potential to remove carbon from our atmosphere and use zero carbon over their occupation. Minister, does the IHP give any weight to modular housing schemes? And if not, would you consider investing in modular housing projects in future years? Modular housing is fast to install and could be key to addressing our housing crisis.

Finally, Minister, if we are to address homelessness, we have to build housing for the homeless. Have any schemes come forward that address the particular needs of our ex-service personnel, who are a large percentage of those who end up rough-sleeping? Thank you very much.

15:55

Well, just dealing with a few of those things there, building on previous learning is absolutely built into it. And so understanding what has been built in the past, how that worked, why it worked and whether it's scalable is a really big thing, but whether it's scalable is one of the big things as well. So it's all very well to build one house, but whether you can build 400 of them simultaneously is a big issue for the programme. And as I said in the statement, we're just in the process of scaling up some of the things that we do know worked. 

The recycling issue is a huge issue as well. Most of these houses are modular, actually. Almost all of the schemes use Welsh timber in one way or another, and we're very keen on short supply chains so that we reduce the carbon footprint of the entire build, as I said in the statement. We're also very keen to make sure that any construction waste is kept to a minimum and is reused or recycled as appropriate, and that we're not causing inadvertent problems as a result of this. And then, once we understand that, we can scale it up again to make sure that that happens. 

The whole issue with skills, which I discussed with David Melding, is about skills transfer, so that we skill up the people of the future. And some of the schemes are using the people who will eventually be their tenants in order to build them. So, actually, effectively building their own homes. In particular, there's a great scheme on Anglesey, actually, that I was really pleased to see which is utilising that. They're really exciting, but you're absolutely right about the scale. We need to build around 4,000 houses a year in order to address the issue of people in temporary accommodation.

The issue around homelessness isn't about just the sharp end at rough-sleeping, it's about the people sliding into homelessness as well. So that's why we need to build 4,000 social homes a year, in order to prevent that cycle. So it's a big ask, but this year we've built very nearly 1,000 and last year we only had a few hundred. So we're ramping it up very quickly. We're going as fast as it's possible to go, making sure that we're building the right thing for the right people. And although you can call any particular group of people a group, each of them will be individual, each of them will have different requirements. We need to build the variety of housing and mixed tenures that address all of those needs. 

Can I also welcome your statement, Minister? As you will probably be aware, last week, I welcomed the First Minister to the constituency and we visited one of those forward-thinking organisations that you referred to in your statement, Merthyr Valleys Homes. They were the first tenant and employee mutual in Wales and, as you know, one of the largest in the UK. It's a great example of social enterprise delivering significant benefits to the community, including, of course, the development of the Taf Fechan co-operative housing unit in Gellideg. 

Merthyr Valleys Homes explained to us the potential of modular methods of construction—and we've heard much about that this afternoon—both in renewing their stock and in providing new units to help housing needs. And they've already used the modular homes that we've talked about to provide low-cost affordable housing solutions. And I think, next week, you're coming up to meet them to look at their modular container homes, and I shall look forward to that. Incidentally, I think it's also worth saying at this point that they're taking on apprentices as well. So they're also developing local skills in the area.

So, Minister, I'm working on the assumption that you'll be looking at the experience and the innovation of organisations like Merthyr Valleys Homes and the type of innovative work that they've been involved in, and supporting that specific need across our Valleys communities will be part of your housing strategy and will sit within the housing strategy for the Valleys taskforce as well, so that we don't see this sitting separately from the work that the Valleys taskforce is doing. And in particular that it would look to help address the most difficult but common housing need, which is that of single units of housing. Both the housing associations in my constituency tell me that that in itself is the biggest challenge that they have in meeting housing need. So the question, really, is just about how all of that will fit together and deliver those particular objectives.

Yes, she's absolutely right, Merthyr Valleys Homes have done some sterling work in a range of innovative ways and it just demonstrates that the innovative housing programme is not the only innovation that we're looking at, because they've done a lot of that with mainstream social housing grant and so on. So lots of things are possible. Dawn Bowden's absolutely right, what we're looking to have is a strategy overall that sucks in the innovation and spreads it out as fast as we can go. So, a lot of the skills transfer that you talked about there, getting people to take an interest in the houses that they're building, because they might be living in them themselves—the tenant voice in all of that is really important. They've done some really interesting work around mutuals and co-operatives and so on, which I'm really interested in exploring further with them. But it's just a demonstration that the IHP programme is just one part of the innovative nature of the way that we're approaching our housing strategy, because we need to build every sort of home for every sort of tenure, at pace and scale, if we're to address the needs that we know our population has.

I was delighted in my statement to announce one of the innovative housing programmes, which is around a modular house building programme that allows you to add a bedroom, because we do have a big need for one-bedroomed homes—that's absolutely right, and we need to build those at pace and scale—but people's circumstances change. They may not stay single forever, they may need care, they may need family or friends to visit and so on, so a one-bedroomed house for a single person is not necessarily what people are looking for.

So, trying to build the houses that allow people to have the lifestyle that they want, to have a friend to stay, to have a carer, grandchild or putative future partner move in—we want people to be able to have a lifetime home. These kinds of modular houses that allow you to add a bedroom or a different module on it are excellent, and we need to look to them for the future.

16:00

Diolch, Chair. Minister, you've just mentioned the scheme that involves being able to add a bedroom. I think that that's the scheme in Chepstow, from my memory of your statement. I was delighted to see that that's been included—Monmouthshire Housing Association, I believe, will be receiving funding to build 17 homes in Chepstow.

The ability to add a bedroom, or other examples of Monmouthshire housing where the houses are futureproofed so that you can add lifts as well so that people can stay in the homes as they get older—I think that's a really important aspect of modern home delivery of the type that Monmouthshire housing is getting quite a reputation for. So, I wonder what you're doing to make sure that that kind of practice is embedded in the strategies of housing associations across Wales, so that we do see this futureproofing, because I think, over time, it makes schemes a lot more efficient if people can stay in those homes that they love—if they can have an extra bedroom, can have a lift, can have adaptations. I think that's the way to go, so I'd like to see that rolled out across all housing schemes across Wales, if possible.

Yes, I couldn't agree more. One of the reasons it's in the programme is because we want to test out the concept and make sure that it works, but, actually, I visited a similar scheme with Huw Irranca-Davies in his constituency recently, where we were shown a modular home that you could add another bedroom to, or, indeed, actually pick the whole thing up and put it down somewhere else, if you needed to do that. I spent a fair amount of my childhood in Canada, where it's quite common to see a house going along the road, being moved from one place to the other, because they're all modular. So, we really need to learn from existing techniques for that, but, actually, really modern things as well, around energy efficiency and so on. I can't vouch for the home in Canada, 60 years ago, when I was a child, being the energy efficient thing that we want today, although, you know, Canada's not renowned for its temperate weather, so they clearly stood the test of that. But there are lots of things that we can do here, and this is about making sure that we have what's called a home for life, so that as your circumstances change throughout your life, you're able to stay in the home that you love and in the community that you're part of, and we need to facilitate that where at all possible.

4. Statement by the Minister for Economy and Transport: A Railway for Wales

We're going to move on now to item 4: a statement by the Minister for Economy and Transport—a railway for Wales. I call on the Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates. 

Thank you. I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to update the Assembly on the UK Government Williams rail review, to reiterate our expectations for devolution and also explain our vision for the railway in Wales that will meet the needs of future generations, which I am also publishing today. Our vision describes the benefits that full rail devolution will bring, explains what we would do differently with an appropriate devolution settlement, and presents an alternative future for the railway in Wales.

Since the launch of the Williams rail review, following the clear and critical failings of the current railway delivery model, we have consistently set out our expectations that the review should contain a number of changes. One, it should enable Wales to own, to manage and to develop our own infrastructure; two, give us greater flexibility to operate high-quality, frequent cross-border services to more destinations; to also allow us to select from a range of service and infrastructure delivery models, with a greater role for the public sector; and to ensure that organisations responsible for delivering passenger services and rail infrastructure in Wales—including train operators, Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road—are properly accountable to the Welsh Government.

Since the Assembly voted overwhelmingly to support the Welsh Government’s position, we have submitted our final response to the UK Government’s review. This explained how, with these new powers and responsibilities, we would develop our railway in Wales to meet our own needs and objectives, and deliver our obligations under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

The new Wales and borders franchise has allowed the Welsh Government, through Transport for Wales, to develop an innovative approach that will see transformational changes for passengers delivered right across the Wales and borders area. Through devolution, we created an organisation that oversaw a procurement process that put our own objectives at its heart, developed skills and expertise in Wales, and delivered a model to maximise wider benefits. This would simply not have been possible through a UK Government-led process.

The transfer and transformation of the core Valleys lines to the Welsh Government demonstrates how decentralisation and devolution can develop innovative bespoke solutions to delivering an integrated transport network.

The ability to dedicate time and focus effort on delivering outcomes that meet local needs and broader objectives has resulted in wider benefits in terms of attracting employment, developing local expertise, delivering community benefits, and promoting our culture and language. For example, 22 Transport for Wales ambassadors will work with communities to remove real and perceived barriers to transport, to encourage the use of public transport and active travel and to turn train stations into vibrant community hubs.

But we need to go further, to take on greater responsibility and powers to transform the railway across Wales, to deliver infrastructure and services that meet the needs of future generations, and to improve accessibility and accountability to local communities, to ensure that they have the high-quality railway that they deserve. Evidently, the ability to meet diverse local needs can only be achieved through devolution settlements where decision-making processes are informed by community, regional and national priorities.

We recognise that it may be beneficial for some functions, such as safety standards, cross-border timetables and rail freight access, to remain managed centrally at a Great Britain level. However, this system must recognise the diversity of a UK devolution settlement and be subject to appropriate governance, transparency and representation from national Governments and authorities with devolved powers.

We are already in a strong position to meet these challenges. In Transport for Wales, we already have the structures, the expertise and the processes in place to take on these new responsibilities and powers. Cross-border issues were collectively and comprehensively addressed by the Welsh and UK Governments when responsibility for the Wales and borders franchise was transferred. And today we publish our vision for our railway that aligns with our wider social, economic and environmental objectives, our transport priorities, and our commitment to future generations

We therefore have a template for delivering the remaining elements of devolution, we have unprecedented cross-party support, and we have an ambitious and deliverable vision that will reverse the decades of underinvestment in our railway. We are approaching a critical juncture in the evolution of the railways in Great Britain, and in particular the opportunity to develop a network that better meets the needs of the people in Wales that use it, and the communities that rely on it.

I'm also today setting out the Welsh Government’s principles for future public transport connectivity that will offer a step change in frequencies, integration and journey times. Only with the appropriate devolution and funding settlement can these be delivered through a programme developed in Wales.

Now, I welcome the positive engagement that the Welsh Government has had with Keith Williams and his team, who have shown a strong interest in our approach in Wales to procuring the franchise, the integration of track and train, and the challenges that we face under the current devolution settlement. I have every reason to believe that our case has been heard, and that further devolution to the Welsh Government will be recommended. I now expect the UK Government to reflect our requirements, meet our expectations, and set a clear pathway, timeline and programme for full devolution of our railways. I expect the UK Government to meet their commitment to publish a White Paper this autumn, and we stand ready to work with them on its implementation.

Our railway is fundamental to an effective and efficient transport network and should be one of our most socially and economically valuable assets. It has the potential to make a significant contribution in Wales to people’s lives, our communities, the environment and to our economy. Its continued development and expansion will contribute to our ambition to develop a stronger, more inclusive and more equitable economy, and to deliver prosperity for all by connecting people, communities and business to jobs, services and markets.

16:10

I've got nine people wanting to speak, and the first one will be Russell George.

Thank you, acting Presiding Officer. Can I thank the Minister for his statement on the vision of rail in Wales? I support the Minister's view with regard to the devolution of rail infrastructure—I think it's important to say that. There was a lot of talk, Minister, in your statement about innovative, bespoke solutions to deliver an integrated transport network, transforming the railways across Wales and delivering the high-quality railway that the people of Wales deserve. I can agree with all that—they're all admirable, very high-level aspirations—but I can't help thinking, if rail users are listening to this statement today, they will be thinking to themselves, 'What about now? What about the current state of the rail service?' I think they'll be pleased to hear the aspirations, but they'll still be asking that question.

In your statement, you refer to the appointment of 22 Transport for Wales ambassadors to encourage people to use public transport, but people don't and they won't choose to use the railway network now because the rail network is so unreliable. I don't say that off-the-cuff—I can give plenty of evidence for that through the postbag over the summer period. And I would make the point as well that the Government, of course, does already have a lot of levers at its disposal with regard to passenger experience, which has been consistently below par in recent times—we've seen cancelled trains, delayed trains, lack of staff, overcrowding, signaling problems, short-form trains, and a lack of quality information when issues do occur. Between October and July, we saw that only 73 per cent of services arrived on the Cambrian line on time. So, I'm trying not to be negative to what are good, positive aspirations from you, which I agree with you—.

You say in your statement that Transport for Wales has the structure, expertise and processes in place to take new responsibilities and powers, but I genuinely do struggle with that statement, because I do see there's little evidence of that so far to date. So, I would like to ask you, perhaps, Minister, whether you feel that any additional resources are required for Transport for Wales to deliver their job effectively now, and certainly into the future, taking on the extra responsibilities that you've outlined.

The Llywydd took the Chair.

With regard to the Minister's assertion that there's been a decade of underinvestment in our rail network, I wonder if the Minister welcomes the UK Government's investment of more than £2 billion in the Wales route between 2019 and 2024, which will be a record investment in Wales's railway and an increase of 28 per cent on the last control period. I would also be grateful if the Minister could provide an update on the transfer of ownership of the Valleys lines, details of the financial settlement accompanying the transfer, and a timetable for construction of the new network. And I wonder if the Minister could also provide an update on the development of the Welsh Government's new station proposals, specifically when you anticipate to officially release the results of the stage 2 assessment for new stations, the anticipated start date for stage 3, and how long you anticipate the duration of stage 3 will be.

In conclusion, Presiding Officer, I agree that it is important that this Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise all of the decisions taken regarding rail policy in Wales, and more of the decisions taken on Welsh rail policy I believe should be taken closer to the people of Wales.

16:15

Llywydd, can I thank Russell George for his contribution, for his questions? I very much welcome the cross-party support that the Government gratefully has for its position on devolution of rail. I think the Member makes an important case for the integration not just of track and train, but of various modes of transport, and that's precisely what we are intending to do by having rail devolved to Wales. I think the Member is also right that passengers right now will be reflecting on the services that they use in the present moment.

Now, we are on a journey, a £5 billion journey—Russell George rightly identifies recent challenges that have, in no small part, been due to historic underinvestment in the rail network. And Russell rightly identified, for example, signalling failures, which are due to a lack of investment in recent times. I would welcome the UK Government's commitment to spend additional resources across the Wales route network. However, I would also remind Members of the very significant resource that the Welsh Government has invested in rail infrastructure in recent years—which has not been a responsibility; we've done it regardless. And, in recent times, I think the Wales Audit Office were able to calculate that something in the region of £362 million has been contributed by the Welsh Government to wider public spending on Welsh railways.

The Welsh Government has also invested £226 million in rail infrastructure enhancement projects, including using European Union structural funds. This has been vitally important, given that, in recent times—the recent control period—we have not seen the spend that has been required within the Wales route network. The Department for Transport, I am pleased to say, is now committed to develop the following cases to the next case of their pipeline process: they have determined that the north Wales coastline does require speed improvements, that line-speed improvements are necessary between Cardiff and Swansea, and that relief line upgrades between the Severn Tunnel junction and Cardiff are also required.

It's worth noting, however, Llywydd, that line-speed improvements on the Wrexham to Bidston line did not produce a strong case for progression. However, I'm very pleased to say that it's been agreed that improvements to this line will be considered and developed by Network Rail in the context of a wider scheme that considers conductivity all the way from Liverpool to Wrexham as part of the vision for the north Wales metro. Now, these are welcome commitments, Llywydd; these are very welcome commitments. And it's clear that these have to be taken forward at great pace and with much better engagement with the Welsh Government and local stakeholders.

In terms of other recent challenges that we faced on the route, Members will recall in the autumn of last year challenges due to the fact that we inherited a fleet without wheel-slide protection. Wheel-slide protection, I'm pleased to say, has now been applied to those trains that didn't have the systems in place. It's part of a £14-million investment in the existing fleet whilst those new trains are being built.

I'm also pleased to say that Transport for Wales and Network Rail have an excellent partnership and a fantastic degree of communication, which has not always been there, I think it's fair to say. And Network Rail, I'm pleased to say, has spent something in the region of £3 million dealing with vegetation along the railway lines. That's absolutely crucial. Specific lines in Wales faced challenges last year because of excessive vegetation.

I do believe that Transport for Wales has ramped up activity and expertise very rapidly, but, of course, as additional functions are transferred to the body, additional expertise and human resources will be required. At the start of the 15-year journey, we said that Transport for Wales would be recruiting scores of new people to key roles and, in addition, that Transport for Wales would require, as and when necessary, expertise to deliver additional functions. That's something that is ongoing and, of course, if and, we hope, when devolution of responsibilities transfer to Welsh Government, we would expect to see additional expertise acquired by Transport for Wales.

In terms of the core Valleys line asset transfer, well, the transfer is due to be completed imminently in the coming months, and the time frame for construction of the metro, I am pleased to say, remains in line with the vision outlined when we launched the franchise agreement. Trains are being built and services will commence as expected and as outlined in the original document published in the autumn of 2018. There are, of course, enormous challenges across the UK within the sector in acquiring rolling stock at this moment in time, but we're confident that we'll be able to meet the December timetable changes with the fleet that we have and with rolling stock that can be brought onto the tracks in time.

In terms of the stations that we would wish to see developed, I'm pleased to say that we've identified those stations within the actual document that we have published, but they will require agreement from UK Government to fund them. One of the big problems that we've had in recent times with the funding of infrastructure in the UK is that the Treasury Green Book essentially leads to investment being prioritised and channeled to those areas where there is the greatest intensity of populations. That means, by and large, the south-east of London. We wish to see a different model adopted across the UK and, certainly, within Wales, we are doing just that—trying to spread investment more equally across all regions in order to balance opportunities for growth and prosperity and to address imbalances in terms of wealth and employment opportunities.

16:20

I could speak here about the challenges that we face with the railways that we have at present, and they are significant challenges and I hope that the Minister is aware of them. People won't be patient forever, waiting for the new trains where the timetables have been slipping. There is frustration about the lack of toilets and about the slowness of the introduction of bilingualism on the trains and so forth, and we'll continue to hold the Government to account on those issues.

But we're talking here today about plans, and strategic plans in the long term to strengthen our rail infrastructure in Wales. I do greatly welcome the report that we have before us outlining the vision to take more responsibility for developing the infrastructure. I welcome it because we as a party have been calling for this for many years. It does reflect what we have been saying, and, as we heard from the Minister, it reflects the consensus that has developed now within the National Assembly here. But we know, whether it's with trains or with the devolution of air passenger duty, consensus in this place is not sufficient to persuade a Government in another place to act in a way that benefits Wales.

As an additional point, the answer to me and to an increasing number of people in Wales is that we take more responsibility by becoming our own state, setting our own direction as an independent country. But certainly here we have a plan for what the Government should do at once to devolve responsibility for the railways in Wales and the funding to accompany it. We know that there has been great underinvestment in Wales, that 1 per cent of the funding available to improve the network in the UK has been spent in Wales, while 11 per cent of the railways are here—that is, improving the railways, not just maintaining them, which has to happen anyway. We have to have the ability to invest in extending our railways. It's astonishing. You look at the map and you have to remind yourself—with roads, we think about how we improve roads between the north and south. There is not one rail line that runs from the north to the south of Wales unless it goes across the border. And it is possible to do this.

I'm pleased to see the reference to opening that corridor down to the west, to investing from Amlwch down to Bangor and then through Caernarfon down towards Aberystwyth, and then opening that line from Aberystwyth to Carmarthen. We have to have that ambition. People say these are major investments, but look at the investment that's happening in England at present, where you have £56 billion going to HS2, £30 billion going to Crossrail 2, £70 billion going to Transport for the North. We're talking about small change here in order to create rail infrastructure that can unify us as a country.

So, I do welcome the fact that this document does refer to reopening the west line, from Amlwch to Swansea, and I'd welcome some additional comments from the Minister on that, because, as the Government says in this statement, these are some of our most valuable assets socially and economically, and, if there is a line that's not being used at present, well, we should be doing everything to ensure that that asset is used as much as possible for our communities.

The only other question—I'd welcome a comment on the timetable that you would foresee, Minister, about how to move this forward from now, encompassing the Williams review, and when you'd expect a response from the UK Government and so forth.

16:25

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Rhun ap Iorwerth makes a number of crucially important points in his contribution, principally the need to reflect on the huge sums of money that are being invested just across the border—£150 billion—in improving rail infrastructure, and just a fraction of that money could open up huge opportunities. The Member identifies the north-south links that currently exist and that could exist. Now, the current north-south services do travel across the border; they reflect the functional economy of the north Wales-north-west cross-border area and the functional economy of mid Wales with the west midlands, but that should not prevent us from investing in other infrastructure that connects the north and the south further west, where there is not the intensity of population growth. It's my view that we should be powering the regions and empowering the regions to become more prosperous, and that means investing in those areas that feel left behind, and that, in some cases, may well have been left behind as urban centres have seen economic growth fuelled in recent times.

The timetable for delivery of our vision—and I do thank the Member for sharing and supporting our vision—is largely dependent on UK Government decisions on how to respond to the Williams review and the time frame based on the orderly transfer of powers and budgets to the Welsh Government. But I've said in the vision document that this is a 20-year vision for improving infrastructure and increasing services and service frequencies across the Wales route.

I think there is consensus across the Chamber here that is beginning to influence a Chamber in another place. I detect recently a change of heart within Westminster towards the possible devolution of responsibilities and funding for rail. I have to say I've enjoyed a number of conversations with the new Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, recently, primarily concerning, of course, the challenge faced by the collapse of Thomas Cook, but one specific conversation concerning the potential devolution of responsibilities for rail and devolution of an appropriate funding settlement. That conversation will be one of many that will happen in the coming months, as he determines how to respond to Williams, and as I continue to press for devolution. I said in my statement as well that I am now confident that our submission to the Williams review will be viewed favourably, and we await very keenly the full review to be concluded, delivered to UK Government, and a response accordingly.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, like Russell George, rightly said that many passengers will reflect on the services that they currently have, and what I would say is that, right now, we are improving stations across the Wales and borders network. By Christmas, an additional 150 stations will have undergone a thorough deep clean. We are recruiting those ambassadors, we are creating more community partnership schemes. Trains are being built right now, including here in Wales, at CAF in Newport. The Holton curve service is now up and running between Liverpool and Wrexham. 

I'd just like to make a very small point on toilets on tram trains. I think recently some misinformation has been relayed to Members of this Chamber and the general public concerning toilets on trains. There will be three lines in the metro area where tram trains will operate. Those lines are lines where we wish to see extendibility, i.e. services extend into other communities—into town centres, for example. And for obvious reasons, you cannot run trains like Pacers on roads. You simply cannot do it. And therefore, you have to look for a solution that enables you to run vehicles on roads and at the same time on existing rail tracks. Nowhere on this planet, as the First Minister said earlier, will you find a metro-type system that also offers toilets on board. The only one that does is in Germany, but it doesn't offer toilets that are compatible with legislation in this country concerning persons of restricted mobility. So, instead, we made the decision to invest very heavily indeed—£15 million is already being spent on stations within the Wales and borders area, primarily within the metro—to ensure that we have improved, step-free access at 99 per cent of metro stations, and toilets that are accessible for disabled travellers and those with restricted mobility. It means that 95 per cent of passengers will never be more than around about 10 minutes from a toilet. And that is incredibly important, given the debate that has happened recently, to reflect on.

I think also the Member has made a very important point concerning developing an ongoing, I think, effort to influence the UK Government to make the right decision on this. I’ll be updating Members whenever stages are reached in terms of the Williams review, but I think it would be helpful at the appropriate time for this Chamber to make another collective submission, perhaps when the UK Government is ready to respond to Williams review, that pushes, on all sides, for devolution of responsibilities and funding.

16:30

Can I thank the Minister for the statement? You say in your statement that your first task is to address the legacy of historic lack of investment in improving the railways in Wales. We wholeheartedly support you in your endeavours in this regard. Wales has always suffered from a lack of funding necessary to improve the rail infrastructure, so it is right that we should look be masters of our own destiny with regard to our entire rail infrastructure. We should be free to create a railway system fit for purpose in serving the people of Wales.

We, of course, cannot talk about the devolution settlement given to Wales without comparison with that given to Scotland, and the devolution of the rail network is no exception to this. It cannot be right that Scotland has been afforded complete control, together with the necessary funding, for its entire railway network, whilst Wales has to contend with such a piecemeal approach by the UK Government. Minister, you rightly point out that we cannot create the rail network envisaged in the regional metro and station improvement schemes, not to mention the strategic corridor developments, without the necessary competences and funding being fully devolved, and I’m confident that we can significantly improve on the hugely expensive Network Rail development costs. In other words, spend funding much more efficiently than that which currently exists. We’re already seeing the improvements that devolved powers can afford with the improvements under the new borders franchise, and I’m confident that we shall see the same improvements on the core Valleys lines under the development programme outlined by the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales.

Is it therefore fair that other parts of the Wales rail network should lag behind because the Welsh Government lacks the competences and funding to make the necessary improvements? We in the Brexit Party recognise that rail infrastructure is critical of the development of the Welsh economy, and we shall support you fully in your endeavours to have the rail network and its components fully devolved to Wales with, of course, all the necessary funding needed to achieve Wales's railway ambitions.

16:35

Can I thank David Rowlands for his contribution and also welcome his support for our vision and our position on the devolution of responsibilities and funding for rail infrastructure? I think David Rowlands makes an important point that we need a transport system that is fit for purpose, and rail is integral to that. We do want parity with Scotland. It's quite obvious. Other parts of the UK enjoy the ability to be able to operate services and invest in infrastructure in the way that we would wish to here in Wales.

I think the Member makes an important point about the efficiency of spending and the outcomes of investments. One of our frustrations in recent times has concerned the excessive cost of some improvements to rail infrastructure and the fact that some projects have fallen short in terms of outcomes. For example, I could point to the improvements on the north-south services and the overrun on costs of the work that was undertaken in the attempt to reduce journey times. Those journey times, incidentally, did not reduce as much as was originally anticipated. We would like to take control of such work and I think it's only right then that we would then take full accountability if any work did not meet with the expectations of the public.

No part of Wales should lag behind another part of Wales because of a lack of funding. That's why we've been very clear that the devolution of responsibilities should be accompanied by devolution of funding. The metro in the south-east of Wales enjoys significant investment as part of the growth deal for the region. But, in the coming months and years, we will see improvements within other metro areas and in those areas where there are no metro plans yet devised. In particular, I can point to investments that are coming down the track in north-east Wales, where we are seeing investment being pumped into the Deeside industrial estate park and ride scheme, into improvements for bus pilot scheme opportunities right across Wales, and the money that we're spending in the south-west of Wales to develop further the vision for the south-west Wales—the Swansea bay area—metro scheme.

But, in order to deliver on this vision and in order to deliver on all of the aims and objectives captured in the written statement that I've outlined today, it will require a significant investment. But, it's not an investment that we should not expect, based on our population and historic underinvestment in rail infrastructure in recent times. 

Can I say, Minister, I very much welcome the overall vision that you've outlined to us this afternoon? I think it's fair to say that the one thing that unites people on all sides of this Chamber is an absolute determination that the people of Wales deserve far better than we've received in terms of funding and powers over railways over the last few years. I very much welcome what you said and I welcome your confidence that the Keith Williams review will report positively later this year. I will be grateful if you could give us any further update on progress and a timetable for the publication of his review and then any subsequent devolution of responsibilities. I don't think I'm alone here when I feel utter frustration when I see the way in which the Department for Transport of the UK Government throws money into some communities while starves other communities of any investment at all, and certainly Wales has been in that position year after year, no matter what the colour of the Government happens to have been.

I think the Ebbw valley line, which we've already heard people speaking about this afternoon, is an example of the failure of this settlement. You've answered a question earlier this afternoon, Minister, about the devolution responsibility for the Valleys lines, but of course the Ebbw valley line is not regarded as a core Valleys line even though it serves a population that is largely the same as the lines served to Merthyr, to Rhymney, to Aberdare or to Treherbert. That demonstrates the complexity and fragmentation that you spoke of in your statement in February that affects people's daily lives today. This isn't an academic conversation about constitutional theory, but it's about how we are able to invest in the infrastructure that sustains our economy today.

For us in Ebbw Vale and for us in Blaenau Gwent, the priorities are clear for the Ebbw valley line. We want to see the new rolling stock that we've been promised. We need four trains an hour. Now, I understand, Minister, and we've had conversations about this in the past, that work is ongoing amongst your officials, and I hope that you will be able to report to us when you would expect to see two trains going down the line, in the first instance, and then four trains an hour eventually. We've been told that it's 2024 when we can expect that. Clearly, that's something I would want to bring forward if it's at all possible.

And the final point is that about Abertillery. A station in Abertillery would have an enormous impact on the vitality of that town and the ability of people living in the whole of the Ebbw Fach valley to access the rail network and the new metro system. That is something that is important. You spoke earlier about the models currently used by the Department for Transport in England to determine where new stations are placed and where new services are offered, but of course that model will never deliver either a station in Abertillery or anywhere else in the Heads of the Valleys or the Valleys network because it doesn't fulfil the criterion that is set down by the UK Government. We therefore need a model that will deliver for people in Wales and will deliver for people in the Valleys of south Wales particularly in this instance, both in terms of delivering new stations, but also in terms of other infrastructure upgrades and new services.

The final question I'd like to ask you in terms of the specific issues in south-east Wales is about electrification and propulsion. Now, I'm not one of those people who are at all hung up about having electric trains wherever they're needed. However, we do know that they provide a far better journey experience and we do know that they provide a far greater impact in terms of climate change and decarbonisation. So, I want to be able to see how you would be able to deliver electrification on the Ebbw valley line to ensure that we are able to be plugged in to the metro system and not adjacent to it. Presiding Officer, the statement this afternoon has provided Members with an opportunity to debate how we want to take this forward. I hope that we can debate these matters on more regular occasions, but I also hope that, through the devolution of responsibility and budgets to the Welsh Government, we can ensure that we have here the ability to invest in rail but also to invest in a multimodal and integrated transport system that delivers, either by rail or by bus or by tram, for people up and down the country, and we can start to make the vision that the Minister has outlined today a reality. 

16:40

Can I thank Alun Davies for his contribution, his questions and the important points that he's made? If I could just pick up on the issue of investment and the model that's adopted by the UK Government through the Treasury Green Book, essentially, a calculation based on the benefit-cost ratio will always lead to investment in those areas that are already wealthy and where there are large numbers of wealthy people, because you are always able to calculate a better return if you can deliver for those communities. And as a consequence, it's no wonder that people in more deprived communities, communities that already face severe challenges, have felt left behind in recent decades. It's my view that that Treasury Green Book, that set of rules that determines how money is invested by the UK Government, needs to be reformed, and it's something that I would very much welcome. It's something that is in the hands of existing Ministers, it's something that could be in the hands of a future Government, but I think it needs to be done in order to rebalance the UK economy. 

Alun Davies also makes the important point about the role that electric trains have in improving journey times. Electric trains accelerate quicker and therefore can lead to reduced dwell time at stations, but they can also lead to reduced journey times between stations. We're going to be utilising tri-mode and bi-mode trains on the Wales and borders franchise network. It could be in the future that we adopt hydrogen-powered trains as well, and it's my hope that, as we deliver the global rail centre of excellence in south Wales, we will see hydrogen-powered trains tested for mass roll-out in years to come.

We are, indeed, working to deliver four trains per hour on the Ebbw line by 2024, but it is my hope that if at all possible we can bring that date forward, we will bring that date forward. Of course, if there was the ability to draw down the amount of money that we believe we should be entitled to for rail infrastructure investment, we would see additional stations, including potentially at Abertillery. But, I would not wish to adopt the same formula that the UK Government adopts. I wish to adopt an approach that leads to wealth being more fairly distributed, and opportunity to create wealth distributed more fairly across Wales.

In terms of the Ebbw line not being classed as a core Valleys line, I think it makes no sense to anybody that it's not part of that defined core Valleys line asset. The reason, of course, is because services have to run on the south Wales main line, which is not devolved. But, to not categorise the Ebbw Vale line as a core Valleys line, I'm afraid, sometimes gives the impression that it is a secondary service line. It is not. It is absolutely integral to our vision for fully integrated public transport and it is absolutely our intention to deliver metro services on the Ebbw line, and, in doing so, I think redefine it as part of the core Valleys lines area, even if we don't yet have responsibility for the full component of the line that trains currently use.

In terms of the Williams timetable, it's not been set by the Welsh Government. We have very little influence over when Keith Williams reports, and how and when the UK Government responds, but I will inform Members of any progress and any developments. If possible, I'll do that ahead of any announcements that are made by Keith Williams or the UK Government.

Llywydd, I meant to say in response to the first contributor that Transport for Wales officials will be here tomorrow, between 11.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m., to answer any questions concerning current services.

16:45

I agree with Russell George, and with some of what Rhun ap Iorwerth said. I welcome this broad-ranging discussion. The future of the railways does look secure, but we do need to consider the current situation too.

With that in mind, what dialogue does he have with Transport for Wales with regard to the Rhymney-to-Cardiff line, because we have seen some steps back in progress in recent months? Complaints about seating, particularly, have increased, and that is disappointing given the extra work that Transport for Wales have done to improve seating. What dialogue has he had about that? Also, can he confirm that, despite the debate today, there will be toilets on the Rhymney-to-Cardiff line in the new system?

Can I thank Hefin David for his questions and for his contribution today? Let me be absolutely clear over which services will have trains that will still have toilets, and that will have toilets that are compatible with legislation concerning persons of restricted mobility. On the metro network, train services on the Rhymney line, on the Maesteg line, on the Ebbw line and on the Vale of Glamorgan line will all retain onboard toilet facilities. Tram trains will run on three lines, as I said earlier: they will run on the Treherbert, Merthyr and Aberdare lines. I hope that answers all queries regarding this issue about toilets.

In terms of capacity on the existing fleet, we are stretching every sinew to identify solutions to deal with capacity issues across the network, but we do recognise that there is a particular problem within the metro area, and that's why we are making every effort to identify rolling stock wherever we can across the UK to bring it into use here in Wales as soon as possible.

We're out of the time allocated by the Government for this statement now. I have a number of speakers still wanting to be called. This is an early warning system, then. It's one question from now on, and I'll see if I can call all of the speakers I have on my list. John Griffiths, give it a go.

Diolch, Llywydd. I very much welcome your ambition and commitment to put Wales in a more powerful position, Minister, in terms of deciding the infrastructure and the services that we have here in Wales. As I only have one question, I will limit it then to the issue of the Magor walkway train station, which has, as you will know, a great deal of local community support, and I think is very much in line with what you talk about in terms of understanding and meeting local needs, and very much factoring community benefit into the development that takes place. So, I just wondered what you could say, Minister, in terms of the proposals for the Magor walkway station, and how that fits in with your ambitions for the future of rail in Wales.

16:50

The Member makes a really important point, actually, about how we assess where money should be invested and, at the moment, we have to assess that on the basis of the formula and the criteria that the UK Government Department for Transport utilises. In the future, as I've said, in the document that's been published today alongside the written statement and alongside this oral statement, I would have wished to adopt a different model to determine investment in stations across the network, based on some of the unique criteria that we've developed here in Wales, including, for example, the Welsh transport appraisal guidance system of appraising investment opportunities.

I think the Magor walkway station proposal has enormous potential and has great support from across the Chamber and from within the community. At the moment, we are constrained by the model that's adopted by UK Government for investing in stations, but, of course, if we had devolution of the responsibilities and the funding, we could adopt a different set of criteria for assessing programmes. Indeed, it may well be that if we had such a resource available to us we could include several more projects on the list that I've published today. 

I also welcome the ambition in this. This is what devolution is about; it's taking those powers and the funding to go with those powers to further transform the rail network, and to move people from their car transport into other modes of transport. Could I ask just one question, Llywydd—only one question? Could we have an update, please, on the date for the introduction of the Sunday service on the Maesteg line, part of the current transformation, and the date for the study that has been done by Network Rail on increasing the frequency of services on that line as well?

I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for his two questions. [Laughter.] What I'll do is, I'll actually prime TfW officials tomorrow to provide that information—the very, very latest information—concerning the timetable change and the study date cut-off, which the Member has pointed to. 

I too welcome the work the Minister is doing in this field, particularly within the north Wales region with regard to the cross-border, the Halton Curve developments and also the improvements on Deeside industrial estate. Minister, would you agree with me that transport, as I discussed at a conference in Deeside last Friday, that the sustainable development goals, such as prevention, integration, collaboration and involvement, can be at the heart of the Government's ambition as well, not just for our railways but for our whole integrated transport network?

Yes, indeed, and in my response to John Griffiths I pointed to WelTAG, the tool that we adopt for infrastructure investment. Primarily it's concerned with road infrastructure, but it could also extend beyond roads to include all forms of infrastructure, including social infrastructure. It's also utilised at present when we look at where we invest our precious resource in rail-based infrastructure. So, yes, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is considered within the WelTAG process, and that process is already adopted for certain infrastructure considerations, but I'd like to see it extend further.

Can I welcome the comments made by Jack Sargeant concerning the Halton Curve? I'm pleased to say that services on the Halton Curve have attracted a higher patronage than was originally expected.  

I also welcome an ambitious and inspirational transformational multi-modal integrated transport system for Wales. Minister, what opportunities does the Williams rail review offer the Welsh Government to take further responsibilities for the creation of new stations and the expanding Welsh tram footprint for a cleaner, greener Wales?  

Huge opportunities. If we had a settlement that reflected our need, then clearly, based on historic underfunding, that settlement would be enormous and would lead us to be able to invest, not just in the infrastructure, but also in encouraging behavioural change that could lead to modal shift as well. And whether it be in new stations, new railway lines or other associated infrastructure such as park-and-ride facilities, if we had the devolution of responsibilities with the devolution of appropriate funding, I believe we could implement a major step change in terms of driving people away from private transport to public transport.

16:55

Excellent pace in the last five minutes. Thank you, everybody, for your succinctness.

Thank you, Minister.

5. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government: Building on Wales's recycling record

That brings us to our next item, which is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, building on Wales’s recycling record. I call on the Deputy Minister to make the statement. Hannah Blythyn.

Diolch, Llywydd. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of devolution in Wales and has served as an opportunity to reflect on the difference devolution has made. We should rightly be proud that the past two decades has seen us become a global leader when it comes to recycling. In 2017-18, we recycled 62.7 per cent of municipal waste, and are third in the world for household recycling. This is an incredible achievement, and we would not be where we are today without the hard work and dedication of citizens and communities across the country. But it’s not simply about reaching recycling rates. It’s because it’s the right thing to do for our environment, for our communities, and for our economy. We've come a long way, but we're not complacent and I wanted to take the opportunity of recycle week to set out some of the next steps to build on Wales’s recycling record.  

Our ambition for a zero-waste Wales is stronger than ever. Recycling and increasing resource efficiency is central to tackling climate change and our response to the climate emergency. It is also key to unlocking the benefits of a low-carbon economy. I am pleased to be taking forward work on business recycling this week with the publication of our consultation on proposed new regulations under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. The regulations will mean that businesses must separate key materials for collection to be sent for recycling, in the same way we've been doing at home for years. The proposed materials include plastic, metal, paper, glass and food. The consultation also proposes a ban on business disposing of waste into sewers. I've said before and I will say again: the onus is on all of us to take action, from Government to grass roots and everything in between. It's about all of us playing our part, not simply for the benefit of the environment, but the economy too.

Many businesses are already doing their bit when it comes to managing waste in this way. Businesses more than any other sector already know that far from being a burden, waste is a key resource that can generate income and bring with it commercial opportunities. It can make supply chains more resilient and by keeping resources in use for longer, support a more circular economy where greater added value is kept here in Wales. This provides businesses and local authorities with a major opportunity in respect of the value of the material that's collected and the savings that can be made.

We've made much progress on materials that are easier to recycle, so we now need to go up a gear and capture waste that is currently harder to recycle. This is why we're building on our successful partnership with local authorities to put in place new facilities to recycle absorbent hygiene products such as nappies. 

I've met with many people and communities across the country and have been moved by the commitment, passion and enthusiasm around recycling and tackling waste. Nowhere is this more so than in schools, where from Ferndale to Rhyl, I have heard examples of young people taking action. The Zero Waste Schools initiative being piloted in Pembrokeshire and Cardiff is bringing together the third sector, local authorities and Keep Wales Tidy. The initiative develops practical recycling initiatives in schools, helping to educate children in line with the recommendations of the Donaldson report.

But there is still more to be done to raise awareness and persuade people to recycle more. We know that more than half the material still in residual waste is easily recyclable, and getting that out of black bins and into recycling would see Wales achieve a recycling rate of more than 80 per cent. This would not only reduce the cost of waste management services, it would also have significant carbon benefits. To address this, I will be bringing forward a national campaign on recycling to support local and regional campaigns.

I recognise that, recently, concerns have been raised regarding what happens to our residual waste and recycling once it is collected. In Wales, we have already been recognised as having high levels of transparency with the My Recycling Wales website allowing people to see what happens to our waste—95 per cent of which is not exported. Investing in additional infrastructure is key to moving to 100 per cent of material not being exported.

As a responsible nation, it's vital that we dispose of the waste that cannot be recycled properly. For this reason, we have invested in the infrastructure to extract electricity and heat from this material and dispose of it safely to the highest environmental standards. This ensures that we can extract the maximum benefit from this waste and prevent it from becoming a problem elsewhere.

The incineration of waste for heat and power is, however, a transitionary step. The long-term solution is to move away from materials like single-use and fossil fuel-derived plastics. Action on plastic pollution is high on the agenda and we will move to ban single-use plastic products, including cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, balloon sticks and cups. But alongside a ban, we are taking steps to ensure the responsibility for the end-of-life costs of materials is placed on producers based on the principle of the polluter pays. We're also working to introduce a deposit-return scheme in Wales on options to tax or charge certain products and with partners in local authorities and the private sector on initiatives to develop greater plastic reprocessing capacity.

Our goal is to ensure that we lay the foundations to go beyond recycling and bring the broader benefits to Wales of a move to a circular economy. In this way, getting it right on the environment means getting it right for the economy too. Earlier this year, I announced our £6.5 million circular economy fund. WRAP Cymru has now awarded the first capital grants under the fund. These grants, totalling £355,000, are going to three Welsh manufacturers to invest in equipment to increase the amount of recycled plastic and paper in their products. It's being matched by an investment of over £1.7 million from the businesses themselves.

Yesterday, we launched our consultation to increase business recycling, and later this year we will consult on a comprehensive new zero-waste strategy—a strategy that will review and reboot our ambition and actions for a zero-waste Wales. I want the new strategy to go beyond recycling by working to deliver our commitment to decarbonisation and a truly circular economy. This is crucial in the context of the climate crisis facing us and in developing the green industries and opportunities of the future.

We are absolutely committed to building on Wales's recycling record and the Welsh way on waste: reducing, reusing and recycling for a greener, stronger and fairer future.

Suzy Davies took the Chair.

17:00

Thank you, Comissioner. Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your statement this afternoon. It is right to say the mindset change that we've seen in Wales over the last 10 to 15 years has been something that can be proudly held up as an exemplar to other parts of the world, but we can't let any progress slip now. Obviously, progress needs to be made, and it's worth noting that recycling rates did decline—I appreciate only marginally by about 1.5 to 2 per cent—in the last reporting period that the Minister touched on, and I do think what's really important is accountability and the audit trail. I don't want to sound too civil servant-y, but when people do see images of far-flung places in the globe such as Malaysia and other places, with recyclable products that are clearly from the domestic market and, in particular, Wales, that really does cause concern, I would suggest, and credibility issues do arise in people's minds about all the efforts they are making. So, I would be grateful to understand exactly how the Minister can bring greater accountability to the audit trail, because it is a fact. If I just take two local authorities: Bridgend, for example, exported over 1,000 tonnes of recyclable plastics to an unspecified location in Germany; and Rhondda Cynon Taf, for example, exported 707 tonnes of plastic waste to an unspecified location in Malaysia, and a further 172 tonnes of waste to unspecified locations in Poland. I appreciate it in tonnage terms—considering there's 132,000 tonnes of recyclable product out of domestic households in a year coming from Wales—that these numbers are relatively small, but they cause doubt in people's minds, and it is vital that we can have robust measures to make sure that where bad practice is in place, we can stamp that out.

I notice in the Minister's statement that she does talk about 95 per cent being domestically used, or recycled, should I say? I presume you're talking about the UK market there rather than just the Welsh market, because I think it's important to distinguish between the two so that we do understand we're talking about the UK in its entirety. So, any information you can give on accountability and greater strength in the auditing process would be greatly received.

The consultation that the Government have out at the moment around the business community and the important role that they can play is something that is to be welcomed. But you have to take business with you, and I do hope that, obviously, this is a genuine consultation that will look at the practicalities businesses face and, in particular, some of the additional costs that might have to be borne here in Wales to achieve a goal that I think we all want to march to, but ultimately can't be putting businesses in an uncompetitive position. And I would like to try and understand why there's this obsession about making sure that either the household or the businesses segregate the recycling. I visited CWM Environmental in Carmarthenshire recently and they clearly showed me that their systems could work quite willingly with mixed recycling, because they can separate on site, they can. And therefore, if I take my own local authority area, and I declare an interest as a Member—they have just issued orange bags, white bags, blue bags, grey plastic containers, all arriving on people's doorsteps over the last couple of weeks to be implemented now in the next couple of months, let alone the storage issue of where people can keep all that, the ability of people to get their heads around another change in the recycling regime that was mixed recycling, only introduced 12 months ago, which is somewhat challenging when the recycling sector can do this recycling themselves. I accept that you can't put food waste in general recycling—that's perfectly obvious. But general recycling—there is the technology to do it and I'd be keen to understand why we need to be making such specific demands on household and, in particular, businesses.

I'd also like to hear what the Minister's views are, in particular, on incineration, which her report touches on, and household waste going to incineration, as a green energy, because, obviously, her and I have debated and discussed this across the Chamber here, and there are proposals currently in Cardiff, and I know in other parts of Wales, to bring incinerators online. So, again, I'd like to understand how, working with the planning system, residents' views can be taken into consideration, and where concerns are raised, these concerns are taken seriously. But, overall, we all want to submit to an economy where, ultimately, we look back and say, 'Do you remember when we all used to have to recycle?', because we'll have an economy that actually generates products that don't need recycling because they're biodegradable or all the rest of it.

So, power to your elbow in what you're trying to do, but you do need stronger auditing processes, you do need a more robust planning system when it comes to incineration, and above all, you do need to take business with you in the consultation, because, ultimately, if there is additional cost, that could take the competitive edge off businesses here in Wales when they're on a UK footprint.

17:05

I welcome the way you opened the contribution there in terms of actually touching on how the mindset has changed, and we've seen that cultural shift within Wales, whereas, perhaps a decade ago, we wouldn't have seen it, it wouldn't be second nature, and now, for the majority of people, it is second nature to sort their waste for collection. I remember being gobsmacked when I visited a friend elsewhere in the UK, shall we say, and I saw everything, including food waste and cardboard, all going into the black bin, and that just seems sacrilegious to us now in terms of actually how our mindset has changed and how we approach things.

You raised some really key points, and I did touch on much of it in the statement, but in terms of—. You're right about accountability and transparency, because now we've got to that point, we want to encourage more people to recycle and we don't want them to be deterred by any negativity around it. So, it's really important that we have that in place, and, like I said, we have been recognised for our transparency in Wales—the 95 per cent is within the UK. Ultimately, the best thing we can do is what we are doing now in developing the infrastructure to ensure that we can reprocess things in Wales so we not only reduce our waste but we reduce the need to export it elsewhere. I am very aware of the recent attention on this area, and I have written to local authorities to review the processes to see how we can enhance them. Also, it's something that perhaps we can consider, too, as we look more comprehensively at a new towards zero-waste strategy, as to how we can take that into account as part of that. In terms of when—[Inaudible.]—that go to a location, say, in Germany, or perhaps in the Netherlands, it's potentially because there is the market there to reprocess and that's what we need to grow here within Wales, and that's why our commitment to the circular economy and infrastructure is such a priority for us, moving forward.

In terms of incineration—and, yes, we have discussed this several times within this Chamber and outside—I understand where the Member comes from on this. In terms of the planning process, I think it's perhaps a matter for my colleague the Minister for Housing and Local Government, who's now sat in the Chamber, so will have overheard that. But as I touched on in my statement, we want to phase out residual waste being sent to landfill sites, and, actually, the use of incineration is a transitional period of what we want—to ultimately be at a point when we don't need to do that in the future and we don't use fossil fuels and we reduce the use of single-use plastic. So, it's something, actually, that's part of the towards zero-waste strategy. It probably won't be called that because I think we want a whole new dynamic strategy that actually takes into account the context of the climate emergency and the situation we are in now, but these are things that I'm open for Members to contribute to as part of the process as well.

17:10