Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

15/12/2020

Cynnwys

Contents

Statement by the Llywydd
1. Questions to the First Minister
Questions to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip
2. Business Statement and Announcement
Motion to suspend Standing Orders
Motion to suspend Standing Orders
3. Statement by the Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language: Publication of the national policy on Welsh language transmission and use in families
4. Statement by the Counsel General and Minister for European Transition: The End of the Transition Period
5., 6. & 7. The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions and Functions of Local Authorities) (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2020, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Restrictions) (Amendment) (No. 3) (Wales) Regulations 2020 and The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 4) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
8. The Public Health (Protection from Eviction) (Wales) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020
9. The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (School Premises and Further Education Institution Premises) (Wales) Regulations 2020
10. The Food and Feed Hygiene and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments and Saving Provision) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
11. The Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Qualifications) (Wales) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
12. The Plant Health (Amendment etc.) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
13. & 14. The Direct Payments to Farmers and Rural Affairs (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and The Trade in Animals and Related Products (Wales) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
15. The Senedd Cymru (Representation of the People) (Amendment) Order 2020
17. Debate: New Coronavirus Restrictions
18. & 19. The General Principles of the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill and The Financial Resolution in respect of the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill
20. Voting Time

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

The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:29 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

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

13:30
1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Mark Reckless. 

Coronavirus Restrictions

1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the level of support for its coronavirus restrictions? OQ56070

Llywydd, tests of public opinion continue to indicate strong majority support for the actions being taken by the Welsh Government to keep Wales safe. 

Well, First Minister, the YouGov poll published this morning showed support falling from 66 per cent to 45 per cent, with 47 per cent now opposed. And I just wonder whether you might find more support for your policy if you worked with the opposition rather than calling them disgraceful, and welcomed a royal visit to thank key workers rather than calling them divisive. Instead you, and I quote from your statement:

'set out how and when Wales will move between alert levels with all-Wales measures. We must do the same in Swansea as in Anglesey so long as it's different from England.'

First Minister, wouldn't we be better with a united UK approach?

Llywydd, as far as I'm aware, neither Swansea nor Anglesey are in England. I've looked at the poll to which the Member refers. Voters in Wales were asked whether they preferred the approach taken by the Welsh Government or the approach taken by the English Government. Fifty-three per cent of people said they preferred the approach taken in Wales, 15 per cent preferred the approach that the Member continuously advocates here. 

First Minister, one of the big calls that has been made in recent weeks is obviously the changing restrictions over the Christmas period by the four nations of the United Kingdom. The situation here in Wales has moved on since that call was made, and I respect the climate in which that call was made by your good self as the First Minister. What do you think the public's reaction is to, and perception of, those changes that will happen over Christmas, given the circumstances that the Welsh Government obviously outline Wales is facing at the moment, both in its health service, the national health service here in Wales, but also the community transmission rates?

I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for that question, Llywydd. He will know that the four-nation agreement over Christmas was hammered out in detail over four different meetings between the four nations. It was a hard-won agreement; I will not lightly put it aside. I have a meeting later today with the First Minister of Scotland, First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland, and Michael Gove, as the Minister in charge of the Cabinet Office, and no doubt this issue will be discussed again there. The choice is a grim one, Llywydd, isn't it? I have read in my own e-mail account over the last couple of days heartrending pleas from people not to reverse what we have agreed for Christmas—people who live entirely alone and who have made their arrangements to be with people for the first time in many months, and who say to me that this is the only thing that they have been able to look forward to in recent weeks. And yet we know that if people do not use the modest amount of additional freedom available to them over the Christmas period responsibly, then we will see an impact of that on our already hugely hard-pressed health service.

So, I think the choice is an incredibly difficult one. At the moment, we have a four-nation agreement. I will discuss that later today. We will look at the figures again together. I still think that the arguments for having a rule-based approach to Christmas, modestly increased amounts of freedom for people, but where they know where the rules lie, is preferable to a free-for-all in which we have a situation where people simply aren't willing to go along with what is proposed and therefore make the rules up for themselves. So, as I said, Llywydd, in whichever way the Governments of the United Kingdom resolve this issue, it will be a very, very finely balanced set of judgments between different sorts of harms that are caused, whichever course of action you embark on. 

13:35

First Minister, I see on the 1 o'clock news today that Michael Gove is going to be writing to you shortly, to see whether there's going to be any development of the four-nation approach to Christmas. At the same time, we see across the UK and across Europe, and indeed in other parts of the world, significant actions being taken by Governments there, who are affected in exactly the same way as we are now, with increasing infection rates, but also the increasing public anxiety that actually exists. I'm wondering, First Minister, what you might be saying to Michael Gove in terms of how we might co-operate, but also what lessons are there that we can learn from what is happening in the rest of the world at the moment, where they're facing an almost identical, very similar situation to ourselves.

Well, the lesson, Llywydd, that I draw from the rest of the world is exactly the point that Mick Antoniw made, that Governments across Europe and more widely are having to take action in the face of the resurgence of this virus during winter conditions, with a virulence that was not predicted in the modelling that was carried out in many parts of the world. And, of course, we watched very carefully what happened yesterday in Germany, in Holland, in Italy. And I will be discussing with Michael Gove, directly, later today whether the four-nation agreement that we struck continues to have marginally more advantages than disadvantages, or whether there is a different balance that we ought to strike. In either direction, Llywydd, harm is done. Harm is done whether people get together over Christmas in a way that isn't responsible and doesn't observe all the advice we have given to people, or, if we seek to prevent people from meeting over Christmas, a different sort of harm will be done—to people's sense of mental health, to people's sense of how they can survive through this incredibly difficult year together. It is not at all a choice between one course of action that has clearly all the advantages and none of the disadvantages, and another course of action where all the disadvantages are to be found. In any direction, it is a very careful and difficult balance, with pluses and minuses on both sides of the ledger.

Tackling the Coronavirus Pandemic

2. Does the Welsh Government have any plans to review the advice it has received in relation to tackling the coronavirus pandemic? OQ56051

I thank the Member for the question, Llywydd. The technical advisory cell provides co-ordination of the latest scientific and technical advice to support the Welsh Government decision making. This includes regular reviews of the evidence, analysis and advice from the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and a wide range of other national and international sources.

Thank you, First Minister. Throughout the pandemic, you have followed the advice provided to you by the technical advisory cell, yet the pandemic is raging out of control in Wales. Therefore, many people are concluding that there is a problem either with the advice or with its implementation. And as we cannot see the advice given to Ministers, just summaries, we can only conclude that the advice given could be suspect. First Minister, science doesn't operate in secret, it relies on rigorous peer review. So, will you commit to fully publishing all scientific advice given to Ministers, and establish a scientific review board to red-team all COVID-19 control measures before they're introduced? Thank you. Diolch.

Well, Llywydd, the problem is not with the advice or with its implementation. The problem is the virus. If the advice was wrong uniquely here in Wales, then how is it that, as we heard in the last question, Governments in other parts of the world are facing exactly the same dilemmas? We are dealing with a virus that doesn't behave in the way that models always predict, doesn't respond to some of the measures that were expected to be efficacious, where we saw yesterday evidence of a new variant emerging, which will potentially pose new challenges to us. The problem is not the advice; the advice is as good advice as you can get. The problem is dealing with a virus that is full of unexpected and difficult surprises, and where there is no single, simple approach to be found anywhere in the world that can be picked up from one part of the globe and dropped down in another with a guarantee of success. 

13:40

First Minister, recent correspondence from my constituents shows that this period has, understandably, taken a negative toll on the mental health of the population's most vulnerable. This correspondence, of course, is indicative of a larger scale and immediate problem that is facing the Welsh public as a whole. In fact, the results of a recent survey by Swansea and Cardiff universities revealed that approximately half of its 13,000 participants reported clinically significant psychological distress, with about 20 per cent saying they were suffering severe effects. However, there is very little mention or acknowledgement noted in the technical advisory cell briefings. So, I believe that it's crucial now, as we're moving towards more stringent measures, that this Welsh Government does all it can to ensure that access to loneliness support groups and mental health support services is ensured. So, is it possible that, when you are working with your scientific advisers and you are publishing the TACs, you could possibly give acknowledgement to those suffering with the mental health impacts to ensure that these briefings consider the impact—and the severe impact, I should say—of restrictions on loneliness, social isolation and mental health issues? Thank you.   

Llywydd, well, I do think that the technical advisory group does, very regularly, provide advice to us on the wider harms. Our chief medical officer has from the very beginning pointed to the four different sort of harms that come from coronavirus, and the impact on people's sense of mental health and mental well-being is absolutely part of what we always weigh up. I was trying to do it in my answer to Andrew R.T. Davies's question—the advice we are seeing today from people about taking more stringent measures over Christmas to reduce the ability of people to get together. But that will have an impact on all the issues that Janet Finch-Saunders has just raised with me. Those were the e-mails that I was referring to , from people pleading that we should allow them to be able to get together over Christmas because of the impact on their mental health and well-being.

I took part myself, yesterday, Llywydd, in an initiative that is simply asking people to phone somebody else over Christmas who lives alone, and I had a very striking conversation with somebody living in the Rhondda Cynon Taf area, who has been three months without being able to see anybody else because of his own health and the impact that has on other people. And the Christmas period matters a lot to people, doesn't it? So, I just want to say to the Member that, of course, we weigh those things up, and, of course, we try and make judgments that attend to the impact on people's physical health and on our services, on the current state of coronavirus, while never losing sight of the fact that, when restrictions are placed on people's ability to meet others, which may be entirely necessary to control the virus, there are other effects that we must weigh up and try and mitigate. 

First Minister, could I ask what efforts you have made to reach out to the main party leaders in order to keep them informed of the medical and scientific advice and the data and the difficult choices to be made? At this time of a continuing national crisis, facing a continuing pandemic, the people of Wales would hope that all political leaders and spokespeople would seek every opportunity to be well informed and would also expect the First Minister to make those opportunities available to the opposition. So, can I ask, have you had that good and timely engagement with the main opposition party leaders so that they can themselves engage as fully as possible in the challenges we face in Wales, and so that their public pronouncements can be well informed and promote this message of saving lives, protecting our precious NHS and the people who at this very moment are working on the front line in dangerous and difficult circumstances? 

Llywydd, I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that. For many months now, we have had a pattern on a Wednesday morning of a meeting involving both the leader of the opposition and the leader of Plaid Cymru to make sure that we are able to share with them, sometimes on a reasonably confidential—necessarily confidential—basis the advice that comes to Welsh Government, and I'm very grateful to both of them for the time that they've taken and the efforts they've made to be available and to participate in those meetings. I don't think the leader of Plaid Cymru has missed a single one of them. And I have done my best, when we are coming to major decisions and major announcements, to make a telephone call to the leaders of the Conservative Party and Plaid Cymru in advance of that, so that they are at least sighted on what it is that we are trying to achieve. And I agree with what Huw Irranca-Davies said, that the more those opportunities are taken, the better able we are to try and, where we are able to do so, send common messages out to people in Wales about the nature of the public health emergency we continue to be gripped by and the actions that we can take in our own lives as well as the action that the Government can take to make a difference to it. 

13:45
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, as you know, unfortunately, Wales has the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the UK, and eight of the UK's top-10 worst infected areas are currently in Wales, with Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend all in the top three. Naturally, speculation still remains over whether further measures will be introduced and how those restrictions could affect people's lives and livelihoods. First Minister, with cases so high in Wales, can you tell us when you intend to make a decision on any further restrictions in Wales? And given that the Welsh Government's own coronavirus control plan confirms that a case rate of more than 300 cases per 100,000 people is under alert level 4, can you tell us whether you are now looking to escalate Wales to the next level?

Llywydd, I thank Paul Davies for that question. We will be looking every single day this week at the way that the figures in Wales are moving. I said at my press conference on Friday that unless we see signs that the current rise is being arrested and reversed, then it is inevitable that further measures will be needed. Now, we took an important set of measures a week ago last Friday in relation to attractions and hospitality. We took further measures last week in relation to schools and outdoor attractions. We have to be able to allow those interventions an opportunity to work. If we do not see them working, as I said on Friday, then it is I think inevitable that further actions will be necessary in order to stem the flow of coronavirus as we see it in Wales today. And I'll be doing that every day this week.

I'm grateful for that answer, First Minister, and I know that the health Minister confirmed yesterday that nothing, of course, is off the table when it comes to more COVID restrictions over Christmas, and I very much accept and understand that, and I appreciate that you'll be having further discussions with other UK Governments later on this afternoon about the Christmas restrictions as well.

Now, of course, Wales has more than twice as many COVID-19 cases compared to other parts of the UK, and two health boards have now confirmed that they will suspend some non-urgent treatment, and so we're also looking at a crisis perhaps actually taking place as well in the new year. You will have seen the concerns of the Welsh Intensive Care Society, which has warned that critical care services will not be able to cope over the winter period without intervention at the highest level, and with the relaxation of rules for a few days over Christmas there will be even more pressure, as you've just said, on NHS services in the coming weeks and months. I'm pleased that the UK Government has today offered to treat non-COVID patients in England to help ease the pressures on Welsh hospitals and to do all it can to help.

Given the seriousness of the issue, can you tell us what assessment the Welsh Government has made of the rise in cases on hospital capacity across Wales? Secondly, in light of the calls for intervention from some in the medical profession, can you tell us what discussions you've had with the local health boards about their plans for delivering elective surgery and routine care over the coming weeks? And can you also tell us whether you will be taking up the UK Government's offer of enabling non-COVID Welsh patients to be treated in English hospitals if necessary?

13:50

Llywydd, I think it's fair for me to point out that Wales is, as the leader of the opposition says, at the highest level of coronavirus in the United Kingdom today. At various points, all four nations have been in that position. England was in it earlier in the summer, Northern Ireland was in that position a few weeks ago, Scotland have had the same experience in relation to the central belt. So, this is an evolving pattern in which spikes occur in different places.

As far as capacity in the health service is concerned, there are two sorts of capacity that we're talking about. There's physical capacity in terms of bed numbers: 16 per cent of acute beds in the Welsh NHS are not occupied today. So, physical capacity is stretched, but not stretched to breaking point. The other capacity we're talking about is staff, and that's where the current difficulties I think are at their most acute. We have the highest number of staff at any point during this year who are self-isolating and for other reasons not available to be in work; 1,500 more people last week than was the case in September. And the problem that has been faced in some parts of the NHS, and the reason why some non-urgent treatments are being suspended, is because we simply don't have staff in place to keep everything that the health service wants to do going, and we're having to concentrate the staff resources we have on those most urgent things, including providing for the rising number of people suffering from coronavirus. So, we rely on a regular engagement with all our health boards, to look at the capacity of the system to continue to do things other than coronavirus, and that varies from health board to health board at the moment, but it is a daily engagement that we have with them in order to make sure that, as far as possible, the health service does all the things we would all want it to do.

As to the letter on mutual aid, of course, I will reply to it, once again endorsing the principle of mutual aid that has been there through coronavirus. Wales has supplied 11 million items of PPE to the English NHS during this crisis as part of our mutual aid, and the letter that I've received today restates that, and I'm very happy to once again endorse it.

First Minister, whilst the COVID pandemic continues to escalate in most parts of Wales, there are still some valid concerns from many across the country about the negative consequences of further restrictions, in particular, as you said earlier, the effect on people's mental health. As my colleague the Member for Aberconwy said earlier, last month, Mind Cymru teamed up with researchers at Cardiff and Swansea universities to speak to more than 13,000 people about the impact of the pandemic on mental health in Wales, and their research showed that around half of the participants showed clinically significant psychological distress, with around 20 per cent reporting severe effects. Therefore, we can't be under any illusions that further restrictions could make life difficult for a lot of people, and it's crucial that the Welsh Government signposts support and ensures that mental health services are accessible to those who actually need them.

As the Welsh Government makes its decision on the next steps for Wales, can you tell us what mental health impact assessment has been carried out in relation to any further restrictions? Could you tell us what additional support will be made available to people who need it, and how will the Welsh Government signpost services and encourage people to ask for help should they feel that their mental health is suffering as a result of any further restrictions?

Well, I thank the Member. It's an absolutely important area, of course. It comes up in all the conversations that I have when I'm talking to people beyond the Senedd. It comes up in conversations with our health workers, who've gone through a year not simply torrid in terms of the physical strain of the job that they do, but the emotional wear and tear that it has of seeing people who would otherwise be fit and well suffering from this awful disease. It comes up very regularly in the discussions that I have with young people, who are very alert to the impact that this year will have had on their sense of resilience and looking to the future.

I think what we have learnt through the many different impact assessments that we have done is that mental health services have to be provided in a range of different ways, because the sort of help that any one person might wish will vary from the way that other people will wish to access it. It's why we have the range of services that we do: a 24-hour, seven days a week telephone helpline for people who want to talk to somebody who they don't need to meet again, and for some people that is the best way of dealing with it. They don't want to have a conversation continuously; they want to be able to speak to somebody knowing that that person is skilled and able to help them, and knowing that, when they put the phone down, that's the end of the conversation. Our young people are often inclined to prefer online types of help with mental health and well-being issues. They like to use the exercises and help that is available in that way, and other people would prefer to sit down face-to-face with somebody and know that, if they need to speak to that person again next week, that person will be available to them. We have strengthened all of those strands in the response that we have made over the past months, to try to respond to the impact on people's sense of well-being.

The signposting to those services relies not simply on what the Welsh Government does, but on our partners in the third sector, such as Mind Cymru, and in our public services as well. As we go into next year, where we hope very much that there will be some more reasons for being optimistic that this experience will come to an end, we will still need to attend not just to the immediate impacts of the virus, but the long impact that coronavirus can have on people's physical, but also their mental well-being.

13:55

Diolch, Llywydd. The UK Prime Minister has repeatedly scored own goals by only partially and belatedly heeding Marcus Rashford's call to provide free schools meals in England. While the Conservative Government has an ideological objection to helping the most vulnerable in society, in Wales, we have a moral obligation. Providing free school meals is one of the best ways of mitigating the worst effects of a second wave of Tory austerity, which will hit the poorest hardest, as the Marmot review, published today, has shown. In its own report in June last year, the Bevan Foundation found a number of shortcomings with the current free school meal system in Wales. The value from the support, they say, is not sufficient to lift enough children out of food poverty. With 180,000 children living in poverty in Wales, do you regret dropping the long-standing target to eradicate child poverty by this year, and does that place a greater responsibility on you now to act?

Llywydd, I think the Welsh Government's record in relation to free school meals during this pandemic will stand up to very close examination. We were the first part of the United Kingdom to guarantee free school meals during the early part of the pandemic, and we were the first part of the United Kingdom to guarantee that we would continue to provide free school meals right through the autumn and into the spring of next year. The allowance that we provide for free school meals per pupil is higher than England, higher than Scotland—in fact, the highest in the United Kingdom.

Of course child poverty matters hugely to us, and there are more things that we would wish to do. It's why, during this term, we have doubled and then doubled again the number of times during a child's school career that they're able to take advantage of what was once called the school uniform grant. As from next calendar year, we will begin to roll out an additional sum of money available to pupils in year 7, the first year of secondary school—an additional sum of money to their free school meal allowance every day to make sure that those children do not have to choose between eating breakfast or eating lunch.

First Minister, as you are aware, the Scottish Government has recently committed to universal free school meals for all primary school children. In 1943, Finland introduced a law clearly requiring free school meals to be served to all children, a policy that is in place still today. And as the Finnish experience has shown—we've modelled much of our education system on them, and actually this commitment is right at the heart of the model, because it's food education in schools, it's a holistic tool that they use to deliver far-reaching benefits beyond the school canteen. Figures from the Child Poverty Action Group show that over 70,000 children living below the poverty line in Wales are not currently eligible for free school meals. To right this wrong, a Plaid Cymru Government would raise the eligibility threshold so that children in every household in receipt of universal credit would receive free school meals, and we'd set a clear timetable to extend free-school-meal provision to every pupil, on the Finnish model, beginning with universal free school meals for infants. First Minister, would you support this endeavour? 

14:00

I will want to see the detail of what Plaid Cymru is proposing. In particular, Llywydd, I will want to see where the money is to be taken from in order to pay for such a commitment, because when you are in Government that is the choice you face—that money spent on one purpose cannot be spent on something else. We spend our budget every year right up to the maximum, and this year and next year we will be drawing additional money out of reserves in order to be able to continue to defend our public services here in Wales. So, I will look at the detail of what the Member is proposing, not simply the headline that he's offered us this afternoon, but how much this will cost and where he thinks the money will come from in order to pay for it. And if I can see the detail of that, I'll be happy to consider it. 

Let me agree with what Adam Price said, though, in opening, because, of course, a meal in school is far more than just food. The campaign for free school meals was launched here in Cardiff in 1906 in City Hall here in Cardiff, where the Fabian Society published a pamphlet that has one of my favourite titles of all political pamphlets, because the title of the pamphlet was, 'And they shall have flowers on the table'. It is a beautiful title and what it tells you is that the case for free school meals was not simply feeding children, but it was valuing children. It was telling children who came to school that they were people that their society invested in and wanted to do the best by—'They shall have flowers on the table'. And in the sense of the Finnish experiment and the things that Adam Price said, I absolutely share the view that providing a meal for a child in school is more than just putting food in their stomachs; it is about the value that we place on that child, and the clear signal that we give to them about an investment that society makes in their future. 

I don't need to tell you about the value of progressive universalism; the point of universality is that you ensure then that everyone who needs it gets it. In relation to your point about finite resources, we need to be smart, so we need policies that deliver more than one objective. And so you can see, with universal free school meals, if you link it, for example, with the foundational economy—a square meal produced within the square mile, the foundation phase and the foundational economy, ensuring local procurement, children learning where their food comes from at the same time as helping the local food-producing businesses that were really hammered hard by the pandemic and, who knows, maybe by a 'no deal' Brexit—surely that's the kind of smart policy that we need, First Minister, that delivers to a preventative model savings even in financial terms because of the better health and educational outcomes for the children concerned and, indeed, their economic life chances, but also does it in a holistic way for the economy, for a better environment, for better health at the same time.   

Llywydd, all those arguments were arguments that led a Labour Government to introduce universal free meals in primary schools, because we have free breakfasts in primary schools that are free to all children. And it was exactly that sort of multiple objective that led the Cabinet at the time to find the money to invest in it. Free breakfasts provide food for children who otherwise would go without, they make their learning more effective because they have food in their stomachs and are able to concentrate on their learning, it provides particularly for those families who are on the edge of working, because if you don't have to pay for the child to be looked after or the child to be fed, then your ability to take up a job or to carry out more hours in that work are improved as well. So, the smart bringing together of multiple objectives is exactly what any Government would wish to do and, as I say, you can see it every single day in that progressive and universal service that free breakfasts in our primary schools represent.

14:05
COVID-19 Vaccination

3. What assessment has the Welsh Government undertaken of the capacity available to deliver the COVID-19 vaccination? OQ56032

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. Immediately following regulatory approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, NHS Wales mobilised and administered over 4,000 doses within the first 48 hours of its availability. Detailed workforce modelling is under way, ahead of regulatory approval of subsequent vaccines. NHS Wales is prepared and ready for the task that lies ahead.

Thank you, First Minister. I'm pleased to hear that progress is being made, even at this early stage, on the rolling out of the vaccine. I understand that health boards have been asking some former nurses to return to work to help with the roll-out of the vaccine. I wonder if you could confirm that that is the situation, and also, is there any capacity within other organisations across Wales that might be able to help out with that vaccination programme? I think the sooner it can happen the better.

And also, if I could just add, in terms of the wider capacity issue, I know that in the news recently there have been some concerns about the number of COVID-19 cases at the new Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran, which is obviously being used as a centre for that. But there are concerns about that, with other patients being told to stay away. I wonder if you've had any discussions about any additional resourcing that could be made available to the Aneurin Bevan health board at this time, to make sure that that hospital, whilst bedding in—if you pardon the pun—in its early days, is able to cope with the number of cases there.

Well, Llywydd, I can give Nick Ramsay an assurance on that final point that discussions are, of course, ongoing with Aneurin Bevan about any mutual aid that can be provided or any further measures that can be taken to support the hospitals in that part of Wales, which are under some of the greatest strains, given the numbers of people in that part of Wales who are suffering from coronavirus. 

In relation to vaccination, I say to Nick Ramsay that the approach we have taken in Wales is to contact all four contractor professions—so, not simply GPs, but also pharmacists, optometrists and dentists—to see what contribution they may able to make to a mass vaccination programme, because all of those are professions where people carry out injections and other forms of clinical intervention every single day. I was very heartened yesterday to see the very positive responses we have had from all four of those professions—all of them offering to be part of a mass vaccination programme. I think that will give us an extra resilience here in Wales, as well as being able to draw in a wider range of experienced clinical professionals who can safely administer the vaccination. That will sometimes involve asking people who have recently retired to come back and be part of that effort, and I think that's very sensible as well. But I think, in Wales, we're drawing on the range of primary care professionals we have who are willing to make a contribution. We know that pharmacists carry out flu vaccinations in increasing numbers every year in Wales, and optometrists and dentists have skills, experiences and abilities that they, too, are willing to contribute to that effort, and that is how we are planning the future of our vaccination programme in Wales.

The Heritage of Mid Wales

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the promotion of the heritage of mid Wales? OQ56034

The Welsh Government, through Visit Wales and Cadw, promotes the unique character and value of our heritage to the people of Wales and the world, and that includes, of course, the rich heritage of mid Wales.

Thank you, First Minister. There is indeed a rich heritage in mid Wales. We are here in the Senedd this afternoon, but of course the first Senedd in Wales was believed to have been in Machynlleth, in my own constituency. I'm keen that we have an exciting and meaningful future for the Senedd-dy in Machynlleth. I would certainly like to see the Owain Glyndŵr Centre used by this Senedd and the Welsh Government, perhaps to a greater extent than it has been since devolution. So, can I ask you, First Minister, to commit to liaising with your officials to explore how the Senedd-dy in Machynlleth can be used by the Welsh Government, particularly when it's hosting events and promoting Wales around the world to emphasise the heritage and culture that we have here in Wales, and in doing so, reach out to the trustees of the centre to support them in their ambitions for the Senedd-dy?

14:10

I thank Russell George for that. Of course, Machynlleth has a very particular place in Welsh history and the Llywydd will have heard what Russell George said about the Senedd itself making use of that historic location. When the Welsh Government is in a position to welcome visitors to Wales, we often try and make sure that we hold those meetings in parts of Wales that showcase everything that Wales has to offer, and that certainly includes mid Wales, Llywydd. When I saw this question at the weekend, I was reminded that it is a year ago almost exactly—it will be a year to next week—when I was making a journey to north Wales, just personally, and took the opportunity to call in at two of the great mid Wales heritage sites of Abbeycwmhir, which I was visiting, I'm ashamed to say, for the very first time, and Gregynog, which I've been to many times, and those are just two examples of what we have in mid Wales.

I know that Russell George will be interested to know, because he's been a strong supporter of the Montgomery canal, that the Welsh Government has just awarded £250,000 to the Canal and River Trust to allow that fantastic work that's going on in restoring the canal to be taken forward. And, Llywydd, a week ago, I participated in a rare event these days outside the Senedd and Government buildings at the St Fagans museum in Cardiff, together with the Japanese ambassador, planting cherry trees there to mark the friendship between Japan and Wales. Mid Wales is to have a very significant share of the 1,000 cherry trees that will be planted this year to mark that friendship. So, just as we celebrate and mark the long history that we have, so we make history ourselves every day. Those cherry trees, which will be planted in mid Wales and in all other parts of Wales this year, will be there long after probably many of us will be there to see them and they will become part of the rich heritage of Wales for the future.

Funding for Businesses

5. What funding has the Welsh Government provided to businesses in South Wales Central during the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ56071

Business support for the region includes £137.6 million for over 10,000 business via the COVID-19 non-domestic business rates grant scheme and over £66 million through the first three phases of the economic resilience fund.

Thanks for that response. I’ve been contacted by various constituents who are community pharmacists and I’m asking what point the Welsh Government has reached in its negotiations with Community Pharmacy Wales—negotiations that have been going on for some months now—over compensating this sector for the financial costs that it incurred when pharmacists had to pay for their own PPE equipment at the start of the pandemic. The community pharmacists in Wales have done us proud in how they’ve responded to this pandemic and we’re now the only region in the UK where this sector hasn’t been compensated for the costs it incurred. We were promised a statement on this by the Trefnydd as soon as the outcome was known, so I’m just asking for an update on the situation.

I thank the Member for that supplementary question. He’s right that negotiations with community pharmacy have been proceeding over recent months. There was a further offer made by the Welsh Government some weeks ago. The health Minister has a meeting with Community Pharmacy Wales on Thursday of this week, when those negotiations will continue.

First Minister, the Business Wales barriers grant scheme is to prioritise those most affected by COVID-19, such as women, disabled people, people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and young people not in education or training, and it's to give some financial support to those people who will want to set up a business in the next few months. I wonder when this scheme will be evaluated, because I do think that promoting enterprise in groups that perhaps have traditionally found it difficult to access is a really worthy initiative.

14:15

I thank David Melding for the way he described the initiative, and it is exactly to do what he has described. It is to try and make sure that the talent, commitment and sense of enterprise that is absolutely to be found in those communities, and among those young people, does not become suppressed by the impact of the virus. That means we have to work harder to make sure that the help is available to them—help both in terms of the advice that they need and the mentoring that they may need, but sometimes in hard cash that they need in order to be able to move their ideas for new businesses forward.

I think it will be important to allow the scheme to have a run and to evaluate partly as we go along, but not to hold up the ambitions we have from it by trying to pause it too soon in order to assess its effectiveness. In the current, extraordinary circumstances, I wanted to see that scheme push ahead. I wanted to even take a few risks, in a way that Governments sometimes find difficult. Because if you are dealing with people who have new ideas and who want to try something that hasn't been tried before, if you are not prepared sometimes to back a young person or back somebody who has got that idea, recognising that not all those ideas will succeed, then you don't get the scheme off the ground. That's the spirit in which I would like the scheme to be taken forward.  

First Minister, businesses in my constituency are very thankful that the Welsh Government has supported them throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with the most generous package of business support anywhere in the UK, including the latest injection of £340 million to support hospitality, tourism and other businesses that have been affected by the most recent restrictions. What assessment have you made of how the business support in Wales compares to that on offer in other parts of the UK?

Llywydd, I thank Vikki Howells for that. She is right to say that our scheme of business support in Wales, we believe, is the most generous available to any business in any part of the United Kingdom. I'm pleased to report this afternoon, Llywydd, following questions on the floor over the last couple of weeks, that the help that we are offering to hospitality businesses affected by the restrictions that had to be introduced about 10 days ago—that that money has now begun to make its way into the pockets of those businesses.

Hundreds of businesses have now received that help. Millions of pounds have been paid out to them. That is at a point where 14 of our 22 local authorities have yet to make returns on the help that has been provided. So, not only is the help generous, but the help is getting to where we needed it to go. Vikki Howells pointed to the £340 million that we are making available to support those businesses, and I cannot help but contrast it with the fact that the UK Government has provided £40 million for the whole of wet pubs in England affected by the restrictions that they have had to introduce there.  

The Impact of Coronavirus on the Economy of South Wales East

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of coronavirus on the economy of South Wales East? OQ56047

Llywydd, an analysis by the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility demonstrates the damaging impact of coronavirus on our economy, including that of south-east Wales. Both bodies suggest a relatively rapid rebound in the second quarter of 2021, provided that that is not undone by the catastrophe of a 'no deal' Brexit. 

I thank the Minister for that answer. First Minister, the Welsh Government were highly successful in bringing the Spanish train manufacturing company CAF to South Wales East, with the potential to bring 300-plus skilled engineering jobs to the area. CAF secured a contract to supply 77 state-of-the-art diesel multiple units to Transport for Wales. Delivery was scheduled for 2022. Could the Minister update us as to whether the COVID crisis has delayed supply of these units?

14:20

Well, Llywydd, first of all, let me say that I think the fact that CAF are now operating out of south-east Wales is a huge benefit to Wales. I was lucky enough to be able to meet the whole of the board of CAF when they visited Wales. They'd come from a visit to one of their investments in the United States of America, and they said to me that the thing that they were most struck by, visiting Wales, was the strong sense of attachment to the company that the workforce here demonstrated during their visit. That sense of a loyal, committed highly skilled workforce, and they were hugely complimentary of it.

Coronavirus has had an enormous impact on the rail sector. The Welsh Government is providing over £100 million simply to sustain that part of our public transport network during these extraordinarily difficult days. We do look forward to the point where the delivery of new rolling stock to Wales will allow us to get back to the plan that we had originally set out, which, as the Member knows, is to improve services, to create a new metro system here in south Wales and to provide the travelling public with the sort of experience that they look for and deserve. Whether the plans are capable of being implemented to the original timetable is something that we continue to discuss very regularly with Transport for Wales. I had a meeting with them myself only this week, and that can only really be finally determined as we see, as we hope we will, a recovery in the economy next year, allowing passengers to return to the railway safely and the revenues that they bring with them to flow into the industry.

Support For Businesses in Ynys Môn

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on support for businesses in Ynys Môn during the pandemic? OQ56065

I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for the question, Llywydd. The Welsh Government grant support to businesses in Ynys Mon during the pandemic now totals almost £30 million, not including the latest phase of the economic resilience fund. The difficulties faced by businesses on the island, as a result of COVID-19, will be far exceeded by the economic damage of a 'no deal' Brexit.

I would certainly agree with those forecasts, unfortunately. In terms of COVID, one sector that's suffered greatly is tourism and hospitality, which are being hit hard once again by the latest restrictions. Many have decided to close entirely. First of all, can the First Minister tell us when they can expect to receive the latest grant payments? Because although the customers have to stay away, the bills still have to be paid.

There other businesses who haven't been able to operate at all, virtually, since March, and they have no idea when they'll be able to recommence—businesses in events, weddings, outdoor pursuit centres; others are having to remain dormant for the winter. The speedboat company on the Menai, which had sold a great many tickets for Christmas, are now having to repay that money. So, what special consideration is given to such businesses who more or less will have to go into hibernation now, as far as we can see?

And can I also make an appeal on behalf of those businesses who still fall between the cracks in terms of financial support? Not paying salaries through PAYE or not being registered for VAT is still a problem for many. Another failed to show the scale of his losses, although income had collapsed almost entirely this year—that was a boat trip company. So, can I ask how the Government has, or is, going to do more to identify those gaps that businesses are still falling into, and how can we as Senedd Members help to pass information on about those difficulties faced by those businesses?

Well, Llywydd, may I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for that series of supplementary questions? Just to say, in the first place, that support under the most recent scheme has already started to be issued by the local authorities directly to businesses. And as I said in response to other questions this afternoon: hundreds of businesses have received that support already, and millions of pounds have gone directly to them, and the hope is that the sum will increase over this week.

And, of course, we are aware of the challenging times that the hospitality and tourism sectors are facing, and we continue to speak to them; the Minister responsible for them speaks to them every week to try and plan ahead for the future and for the new year. And the hope is that, if we can—we are not in that position today, as we've already been discussing—but in the future, the hope is to reopen those sectors and to support them to work as they would wish to work—not be dependant on Government grants, but to generate income through their own businesses.

And on that final point, we have endeavoured already to be more flexible in the way in which we take information or the evidence of their balance sheets, so that we can help them. Ultimately, Llywydd, the funding is public money, and we as a Government have to be certain, when we do give these businesses financial support, that we must ensure that they are genuine businesses. That is why, sometimes, we ask for evidence from them to demonstrate that they are who they say they are, and that we can then give them the funding in the knowledge that we can explain in the future that we did so in a way that is cautious on one side, but flexible at the same time.

14:25
COVID-19 Cases in Caerphilly

8. Will the First Minister provide an update on progress in containing COVID-19 cases in Caerphilly? OQ56069

Llywydd, can I thank Hefin David? Progress on containing cases in Caerphilly has been reinforced by Welsh Government action in relation to indoor attractions, hospitality, education, the health service and, as of yesterday, closure of outdoor attractions as well. I thank, as ever, Llywydd, the residents of Caerphilly for everything they do to help contain this deadly virus.

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board put out an unprecedented call to citizens of Caerphilly and beyond in their area to not attend health services where they don't need to, and to recognise that they need to make the right choices. And I have to say to the people of Caerphilly who have been in touch with me, on the whole—almost the entire number of people who have been in touch with me via my Facebook page, Facebook live sessions—have been supportive and have recognised what they need to do. However, and I'm almost reluctant to do this, there have been a small number of people who have said some extraordinary things. I'll give you an example: one person said to me last week, 'This is no different, this winter, to any other.' Someone else said: 'Most of those dying from COVID are elderly or vulnerable, and would probably have died of cold, flu or pneumonia instead.' These are some of the statements that were made last week by a very small minority of people, but, nonetheless, those people have a huge impact. Will the First Minister explain, again, how this is an unprecedented crisis, how it's having a huge effect on our NHS, and that the rules that are in place are the very maximum people should do, and should not be an invitation to do anything further? We need to take this seriously. 

Well, Llywydd, I couldn't agree more with that. We have lived through unprecedented times this year, and the impact on all our lives and all our public services is absolutely profound. Those people who have somehow become convinced or convinced themselves that this is all a got-up job, and there's nothing that they need to worry about, I'm afraid coronavirus is no respecter of them either. All of us will have seen accounts from people who thought that, somehow, coronavirus was a mild illness that had no impact, only to find that when they themselves contracted it, or someone who is dear to them contracted it, it turned out to be very different indeed. That is why we make the appeal that we do to people in Wales not to lean on the rules, not to try and find ways of stretching the rules, but to think in each one of our daily lives what we should do, rather than what we can do. And if we do what we should do, then we will avoid contact with other people when we don't need it, we'll travel only when we must, we will work from home wherever possible, and we will certainly observe the advice that comes from the health service as to how only those who need to be in a hospital should be in a hospital. And that advice that people in Caerphilly and the Gwent area have had from the Aneurin Bevan health board, I'm sure, as Hefin David said, will be very carefully observed by the vast majority of people. The sad thing about coronavirus, Llywydd, is that it only takes a small minority to believe that they are somehow beyond the rules to have a far disproportionate impact on the spread of the virus to everybody else. 

14:30
Questions to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip

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

Women's Refuges

1. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on support for women’s refuges in Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ56035

This year, we have invested over £4 million of additional funding in the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence sector. This includes £1.3 million of new money for disbursed community-based accommodation, which will free up refuge space. And during the pandemic, I've repurposed funding to support refuges and published guidance for providers.

Thank you, Deputy Minister, and I acknowledge that support and welcome it greatly. I've recently spoken to Rhondda Cynon Taf Women's Aid, who tell me that they can't get onsite COVID-19 testing for staff or residents of refuges, which is causing them problems and impacting on their ability to help people in need. Can you raise this with colleagues in Welsh Government, so that women's refuges can perhaps be treated in the same way as care homes for the purpose of COVID testing?

I thank Vikki Howells for that important question, and I have raised this with the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategic group. That meets regularly with all the service providers, and they invited the test, trace and protect officials to attend the meeting to discuss this with the strategic group, to answer questions and address concerns. So, Welsh Government is currently considering access to testing for asymptomatic underrepresented groups. This would include both workers and clients in hospitals, as well as refuges, because they are being considered as part of this work. And I think test, trace and protect protocols would apply, of course. If anyone living or working in a refuge is able to access testing, they obviously have to show symptoms of coronavirus. But, those in refuges who have vulnerabilities and receive support services, we need to ensure that we can access this, and I believe the discussions ongoing with the providers, and Women's Aid, of course, will lead us to the right outcome. 

Deputy Minister, a report from the National Rural Crime Network last year, highlighted by Welsh Women's Aid, found that, for victims of domestic violence in rural areas, and I'm going to quote directly here, 'barriers to action' are 

'far more complicated and inhibiting'

in rural areas than in urban areas;

'in rural areas it seems likely victims do not know where to go to for the type of support required; it is harder to coordinate or access and the fear of any approaches becoming known is higher.'

Given that fewer survivors in rural settings disclose, services obviously will need to be based on need rather than demand, and it requires a deliberate strategy to ensure research, data and analysis are not skewed towards the urban demands and are fully inclusive of our rural communities. So, I just wondered, Deputy Minister, if you could outline what actions your Government has taken to redress this urban bias, and to ensure that the needs of rural victims of domestic violence are also fully addressed. 

Thank you to Angela Burns for that important question. And the issues of rurality are being addressed. In fact, I thank Joyce Watson, who convened and hosted a meeting on the White Ribbon Week that specifically focused, with the National Federation of Women's Institutes, on issues of domestic violence in rural areas. And issues—. For example, the ways in which we can support and help have been made available. We've got six video-conferencing suites across Dyfed-Powys, in your region, to make it easier to hold those all-important, cross-sector case conferences, the multi-agency risk assessment conferences. We've provided additional funding for disbursed community-based accommodation, provided funding to enable witnesses to give evidence remotely, with support from service providers. And indeed, in terms of that extra money for community-based accommodation, £427,543 has been allocated directly to Mid and West Wales. But training is crucially important—around 30,000 professionals trained through our national training framework in Mid and West Wales last year. So, it has to be an all-Wales response. But rurality, I can assure the Member, is crucial in terms of reaching out and providing that support.

14:35
Community Cohesion

2. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on efforts to improve community cohesion in North Wales? OQ56038

We've invested an additional £1.52 million since April in our community cohesion programme. The regional cohesion teams in north Wales work closely with key partners, including local government, the police, third sector, fostering cohesive communities, providing support and information, and monitoring and mitigating community tensions.

Thank you, Minister. I read the report of the task and finish group led by Gaynor Legall with interest. Now that relevant monuments have been identified, I'm interested to hear your plans for the next steps, and your assessment as to how those steps will impact community cohesion in my region, and indeed in the rest of Wales. Thank you.

Thank you to the Member for that question. And I'm sure she would have welcomed the audit that was undertaken, led by Gaynor Legall, looking at those monuments and also street names, and recognising also not only have we got to address these issues, but also we have got to look at how we can celebrate those who have played such an important role—particularly in terms of black, Asian and minority ethnic members of the community, and indeed in terms of historical perspectives. But I'm also very pleased that our own culture committee is going to be undertaking their own inquiry and following up that review.

Deputy Minister, the pandemic has had a profound impact on the way our constituents meet their loved ones, their support networks, and indeed how they conduct their business on a daily basis. A stable digital broadband connection is now more important than ever, so that people can feel part of an inclusive and cohesive community. You'll be aware of the recent Red Cross report, calling for strategic investment in tackling digital isolation, so that people can stay connected throughout future restrictions. And according to a recent update from Openreach Cymru, 39,000 of the hardest-to-reach properties will be connected under the fibre roll-out scheme by June 2022. Now, we have heard this before, and some of those ambitions have never been fulfilled. However, if they are, for many, that is still too long to wait. So, can you explain whether you as a Government, and as Deputy Minister—whether you're going to look at a more ambitious target to implement, in light of the need for more people now to work from home, and also outline how this will be approached strategically to combat such digital exclusion? Thank you.

Combating digital exclusion is crucial in terms of enhancing and supporting community cohesion, but particularly reaching out to the most vulnerable people in our communities, as you say, Janet Finch-Saunders, affected by coronavirus. And I think what we have been able to do over the last nine months—and certainly through my budget, through the third sector and equality budget—is repurpose some of our funding to ensure that we can provide not just equipment, but training and support to many of those who have been excluded and disadvantaged because they haven't had that access. And indeed, this is very much a cross-Government initiative, led by the Deputy Minister for economy and transport, in terms of not only addressing digital exclusion, but actually focusing on how we can include those communities as we move to more remote working, but also not exclusively addressing those issues where people have not got access in a digital way. 

14:40
Engaging with Young People

3. How does the Deputy Minister engage with young people in Wales in relation to equality and human rights matters? OQ56030

During these difficult times, I've engaged as widely as possible on the work we are undertaking to strengthen and advance equality and human rights in Wales. This has included online meetings with young people to hear their lived experiences and what changes they want to see, but, particularly, I would say, recently, in terms of reaching out to young people, to help inform our new Wales race equality action plan. 

Deputy Minister, that's really good to hear, and can I draw attention to our local Bridgend Youth Council, which has got some excellent representatives, including the recently elected youth mayor Megan Stone, and the deputy youth mayor Tino Kaseke, whose three main priorities for this term this year are youth mental health awareness and supporting schools, ending racism and injustice through education, and supporting LGBTQ+ rights? And, of course, there are also the equalities officers, Cameron Richards and Megan Lambert. So, clearly there's a read-across with your responsibilities as Deputy Minister. So, can I ask how do you engage with these young people on the equalities and human rights issues, which are important to them, and, specifically, whether she can engage with members of the Bridgend Youth Council on these shared priorities? 

I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that important question, because the pandemic has led to an unprecedented level of engagement with all our stakeholders, including reaching out to young people, but also to many of our equality fora and groups. I mentioned the race equality action plan, and that has enabled me to meet with many young people through the Ethnic Youth Support Team, Race Council Cymru and the wonderful Privilege Cafe. I think we need to link members of the Bridgend Youth Council to many of those fora to enable them to have their say.

I have met with young people from Bridgend recently, and they are formidable in terms of their commitment, particularly around those issues relating to equality and LGBTQI+ rights. So, I hope that they will also be able to inform the research and consultation that we're undertaking with the race equality action plan, but also on the LGBT+ action plan, and the work that we're doing in strengthening equality and advancing human rights in Wales, where we are, obviously, moving forward with not just research, but looking at legislative models, which I would hope they could engage with. But I would very much like to meet with the Bridgend Youth Council. 

The Third Sector

4. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on support for the third sector in Wales, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ56024

The Welsh Government has already provided £24 million to support the third sector in Wales through the pandemic. This recognised the vital role the sector has played in the response to COVID-19. And I am now making an additional £2.5 million available to ensure this support continues until the end of March. 

I'm grateful to the Deputy Minister for that response. Now, as you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit many charities across Wales very, very hard and had a huge impact on their funding streams. Now, this is particularly important for medical research charities, and some estimates suggest that the pandemic may set medical research back by as much as 10 years. Can you tell us what the Welsh Government's latest assessment is of the impact of COVID-19 on medical charities in particular? And what further assistance can you offer the sector to ensure life-saving medical research will actually continue to be funded here in Wales? 

I thank Paul Davies for that important question, and, of course, the loss of fundraising has particularly hit those medical charities, indeed, we have to say all charities, but those where perhaps there has been a crucial response—Marie Curie. We look to so many of those medical charities that often come here in order to launch, for example, the daffodil campaign. The emergency fund has, of course, provided close to £7 million, enabling 156 organisations to support both volunteers and beneficiaries, and that, of course, has now been replaced by the voluntary services recovery fund, because we have to ensure that we sustain those organisations, even with their loss of income. But I will also look at the particular impact on medical charities and report back to the Senedd on that particular sector in our third sector and charity organisations.FootnoteLink

14:45
Domestic Violence

5. What support is the Welsh Government providing to tackle domestic violence in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire? OQ56052

This year, the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence sector has received over £4 million of new money, much of it to respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic. The mid and west Wales regional partnership received over £685,000 this year.

Thank you for that, and thank you for the support you give the victims of domestic violence. I know that this is a cause incredibly dear to your heart, and I'm grateful for everything that you do. Basically, I wanted to know if you would help me recognise the Royal Mail, because they've recently launched an online safe space portal, and, as we know, because of the COVID crisis, so many people aren't able to go out there and get help, there are so many people trapped in their own homes, not able to get away from an abusive or coercively controlling partner, but this safe space portal you can get to from any website, there's no record of internet trace history, and it does help and can help people. It's been developed in conjunction with Hestia. First of all, Deputy Minister, would you also welcome this amazing initiative? Secondly, perhaps you could just outline other ways in which the Welsh Government could work with organisations such as the Royal Mail to reach out and give that lifeline to people who are feeling utterly, utterly trapped at the moment.

I thank Angela Burns for that question and for her earlier questions this afternoon. I certainly endorse and welcome Royal Mail's initiative with their new portal. Indeed, I'm very impressed, across the public and private sectors, by the ways in which organisations are responding to this need. It's not just for the public sector; it is, indeed, for all those organisations who have a role to play and who are actually in touch with people on a daily basis.

I think it's important that we also just share today, as we move towards the Christmas period, recognising that is not an easy period for many in terms of how home is not always a safe place, that we're launching another phase of the 'Home shouldn't be a place of fear' campaign during Christmas and the new year. It'll be aired on tv, radio and digital platforms to reach the most vulnerable so that victims will know about the services that are operating, and it's back to encouraging bystanders and concerned others to access help and information, with the dial 999 plus 555, which is, of course, where you can get police support as well. So, I thank the Member very much for raising this, and hope that all Members across this Chamber will respond to our call in terms of making the Live Fear Free helpline widely understood and known across Wales.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Diolch, Llywydd. I have several changes to this week's business. Immediately after this business statement, I will seek a suspension of Standing Orders in order for us to debate the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 4) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, the Public Health (Protection from Eviction) (Wales) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 and the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (School Premises and Further Education Institution Premises) (Wales) Regulations 2020, and the new coronavirus restrictions. I've also added an oral statement on the end of the transition period. In order to accommodate these additions, the statement on the publication of the national policy on Welsh language transmission and use in families has been postponed. Finally, the motion to agree the legislative consent motion on the Trade Bill has also been postponed. 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.

On 3 December, crime and justice specialist Crest Advisory published a report on county lines and looked-after children. Based on that report, I called for a Welsh Government statement on support for looked-after children in north Wales. Using police data and stakeholder interviews in north Wales and Merseyside chosen to reflect exploitation at both ends of a county line, they found that almost all known county lines activity in north Wales originates in Merseyside, that the lines travel into north Wales firstly across the Welsh border into Flintshire and Wrexham local authorities, and secondly to coastal towns, including Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Abergele, Llandudno and Bangor; that although looked-after children are taken into local authority care to improve their welfare, they are over-represented in child criminal county lines exploitation and are therefore far from being effectively safeguarded; that children placed in residential care homes and unregulated settings are at a higher risk of going missing, with 31 per cent of missing incidents in north Wales in the last two years reported from care; and that although looked-after children are disproportionately represented in county lines networks, they are not being systematically identified by police or local authorities. I think this is an urgent matter, a pressing matter, and one that must not be overlooked because of COVID, and I call for an urgent statement accordingly. 

14:50

I am grateful to Mark Isherwood for raising what is a really, really important issue. Any suggestion of looked-after children being exploited is clearly something that we must take very seriously, and the issue of county lines is one that is of huge concern and is a real challenge, both for social services locally and for the police. I know that Mark Isherwood will be taking this issue up with North Wales Police, but I will ask the Minister with responsibility for social services to also provide him with an update on what social services can do to ensure that looked-after children in their care are kept as safe as possible and are educated about the dangers of county lines and protected from individuals who would seek to exploit them. So, I'd be very happy to find an opportunity for him to be updated on that. 

I'd just like to say I share the concerns of Mark Isherwood, and it is not just looked-after children who are being targeted by county lines. I'm afraid it's a lot of other vulnerable young people as well. So, I would welcome very much a statement from the Government on that matter. 

I just wanted to raise another matter, which is that the people of Wales are very generous at giving to charities throughout the year, but they're especially generous at Christmas time. And I just need to raise the fact that, unfortunately, it also attracts the attention of criminals, who either pretend to be representing a charity or set themselves up as bogus charities. And £350,000 was lost in the last Christmas period to criminals, and so I just want to point out that it is really important that people do not give their personal details to any unsolicited calls over the phone, particularly their financial details, and that they need to look for the charity number on all bona fide registered charities and, if they're collecting on the street, where's the badge that shows that they are actually collecting for that charity. Given that even very small sums going astray causes huge distress to the individuals who are giving, even if they have very little money, I just wondered what the Welsh Government can do to highlight this problem as well as supporting the action by the Charity Commission in driving down this horrible, horrible crime. 

It is indeed the season of goodwill and, as Jenny Rathbone says, the people of Wales are an incredible group of people in terms of the generosity that they demonstrate to their neighbours and to strangers, and we've seen so much of that through the coronavirus pandemic. The Charity Commission is currently running a really important campaign that is providing people with advice as to how they can give safely this Christmas and to ensure that they're not being exploited by people who would wish to take their financial details, and so on, or to encourage them to donate to a charity that isn't a bona fide charity. As Jenny Rathbone said, one of the easiest things that people can do is to check out the registered number of the charity to ensure that the place where they are providing their charitable support is one that is legitimate and that will not abuse their generous nature. So, thank you to Jenny Rathbone for offering the opportunity to highlight that particularly important campaign by the Charity Commission.

14:55

In view of the apparent continuing impasse in three critical areas in the Brexit negotiations, could we have a statement on what concessions the Welsh Government would be willing to make in order to avoid a 'no deal' scenario? Would it be to concede on our fishing grounds—which, incidentally, at this moment are being plundered by giant trawlers dredging up 250 tonnes of fish a day, with disastrous environmental consequences—or would it be to give way on the so-called level playing fields, meaning of course that the UK Government would, amongst other crucial economic interventions, remain very restricted by state-aid rules, disallowing us to help our steel industries in the way that we would want to? Or would it be to keep the European Court of Justice supremacy over UK law, something that people who voted for Brexit were implacably against?

[Inaudible.]—the UK Government and the EU to come to that agreement amongst themselves. The Welsh Government has been very clear all along about the kind of Brexit that we would have liked to have seen—one that would have provided the best opportunity possible to protect people's jobs and their livelihoods. Unfortunately, the UK Government has taken a very different road and has provided us with a very difficult road ahead of us. So, clearly those are questions that the UK Government are going to have to answer as they seek to move forward, and we very much hope that they do strike a deal and that we aren't faced with a 'no deal' Brexit at the end of this month, which, as we all appreciate, will be catastrophic.

I very much hope that we do get some form of deal at the end of this, despite the eleventh hour, so any input that the Welsh Government can have into that process would, I'm sure, be beneficial.

Two issues if I may raise with you, Trefnydd. Firstly, the issue I raised with the First Minister earlier: could we have a statement from the health Minister on addressing the capacity issues in the NHS, given the spiralling number of cases now of COVID-19? I refer the health Minister to the situation in the new Grange University Hospital in south-east Wales. That is already, I believe, at capacity in terms of COVID cases, and patients are being told not to go there unless they really have to with other conditions. That's obviously causing concern, so could we just have an update on what can be done to try and alleviate the situation there?

Secondly and finally is the issue that's been raised by Jenny Rathbone and my colleague Mark Isherwood on care-experienced children, and the specific issue he raised in north Wales. It reminded me as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee of the work we did earlier in this Assembly term on care-experienced children, and we took a fair amount of evidence from young people themselves who'd been through the care system, and there were issues raised particularly around placements. I wonder, as time has passed since the first part of that inquiry, whether we could have an update from the Welsh Government on what's been done to implement the recommendations that we came forward with at that time. Thank you. Diolch.

Thank you for raising both of those issues. I do believe the health Minister has provided a written statement that sets out some of the actions that the NHS organisations will be taking over the course of the winter in order to free up some of that capacity in order to respond to the challenges of the COVID pandemic—for example, not continuing with so many elective surgeries, and so on. Difficult choices of course for the NHS, because they will inevitably have a knock-on impact on individuals, which is why it's incumbent on all of us to follow the rules and to do as much as we possibly can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

And on the issue of looked-after children, I can see that there is a strong interest across parties for a statement on Welsh Government support for looked-after children, so I will speak to the Minister to explore whether an update can be forthcoming and which goes beyond just the county lines issue and looks more widely at the issues affecting looked-after children.

Can I ask for a Government debate on regional policy in Wales? And whilst the Welsh unionists are unable to identify the needs of the different parts of Wales, I would like a debate to discuss how we can improve the economy in the different regions of Wales, identified by the four economic deals in the national development framework. Can I ask for the following statements, which, due to lack of time, may need to be written: one on the progress of the enhanced Lucy's law that the Welsh Government has promised to deliver this term, and one on the enhanced use of the port in Swansea for trade with Ireland, linking across to Cork?

Thank you to Mike Hedges for raising those issues. I do know that the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs has questions tomorrow, and there are a number of opportunities there to raise questions in relation to animal welfare, so that might be a chance to have a very quick update on the approach to Lucy's law.

In regard to regional economic development and a regional approach to supporting local economies, I know that the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales is very keen on that approach, and I know that he'll be keen to update colleagues on his thoughts on that in due course as well. Then the further issues, I think, were relating to the ports, and I think that I'll ask the Minister to provide you with a written update on that particular issue as well.

15:00

Minister, can I have a statement from the Welsh Government on a number of flood-related matters? Firstly, obviously, I'm very pleased with your success in securing £31 million from the UK Government as, certainly, a part payment towards some of the promised moneys for the extraordinary flood damages that we have. Of course, this was on the back of a strong campaign by Labour Members of the Senedd in the Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr areas, slightly more broadly, and from local Members of Parliament as well. We had to drag the UK Government kicking and screaming to make this first payment. Can we have a statement to deal with the further negotiations that will now need to take place in respect of the remainder of the flood damage money that was promised, and in respect of the work that's needed with regard to coal tips? Secondly, can that statement also deal with the issue of support for domestic flood resilience measures in the Rhondda Cynon Taf area, particularly in the Pontypridd, Taff Ely area, which I understand Natural Resources Wales is currently discussing with Welsh Government?

Thank you to Mick Antoniw for that question. I was very pleased to be able to secure £31 million in-year from the UK Government reserve in order to help us respond to the impacts of flooding in Mick Antoniw's constituency and others. I'd like to take this opportunity to put on record my thanks to the Members of Parliament and also the Members of the Senedd, including Mick Antoniw, who have taken a leading role in campaigning for that additional funding to come forward to their constituencies. Unfortunately, the response on additional funding for next year was not positive, which means that Welsh Government has some difficult decisions to make in terms of allocating funding there.

But on the wider issue of Natural Resources Wales and the property flood resilience projects, I understand that they are likely to be delivered next year and we do await a bid now from Natural Resources Wales for these projects, following successful applications from local authorities. This year, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs has provided 100 per cent grant funding for emergency repairs to damaged flood assets across Wales, totalling £5 million, and the Minister's also promoted the use of property flood resilience, such as floodgates, for example, to help communities that have suffered from flooding. She's already provided over £1 million of support for such measures, which will benefit up to 594 different homes.

Minister, would it be possible to have a statement on the impact of the UK Government's awful decision to suspend tariffs on US aerospace imports in January 2021? This decision essentially discriminates against Airbus and every single business in their supply chain, and is against Welsh wings and in favour of US-produced wings. Can you also update the Chamber, Minister, on any conversations you have had in your role as finance Minister with the UK Treasury on the aerospace industry in Wales? Would you commit to meeting with myself and Airbus to help aid these conversations in the future?

Thank you to Jack Sargeant for raising this issue. On the Airbus-Boeing dispute, our understanding is that after the end of the transition period, the UK Government will suspend our retaliatory tariffs against the US, which were imposed in November as part of the EU-wide position. These tariffs were imposed in November as part of the award given to the EU by the World Trade Organization. We are concerned that the UK Government has made this offer without gaining any similar offer from the US to lower its tariffs against us, and we share the UK Government's ambition to reach a negotiated settlement as quickly as possible on this long-running dispute, but we will be seeking some clarification now on this approach from them. And clearly, as Jack Sargeant has said many, many times, a 'no deal' Brexit will be extremely damaging for the UK aerospace industry and for his constituents who are employed in that sector and, therefore, it's important that the UK Government does secure that comprehensive trade deal with the EU, with tariff-free access to EU markets. Of course, I'd be very, very happy to meet with Jack Sargeant to discuss this further. 

15:05

Trefnydd, I wonder if we could have a statement—and a written statement would do—giving clarity on what the arrangements are after the Christmas period for priority slots for people who were previously shielding, that have been made a priority by retailers, whether those are going to continue. Now, the reason I ask for this is that I know that the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs meets regularly with the Welsh Retail Consortium and with the large supermarkets, and I have had some disturbing calls from constituents where the retailers have told them that, as from 2 January, those priority slots will be disappearing, that there's no need for them anymore. Well, actually, if we're going into perhaps more stringent measures after Christmas, as somebody who has had one constituent writing to me who has diabetes and asthma, and is very worried about going out physically shopping, they want to know that they can still have a priority shop. They pay for this shopping; they just want to make sure that they can get it as a priority vulnerable customer. So, could we have a statement on that as soon as possible, hopefully before we rise for the Christmas recess?

I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for raising this important issue, and I do think that we should put on record our thanks to all the retailers who have been maintaining priority slots for shielding people at what is a really difficult time and, of course, there's a lot of pressure on those delivery slots at this time of year, but to see those slots prioritised still for shielding people and vulnerable people, I think, is really important. The Minister, as Huw Irranca-Davies says, does meet regularly with the Welsh Retail Consortium and also with the supermarkets. I do know that there's been a discussion with one of the larger supermarkets just this morning, and they have no plans to end the priority slots for those people who have been advised to shield, or who are otherwise vulnerable. So, I think that's a positive sign and I would hope that all of the other supermarkets would follow their lead. 

Motion to suspend Standing Orders

The next item is the motion to suspend Standing Orders, and to do that to allow items 7, 8 and 9 to be debated. I call on the Trefnydd to move that motion.

Motion NDM7527 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Orders 33.6 and 33.8:

Suspends Standing Orders 12.20(i) and that part of Standing Order 11.16 that requires the weekly announcement under Standing Order 11.11 to constitute the timetable for business in Plenary for the following week, to allow NNDM7522, NNDM7525, NNDM7526 to be considered in Plenary on Tuesday 15 December 2020.

Motion moved.

The proposal is to suspend Standing Orders to allow items 7, 8 and 9 to be debated. Does any Member object? No, I see no objections, therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion to suspend Standing Orders

Secondly, a motion to suspend Standing Orders to allow a debate on item 17. I call on the Trefnydd to formally move.

Motion NDM7524 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Orders 33.6 and 33.8:

Suspends Standing Orders 12.20(i), 12.22(i) and that part of Standing Order 11.16 that requires the weekly announcement under Standing Order 11.11 to constitute the timetable for business in Plenary for the following week, to allow NNDM7523 to be considered in Plenary on Tuesday 15 December 2020.

Motion moved.

The proposal is to suspend Standing Orders to allow item 17 to be debated. Does any Member object? I see no objections to that, and therefore that 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 Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language: Publication of the national policy on Welsh language transmission and use in families

Item 3 has been postponed and we will now take a short break whilst changeovers take place in the Siambr. A short break.

Plenary was suspended at 15:09.

15:15

The Senedd reconvened at 15:19, with the Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) in the Chair.

4. Statement by the Counsel General and Minister for European Transition: The End of the Transition Period

We reconvene with item 4 on our agenda, which is a statement by the Counsel General and Minister for European Transition. I call on the Counsel General to make the statement—Jeremy Miles.

Member
Jeremy Miles 15:19:25
Counsel General and Minister for European Transition

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. On Sunday, yet another milestone in the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU passed, again without a breakthrough. I was expecting to be able to update you today on the precise nature of our future relationship with the EU. I had hoped to mention the key actions that businesses, citizens and public services would now need to take to prepare for the changes that we will face in just 16 days’ time. Clearly, I'm not in a position to do that, which is completely unacceptable. How can businesses prepare effectively when they don't know what they are preparing for, and without knowing whether tariffs and additional bureaucracy will be in place? How can police and security services protect us next month if they don't know whether they will have access to crucial systems and data? How can anyone who needs to travel plan when they don't know which air services will be operating?

We were told at the start of the negotiations that the Prime Minister had an oven-ready deal. Well, where is it? And we were told by the UK Government that by insisting, in the face of all logic, to push ahead with the 31 December deadline for the end of transition, despite the COVID pandemic, they would bring an end to the uncertainty that has dogged the UK for the last four years. Well, the reality is very different. We are 16 days from leaving the transition period, and we are no clearer in knowing whether we will be leaving with a deal or not.

Dirprwy Lywydd, it's clearly important that the UK Government and the European Commission have agreed to continue to talk. The absolute priority must be to avoid the outcome where we leave the transition period without an agreement. If that happens, we will see short-term chaos and long-term damage: disruption at our borders, posing risks to the supply of critical goods; higher costs of food and other basics; lower exports and more red tape for businesses, leading to less investment and ultimately to lost jobs and lower wages. That is not to mention the increased risks to the safety for our citizens, which is supposedly the first duty of a Government, from terrorists and organised crime.

Our position has been clear ever since the referendum. At every stage of negotiations, however far from our preferred outcome the UK Government has taken us, we have argued for maintaining the closest possible relationship with the European Union. Of the alternatives that we all face today, a deal, however thin, is the best way to achieve that. So, today I call again on the UK Government and on the EU to show the flexibility and the compromise that are needed to find an agreement. We live in a world of interdependence, not independence. The UK Government has to accept the fact that entering any trade deal necessarily limits sovereignty. This is the reality for ensuing the fullest access to markets for domestic goods and for services, and for avoiding higher prices for our consumers. And the European Union is by far our largest market.

The issues that remain unresolved are important, but they are not more important than the millions of jobs across the United Kingdom that rely on trade with the European Union, and they are not more important than the safety and security of our citizens. Although recent developments give some grounds for hope, as a responsible Government, we've been planning for the worst-case scenario of a 'no deal', and we will continue to do that. Over the coming weeks, our priorities are, as we set out in our end of transition plan published over a month ago: mitigating the disruption in the supply of critical goods; encouraging and supporting businesses to make the necessary preparations for the upheaval of leaving the single market and the customs union; and doing whatever we can to bolster the resilience of our citizens and public services.

We cannot wait for the clarity that we need. That is why we are already utilising our existing warehouse capacity to stockpile medical devices and consumables. We have contracted international trade advisers to support businesses to prepare for the changes in trading arrangements. And we are redeploying resources to stand up our civil contingencies response. There is no escaping the enormous challenges that lie ahead, and the fact that there is precious little time in which to prepare. But, we are working hard with our partners and our message is clear: we are here to support you. In the crucial final stages of the negotiations, we will continue to press the UK Government to set the dogma of sovereignty aside for the good of our jobs and livelihoods in Wales.

At this stage, with only 16 days to go, a deal—even as thin as this one would be—is better than no deal. The deal on the table should not be seen as a success. It lacks ambition and is far from the deal we would have wanted. However, it would avoid some of the worst effects of a disorderly 'no deal' end of transition and would give us something to build upon in the future. It will keep our relationship with the European Union from entirely breaking down and keeps open the prospect of building a set or arrangements in the future that can protect jobs, the economy and ensure the safety and well-being of our citizens.

Leaving the transition period without a deal would be a historic failure by the United Kingdom Government—failure that would be a product of poor negotiating tactics and of elevating political symbolism above the jobs of people. There are stark choices that lie ahead for the UK Government: prioritise the red lines and the soundbites or prioritise the jobs that give the citizens of the UK the livelihoods that they depend upon. 

15:25

Can I thank the Counsel General and Brexit Minister for a copy of his statement, which was circulated in advance? Although I have to say, it does remain apparent that the Welsh Government still has not come to terms with the referendum result in June 2016. It seems very clear to me that, as we near the end of this transition period, the UK Government has been working extremely hard to secure the best possible deal for the whole of the United Kingdom, and, of course, that includes all parts of the UK, including here in Wales. And the reality is that you will never get a good deal unless you're prepared to walk away without one. I don't want to see the UK, and Wales as a constituent part of the UK, tied into a deal in perpetuity that is a bad deal for Wales.

It's very disappointing, Minister, to hear the Welsh Government's position, articulated yet again, that they're prepared to accept any deal at all that might be on the table, even if that's a horrific deal that is bad for businesses in Wales and bad for the people in Wales. I happen to believe, and so do all Welsh Conservatives, that Wales will prosper outside of the EU, even if we don't have a deal. It would be far better, of course, to leave with a deal, and that is what I very much hope will be negotiated in the coming days. But if we don't, then so be it.

You made reference, in your statement, to an oven-ready deal: 'Where is it?', you cry. Well, of course, you know as well as I do that the oven-ready deal that the Prime Minister referred to in the general election period in 2019 was the withdrawal agreement deal, which was oven ready and ready to go, and was, in fact, delivered. That withdrawal deal is the deal that was done, that was on the table, and that people had the opportunity to express support for, or not, in the general election. And, of course, they expressed their support in very significant numbers. Can I ask you: do you accept that a bad deal is better than no deal at all? Because I think it would be good to get some clarity on that from the Welsh Government. If you think that getting a bad deal is the right thing to do—at any cost, we need a deal—then it would be good to have a very clear expression of that.

You make reference to the fact that the UK Government should have to set aside its ideological underpinning and attachment to sovereignty. Why should it? Why should it set aside its attachment to sovereignty? Canada didn't set aside its sovereignty in order to enter an EU trade agreement. Japan hasn't set aside its sovereignty in order to enter a trade agreement with the EU. And, in fact, the deals that we have signed now, which are ready to go from 1 January, with Canada, with Japan and with a whole host of other countries, have not set aside any of our sovereignty in order to be achieved. So, why should the UK Government cede some sovereignty to the EU in order to get a deal? Perhaps you can explain to me why that should be the case.

You seem to suggest, also, that you've got some insight into what the deal might look like. You actually said, I think, 'At this stage, with only 16 days to go, a deal—even a deal as thin as this one—would be better than no deal.' Well, how do you know? You haven't seen the deal. You haven't seen the deal that's being negotiated. You said the deal on the table should not be seen as a success. You haven't seen the deal on the table, because there isn't one yet that has been published. Now, either you're some sort of clairvoyant or you're just using rhetoric here because you're disappointed that some progress is being made.

I've been very pleased to hear the media reports over the past 24 hours that do seem to suggest that there's some movement on both sides. I accept that there's going to need to be some compromise from both the UK Government on behalf of the people of Wales and the rest of the UK, and on the side of the EU. I want to see a deal, but I don't think that any of us in this Senedd should dare to cross the wishes, and dare to try to frustrate the wishes of the people of Wales in leaving the EU, to take control of our own waters, our borders, our laws and our money, and that is the situation that we are in. 

Now, you made reference to some of the preparations that you as a Welsh Government have been undertaking. I think it's wise to prepare for all eventualities; I've said that in this Chamber in the past, and I reiterate that again today. I think it's right that you're preparing for a 'no deal' scenario, just in case that's the way things end up. Can you tell us what sort of investment you have had to make as a Welsh Government for the preparations that you have made to date? Obviously, we've had plenty of time to make those preparations; are there any that you are concerned about in terms of where things might end up? Can you tell us, also, what opportunities you foresee as a Welsh Government in terms of trade opportunities from the trade deals, which are set up and ready to go from 1 January? And how do you envisage people can plug in to the opportunities that that represents, particularly people in the business community and those exporters that might be able to take advantage? And do you also accept—

15:30

I will. And do you also accept that there are a whole host of powers? You asked me for a copy of the list of powers last week. I've got a copy of them in my hand, which I'll be happy to present to you outside of the Chamber. But there are scores of new powers—a big transfer of powers—coming to Wales as a result of our departure from the EU, and I would very much hope that you would welcome them. And just in case you—. This is the one thing that you don't seem to appear to have any knowledge of, but I've got a copy of them here. I'd be happy to relay that to you outside the Chamber later on. Thank you.

We'll just clarify a couple of things for the record, shall we? The oven-ready deal is absolutely not as the Member describes it, and I'm sure that the Prime Minister will be extremely grateful to him for reading out so faithfully the salvaged lines, which, clearly, have been circulated in Westminster to try and change the perceptions around that. And on the list of powers that he's brandishing in his hand, there's never been any dispute that powers returned to this place is a consequence of leaving the European Union. He knows full well that the point he was making in the debate when we last faced each other across the Chamber was around the internal market Bill, and I asked him to point me to the section in that Bill that provided any new powers to Wales, and I note from his last contribution that he didn't take the opportunity to do that.

He asked me whether I preferred the deal, which is apparently being negotiated, or no-deal; I think the entirety of my statement gives him the answer to that question. He is right to say that we don't have visibility of the deal on the table; I'm sure he would agree with me that we should, as a Government that will be significantly impacted, on behalf of the people of Wales. But he's right to say that we don't have the detail. We've been very clear: these have been the UK Government's negotiations, and the devolved Governments have not had the role in those that I'm sure Members of this Senedd, generally, would feel was appropriate. My description of it as a thin deal is based on the maximum ambition that the UK Government has for the relationship. Even if that was delivered in its entirety at this stage, it would be a thin deal. So, we can take that, I think, for read. 

He explores, in his question, the question of sovereignty. It's an important question, but it's essentially illusory in the context of international trade negotiations, because in order to gain advantage, you have to concede in order to secure any sort of agreement—it's in the nature of a negotiation. So, describing this as a battle between sovereignty is entirely missing the point. He speaks about Canada, he speaks about a range of other countries; if he would like us to have the level of trade with the EU that those countries have, that would be a significant diminution in our trading capability with the European Union—a significant diminution.

He asked me for opportunities, and yet he asked me to follow the principles that Canada and other countries have followed. Those two points are fundamentally at odds with each other, and I think the Member must be aware of that. In terms of opportunities from other deals, there are opportunities, we are pursuing them, but even at their most ambitious, they are a fraction of the impact on our GDP of a good trading relationship with the European Union, which is why we've put that at the top of our list of priorities. 

Finally, he says, 'Will we prosper outside the European Union?' This Government will want Wales to prosper in whatever relationship we have with any part of the world, but we have to look at the evidence and not defy the reality of our current arrangements, and how we can build upon those, not undermine them. That is what we seek to do as a Government here, and that is what we want the UK Government to do on our behalf.

15:35

Thank you to the Counsel General for the statement. As we know, with just days to go, the negotiations between the UK and the European Union continue. If a deal is put before Parliament in Westminster, Plaid Cymru will consider the pledges made in 2016 and 2019. Boris Johnson pledged that Wales would not receive a penny less, that we would receive the same benefits, and that our farmers could sell into the European market as they have done in the past. We will need to see the detail of the deal, but Plaid Cymru is clear that we couldn't support a deal that would be damaging to the people and businesses of Wales. 'Oven-ready' and 'the easiest deal in the world'—that's what was pledged, but that is not what has happened. A deal or 'no deal', there's not enough time to enable Welsh businesses, or even the Welsh Government, to prepare fully for whatever circumstances we find ourselves in on 1 January. The UK Government's red lines since 2017, leaving the single market and the customs union, do mean that some disruption is inevitable, whatever happens with the deal.

So, can I ask: what's the role of the Welsh Government been in all of this, or have you as a Government been ignored once again by the UK Government? Can you confirm what the latest situation is with the storage of drugs as a result of COVID and Brexit? And do you as Government expect delays in the delivery of medicines in our ports, which need to come in on a just-in-time basis? I hear what you say about stockpiling, but it's not possible to stockpile some medicines, because they will only last a few hours. So, are you concerned about the delays and disruption to some crucial medicines, such as radioisotopes? Further, Minister, are you concerned that, even if there is a deal, there will be a period of time where, to all intents and purposes, we will be in a 'no deal' scenario because of the nature of the discussions taking place late in the day? And to conclude, I recognise that people are working around the clock on possible arrangements, and all this in the midst of a deadly pandemic—the situation is extremely challenging. Thank you very much.

May I agree with that final point, and endorse Dai Lloyd's comments on the work that is being done across Wales to prepare for this, with the Welsh Government, but also with our partners and the various sectors, in preparation for the end of the transition period, which is just 16 days away? So, Dai Lloyd is right to say that some disruption is inevitable in both scenarios facing us, because of the uncertainties and the new red tape that the Westminster Government has imposed on businesses and exports here in Wales.

The Member asked three questions. First of all, what has the role of the Welsh Government been in negotiations? Well, our role has been in common frameworks and in preparing legislation, and preparing for what the outcome will be. But as he knows from discussions we've had in the past, the roles of the devolved Governments haven't been what they should have been in the negotiation process. So, these are the UK Government's negotiations—for better or for worse. The priorities of the people of Wales, expressed through the Welsh Government, haven't been given a proper place in the process of agreeing a position across the Governments of the UK and then having an influence on the negotiations through doing so. There have been elements of influence, but there hasn't been the structure that this Senedd would have expected on behalf of the people of Wales.

In terms of the second question, on medicines, arrangements are in place across the UK. It's the role of the UK Government to import medicines from abroad into the UK, but arrangements are in place, in order to ensure that that can happen in the context that he describes, that is to say when medicines can't be stored and they have to be transported urgently. If there was any disruption in ports, then there are systems in place to bring them in by air freight to ensure that they arrive in good time. And arrangements have been agreed with the four Governments, so that there is equal sharing of those across the four nations, with the clinical influence of the chief medical officers being very important in that in ensuring that that distribution happens on an equal basis. 

And in terms of the final question on a deal, well, I agree with what Dai Lloyd has said that this deal doesn't reflect what we would want to see on behalf of the people of Wales. It doesn't provide sufficient assurances for our economy, our employers and our exporters. But a deal of this kind would be better than no deal. And we do have a possible scenario in the new year, as Dai Lloyd has recognised, that a deal may have been reached but that it hadn't been ratified, or that it's still being negotiated, or it has been negotiated but hasn't been signed off. So, all of those scenarios are possible, and, of course, we are looking at what could happen in those scenarios. As he will know, the arrangements that we have put in place, to date, are on the basis of exiting with no deal. So, we have that worst-case scenario as part of our planning, too. 

15:40

Thank you for the statement, Counsel General. A hearing of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee earlier this month was told that 61 per cent of exports from Wales go to the EU, compared with 43 per cent of all UK exports. Wales also has a high proportion of industries that are expected to face high tariffs if no deal is reached, and to name a few: automotive, dairy, meat and aerospace. The apparent oven-ready deal and easy agreements were fictitious, as we now all know. About as oven-ready as a deeply frozen Christmas turkey. So, safety and security is also a key area to resolve, and, so, I very much welcome the preparedness of the Welsh civil contingency planning preparations and our medicines availability. This is not about illusionary sovereignty.

So, Counsel General, the Confederation of British Industry Wales has clearly stated that a Brexit deal between the UK and the EU is essential. The CBI are clear, as is this Government, that no one has voted for lesser security, or 'no deal' devastation of our trade and economy, or higher food prices, or scarcer medicine availability, or UK border ports congestion and what that would mean. Counsel General, then, what are the consequences of any 'no deal' on the Welsh economy and the relationship between Wales and Europe in 2021? And, critically, what would this mean for the people of Wales, whether you are a leaver or a remainer?  

I thank Rhianon Passmore for that question. She is right to say that Wales has a larger percentage of our exports to the European Union than any other part of the United Kingdom. In order to support our exporters in the months that lie ahead, the Welsh Government has contracted the services of a cohort of international trade advisers, who will be available to support exporters to navigate the new red tape, which the United Kingdom's negotiating position will effectively be introducing on our businesses. 

Many exporters, of course, will have already taken into account the fact they face a whole slew of new customs-related export documentation requirements, which obviously will load significant additional costs on to their businesses. But they won't yet have been able to quantify the question of tariffs or how the products that they export are taken into account, how components in those products are treated, how standards are recognised mutually across the Channel. So, all of those are very significant questions in the minds of many business that export, at this point in time, and, I just repeat, that we have 16 days to to before the end of the transition period. So, that's why it's so important to give, even at this late hour, the clarity that businesses need in Wales to support their prosperity and support the livelihoods that depend on them. 

I do think it's right to say the CBI and other business organisations are clear that a deal is in the best interests of the UK economy and the Welsh economy. Our most recent academic analyses of the long-term impact of a 'no deal' scenario on the Welsh and the UK-wide economy is of an economy that is about 8 per cent less than it would have been over a 10-year period. Now, that's at the same time that businesses are suffering the impacts of COVID and plainly will take a significant period of time to recover from that. We think it's unconscionable to add to the involuntary damage of COVID the voluntary damage of leaving the transition period without a deal.

15:45

Can I thank the Counsel General for his statement? I applaud the Welsh Government's preparation for a number of Brexit scenarios. It is both prudent and sensible. But, Counsel General, you continue to bemoan the fact that, after four years, you have come down to the last few days, but how much is that down to the stance of the remainers, including you and the Welsh Government, by your continually trying to undermine the people's democratic decision in June 2016? This stance has undeniably undermined the efforts of the UK negotiators in getting the EU to accept a reasonable and acceptable Brexit deal.

There are three crucial areas said to be the main stumbling blocks to a deal. So, earlier today, I called for a Welsh Government statement of what concessions it would make in order to avoid a 'no deal' scenario with the European Union. Given that I had no real answer to my questions, I make no apology for repeating those questions now: what concessions would the Welsh Government be willing to make in order to avoid a 'no deal' scenario? Would it be to concede on our fishing grounds—which, incidentally, are at this moment being plundered by giant French, Dutch and Spanish trawlers, dredging up to 250 tonnes of fish a day, with disastrous environmental consequences—or would it be to give way on the so-called level playing field, meaning, of course, that the UK Government would, amongst other crucial economic interventions, remain very restricted by state-aid rules, disallowing us from helping our steel industries in the way we would want, or would it be to give the European Court of Justice supremacy over UK law, something that the people who voted for Brexit were implacably against? Please, Counsel General, no obfuscations, just a straight answer to the questions.

[Inaudible.]—three letters on fisheries, level playing field and governance, which I sent to Michael Gove a number of weeks ago, that set out our preferred position in relation to each of those outstanding areas. I've asked for the opportunity, in more than one Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations), to be party to the strategic trade-offs that the UK Government is considering in these closing weeks, and we've been denied the opportunity of participating in that. So, in the absence of that—. And I refer him to the letters, which I'm sure he would have read, that set out very faithfully the Welsh Government's position in relation to how this should be negotiated. These are the UK Government's negotiations, they're not the Welsh Government's negotiations, and the reason we are 16 days away from the end of transition without an agreement is not the responsibility of the Welsh Government; it is the responsibility of the Government of the United Kingdom.

The Counsel General is so transparent. He never wanted Brexit, he's done everything he possibly could in the last four and a half years to sabotage it, he just failed to give David Rowlands an answer to his question. It's perfectly clear from his statement that his idea of a negotiation is for us simply to accept meekly whatever demands, however absurd or unreasonable, Monsieur Barnier makes—the kind of negotiation that Marshal Pétain conducted with Hitler in 1940.

In his statement, he said this, that the UK Government and the EU should

'show the flexibility and the compromise that are needed to find an agreement.'

Could he just tell me now what is the compromise that the EU should be making in order to reach an agreement with the UK Government? Is it a compromise on their demand that they should continue to legislate for us, even though we no longer have a voice or a vote in the councils of the EU? Is it that we should continue to allow European countries to have unfettered access to British waters so that they can hoover up as many fish as possible? Exactly what are the compromises that he thinks that the EU should be making at this time in order to get a deal?

Well, I think the answer to Neil Hamilton's question is the same answer that I gave to David Rowlands's question.

Thank you very much, Counsel General.

We now move on. In accordance with Standing Order 12.24, unless a Member objects, the three motions under items 5, 6 and 7 on our agenda, the health protection (coronavirus restrictions) regulations 2020, will be grouped for debate, but with a separate vote. I see no objections to that proposal.

15:50
5., 6. & 7. The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions and Functions of Local Authorities) (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2020, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Restrictions) (Amendment) (No. 3) (Wales) Regulations 2020 and The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 4) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

So, we'll move on and I'll call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething. 

Motion NDM7512 Rebecca Evans

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

1. Approves The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions and Functions of Local Authorities) (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2020 laid in the Table Office on 3 December 2020.

Motion NDM7516 Rebecca Evans

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

1. Approves The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Restrictions) (Amendment) (No. 3) (Wales) Regulations 2020 laid in the Table Office on 8 December 2020.

Motion NNDM7526 Rebecca Evans

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

1. Approves The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 4) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 laid in the Table Office on 11 December 2020.

Motions moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the series of motions before us.

Last week, we saw the start of the COVID-19 vaccination programme in Wales. That is clearly very encouraging and optimistic news. The vaccination process will, however, take time, so we must continue to focus our efforts right across Wales to help control the spread of coronavirus. And sadly, coronavirus is once again accelerating across Wales. The genuine gains that we all made at great cost during the firebreak have been eroded. The seven-day rolling incidence rate of coronavirus across Wales has risen to well over 400 cases per 100,000 people. There are currently well over 2,000 people in NHS hospitals in Wales being treated for coronavirus, and we see continued rises in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. There are now more than 500 extra people in NHS beds in Wales being treated for coronavirus than in the April peak. 

As I have set out previously, the advice from our chief medical officer is that we need to take action to help us enter the festive period with as low an infection rate as possible. Today, three recent regulations are being debated, which have contributed to our response to the pandemic.

Firstly, Members will be aware that, on 30 November, the First Minister set out additional all-Wales restrictions in relation to the hospitality sector. These further measures are provided for by the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions and Functions of Local Authorities) (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2020. They came into force on Friday, 4 December, and are targeted to prevent the spread of transmission where people meet indoors. We had a take-note debate on these matters last week. So, pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes across Wales must now close by 6 p.m. and are not allowed to serve alcohol. After 6 p.m., they will only be able to provide takeaway services. These regulations also require indoor entertainment venues and indoor visitor attractions to close. I sympathise entirely with the people and the businesses that these restrictions impact. I've seen first hand the hard work that these businesses have entered into to try to make sure that their businesses are COVID-safe. To mitigate the financial impact and to support the hospitality, leisure and retail sectors, we have a £340 million package of support. That includes a specific £180 million fund for hospitality and leisure businesses. There is increasing scientific and observation evidence highlighting the role of hospitality in disease transmission. In keeping with the clear and repeated advice of SAGE on what has worked in other parts of the UK, these restrictions are, I am afraid, necessary to help reduce transmission.

Secondly, the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 4) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 require all outdoor attractions, including funfairs, to close. It also makes clear that trampoline parks and indoor skating parks must close. These further measures came into effect yesterday, on 14 December.

Finally, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Restrictions) (Amendment) (No. 3) (Wales) Regulations 2020 were laid on 8 December. These provide that a person required to isolate as a result of having had close contact with a person who has tested positive for coronavirus must now isolate for 10 days, instead of the previous 14-day period. This follows the advice of the chief medical officer and SAGE, and similar advice has been given to other administrations in the UK, who are all following suit in changing the time frame for self-isolation in their own relative Parliaments. The international travel restrictions requiring people to quarantine when coming to Wales from certain countries have similarly been reduced to 10 days. These regulations also permit a child who is required to isolate to move to another household during the period of isolation if this is in line with existing arrangements relating to custody and contact with that child's parents.

The Welsh Government remains very grateful to people and businesses across Wales for observing these often very challenging restrictions. They do remain essential, however, to protect our NHS and save lives. Yesterday, the Welsh Government published an updated COVID control plan, including a new set of four alert levels. It describes the measures that will be put in place depending on the rates of the virus and the level of risk. We're scheduled to discuss a motion relating to this plan later on in today's business. I ask Members to support the motion before us and the three sets of regulations. Thank you, Deputy Llywydd.

15:55

Thank you. I call on the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, Mick Antoniw.

Thank you, Deputy Llywydd. Members will know that the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 4) (Wales) Regulations 2020 are the principal regulations on coronavirus in Wales, and, as the Minister has said, the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions and Functions of Local Authorities) (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2020 amend the principal regulations and also make technical amendments to existing regulations on coronavirus restrictions and the functions of local authorities.

As the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, we've had the opportunity to scrutinise these regulations, and our report on these regulations identified four merits points. In our first point, we note the Welsh Government's justification for any potential interference with human rights. Our second merits point draws attention to the significant direct economic impact the regulations will have on businesses, particularly within the hospitality sector, or for those who provide goods and services to that sector. As a result, our report seeks information about the financial support available to businesses. Our third merits point notes some typographical errors in the explanatory note to these regulations, and our fourth point highlights that no regulatory impact assessment has been prepared for the regulations. However, we have requested clarification of when the Government intends to publish its summary integrated impact assessment.

I turn now to the second set of regulations, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Restrictions) (Amendment) (No. 3) (Wales) Regulations 2020, which, as the Minister said, came into force on 10 December. They also amend the principal regulations as well as the international travel regulations. Our three reporting points cover familiar ground, noting the Welsh Government's justification for any potential interference with human rights, that there's been no formal consultation on the regulations, and, finally, that there is no equality impact assessment for these regulations.

Turning now to the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 4) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, which again also amend the principal regulations and came into force yesterday, the first of our two reporting points notes the Welsh Government's comments in the explanatory memorandum regarding the human rights impact of these regulations. However, we have noted that the comments in the explanatory memorandum amount to just the statement that the regulations are justified and proportionate. There is no analysis of how that conclusion was reached. Our second reporting point noted the lack of formal consultation on the regulations, although recognising the circumstances in which these regulations have been brought forward. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.

I thank the Minister for moving the regulations this afternoon. For those watching our proceedings this afternoon, they might find it slightly bizarre—and this is a debate that we've had several times in this Chamber—that we are voting to give enforcement, or give power, to the regulations that have been in existence nearly two weeks now, and actually will be reviewed on Friday, as I understand it, under the normal Welsh Government procedures.

It's a long-standing position from the Welsh Conservative benches that we will be voting against item 5, which affects the hospitality sector. We do note that the travel restrictions that the Welsh Government have modified during the period do allow for travel into England into tier 2 and tier 1 areas, where Welsh residents could enjoy hospitality and then travel back into Wales—something I wouldn't recommend, but it does allow it in the recommendations. And we do disagree with the Welsh-wide nature of the restrictions, given the various levels of infection around the country, in particular in north-west Wales, where there would be the ability for some of these hospitality venues to carry on trading if the rules allowed that to be. So, we will be voting against that. We also note that much of the hospitality that people enjoy in licensed premises has moved into private settings, and previous evidence has indicated that those private settings indicate avoidance of the rules and greater transmission rates.

Item 6: we believe this is a sensible and precautionary measure, lowering the isolation period from 14 days to 10 days, and we believe the evidence supports this. However, there's a genuine problem about people sticking to the isolation rules. I think in some instances only 20 per cent of the population are actually agreeing to self-isolate, and I'd be interested to hear the Minister's response as to what measures the Welsh Government in messaging is trying to undertake to try and get greater adherence to the rules of self-isolation. I do note the story that's running today about Transport for Wales, which is a Government-owned business, instructing some of its members of staff to switch off the test, trace and protect app that is available so that the business can carry on functioning. So, I'd welcome the Minister talking about that particular instruction from a Welsh Government company to its employees.

Item 7 we'll be abstaining on, because whilst we can understand the sentiments behind some of these instructions on item 7, we do believe that, again, because it's an all-Wales approach, we think that some of the evidence points that some areas could allow for some of these attractions to carry on providing hospitality facilities for outdoor events, skate parks and trampolines where infection rates are low. Rather than the all-Wales approach, we believe that it would be far better to do a more localised approach on this particular aspect, and that's why we'll be abstaining, because obviously these organised events take risk assessments, and people obviously will continue to travel to certain areas of Wales, and where they can be accommodated in a safe environment, we believe that it might be sensible to allow some of these attractions to continue. So that's why, as Welsh Conservatives, we'll be abstaining on item 7.

I'd be grateful if the Minister possibly could talk to the new variant virus, N501, which I appreciate isn't affected by these restrictions, but might affect new restrictions that are brought forward, because I note that we haven't had a comment on the floor of the Chamber about this new variant of the virus, which ultimately has had an impact on our understanding of the virus across the UK. This isn't just a Wales issue, and so it would be helpful at the end of his summing up on these restrictions if he could give us some information as to how restrictions might have to be modified to accommodate the new variant, which we understand obviously assists in speeding up the transmission of the virus in communities, not just in Wales, but in other parts of the United Kingdom. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.

16:00

I'll deal with the regulations in turn. Item 5 first of all, the item that's been debated most. Indeed, it was the subject of a debate here in the Senedd last week, and because of that I will keep my comments brief. My views are on the record already, as are Plaid Cymru's, and I will speak more on our position on the latest situation regarding the pandemic in the debate on the new coronavirus restrictions under item 17 this afternoon.

Our views on the first set of regulations haven't changed. We abstained last week, not because we oppose restrictions—we can see the gravity of the situation in many parts of Wales, and I made it clear that we were supportive of taking serious steps to respond to that and to prevent further spread—but it was the lack of logic of certain elements that concerned us, the total ban on alcohol and the fact that places such as restaurants would have to close very early in the evening, where the evidence on the role of such places in the spread of the virus is not particularly strong. Our concern, simply—and this applies to all the regulations that we are discussing—is that if people can't see the rationale of the steps taken, that undermines trust in Government and the ability of Government to deal with the pandemic. The rationale is questioned most in those areas that have a relatively low number of cases. No area can consider themselves safe, obviously, but it does add to the argument in terms of varying the response from one area to another, and we can discuss that later on today.

In terms of item 6, we will support that. The evidence seems robust in terms of justifying the reduction in the self-isolation period after having travelled abroad from 14 to 10 days. There is clear justification for allowing a child that is self-isolating to move between the homes of two parents, for example.

Moving on to item 7, we will support—and I note that the Conservatives have said that they will abstain—we will support because we need these regulations in place in order to introduce changes that are entirely reasonable to my eyes: the need, although nobody would want to be in this situation, to close indoor attractions, cinemas and so on, galleries, museums and so on and so forth.

But I do have a concern about certain outdoor attractions, where I think that the evidence for fresh air and its role in the response to this pandemic is very strong now. I have an e-mail, as it happens it’s from my constituency, but it’s representative of what’s happening elsewhere too. I know of a business that runs boat trips from Anglesey that had sold a high number of tickets for trips over the Christmas period. They are now having to repay their clients and they say, ‘Well, yes, we’re playing our part’ and they understand the gravity of the situation, as do we all, but once again they make the point that they need more intensive support and financial support for businesses, that they need more notice, that they need more information about what’s happening. This business owner says that many businesses that he speaks to still don’t know that there is a requirement for them to close. So, this message is arising time and time again during this pandemic: 'There is a lack of clarity in this case. Why do we need to close? Surely we’ve done everything we need to do, but we accept that we have to close, so please make sure that the communication is better at all levels.'

But, as I say, there are parts of the regulations that are important, so we will support, but with that appeal once again, to the Government, that you must get the communication right.

16:05

Thank you. No Member has indicated they wish to make an intervention, therefore I'll call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to reply to the debate. Vaughan Gething. 

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I thank the Chair of the committee for his as ever constructive comments and points for us to respond to, not just today. But I think it may be best if I write to the committee to deal with all of the comments that he's made to respect the level of detail that he's gone through. And we do want to make sure that as we need to continue to act, and we'll need to continue to act for several months more at the very least, that we do take account of the helpful points made in scrutiny about how we get the regulations right in terms of their legal meaning, and also dealing with the points about communication that Rhun ap Iorwerth finished on. 

Of course, the reality is that we are making these regulations in accordance with the rules of this institution. This is made affirmative legislation, exactly as we have done throughout the course of this crisis, and I do feel that the points that Andrew R.T. Davies makes don't take account of the fact that we had months and months of legislating in this way. I don't think there's anything unusual about it; it's the reality that we're having to take extraordinary measures to respond, and to use the extraordinary procedures that this Parliament has in place to do so. We're in the middle of an accelerating wave of coronavirus. If we were to say that the Government was not entitled to act, the Government was not able to act to protect people across Wales as the position changed without having an affirmative resolution beforehand, then we would undoubtedly make the position of the people of Wales less safe, and this Government would be less able to keep our people safe. I don't understate the seriousness of the reality that the Government is legislating first then asking for endorsement afterwards, but that is, I'm afraid, the reality of the seriousness of the position. It also, of course, in terms of the gap, allows the committee chaired by Mick Antoniw to provide their scrutiny reports for Members to consider.

I welcome the support that the Conservative spokesperson indicated for the move to 10 days on self-isolation in terms of improving messaging. That is part of what we are constantly striving to do all the time. I think we've been very clear about the messages we have. There is new information available from Welsh Government today in terms of the broader messaging about coronavirus and Christmas, and asking people to do the right thing. I think Members across parties should be able to look at that and, hopefully, share it and encourage constituents across the country of all and any political persuasion to think again about all the choices that we're making. You'll hear Ministers from every one of the four Governments in the United Kingdom asking people right across the UK to do just that.

And on the app, I haven't seen the story he refers to about Transport for Wales, but I'm very clear that the app should continue to be used and would encourage as many people to download it as possible. I don't believe that any business should be asking anybody to remove the app because it would affect the operation of their business. It's there to help keep people safe, including the people who you would work alongside in a business, if you were advised to self-isolate because of the risk that has been presented to you and potentially your fellow workers, and I don't think we can be any clearer about that.

On your continued request for a limited and targeted approach, it's never really clear what that actually means, but it's always been the case, ever since you've started calling for that particular approach from your return to this position on the Conservative front bench, that we've had very clear advice from the technical advisory group that all-Wales measures at this point in time are appropriate, simpler and easier for the public to understand and adhere to and follow—simpler and easier for all of us to be able to act together to help protect Wales. Look, I appreciate that he has a different view, but we have very clear, and published—regularly published—advice that underscores the Government's position.

On the new variant, yes, I'm aware we do have a handful of cases already within Wales. I expect to have more information in the coming days as we do more genomic sequencing from test results here in Wales, and Public Health Wales will provide more information when that is available. It isn't clear whether the new variant really is one that spreads more rapidly, but, in any event, we know that coronavirus does spread rapidly with the variants we've already been aware of. The positive news is that we don't believe that this particular variant would affect the efficacy of a vaccine, which was the main concern about the mink variant from Denmark that caused extraordinary measures to be taken very late at night on a weekend, as I and Welsh Government officials know, before we came to this Parliament to ask for approval.

On your broader point about opposing a range of restrictions, I really do think it is extraordinary to continue to oppose restrictions, given the ongoing position and the seriousness within which we find ourselves as a country. At best, I think it's tone deaf to demand improvements whilst opposing measures to deliver improvements that are evidenced by an evidence review from not only our technical advisory group, but also SAGE, on a repeated number of occasions as well. I think people in Wales should take comfort in the fact that we are taking our public health advice from SAGE, from TAG, from our own chief medical officer, and, in doing so, we're supported in taking those measures by the broad approach of every single chief medical officer across the United Kingdom in doing so, and I think that will be the main source of the advice that I take on public health, as opposed to the individual view of Mr Davies.

On Rhun ap Iorwerth's point about the logic, the evidence of what works across the UK is the logic for why we introduced these restrictions, and again, that same evidence from SAGE and TAC—hard evidence of what works. So, that's why we've introduced these restrictions. On your broader point about communication, we constantly look at how we try to have a message that is clear and simple, in amongst the noise that exists, with all the more contested environments, within the political atmosphere, but also within a range of social media and other channels, and the way in which we are looking to try to recover, where we can do, a more consistent four-nations approach with messaging for the public.

It's about how we help people to make choices, but ultimately the Government has responsibilities that we need to meet, and then all of us, every single one of us in the country, have responsibilities to consider what we should do to keep ourselves and each other safe. We are still in the middle of a significant and unfinished pandemic that will take the lives of many more Welsh citizens before this is over. That helps to underscore why these measures remain important and why they are a proportionate response to the level of threat that we all face. I ask Members to support the regulations today.

16:10

Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion under item 5. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore, we defer voting under this item until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

The proposal is to agree the motion under item 6. Does any Member object? No. Therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

The proposal is to agree the motion under item 7. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore, I defer voting under this item until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

8. The Public Health (Protection from Eviction) (Wales) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020

Item 8 on our agenda this afternoon is the Public Health (Protection from Eviction) (Wales) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, and I call on the Minister for Housing and Local Government to move the motion. Julie James.

Motion NNDM7522 Rebecca Evans

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

1. Approves The Public Health (Protection from Eviction) (Wales) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 laid in the Table Office on 10 December 2020.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. The Public Health (Protection from Eviction) (Wales) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 have been made to protect public health by ensuring that tenants are not evicted into homelessness over the Christmas and new year period. In the run-up to Christmas and the period immediately thereafter, those subject to eviction are at much greater risk of being made homeless. Accessibility to services, advice and support is often much reduced. Similarly, the availability of alternative accommodation is likely to be limited at this time of year. A person made homeless is placed at greater risk of both contracting COVID-19 and transmitting it to others. Therefore, we cannot allow a situation where evictions result in homelessness, which, in turn, increases the risk to homeless individuals and public health more widely. Given the situation that we currently face in relation to the virus, it is imperative that we act swiftly to prevent this.

These regulations prevent, except in specified circumstances, attendance by High Court enforcement officers or bailiffs at a dwelling house for the purpose of executing a writ or warrant of possession, executing a writ or warrant of restitution, or delivering a notice of eviction. The specified circumstances include, for example, when a claim is made wholly or partly on the grounds of anti-social behaviour. The regulations will expire on 11 January 2021. The UK Government previously announced through guidance that it intended to suspend evictions across England and Wales between 11 December and 11 January. These regulations provide statutory underpinning to that guidance in relation to Wales.

Ideally, I would've liked my officials to have had an opportunity to engage with stakeholders before making the regulations, however, the UK Government did not alert us to the fact that they had made similar regulations applying to England until after they had come into force on 17 November. Therefore, we have had to make the regulations in respect of Wales with the greatest of urgency. Stakeholders had, however, been informed of the earlier announcement by the UK Government that evictions would be suspended from 11 December to 11 January. I commend the motion of approval to Members.

16:15

Thank you. Can I call on the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, Mick Antoniw?

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. Members will know that these regulations were laid last Thursday and came into force on Friday. We considered the regulations at our meeting yesterday morning and our report has been laid before the Senedd to inform this afternoon’s debate. Our report contains one technical point and three merits points. The technical reporting point highlights what we consider to be a superfluous provision in the regulations at regulation 3(2). We have asked the Welsh Government to explain why this saving provision is necessary.

Our first merits point relates to human rights matters. These regulations engage a landlord’s rights under article 1, protocol 1 of the European convention on human rights. Although the explanatory memorandum states that these regulations are made in response to a public health emergency, it fails to refer specifically to the fact that these regulations engage human rights and how they deem the provisions to be justifiable and proportionate in the context of the human rights of both tenants and landlords. We have asked the Government to provide this justification.

Our second merits point notes that there has been no formal consultation on the regulations. While we accept that there is no statutory requirement to consult, we have asked the Government to confirm if they were able to engage in any capacity with relevant stakeholders before making these regulations. Our third merits point notes that the Government has not prepared a regulatory impact assessment for these regulations. But we have acknowledged that the explanatory memorandum does set out a summary of the potential impact of these regulations, which does provide qualitative assessment of their impact. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.

Just some brief comments.

Under the regulations, Minister, the evictions will only be prevented until 11 January, as you've set out. Of course this is welcome, but we also all know that, by mid January, we could well be in an even worse situation with the pandemic than we are now. And realistically, the impact of vaccination won't be felt until well into the spring in the best-case scenario. So, surely, we simply can't have evictions for public health reasons for a far longer period. So, we in Plaid will be voting in favour of these regulations this evening, but could I just ask the Minister why the Government keeps only staying the eviction of vulnerable people by a few weeks at a time incrementally, instead of guaranteeing that support for as long as it's necessary? Is there a technical reason why this is? Surely, the eviction of anyone during a pandemic would be unconscionable. I know that the Minister will agree with me on that point, so I'd welcome her comments just on that point, please. Diolch.

Thank you. I have no other Members who've requested to make any interventions. Therefore, I call on the Minister for Housing and Local Government to reply to the debate—Julie James.

16:20

Diolch, Llywydd, and my thanks to both Members who have spoken during the debate. I make no apologies for bringing forward legislation at any time that seeks to avoid people becoming homeless. But, it is of critical importance, on public health grounds, that we prevent homelessness during this particularly critical phase of the pandemic. Over the Christmas period, these regulations will play a vital role in achieving that goal.

I realise that they were made, and came into force, at short notice, using an emergency procedure, and that that has restricted the scrutiny of them. But, this is, of course, because they respond to what is an emergency situation. If they had not come into force with almost immediate effect, they would not have had the desired effect. I take the point that Delyth Jewell is making, also. We keep the regulations under constant review. We will, of course, be looking to renew them if that's necessary, if access to homelessness services and so on is further restricted after 11 January. So, I urge Members to support the motion.

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

9. The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (School Premises and Further Education Institution Premises) (Wales) Regulations 2020

Item 9 on the agenda is the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (School Premises and Further Education Institution Premises) (Wales) Regulations 2020. I call on the Minister for Education to move the motion—Kirsty Williams.

Motion NNDM7525 Rebecca Evans

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

1. Approves The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (School Premises and Further Education Institution Premises) (Wales) Regulations 2020 laid in the Table Office on 11 December 2020.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I formally move the motion on the order paper. As I set out last week, following advice from the chief medical officer and Public Health Wales, it was recommended that secondary schools move to remote learning from 14 December until the end of term. As everybody in this Chamber is well aware, rates of transmission are currently increasing, and we are sadly on course to having 2,500 people with coronavirus in hospital by Christmas Day.

While I am delighted with the offer that we were able to make yesterday with regard to asymptomatic testing for schools, and the announcement of a vaccination programme that began last week, these interventions and these processes will take time to take effect. We need to continue to put in place the necessary restrictions to protect the NHS and to save lives.

We recognise, as we did during the firebreak, that it is much more difficult for primary and special school-age children to undertake self-directed learning. That is why we have encouraged primary and special schools to continue to stay open, unless of course there are compelling and clear public health and safety reasons for them not to be able to do so. Having spoken to local education leaders, we are increasingly confident that schools and colleges have the online learning in place to continue to ensure that our young people continue to learn.

However, Deputy Presiding Officer, it is really important for me to state this: this is not an early Christmas break. Critically, our secondary and FE learners should be at home learning at this time. We all need to do what we can do to minimise contact with others, and to make a real difference to the course of this virus and, ultimately, to save lives. I would appeal to the young people of Wales who have seen their education in school disrupted once again to follow this advice.

I also want to be clear that schools are regulated and controlled settings, and there is no new evidence to suggest that schools are no longer safe. The majority of transmission appears to continue to be through community contacts and activities around the school environment, rather than the school environment itself. As we begin vaccinating, we can be rightly optimistic for a better 2021. But, at this time, we have to be cautious, and we must still keep working together to keep Wales safe and to keep our young people learning.

Thank you. I call on the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, Mick Antoniw.

Diolch again, Dirprwy Lywydd. Members will know that these regulations were laid late into the evening last Friday, and they came into force on Monday. We considered the regulations at our meeting yesterday morning, and we are grateful for the work of officials in preparing the necessary regulations and papers. Our report has again been laid before the Senedd to inform this afternoon's debate. Our report contains one technical point, which notes that there appears to be an inconsistency between the English and Welsh texts of the regulations regarding which enabling powers are being used. Our report also contains five merits points, which I will briefly summarise.

The first and second merits points note the Welsh Government's justification for any potential interference with human rights, and that there has been no formal consultation on these regulations. Our third merits point acknowledges that these regulations have been made in response to a public health emergency. We believe that the Welsh Government should, however, provide more detail on who it consulted and when, prior to making these regulations, and we've asked the Government to provide this information. We've also noted that there was no equality impact assessment for the regulations. In this fourth merits point, we've asked the Government to explain what arrangements it has made to publish reports of equality impact assessments, in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 (Statutory Duties) (Wales) Regulations 2011. Finally, in our fifth merits point, we've noted there was no child impact assessment for these regulations, and we've invited the Welsh Government to outline the steps it took to assess the particular impact of these regulations on children. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.

16:25

Last week the First Minister said this:

'I want very strongly to endorse today the joint statement made between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association, which urges schools to remain open until the last day of term, while recognising that there will be individual sets of circumstances where that will not be possible....The real problem is that we do not have confidence, from the behavioural evidence, that if children are not in school, that they would simply be being kept at home and kept away from the contacts that would otherwise create greater risk. The fear is that children who are not in school will be in even riskier environments.'

'If I thought that those young people would genuinely be at home, genuinely self-isolating, genuinely creating that period before Christmas to keep them safe, I'd be attracted to the idea. I'm afraid the risks are that that simply wouldn't happen, that those children would be doing riskier things than they would in school. Better for them to be in school.'

In saying this, the First Minister and the WLGA support the long-held views of the children's commissioner and, indeed, this Senedd—better for them to be in school. Even in the firebreak, schools were open for children up to year 8. Now, I will recognise that incidence and transmission rates in parts of Wales are very worrying and that figures associated with some secondary schools are also worrying. But 'associated with' and 'responsible for' are different things, and we have