Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

26/01/2021

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 by video-conference at 13:29 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Good afternoon, and welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. A Plenary meeting held by video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are noted on your agenda. I would remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting. 

13:30
1. Questions to the First Minister

We begin today with questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Jayne Bryant. 

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board

1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of how Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has dealt with COVID-19? OQ56202

Llywydd, services in the board’s area continue to be under significant pressure as reductions in community transmission are only slowly being felt in hospitals. I'm sure we are all grateful for the dedication of the board's staff as they strive to deliver the best possible care to their patients.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. This winter has been one of the hardest periods anyone can remember for our NHS. Staff numbers have been hit hard, patient numbers have been high, and the pressure and stresses on our front-line staff have been immense. Despite all of this, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board have put in place a mass vaccination programme that is accelerating at pace, whilst also adapting their practices and services. One of these adaptations has been to offer local residents alternatives to attending A&E departments, This has helped to relieve some of the pressure on the system and helped keep patients and staff as safe as possible. The health board and staff are doing incredible work under extreme circumstances. Will the First Minister welcome the actions that are being taken in Aneurin Bevan health board area and ensure the Welsh Government continues to provide all the support it can to help support our staff and keep us safe?

Llywydd, I thank Jayne Bryant very much for that supplementary question. Of course, I do very much welcome all the efforts that are made by our staff in Aneurin Bevan, and across Wales, under the extraordinary pressures that they have faced now for nearly a full 12 months. And, of course, Jayne Bryant is right—the latest challenge is that of vaccination. Fifty thousand vaccines now delivered in the Aneurin Bevan area, 69 of the 74 GP practices in the area delivering the vaccine last week, and that of course is only one of the many challenges they are facing. The board delivered 19,000 tests to residents in the Aneurin Bevan health board area last week as well, and yet, as Jayne Bryant says, Llywydd, the board goes on innovating, and its latest innovation, of their contact first pilot, I think is demonstrating a real success. 

We understand the anxiety that people feel about coming into emergency departments at a time when coronavirus is in such circulation. Allowing people to phone first, to have that conversation, and then to be directed to the part of the service that is best suited to helping them is an advantage to the user, but it's an advantage to the service as well. And, Llywydd, as Jayne Bryant suggested, of those people who phoned the service in the two weeks at the end of December, 81 per cent of them did not need to attend an emergency department, 36 per cent of callers were successfully directed to a minor injuries unit, 32 per cent were directed to an urgent primary care centre in the board's area. And I think those are remarkable figures and demonstrate not simply the amazing efforts that staff are making, but their capacity to go on innovating and responding to new circumstances even under the pressures that the board is facing. 

I, too, would like to extend my thanks to everyone at the Aneurin Bevan health board for the tremendous work they're doing in delivering the vaccine, but also the extraordinary reactive ways, as the First Minister has just said, that they've handled this pandemic. As you know, First Minister, the Abergavenny centre in Monmouthshire delivers the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine only a couple of days a week, although Monmouthshire County Council and GP practices, who have all been incredible during this delivery of the vaccine, have offered to set up another centre. It would seem to me to make sense that either the Abergavenny vaccination centre becomes a Pfizer vaccination centre, so that it could operate seven days a week like Cwmbran and Newport are just about to, or that another Pfizer delivery centre is established in Monmouthshire, ensuring faster roll-out of the vaccine. I'd just appreciate your thoughts on that, First Minister. 

13:35

I thank Laura Anne Jones for those suggestions, which I'm sure the board will know about, and I'm sure that they will be putting that into their thinking. The picture, as Laura Anne Jones acknowledged, is changing all the time. Boards are developing new centres and new GPs are coming on stream. It's an effort to maximise the number of people on the ground able to offer vaccination, but it's also an effort to try to make sure that those possibilities are as close to people's homes and as convenient for them as possible. I think, two weeks ago, Llywydd, I said in these questions that we hoped to have 250 GP practices involved in vaccination by the end of the month; we've got 330 nearly by now, so we've well exceeded what we had expected. That's part of the changing pattern that Laura Anne Jones referred to. I'm sure the board will have heard what she said and will take that into account as they plan to provide even more opportunities for vaccination, and to do it as conveniently as possible for the people that the Member represents.

I'd echo the points made about the bravery and dedication of the Aneurin Bevan health board staff—they are a credit to our communities. I wanted to raise an issue about administering the vaccine in the area, please. Some constituents have got in touch with me because they are caring for an elderly relative, and the elderly relative has been called to get the vaccine but they as a carer have not. Now, I appreciate that this is something that is happening across Wales and not just in our health board area, but I think it does get to the heart of the problem, First Minister, that, whilst paid care workers are in the same priority group as those over 80, unpaid carers are not, and they are in close physical proximity to those they're caring for. So, surely it would make sense for them to receive the vaccine at the same time, to protect their vulnerable relatives. So, First Minister, could I ask if you would consider making this change to the vaccine roll-out in the area so that unpaid carers are given priority too?

Well, Llywydd, those are important points, and they would have been very carefully considered by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation in its prioritisation of groups. The Member will know that unpaid carers are included in priority group 6. So, they're not in the first four priority groups that we are focusing on at the moment, but they will be in the next set of priority groups. We have to abide by the JCVI's prioritisation list. There are many cases that people can make individually for why that list should be amended, but my view is—and it's the view of all First Ministers, and the Prime Minister, across the country—we have to stick to the advice that the JCVI has provided to us. Unpaid carers will be included in that sixth group and, therefore, in the next phase of vaccination. We're working hard to make sure that people who are unpaid carers will be able to make themselves known, so that they can get vaccination in that new list. We amended the advice on the Welsh Government's website to make sure that unpaid carers knew that priority group 6 included them. And, in line with what the JCVI has told us, we will come to unpaid carers once the first four groups are concluded and we're able to move into the next tranche.

I think we all appreciate the extraordinary work that the staff in Aneurin Bevan and elsewhere are doing with the vaccination. First Minister, I've had a number of constituents who've come to me saying that relatives who are over 80, or indeed, in some cases, in care homes, are yet to have their vaccination in the Aneurin Bevan area, yet they have other family, over the border in Gloucestershire, and, five days ago, they announced there they'd already vaccinated 85 per cent of the over-85s. Your health Minister said that we would get to that in Wales, and I hope also in Aneurin Bevan, to 70 per cent at least by the end of the weekend just gone. Can you confirm if that's happened, and, if not, when it will, and when we can hope to get to those 85 per cent plus levels of vaccination of that group that we're seeing over the border?

Llywydd, our ambition is to vaccinate all people—or offer vaccination to all people in those top 4 groups by the middle of February. That continues to be our ambition. The aim of getting 70 per cent of the 80-plus age range was affected over the weekend by the adverse weather. We know that a large number of people aged over 80 did not feel that it was safe for them to leave their homes in the snow and, indeed, yesterday morning in the very cold and icy conditions, and weren't able to attend appointments at GP clinics or in mass vaccination centres. All of those people will have been offered another opportunity for vaccination by the end of Wednesday of this week. So, we will very rapidly make up for that number. The figures of people being offered vaccination and able to take it up in Wales over the last week have been remarkable, and that should give us all confidence that we will have offered vaccination to everyone in that group in line with the ambition that we set out at the outset. 

13:40
Airports

2. What assessment has the First Minister made of the UK Government's support for airports across the UK? OQ56173

Llywydd, I thank Carwyn Jones for that question. UK Government support is limited to airports in England. We continue to call upon them to support regional airports across the country. The catastrophic impact of coronavirus continues to have an impact on the industry, which is not confined to one part of the UK.

I thank the First Minister for his answer. Airports, of course, are not devolved. But, of course, the UK Government chooses when it wishes to be the Government of England or the Government of the UK according to its whim. First Minister, since 2013, the Tories in Wales have failed to support our airports, both Cardiff and Anglesey. When the airport at Cardiff was bought in 2013, they invented a story that it had been bought at a price that was way over the odds, which was completely untrue. They allowed their ideology to count more than jobs. They didn't like the fact that it was in public ownership, and that was more important than protecting the jobs of the people who actually worked there. That airport would have been turned into a housing estate, no doubt. The councillors would, then, have objected to that as well. Is it not the case, First Minister, that the Welsh Conservatives are not willing to support the airline industry in Wales, and that's what makes them unfit to govern Wales, both now and in the future? 

Well, Llywydd, the failure of the Conservative Party is manifest here in Wales and it's aided and abetted by their compatriots at the UK Government as well. On five separate occasions, Llywydd, since the beginning of December, at senior official level and ministerially, we have tried to get an answer out of the UK Government about the £100 million support fund for airports that they have repeatedly publicised. Now, we know that £8 million of that is to go to Bristol Airport—an airport that the UK Government itself cites, when it has refused to devolve air passenger duty to us here in Wales, on the grounds of competition with Bristol. Yet, they pump millions of pounds of money into Bristol while denying any support to airports here in Wales. It is the actions of the UK Conservatives that are undermining support for the union right across the United Kingdom, and it's the actions of the Welsh Conservatives, in the way in which they fail to support initiatives such as creating a national airport for Wales, that renders them, as the former First Minister says, unfit to be part of a Government here in Wales. 

I think I'll tone my question a bit differently. I was very pleased, First Minister, that Wizz Air's recent commitment to start operating from the airport was particularly good for the airport—a real boost for the airport and the aviation sector at, obviously, a very difficult time. From my perspective, I want to see the Welsh Government support Cardiff Airport in order that best value can be achieved when a future government returns the airport to the private sector. In that regard, perhaps, First Minister, you could update us on what measures the Welsh Government is currently taking to support the airport in its future development, in terms of a new marketing strategy, and also update us on improvements to transport links to the airport and in particular what capital investment can be put in place around the airport to help the airport diversify and generate new sources of income. 

13:45

Well, Llywydd, the actions of the Welsh Government at the moment are simply focused on helping the airport to survive through the extraordinary impact of coronavirus on the airline industry. We have provided directly a further £4.5 million in loan facilities to the airport, which we are able to do. We have submitted a state-aid notification to the EU Commission for aid that is claimable through the European Union while we were still members of it. What we need to see is help from the UK Government—help that it is apparently prepared to provide to airports in England, help that it is denying to airports here in Wales.

We need a different approach by the UK Government. Why will it not even consider publicly funded air corridors between Cardiff Airport and elsewhere in the UK other than London—routes that we would have to pay for but we believe would be pivotal to the success of the airport? Why does the UK Government persist in taking a different approach to other countries in Europe in relation to allowable aid for safety and security costs—safety and security costs that fall more sharply on regional airports than large airports here in the United Kingdom? 

There are many ways in which the UK Government could play its part in assisting the airport here in Wales to weather the enormous storm of coronavirus. We make every effort to support that airport because we know that it is essential to have a national airport to support industry here in Wales, to support passengers here in Wales. That does include, as Russell George says, improvements to infrastructure around the airport, as well as at the airport itself. It would be fantastically useful if the efforts we are making might be matched by those that the UK Government denies us at the moment.

Will the First Minister agree with me that the best way that Governments could support airports throughout the United Kingdom and, indeed—[Inaudible.]—is to abolish air passenger duty, which is a tax on flying and a massive disincentive to people to use airports? It adds £78 to every short-haul ticket and can end up being—[Inaudible.]—total ticket price. But this, of course, would be in conflict with the Welsh Government's policy of virtue signalling on environmental policy, to which Wales can make no significant difference in global terms. But reducing the cost of air travel is absolutely vital to the survival of airlines and, indeed, the prosperity of airports. 

Well, Llywydd, of course I disagree with the Member in the casual way that he shrugs off any responsibility we in Wales might have to contribute to the actions that collectively will make a difference to global warming. We are determined here in Wales that we will play our part. That's nothing to do with virtue signalling—it is simply recognising our responsibility. We will live up to that responsibility, just as the Member attempts to evade it in the question that he's asked me.

He will know that we have long argued for the devolution of APD. We were supported in that by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, in the report that they published on 11 June 2019, when the current junior Minister at the Wales Office chaired that select committee. It's time—in fact, Llywydd, it's long past time when the UK Government allows this Senedd to have control over that tax, just as it allows the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly to do the same. Then we could have a proper debate here with the Member about the way in which that power could be effectively used to support the airport, while not undermining the efforts we need to make to play our part in combating climate change.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, in September 2019 I asked you to set out the anticipated responsibilities of the new child poverty review lead. Can you update the Senedd on the key findings resulting from their work?

Well, Llywydd, a great deal has happened since the Member asked me that question, in particular the intervention of a global pandemic crisis. In the crisis, the whole Cabinet has taken a direct interest in dealing with child poverty here in Wales, focusing on those practical actions that we are able to take that leaves money in the pockets of families that otherwise would be taken away from it or to add money to their weekly incomes. That is a whole-Government responsibility. It is led by my colleague Julie James, but right across the Government we have mobilised the responsibilities that we have and the budgets that we have to offer the practical help that we are able to provide here in Wales.

13:50

Organisations working in this field in Wales have called for you to publish the findings of the child poverty review, and it's regrettable they're only now being made public as a result of a freedom of information request. They are, however, very revealing. Not only are they contrary to your own Government's policy, they're in line with what we in Plaid Cymru and others have been advocating. The report highlights, and I quote, that 'many of those in need' are not eligible currently for free school meals, and its central finding, as it goes on to say, is that:

'The most common suggestion was the need to expand eligibility for FSM to a wider range of children and young people.'

First Minister, why do you keep on resisting this recommendation?

Well, we don't resist the recommendation. Llywydd, the changes that we have made to free school meals eligibility will result in thousands more children in Wales being able to take up free school meals than was the case under the previous eligibility regime. So, it is simply untrue to say that we have not take account of what the Member quite fairly quoted as not being Government policy, but our account of the suggestions that were made to us during the review. Now, the review was concluded before the global pandemic began. In November of last year, we published our child poverty income maximisation action plan. It was part of that plan that led us to invest an additional £52 million in free school meals in the current financial year to ensure the continued provision of free school meals during school holidays here in Wales. It's a very direct response to the comments that were collected during the review.

Of course, the actions that have been taken now during the pandemic are welcome, but the children's commissioner has made the point that we do need to see the review, which is looking at what can be done beyond the immediate, turned into a concrete plan of action. Many people working in this field are pointing out that Wales has the least generous provision for free school meals across the UK. Your Government's policy, as the child poverty action group has pointed out, means that 70,000 children living below the poverty line in Wales are currently excluded, and that's why we in Plaid Cymru, alongside many of those that responded to this review—charities, young people, local authorities—have made the case for immediately extending free school meals to any child in any family receiving universal credit or equivalent benefit. We know you've done the costings on that, First Minister, because you told us last week, but what is the long-term cost of allowing child poverty to persist? The children of Wales will be a priority in our manifesto—can you say the same, First Minister?

Llywydd, it's plainly nonsensical to suggest that our approach to free school meals is the least generous in the United Kingdom. We were the very first Government in the United Kingdom to guarantee free school meals during school holidays. We've seen the way in which the UK Government was dragged kicking and screaming to the same position as a result of campaigns, campaigns citing the actions that the Welsh Government had taken back in the autumn. I've had an opportunity to discuss directly with the children's commissioner the reports that she herself has provided on, for example, the costs of the school day, including free school meals. Our income maximisation action plan draws very heavily on the recommendations of the commissioner. It's why we have doubled and doubled again the number of times during a young person's school career that a child can draw down what used to be called the school uniform grant and which now, of course, is able to be used for a far wider range of purposes. Those are the practical actions that we can take, and, when this Government says that we will do something, we will make sure that it is practical, deliverable and affordable, and those are obligations that I think fall on any party that seeks to be part of Government. I look forward to his party being able to explain not simply how they're going to provide free school meals for any child in any family on universal credit, but alongside everything else that his party claims to be able to deliver. Then people will know that they are being made a responsible offer, not an offer simply designed to attract a headline.

13:55

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, last week there was much focus on the target of having 70 per cent of over-80-year-olds vaccinated. I heard your response to an earlier question this afternoon, but I think it is very, very important that we know quite clearly whether you've hit that target or not. You said last week that you will have day-to-day information in your possession that could give you an up-to-date picture. The health Minister wasn't able to confirm that yesterday at the press conference, but can you give us a simple response today, please? Have you hit the target of vaccinating 70 per cent of over-80-year-olds in Wales?

Well, Llywydd, I've already given an answer to that question this afternoon. I know there was a lot of focus last week on other things as well, but the Member just needs to listen and then he would know that his question has already been answered. The data is still coming in, but the figures we have show 72 per cent of people living and working in care homes have already been vaccinated. That's not just offered vaccination—that's already been vaccinated. We will not reach the 70 per cent for over-80s because of the interruption to the programme of vaccination that happened on Sunday and on Monday morning. I won't have people over 80 feeling pressurised to come out to be vaccinated when they themselves decide that it is not safe for them to do so. All of those people will have been offered a further opportunity to be vaccinated by the end of Wednesday. We are on track to deliver what we said we would, which is to have made an offer of vaccination to everybody in the top four priority groups by the middle of February.

You have not met your commitment, First Minister. Last week, you said quite clearly, and your health Minister said quite clearly—that was information offered by you as a Government—that everyone over the age of 80, 70 per cent of that cohort, would be vaccinated by the end of the week. I heard loud and clear what the response was, but you didn't give a clear answer. You have cleared that up—you've missed your target. That's straightforward; people understand that. Yesterday, for example, I could tell that the UK Government have four out of five 80-year-olds vaccinated—80 per cent. They've hit their target. What we're seeing constantly is targets being missed by your Government, and we're seeing the opening of a postcode lottery here in Wales. Last Friday, for example, there was a surgery in Barry that had 350 over-80-year-olds on their books, but only 50 individuals had been offered the vaccine and had been administered the shots. That clearly shows that, in some areas, there is a difference of administration and of availability of the vaccine, whilst in other areas the health Minister was talking about over-70-year-olds being called for the vaccination. Can you confirm what measures you are taking to catch up with the roll-out of the vaccine and, ultimately, make sure that a postcode lottery doesn't emerge across Wales?

Well, really, Llywydd, the Member's going to have to do better than that. Here he is again in his resumed responsibilities. There is no postcode lottery here in Wales; there is an enormous effort in every single part of Wales, right across the health service, to vaccinate as many people as quickly and as safely as possible. The figures from last week demonstrate just how successful that effort has been. Instead of sniping from the sidelines, those people would appreciate just a little bit of support from the Member instead of the undermining of their efforts, which, of course, has been his key characteristic throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Well, again, the First Minister doesn't look at the facts that are before him. Everything I've quoted him today are facts—about the Government's own commitment about 70 per cent of over-80-year-olds being vaccinated by the end of the week; the fact that that surgery in Barry identified that 350 people on their books over 80 and only 50 have been administered the shots; the difference between England and Wales—there are now 50,000 more people vaccinated in England, as a proportion of population, than in Wales. That's equivalent to the town of Barry. There is a level of urgency required in the roll-out of this vaccine. You yourself are on the record of talking of it not being a sprint. The people of Wales want to know that the speed and the roll-out are catching up with other parts of the United Kingdom, and when you set yourself a target, you hit the target. I've dealt in facts today; you've constantly tried to deflect from that, First Minister. It would be far better if, when you made a commitment, you stuck to it. So, what are you doing to close that population gap that has opened up with England of 50,000 people? As I said, that is a town the size of Barry being vaccinated, and that is of critical importance, First Minister.

14:00

Let me give the Member a few facts. On Tuesday of last week, we had succeeded in vaccinating 162,000 people in Wales. This Tuesday, that has risen to 290,000 people. That's the fastest rate of increase of any part of the United Kingdom. Last Monday, we vaccinated 10,000 people; this Monday, we vaccinated nearly 20,000 people. That is the speed of the roll-out here in Wales—a speed that is urgent, a speed that is dedicated, a speed that is succeeding. He may want to run it down. He leads a Conservative party in Wales that has reverted to its nineteenth-century type: for Wales, see England. It's not good enough, it doesn't wash and he's going to have to do better than that.

Self-catering Businesses

3. How is the Welsh Government supporting self-catering businesses in North Wales during the pandemic? OQ56166

Llywydd, on Friday 22 January, the package of support to businesses affected by level 4 restrictions was further enhanced by an additional £200 million, taking its total to £650 million. Self-catering businesses will be eligible for elements of this support, provided they meet the necessary criteria. 

Thank you. Well, a single north Wales council continues to insist that legitimate self-catering businesses that do not meet all three Welsh Government criteria for the payment of business and lockdown non-domestic rate grants to holiday letting businesses are ineligible, leaving several struggling, telling me that their position is based on a telephone conversation with a Welsh Government official, although they confirm that the council does not have a formal written record of that conversation and nor was there any subsequent correspondence to confirm the outcome. However, I've received confirmation from three Welsh Government Ministers and all five other north Wales county councils that local authorities have discretion to pay out these grants to self-catering businesses unable to meet the three eligibility criteria, but able to prove they're a legitimate business. For example, Denbighshire confirmed they paid the grants out in these cases, and the officers from Welsh Government confirmed that their viewpoint was valid and they were correct in awarding the grants to these businesses. Will you therefore place on record that local authorities have discretion to pay out these grants to self-catering businesses that are unable to meet the three eligibility criteria, but able to prove they're a legitimate business to their council, and confirm whether Welsh Government funding is available for retrospective payments accordingly?

Well, Llywydd, I think the Member has accurately set out the Welsh Government's position: we have provided discretion to local authorities to apply the criteria we set out in the specific circumstances that they face. Discretion will mean that some local authorities go about that in ways that others do not. That is in the nature of discretion. The Member has accurately set out the Welsh Government's position on that matter.

UK Workers' Rights

4. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government regarding plans for a post-Brexit review of UK workers' rights? OQ56170

Llywydd, any erosion of workers' rights is unacceptable, unnecessary and damaging. A race to the bottom is not in the interests of workers, employers or the broader economy. The UK Government must uphold its promise to protect workers' rights following Brexit.

First Minister, thank you for your answer. I raised this, as you know, last week in questions, but over the course of the last week, despite initial denials, we've now seen a UK business Secretary confirm proposals for a bonfire of hard-won workers' rights and terms and conditions, despite repeated promises from the Prime Minister that this would not happen on leaving the EU. These proposals are going to leave many workers, including key workers throughout Wales, hundreds of pounds out of pocket and working longer hours for less in unsafe work. So, First Minister, will you agree with me that working people who now face the prospect of working longer for less, having their hard-won rights stripped away, could feel that they've been hoodwinked by the Conservatives and their promises of a bright new future when we left the EU?

14:05

Well, Llywydd, Huw Irranca-Davies's question last week was prescient, because he put his finger on this issue before press reports appeared of plans that are going on inside the UK Government. Here is how they were reported:

'Worker protections enshrined in EU law—including the 48-hour week—would be ripped up under plans being drawn up by the government as part of a post-Brexit overhaul of UK labour markets. 

'The package of deregulatory measures is being put together by the UK’s business department with the approval of Downing Street...select business leaders have been sounded out on the plan.'

Now, is that the Morning Star reporting what's going on, Llywydd? No, it's the Financial Times telling us what is going on inside the UK Government. It is a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace that a Government that made such promises to people that if they voted to leave the European Union their rights would be protected are, within weeks of that happening, drawing up secret plans to have a bonfire of those protections.

During this pandemic, our country has been kept going by an army of vulnerable key workers, including agency workers, whose limited rights very often stem from European Union law. Ripping up those rights is no way at all to reward them, and they will not forget—they will not forget what the Conservative Party here in Wales has in store for them: as Huw Irranca-Davies says, a future in which they're going to be asked to work longer for less. But we know what the Conservative Party thinks of them, Llywydd, don't we? The current Secretary of State in the business department was a contributor to that notorious Britannia Unchained book of less than a decade ago, when Conservative Cabinet members described British workers as

'among the worst idlers in the world'.

Now, they're able to put that ideologically charged view of the world into practice.

First Minister, the UK Government has been very clear that our high standards on protections for workers were never dependent on our membership of the EU. Now, whilst we can all be proud that the UK has one of the best records on workers' rights in the world, it is true that the Welsh Government could and should be doing more. Let's take, for example, your self-isolation support scheme, which is aimed at those on low incomes who cannot work from home and must self-isolate, and yet you are failing to make payments to Welsh people who have been told to isolate by the NHS track and trace app. So, why don't you today explain what action you are taking to ensure that workers who are notified by the NHS app to self-isolate will actually receive the £500 payment, as they are already doing in England under a Conservative UK Government? Diolch.

Llywydd, the Member's attempt to defend the UK Government's record in this matter barely amounted to being feeble. No doubt she was briefed on the fact that in the House of Commons debate on this matter yesterday, Tory backbencher after backbencher queued up to praise the advantages of what they call flexibility and a bonfire of red tape, and we know what that means. We know that in the hands of the Conservative Party that means a bonfire of the rights of workers, hard-won rights, which, of course, her party has opposed at every possible opportunity.

As far as the self-isolation support scheme is concerned, about 20,000 applications have been received, just under 10,000 have been approved. Over 6,000 people have already received payments. That totals over £3 million. The NHS app is the responsibility of the English health department. It has to help to make sure that the app that it provides is suitable for use in Wales. In the meantime, we will find a workaround so that people who are notified through the app do not lose out on self-isolation support payments here in Wales, because we will take that responsibility, even while her party, which is actually in charge of the problem that she has identified, fails to do so.

14:10

First Minister, scaremongering again. That's exactly what I expect. The answer you gave was the sort of reply I always expect from you—doom, gloom and more fear. In many areas of workers' rights, as Janet has rightly said, including maternity and holiday allowances, UK workers have enjoyed and will still enjoy far superior conditions than those mandated by the EU, and the relevant UK Government Minister has pledged that there will be no race to the bottom. So, First Minister, let's turn this around: what would you like to see the UK Government do in this area that would benefit workers in Wales? Thank you.

Well, Llywydd, the Member can attempt to dismiss people's concerns as scaremongering. I read out for her not my words, but the report that the Financial Times produced of this Government's intentions, confirmed by Kwasi Kwarteng when speaking to the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee only on Tuesday of last week, when he confirmed that this review was going on inside Government. No. 10 has declined to dismiss what the Financial Times said about an end to the 48-hour maximum working week, about changes to rules about breaks at work, about removing overtime pay when calculating holiday pay entitlement. Those are direct assaults, particularly on the working lives of those who have the least protection already. The Labour Party will continue always to stand up for those people, to make sure that their rights are properly articulated and understood, even as she pretends that those things are of no importance.

Question 5 [OQ56193] was withdrawn. Question 6, Siân Gwenllian.

The Vaccination Programme in Arfon

6. Will the First Minister provide an update on the COVID-19 vaccination programme in Arfon? OQ56197

Llywydd, thank you to Siân Gwenllian for that question. On 11 January, we published our national vaccination strategy, with key milestones and priorities for delivery. Within Arfon, all primary care practices are ready to deliver the vaccine. Bangor has one of the three mass vaccinations centres in north Wales.

Thank you. It was a privilege to take my mother, who is 92 years old, for her first vaccination at the major event on the Llŷn peninsula over the weekend. As a result of the excellent efforts of local medical leaders and despite a whole host of bureaucratic barriers and snow, 1,200 people were vaccinated. GPs and health workers are doing heroic work in all parts of Wales, and our debt to them is very great.

May I refer your Government to one significant problem that needs to be addressed? The ICT systems at the various levels don't communicate with each other, and this is creating confusion. For example, GPs can't see which of their patients have had a vaccination appointment at one of the mass vaccination centres, and that could mean that some people receive two appointments and that a valuable vaccination is wasted. That's just one example. Can you actually try and find a swift resolution to these IT problems? They've come to my attention in Arfon, but it's likely that they are common across Wales.

Well, Llywydd, thank you to Siân Gwenllian for those supplementary questions. It's great to hear that her mother has received her vaccination, and I've been reading over the weekend about everything that's been happening in Arfon and on the Llŷn peninsula. I will refer in a moment to something I saw from Dr Eilir Hughes, who's been leading the vaccination efforts on the Llŷn peninsula. But, in terms of the ICT systems, things are happening so quickly and the NHS Wales Informatics Service are trying to resolve these problems that have arisen. They are happening because everyone is doing their level best to do everything they can to provide vaccinations to people the length and breadth of Wales. Areas of north Wales have led on those endeavours, so I can tell Siân Gwenllian that we're aware of the problems, and people are working very hard to resolve them. I do want to refer to one of the sentences I heard from Dr Eilir Hughes at the end of the weekend. It is in English, so will I just quote it in the original, because it does demonstrate the spirit and the effort that people are making.

This was Dr Eilir Hughes, one of the practitioners to whom Siân Gwenllian referred, who's done such a lot to provide innovative services in that part of Wales. This is what was said: 'Witnessing the joy that people felt of receiving the vaccine was a truly amazing and humbling experience to witness. I'm in total awe of everyone who made this happen and succeed. A team of 50 people delivering over 1,000 vaccines in two days; brilliant work by the admin staff, police, council staff and so many others overcoming unexpected snow and not a single dose wasted. Pen Llŷn at its very best.'

14:15
Poverty in Mid and West Wales

7. What action does the Welsh Government plan to undertake to reduce poverty in the mid and west region? OQ56198

I thank Helen Mary Jones for that. We focus on those actions that add to or leave money in the pockets of those who need it the most. That includes aiding Welsh citizens to secure entitlement to UK-wide benefits. Our single advice services helped people in Mid and West Wales claim over £4.7 million in additional welfare benefit income last year alone.

I'm grateful to the First Minister for his answer. He will be aware of the report from the Wales Governance Centre in April 2019 and, indeed, the report from a committee of this Senedd. The Wales Governance Centre estimated that if we were able to secure the devolution of welfare benefits on the same model that Scotland has, we could boost the Welsh budget by £200 million a year. Does the First Minister agree with me that it would greatly assist any Welsh Government's efforts to reduce poverty if we were able to control those elements of the benefit system here? Does he understand why my constituents in the poorest part of my region—towns like Llanelli—find it difficult to understand why the Welsh Government won't seek this power, in order to be able to take that practical action to which the First Minister refers? 

I'm very familiar with the report of the Wales Governance Centre to which Helen Mary Jones refers, and a very useful addition it was to the developing literature on what Wales should seek in relation to the benefits system. I take a different view, I suspect, to the Member. I'm in favour of seeking aspects of the administration of the welfare benefit system; I am not in favour of breaking up the UK's social security system. That's because I think that the United Kingdom offers a different opportunity to pool resources and share out rewards according to need, and that that is to the benefit of Welsh citizens, particularly our poorest Welsh citizens. The Wales Governance Centre report did say, as Helen Mary Jones says, that if we were offered devolution on the same basis as Scotland, that could lead to the sums of money the report identified. The report went on to say that it was highly unlikely that devolution on those terms would be offered to us, and set out the reasons why. So, I think it's important to provide a complete account of what that report said, and I'm afraid I agree with the report. It's very unlikely that the UK Government would be prepared to repeat the sort of deal that they offered to Scotland, partly because they now regret that they did so. Devolution of the administration of benefits is something that I've previously agreed with Helen Mary Jones about and I'm happy to repeat that, because I think that would give us a different set of possibilities in Wales without breaking up the access of Welsh people to the advantages that come by being part of that wider social security system.

14:20
Key Workers

8. How is the Welsh Government protecting and supporting all key workers in Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ56185

I thank Bethan Sayed for that question. Amongst the latest measures taken to protect and support key workers in Wales are last week’s strengthening of our coronavirus regulations in the workplace and in retail settings in particular. Such workers have been at the forefront of our programmes in PPE, testing and now vaccination throughout the pandemic.

Thank you for that reply. I'll declare an interest, because my son is in nursery day care. I've had quite a lot of nurseries get in touch with me where staff have told me that they don't seem to be appearing on any lists for the vaccine. They feel like they've been left behind. They are working day in, day out in a vulnerable position. They can't wear PPE when they're working with very young children, and they feel that they should be prioritised for the vaccine, and yet they're not hearing anything from your Government. Can you commit today to looking at this again and providing nursery staff with the priority of a vaccination? They should be appreciated by society and by Welsh Government by being given the vaccine, because they're working, and because they're working so hard. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Diolch yn fawr, Bethan Sayed. Can I just, first of all, absolutely echo what she said about the work that staff in that sector do, the nature of that work and its importance? If we need to do more to communicate to people in that sector where they lie in the JCVI vaccination priority list, then I'm sure our colleague Julie Morgan is listening. In fact, I can see her listening to this exchange, and she will follow that up as a result of it. I'm not able to depart from the JCVI priority list, for all the reasons that we've rehearsed on the floor of the Senedd previously, but where people simply feel that they lack information about where they lie in the priority list and what that means for them, I'm sure we would want to do more to make sure that they know and understand that, particularly in the circumstances that the Member referred to.

The Impact of Brexit on the NHS

9. What assessment has the First Minister made of the impact of Brexit on the NHS in Wales? OQ56200

I thank Lynne Neagle. Leaving the European Union brings a range of adverse implications for the NHS, both in the short and long term. We work closely with the Welsh NHS to mitigate these new barriers at a time when the service is already under huge pressures from the global public health crisis.

Thank you, First Minister. In the House of Commons last week, we saw Tory MPs vote down the Lords amendment to the Trade Bill that excluded NHS data from the scope of any future trade agreements, leaving the door open to the possibility of companies using that data to develop tools and medicines to sell back to the NHS. While Tory Ministers consistently tell us that the NHS is not for sale in future trade deals, their own MPs are voting against the amendment that makes that a reality. Can I ask you, First Minister, to give us your assurance that our NHS is not for sale in Wales? What steps will you take to ensure that that is communicated loudly and clearly to the UK Government?

I thank the Member for that question. The NHS in Wales is absolutely, certainly not for sale, and not to be sacrificed, either, on the altar of some UK trade deal. It was deeply disappointing—I would go further than that, really—that the UK Government decided to overturn again amendments passed in the House of Lords on this matter, amendments passed with the support of three different parties represented here in the Senedd. Our colleagues in the House of Lords have mobilised to defend the interests of the NHS and to defend the interests of Wales against the onslaught of the UK Government. Here in Wales we will do everything that we possibly can to stand up for the Welsh NHS, to make sure that those who work in it know that they have our full support, to try to overcome the new barriers that will be there. The NHS Confederation and Wales Centre for Public Policy report of November told us that those most likely to be affected by new barriers to recruitment included ambulance drivers, social care workers, healthcare support workers and healthcare assistants. All of those people are vital to the Welsh NHS. All of those people will be harder to recruit because of the actions of this Government. They could have, instead of saying warm words, supported that amendment last week, which would have offered some comfort to people that our NHS is not to be sacrificed by this ideologically driven UK Government. They failed to do so; we will stand up for them and for the NHS. 

14:25
2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item is the business statement and announcement. I will now transfer the reins to Ann Jones, but I will first of all call on the Trefnydd to make the business statement—Rebecca Evans. 

Diolch, Llywydd. There are two changes to this week's business. Firstly, the Minister for Health and Social Services will make a statement shortly to update Members on the latest position regarding the COVID-19 vaccination. Secondly, the title of the statement on promoting the use of Welsh in families—the transmission in families policy—has been updated. 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.  

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

Apologies for that. Trefnydd, north Wales was hit very hard last week, as were other communities across the country, by storm Christoph. Included in those communities that were hit was Ruthin in my own constituency. Can I call for a statement from the Welsh Government on the impact of those storms and what support is now going to be made available to communities like Ruthin and others across Wales that have really been hit hard by this? These floods couldn't have come at a worse time, given the impact of the COVID pandemic. 

Can I also call for a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services regarding the compensation available for third-year student nurse placements? I was contacted by a student nurse this week who tells me that student nurses in England are being paid for the placement hours that they complete under the new emergency standard measures that have now been introduced during the pandemic. But she and her colleagues in Wales have been told in a letter from the Chief Nursing Officer for Wales that students here will not be paid for their placements. This obviously seems to be quite unfair for those students here in Wales who feel that they are now disadvantaged compared to their peers. Can I ask for a statement on this particular issue in order that the student nurse workforce that we are going to be so reliant on during the pandemic and, indeed, in the future, is given proper compensation for the work that it's putting in? Thank you.

Thank you to Darren Millar for raising both of these issues, the first being storm Christoph, which is clearly absolutely awful for the families and the businesses involved. As Darren sets out, it couldn't have come at a worse time, being in the middle of the pandemic and in winter as well. We're very alive to the needs of the people who've been affected by the storms, and that's why the Welsh Government has agreed to work with local authorities to make those support payments of up to £1,000 available per household. And of course, you'll remember that that is the same level of support that we made available in the storms that hit Wales in February and March of last year, just before the pandemic really took hold. This support will also be available to people who have suffered significant internal flooding whilst the restrictions have been in place, and we're in some active discussion with the areas impacted in terms of the case for any further funding. I know that the Minister for Housing and Local Government particularly is having discussions with the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs about what further support might be needed and, clearly, we'd be keen to keep colleagues updated on that.

I will ask my colleague the Minister for Health and Social Services to provide a written response to the particular query that you have regarding student nurses and the role that they can play in the tackling of the pandemic at this point. 

I wanted to ask a question about health visitors. I had a reply from the health Minister today to a written question that I'd put in, and I didn't get a direct response as to whether any health visitors have been redeployed in the health service due to the pandemic. He said in that reply just to risk assess any considerations for redeployment by the health boards, but didn't say if it was happening or not. Now, I know that lots of parents are struggling to get access to their health visitors, so I'd like to have a statement brought forward from the health Minister that can detail whether those redeployments have happened, and how, and whether that means there's a deficiency therefore in helping new parents here in Wales. 

My second request for a statement is with regards to the burst mine shaft in Skewen in my region that happened last week. I know one of the ladies whose house it happened to, Samira Jeffreys, very well, and she lost everything in that. I know that we are set to have a briefing as MSs at the end of the week by the Coal Authority, but I'd like to understand, as a Welsh Government, what are you doing to check all those old coal mine shafts to ensure that we don't see this happening all across south Wales, especially where we have former mining communities, and to ensure that you help those people who have been affected by this tragedy?

14:30

On the first issue that was raised, which was in regard to the redeployment or otherwise of health visitors, I know that the health Minister will have been listening to that request for a statement, but I'd also encourage you, and I'm sure you've already sought this as well, to take it up directly with the local health board who'll be able to provide you with that more granular local level of data that might be useful to you. 

And Welsh Government has been working with the Coal Authority and seeking to work also with the UK Government with regard to our legacy coal tips and all of the wider flooding issues that affected us last year. But, clearly, the former mining communities would be really keen that that work includes the mine shafts as well, and I know that some work is already going on to ensure that the work that has already been started is fully cognisant of all of the various risks affecting the communities. But I know that the Coal Authority will be able to give you and other Members representing the local area that fuller briefing on Friday this week. 

Trefnydd, can I ask for a Government statement on Welsh Government engagement with the post office and postal services? The reason it's relevant is that Welsh Government policy and support for high streets and small businesses is very important, and I've been told recently when I've applied to the post office in respect of a small post office in Efail Isaf that had shut temporarily and is now in the process of reopening—the store has reopened, it is the only shop in Efail Isaf the village—but what I'm told is that the post office has a grant of £50 million in respect of supporting small shops and postal services like this. Now, it seems to me it is vitally important that Welsh Government actually is engaged with the way in which this money is used to ensure that there's maximum effect. Now, I know the people of Efail Isaf support their store, but would welcome any intervention Welsh Government can make to ensure that the post office money that is available is best used for services like that in our communities, supporting those communities. 

Absolutely. And as Mick Antoniw is aware, post office matters aren't devolved and they are the responsibility of the UK Government, but nonetheless, as Mick Antoniw sets out, we have a real and direct interest in ensuring that Wales does get its fair share of those UK funds. Post Office Ltd obviously works right across the UK, and it doesn't ring-fence any part of its budget separately; it's allocated on a needs basis, and I know that the arguments and cases that colleagues across the Senedd have been making for post offices in their own communities have been quite fruitful in terms of ensuring that some of that funding does come to Wales.

My officials are in regular contact with Post Office Ltd to discuss matters such as the situation in Efail Isaf, where, unfortunately, as Mick Antoniw has set out, the local post office did close, and, as he's mentioned, the shop has now reopened. I do know that Post Office Ltd have advised Welsh Government that they do intend to speak to the new owners of the shop in Efail Isaf as soon as possible to discuss a potential contract for post office services, so I very much hope for a successful resolution there. 

Trefnydd, could we have an update on the support available for parents managing homeworking and home schooling during the pandemic? I'm sure that this has been raised with you as a Member of the Senedd, as it's been raised with me. As a parent myself, who often has a toddler with me in the room when I attend some Zoom meetings, I'm aware of the pressures that parents are under. Children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, mustn't be allowed to slip further behind educationally, relative to previous generations. So, could we have a statement from the—well, I imagine the Minister for Education, on that?

Secondly, hopefully the vaccine roll-out means that we will soon be turning a corner in the pandemic. As thoughts turn to trying to rebuild the economy, could we have a statement from the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales on a strategy, or the developing strategy, for investing in greener technology and industries? I'm concerned that, for all the talk of doing things differently and building back better, it will be too easy for us to lapse back into pre-COVID ways as we do come out of this, and people relax. So, yes, we've got to get businesses back on their feet, but at the same time we've got to make sure that we do grasp the opportunity to transform the economy and make it greener—a greener and more affluent Wales.

14:35

Thank you. Welsh Government very much shares the concern that Nick Ramsay has described, about the impact of the pandemic on children, particularly those in more disadvantaged communities. And that's one of the reasons why we've invested so heavily in supporting young people and children to get all the digital help that they need. You'll be aware of the recent announcement of nearly £12 million of further funding to take the number of laptops and tablets that we've provided to children and families across Wales up to over 133,000. And we're obviously aware that many children also have difficulties getting online in the first place, so we've provided nearly 11,000 MiFi devices to help children access the internet to undertake their work. So, there's a great deal of work going on there, but I don't underestimate the challenges that this places on parents and families, and I know that the education Minister will be listening carefully to that contribution.

And again, my colleague, the Minister for economy, will be keen, I know, in due course, to update colleagues on the response to the economic crisis, which we're also facing as part of the pandemic, and what we can do to build back better—that kind of green and fair recovery that we're all so keen to see. I think we're standing in good stead with our economic contract, and the fact that that includes specific requirements in terms of decarbonisation. So, we have some good groundwork to build on. We have a budget that, last year and this year, has made significant allocations in respect of decarbonisation, and biodiversity. So, I think, again, we're building from a good place, but both colleagues will have heard the requests for statements.

I'd like a statement from the Government, please, about its ongoing commitment to protecting biodiversity. Biodiversity erosion poses grave risks, of course, to human health, and increases the risk of pandemics, and it has an important role to play in preventing runaway climate change. There's a specific situation happening in my region, which is causing concern among biodiversity advocates. In 2019, Trefnydd, the First Minister decided not to press ahead with the M4 relief road, in part because of the impact it would have on the Gwent levels. But as we speak, the Gwent levels are facing another threat from major development—ironically, this time, from a renewable energy hub. The project is a solar panel installation that's proposed to be built between Marshfield, St Bride's and Peterstone. It would use 155 hectares of green wedge and greenbelt land, which is the equivalent of 290 football pitches, and it would require 30 hectares more land than would have been required for the black route.

I think, Trefnydd, that when the First Minister rejected the black route, he set a precedent for the continued protection of the Gwent levels and the wildlife species that are found there, including the shrill carder bee, of which I'm species champion. Surely, our response to the climate emergency can't be to support renewable energy at the expense of species loss. The Gwent levels are a precious resource for our communities, and all of Wales, and if they're lost they cannot be replaced. So, I'd urge the Government to seek ways of protecting the levels from future threats of this nature. So, please could we have a statement, reasserting the Government's commitment to reverse the decline in biodiversity, for its intrinsic value, and to ensure lasting benefits to society as is set out in its nature recovery action plan for Wales? 

14:40

I very much share Delyth Jewell's passion for supporting biodiversity, and many of us are species champions and we take a lot of pleasure, I think, in those particular roles as well. The Minister with responsibility for the environment will have listened, but, also, the Minister for Housing and Local Government would have been keen to hear what you've described as well, given her work on the national development plan. And, I will make a point as well of having a conversation with the Minister to see what might be the best way to update the Senedd. 

Minister, it's already been mentioned this afternoon, regarding the flooding that's affected my constituency in Skewen and many residents who were evacuated from their homes. Most of them are not yet allowed back into their homes and may not be for several weeks to come. So, I want, essentially, two statements on the same issue: a statement from the Minister for the environment relating to how she is actually tackling the influx of water that's gone into the mines. Storm Christoph just highlighted a big problem and filled that mine and the water is still flowing out of that now, even though the rain subsided several days ago. But it is important that we address that. So, what is the Minister for the environment doing to ensure that we deal with that matter totally, so that the residents can be reassured that they're not going to have more water flowing through their homes? 

The second one is actually for the Welsh Government as to what is the First Minister doing to discuss with the UK Government about this? It's been mentioned before that these are old mine workings. There are hundreds dotted across the valleys in my constituency, let alone the Valleys in south Wales. I know he had done work already with the UK Government on coal tips. But this is another agenda that needs to be met and how the UK Government should take up its responsibility and work with the Welsh Government to alleviate the concerns of many residents who, at the moment, are worried about the undermining of their properties as a consequence of this. 

This is very much an area where I think that the Welsh Government and UK Government need to undertake joint work, very much so, especially given the fact that, as David Rees sets out, Wales is very much disproportionately affected by the issues of the old mine works, as we are naturally—as follows—with the issues of the coal tips and so forth. The work, which has already been undertaken in respect of coal tips with the UK Government and the Coal Authority, I do think provides some good foundations for that work, but clearly it needs to be expanded to ensure that it does encapsulate all of the concerns that David Rees has described this afternoon.  

Business Minister, may I call for a statement on the Welsh Government's reaction to the devastating news that Debenhams stores will now be closing across our country? Its closure and its plans to regenerate our towns and cities is a matter of urgency now. The closure of Debenhams stores across our country, following their takeover from Boohoo, means a loss of hundreds of jobs and will be a severe blow to cities, such as Newport, where Debenhams is the pivotal anchor store within the Friar's Walk city development, Cardiff and Swansea, where the store also forms part of the heart of the city's Quadrant shopping centre.

This is obviously devastating enough, but obviously during the pandemic the knock-on effect of these closures will mean people are hit even harder. It comes at a time when businesses in Wales remain in a precarious position and are suffering immense damage caused by the pandemic, despite grants. Figures produced by the Welsh Retail Consortium reveal that one in five shops in Wales are now empty; the vacancy rates increased from 15.9 per cent to 18 per cent in the third quarter of last year, the largest jump anywhere in the UK.

Big shop closures, such as Debenhams, have a massive impact on local communities and our high streets will now look rundown and blighted. Friar's Walk in Newport is a relatively new development and it was very welcomed at the time when it was first brought there by the Conservative-led Newport City Council. Since then, it's been diminishing—

—and now they've lost their jewel in the crown. I urge the Government to release plans on how they're going to work with Newport council to revive the city centre. Many thanks. 

Thank you very much for raising this issue, and it is a real concern to the Welsh Government—the loss of so many jobs and quite iconic landmark stores in some of our communities as well. Yes, the Welsh Government will work very closely with all of the local authorities affected. We'll also ensure that our support schemes, such as ReAct and so on, are in place for the affected workers. And, of course, we made this pledge to people, through the coronavirus, that we will seek to ensure that everybody has the support that they need to either retrain or to find a new job or to undertake self-employment, if that's something that they would wish to do. So, we need to ensure that those support packages are there for individuals, but also that our high streets, nonetheless, do have a healthy and vibrant future as we come out of the pandemic. The work we're doing through our town-centre loan scheme, for example, will be really important in that, and some of the allocations specifically in the budget for next year speak very much to ensuring that we have healthy high streets in the future. I think that there is a positive future for our high streets, but it certainly will require a great deal of work, both with Welsh Government but also with the partners that Laura Anne Jones has described.

14:45

May I ask for a statement on financial support for the National Eisteddfod of Wales, the National Library of Wales and Urdd Gobaith Cymru? They are all facing significant challenges and urgent action is needed within the next budget. Could I ask you, therefore, as finance Minister, to give serious consideration to the situation, given that one of your Government's main strategies, namely the creation of a million Welsh speakers, is at stake here? Missing another eisteddfod will have a far-reaching impact on the institution. They are going to have to halve their staffing team in order to survive the ensuing period. The Urdd is also facing a financial crisis and a loss of income of £14 million over the next two years, and the national library needs an additional £1 million to its bottom line. I have been drawing the attention of your Deputy Minister to the crisis at the national library since November, and I'm extremely disappointed that no support has been made available to this important institution. Your Government needs to move swiftly to provide support, and a statement on the situation would be of great assistance to us all.

Yes, I'm aware of the significant challenges facing all of those organisations. With regard to the library, for example, the budget reflects the Welsh Government settlement from the UK Government, of course, and must be viewed within the overall context, but our draft budget for the next financial year, which was announced on 21 December, does show that we've maintained the revenue for next year and that stays the same as 2020-21, and I think that in itself is an achievement, given all of the pressures and the ongoing pandemic and the desperate need for funding across all kinds of areas of Government. But we do very much recognise the particular challenges in maintaining the library's historic building, for example. So, we've provided an enhanced capital budget of £3.2 million for next year, and there's funding available as well to accelerate the decarbonisation and digital priorities of the library in order to ensure that it does have a strong future in those particular regards. I have had some further discussions and I'll continue to have further discussions with my colleague Eluned Morgan in respect of some of these particular concerns that have been described by Siân Gwenllian this afternoon.

I've been contacted by many parents who have children with additional learning needs but who have not been offered a placement in the local hubs. Now, Rhondda Cynon Taf council tell me that they are acting upon Welsh Government guidance, but if children with additional learning needs and, in some cases, statements as well, are adversely affected by home schooling, then surely the guidance has to change. A number of third sector organisations agree that the current guidance doesn't make it sufficiently clear that children with additional learning needs who are struggling at home should be considered as vulnerable for the purposes of accessing face-to-face learning, and the rules appear to be inconsistently applied in different places. So, can we therefore have a statement from the Government about how we can best protect the most vulnerable pupils, with more inclusive guidance during lockdown, before more harm is caused to pupils who would be better served by being able to attend their local hubs?

I'm very grateful to Leanne Wood for raising those concerns, and I will be sure to raise them on her behalf with both the education Minister and the Minister for local government to explore the particular point made about the clarity of the guidance and whether or not we need to issue some further clarification to local authorities in terms of aiding their interpretation of the guidance to ensure that the children who most need to be in those hubs have the opportunity to do so. So, I'll make a point of taking that forward today.

14:50
Motions to Elect Members to Committees

Motions to elect Members to committees for the Welsh Conservatives. In accordance with Standing Orders 12.24 and 12.40, I propose that motions to elect these Members to committees are grouped for debate and for voting. I don't see any objections, therefore, I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motions formally. Trefnydd.

Motion NDM7563 Elin Jones

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Angela Burns (Welsh Conservatives) as a member of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee in place of Andrew R.T. Davies (Welsh Conservatives).

Motion NDM7564 Elin Jones

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Nick Ramsay (Welsh Conservatives) as a member of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee in place of Laura Anne Jones (Welsh Conservatives).

Motion NDM7565 Elin Jones

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Darren Millar (Welsh Conservatives) as a member of the Public Accounts Committee in place of Angela Burns (Welsh Conservatives).

Motion NDM7566 Elin Jones

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Laura Anne Jones (Welsh Conservatives) as a member of the Equalities, Local Government and Communities Committee in place of Mark Isherwood (Welsh Conservatives).

Motion NDM7567 Elin Jones

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Mark Isherwood (Welsh Conservatives) as a member of the Business Committee in place of Darren Millar (Welsh Conservatives).

Motion NDM7568 Elin Jones

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Mark Isherwood (Welsh Conservatives) as a member of the Finance Committee in place of Nick Ramsay (Welsh Conservatives).

Motion NDM7569 Elin Jones

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Mark Isherwood (Welsh Conservatives) as an alternate member of the Standards of Conduct Committee in place of Darren Millar (Welsh Conservatives).

Motions moved.

Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motions. Does any Member object? No, I don't see any objections. Therefore, the motions are agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motions agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

3. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Update on COVID-19 Vaccinations

The next item on the agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services, an update on COVID vaccinations. I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Today, we have published the first of our reports summarising progress against our national COVID-19 vaccination plan. These will be published every Tuesday from now on. These reports are in addition to the surveillance data published by Public Health Wales both daily and weekly, and the operational data being published by Welsh Government statisticians from today, which we will publish each Tuesday going forward.

According to the figures published at midday today, NHS Wales has vaccinated almost 290,000 people across Wales. That is just over 9 per cent of the population. We have seen a significant escalation in the pace of vaccine deployment here in Wales over the last couple of weeks. This is because we have seen an increase in vaccine supply, in particular since the introduction of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at the start of the month, and because of the continued expansion of our vaccination infrastructure. 

We hit two markers in our vaccination strategy last week. We offered all front-line Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust staff their first dose of the vaccine, and uptake is now over 65 per cent. We also exceeded our end of January marker to have more than 250 general practices deploying the vaccine. Last week, more than 300 practices were involved in running vaccine clinics and, up to yesterday, at least 329 were doing so. We are also making strong progress towards the final marker, and that is offering the vaccine to all care home residents and staff by the end of the month.

We are currently vaccinating, on average, around 1,000 care home residents a day. Over 11,000 care homes residents, which is about 67 per cent of this priority group, at least that many have now received their first dose of the vaccine. Over 74 per cent of care home staff have also received their first dose. At the end of last week, as I said, more than 300 general practices were running vaccine clinics. We have exceeded the plan's expectation for 250 practices. Our approach encompasses all primary care professionals, including dentists, optometrists and pharmacists, in the delivery of the vaccine. This includes a community pharmacy pilot, community vaccination centres and, from last weekend, clusters of GP practices running clinics in local communities. We heard a little earlier about the particular example in Nefyn on the Llŷn Peninsula. That was one of three GP cluster clinics that ran last weekend and they were estimated to have administered 3,000 vaccines over the weekend between them, many of those, of course, to the priority over-80s group. 

I know that Members will, of course, want to know and return to whether we vaccinated 70 per cent of over-80s and in care homes by the weekend. We don't think we quite got there. The centre closures and rescheduling of appointments due to the weather were a key factor in this.  What is clear and undoubted, however, is the heroic effort under way, with the numbers of people being vaccinated increasing every day last week as the week progressed, and I want to thank each and every person involved for their commitment to this ongoing national mission.

Members will be aware of the centre closures due to the adverse weather over the weekend in the Cwm Taf area, but also in the Swansea bay area. Centres were closed for safety reasons and vaccine appointments have been rescheduled. A number of GP practices also postponed weekend appointments to early this week, and that was absolutely the right thing to do. Members will also have heard about queues forming outside a vaccination centre in Swansea on Friday evening. Sadly, this was the result of someone needing emergency medical treatment as soon as they arrived at the centre. NHS staff are doing everything they can to ensure people don’t have to queue for their vaccination appointments, but sometimes, as I'm sure all Members will appreciate, emergencies do happen. Whilst the NHS does everything it can to make sure the vaccination infrastructure is resilient, these issues serve as a useful reminder that there are events outside of our control that will impact on the delivery of our aims. There is no doubt, however, that we are making good progress and building pace all the time.

14:55

Minister, I'd like to thank you for your statement. Like you, I do appreciate, and I am grateful for, the hard work of all those who are trying to carry out these all-important vaccinations. But, despite my gratitude to the front line, I really would like to challenge some of the figures that you've just reeled off and ask you a few questions on your statement. Whilst it is really good news that 290,000 people have been vaccinated, the reality is that simply not enough of the over-80s who are in the community have had the option of having a vaccine. You say that 52.8 per cent of the over-80s have been vaccinated, but it is a seriously missed target. So, Minister, could you please tell us what extended time frame you have now? What about some of the local health boards, such as Cardiff and Vale or, indeed, Hywel Dda, who are already sending out letters to the over-70s? Do you have an LHB percentage breakdown on each priority group?

You stated that some of the centres were closed due to the snow. Are you able to inform us of the numbers of centres or the numbers of planned vaccines that were closed, because I do understand that the weather played a part, but are you really saying that 42,115 over-80s did not get vaccinated because of the weather? The reality is that that's a daily target of some 22,000, which has only been hit three times in the past, so I think that there are other issues at play.

From my inbox, and inboxes, I know, of other Senedd Members, there are many, many over-80s who have not even heard, have not even been called forward for a vaccination, let alone had to have one rescheduled. I have a constituent who's 96 years old and lives on her own in Kilgetty—not a dicky bird from anybody about when she's going to get a vaccine—96. Yet, in other areas of Wales we're already looking at vaccinating over-70s. It's very piecemeal, and I'd be very grateful to know how you're going to be able to pull this together so, as Andrew R.T. Davies said in First Minister's questions, we don't have a postcode lottery.

The over-80s are a very vulnerable group. Therefore, Minister, I'd be very grateful if you could tell us what progress has been made on mobile teams visiting the most vulnerable in their homes.

Looking forward, and, sadly, it's likely that vaccines will need to be altered on a semi-regular basis because of the new variants that are coming through, are you able to give us information on what part Wales is able to play in the future development of any new vaccines?

Finally, Minister, I just wondered whether you could tell us what is being put in place to manage the anomalies of border villages and towns, where patients may live in Wales but be registered with a GP surgery in England or vice versa. These people who are neighbours are getting vaccinations weeks apart, and I know it's causing some unrest. It would be very good to have an update.

I do have a further slew of questions. I am conscious of the time, so I'll take the opportunity to ask my other questions during the Welsh Conservatives' debate on vaccines tomorrow. Thank you.

Thank you for that series of questions. The figures produced by Public Health Wales on over-80s are for over-80s in the community. Of course, some of the over-80s in Wales will be resident in care homes, and that data is being updated. You will have seen the BBC article last week that explained the lag in the data reporting and the fact that England report data at an earlier point than ourselves. We provide data with a level of quality assurance around it, but, still, there's a data lag within that.

On the local health board breakdown, I don't have an over-80s breakdown to provide to you. As we get more information, we'll be able to provide more information. As I said in my statement, every Tuesday we'll provide information, just as every Thursday Public Health Wales will, so you can expect there to me more and more data as it's available, because I do think transparency about the data is important to engender public trust. Being transparent with the data and, as we have seen, the significant increases in vaccine delivery are key, I think, to maintaining the level of public trust and confidence we all want to see in this programme. It is very much a national mission.

Five mass vaccination centres were affected, at least, by the conditions, but a range of additional GP clinics didn't go ahead, and, again, I think for understandable reasons. Also, as the First Minister set out yesterday, and I set out at the press conference yesterday, we're aware that there were a significant number of people who didn't attend for appointments. And that's entirely understandable—the conditions in large parts of Wales in the last two days have been treacherous. So, you'd understand why people haven't attended and why those appointments are being rolled forward into the rest of the week. So, people who don't attend will still be contacted and offered an alternative date.

The reason why a range of over-70 letters are going out is that we're planning ahead in each health board when they've made really good progress with the current stage of the vaccine roll-out. It will still be the case that some over-80s in different parts of Wales won't have had their vaccine yet, just as in other UK nations. What I don't think we should do is to hold back the ability for those parts of Wales who can do that and are on schedule to do so until everyone else has caught up. As I've said repeatedly, the objective is for all of us to go as quickly as possible through the priority groups and to make sure we're protecting our most vulnerable citizens. And I completely reject the suggestion that there is a postcode lottery in our delivery. I think, if you look right across Wales, you'll see that there is a significant amount of progress being made, and I think the differences are relatively marginal, and one or two anecdotes do not paint an accurate version of the national picture.

We have 14 mobile units that are already going around helping to deliver vaccinations. We also have members of the primary care team who are delivering vaccinations to people who are housebound, and again that's substantially led by our colleagues in general practice, which is why it's such great news that at least 329 general practices across the country are engaged in this work. And I'm tremendously grateful to the whole primary care team for working together in such a really incredible way to deliver the vaccine programme. That's why we haven't just got better access, but the pace of what we're doing. It's worth pointing out that, in the last seven days, Wales has the fastest rate of vaccination per head of population compared to every other UK nation. So, as to the demands for Wales to catch up with other UK nations, we are catching up with UK nations. We're going faster than the rest of the UK at present. And it was a few weeks ago when I was facing questions about why Wales was fourth out of the four nations—we're now second and making ground on England—which I know is a significant anxiety for a range of people, but this really is a programme that is delivering and delivering at a much greater pace.

In terms of new vaccines, Wales definitely punches above its weight when it comes to genomic sequencing, understanding what's happening with current variants and newer ones as well. And again, just as I think we can all take a measure of pride in our vaccine programme and the pace that we've seen in the last few days, we should take pride in the contributions that our scientists are making to understanding the new variants, the new potential threats that exist, and what that means for the ability of our scientists, including those people in private sector research, who are looking at having a vaccination programme that continues to meet the challenges that new vaccinations will present.

And on cross-border issues, we had a particular wrinkle when a Welsh office Minister suggested last week that there was a problem with vaccines not being offered to English residents who are registered with a Welsh GP. Actually, we've had a conversation, and I had a conversation at a health Ministers' meeting across the four nations, about this to try and resolve this. My understanding is that, on cross-border vaccination, we are doing the best thing possible, in terms of that everyone who's registered with a Welsh GP can get their vaccination, including residents in care homes. But I think there are some issues to work through, potentially, with indemnity issues, about whether or not people who are resident in a care home but have an English GP can actually have that delivered by their English GP or not, and we're making sure those people are not left behind in our care home programme.

When it comes to how people feel about what's across the border, it is almost always the case that you see something on the other side and you think that it must be better over there. Actually, I think people can take real pride in the fact that, as I say, we're going faster than any other UK nation within the last seven days. I look forward to further progress, and another week to build on the 130,000 vaccines we delivered this week. I'm confident we can do even more in the week ahead.

15:00

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you for the statement. May I first of all thank everyone—doctors, nurses, other vaccination workers, administrators in our health boards—who are all working so very hard to try and vaccinate our population? It's clear that the process has sped up, and we can all welcome that, but there is some way to go.

In terms of this failure in hitting the target of vaccinating 70 per cent of those over 80 years of age, yes, you're quite right, Minister, that we wanted to know whether you hit that target. You said, 'We didn't quite make it', but the figure from Public Health Wales, of course, is 52.8 per cent. It was not a matter of 'didn't quite make it', let's be honest about this, even if there is some data that still needs to be fed into the system. And if I may say, I don't think blaming snow over the weekend holds water. Of course, snow did cause problems in certain areas, but the problem was that you were still on 24 per cent of over-80s the middle of last week, and it was too high a mountain to climb. As I say, I'm pleased that things are moving in the right direction.

You say that 67 per cent of care home residents have been vaccinated. I'm quite concerned about that figure, I have to say. It sounds low to me, given how vulnerable that group is. And it also appears that there is some difference from one area to another. It's a group that should be quite easy to identify. In the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area, for example, they said yesterday that vaccination had been completed in 180 of the 200 care homes in the region and that over 90 per cent of residents had been vaccinated. They also said that over 90 per cent of front-line healthcare staff and care staff had been vaccinated, and 74 per cent is the all-Wales percentage that you've quoted today. So, can you tell us what you're trying to do to level things out across Wales, so that we can raise things up to the percentages we hear from Betsi Cadwaladr?

I'm pleased to hear that so many GP surgeries are now part of the process and that you have passed the 250 surgeries that you had as a target. Generally speaking, you say the capacity has increased, which is positive. I still have a question as to why that capacity wasn't built up in the months leading up to the introduction of the vaccination. But you said, in mentioning the different parts of primary care now participating:

'This includes a community pharmacy pilot'.

A community pharmacy pilot.

One—that was in the Llyn peninsula the week before last, I believe. We have over 600 community pharmacies, and we must ensure that they become part of the vaccination process as soon as possible. They want to participate. A pharmacist in my constituency in Valley contacted me over the past few days, saying, 'We want to do this, we are trained to do it, we have capacity to do it, let us do it.' If I may say so, the clear message I hear is: 'We could do much more if we had more of the vaccine.' Now, I've asked time and time again for data on how many of the various vaccines have been distributed to the four nations of the UK, how many are provided to each health board here. I ask again. You've mentioned the importance of transparency in your opening remarks. Well, provide that transparency here so that we can see any inequalities or blocks in the system. It is crucial, fundamentally important data.

Finally, I want to highlight the most recent concerns about that change of policy so that there would be up to a 12-week delay between the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine rather than the original three weeks. More concerns have been brought to my attention on this issue. There are concerns that it could undermine the effectiveness of the vaccination to the extent that you would have to start from the beginning. Now, I understand the idea of providing greater protection to more people, but are you willing to face the possibility that, to all intents and purposes, millions of vaccinations could have been wasted because of this change of policy?

15:05

I don't believe we've wasted millions of vaccines because of policy choices that we've made, but I'll start with your point about not blaming the snow. The snow was an obvious factor—an obvious factor—on Sunday and Monday, and it had a material impact. And the figures that we are publishing, the 52.8 per cent that Public Health Wales refer to—at least that many have received the vaccine. And, as I said in response to Angela Burns, we know that there's a lag before we get data that is brought up to date, but it is clear that we're unlikely to get to—that we're not going to get to the 70 per cent, when that is all reconciled for the end of Sunday. And that is being honest and upfront with people, and I think most members of the public will not be at all surprised that the snowfall we saw in large parts of the country had an impact.

When it comes to care home residents, at least 67 per cent have already had theirs—again, the same issues about data. It's also the case that, some care homes—we've had to work through some of our policy questions about red care homes, where they've got a number of positive cases. We're now in a more settled position that's now being applied consistently across the country. That's why we can be confident that every health board is working through these as the top priority group, and I'm looking forward to all of those homes having been covered by the end of this month—all those homes where it's possible to go into. A risk assessment approach is being used, as you would expect, so, if there is an active outbreak, where a substantial portion of the home, its staff and residents are covered, then that may mean that the vaccination programme can't go ahead within that home. I think everyone would understand why that is, but we've looked at risk assessments where there are one or two cases in a home and what that means to make sure the vaccine is provided more generally. So, we've worked that through, and we do think that we're now in a position to have, again, a real level of confidence to achieve the expectation I referred to by the end of the month to have completed this section of the population. 

In terms of the time to build capacity, well, with respect, we couldn't turn on all of the capacity when supplies were much more reduced, when we had issues about the use of the Pfizer vaccine. When we started, we couldn't deliver the vaccine in primary care effectively, we couldn't deliver the vaccine to care home residents. And you'll recall there was an unfortunate instance where the previous Conservative leader said that he thought residents had been left behind, which is not what had happened at all. It's a shame those comments have never been corrected. We're now in a position where supply is much more significant, with a mix of the vaccines. We're in a position to make a different and more flexible use of Pfizer, so our infrastructure is different and is better now. Much more significant, and it is the case that supply is the limiting factor. If we had even more of the AstraZeneca vaccine than we have today, then we could not only maximise the capacity that exists within general practice, but we could make use of the significant network in community pharmacy, as we are keen to do. It is the case, though, that general practice, working together, is able to effectively deliver the vaccine supplies that we currently have. And so we're looking at how we have that combination of mass-vaccination centres that make use of the skills of people who can be vaccinators as well in our wider primary care team and how we'll then be able to make much fuller use of the willing and highly professional workforce—and trusted, crucially—trusted workforce in community pharmacy as we expect supplies to increase further in the weeks ahead.

Now, when it comes to the share of vaccine supply, I am regularly asked this question by you and by colleagues in Plaid Cymru, and I regularly give exactly the same answer about us receiving our population share, and that continues to be the case. It continues to be the case that we receive our population share. It continues to be the case that, in the now weekly meeting that I'm having with the UK vaccines Minister, it's a regular topic of our conversations to make sure that there is a continued assurance on the level of vaccine we'll need to get to the mid February milestone for all four priority groups—the first four priority groups—to be covered. Because, for that to happen, we know that we will need more than our population share if there is only just enough to cover that within the UK. So, that is part of our challenge, it's part of what I have regularly raised, and there is a repeated assurance that all of those supplies will be available in time for us to be able to do that by the middle of February. And within Wales, we are absolutely providing vaccine supplies on a population share to each of our health boards.

And you will have seen some of the public comments and widely reported public commentary about some of the sensitivity over vaccine supply and manufacture between the UK and our partners in the European Union. There is an element of commercial sensitivity, which is why we haven't published more information today about the vaccine stocks that we hold, and I've made it clear that I want to be in a position where we can have a common publication between the different parts of the UK to be upfront about the vaccine supplies that we're holding. We're looking to work that through across all four nations. I respect the fact that there are current commercial sensitivities that mean that we're not in a position to do that today, but I want to do that as soon as possible, because I recognise that transparency is a good thing in terms of giving the public confidence about what we're doing and why.

15:10

Minister, constituents have raised with me issues regarding prisoners in Welsh prisons with regard to the vaccination programme. So, some prisoners who are in the top-four priority groups, and the immediate priority groups currently being vaccinated, have not received any information as to when they are likely to receive their vaccinations, and, understandably, they are wondering whether they have been overlooked or whether they will be hearing something in short order. There are also issues regarding new prisoners coming into prison and the testing regime that applies, and concerns that it is not as rigorous as it should be, and further concerns around prison officers in terms of priority for vaccination, although I'm sure that will be considered by the UK joint committee in their consideration of other groups that may have priority beyond the first four priority groups. Obviously, Minister, I know that there's cross-over here with UK Government responsibilities, but the prison population is very vulnerable, given the lack of space and the difficulties with social distancing, and many of the prisoners are in vulnerable groups in terms of their health and their general profile. So, these are important matters, and I wonder if you could say something today about how Welsh Government has been involved in consideration of these matters and will be involved as we move forward.

15:15

Well, as you'll know, responsibility for prisoner healthcare is now with my colleague Eluned Morgan, but in terms of the vaccine roll-out, that remains with me. Now, we are working through this from our responsibility for prisoner healthcare, but also a specific responsibility for the vaccine roll-out, how those prisoners who will be in priority groups—it's a matter of fact that the prisoner population is significantly less healthy than the wider population, with a range of additional healthcare needs. We also have an older prisoner population in Usk, as well, so there'll be a range of people there who will be in priority groups because of their age as well. We've had outbreaks within prisons, we've had fatalities within prisons, as well, so this is part of the population that we have responsibility for, and we are working through with colleagues responsible for running prisons how we will deliver within the first four priorities by the middle of February. So, the prisoner population is not going to be left behind. It's a matter of being able to work that through and then being able to deliver that with that particular group of the population of Wales. So, I hope that assurance is helpful. As we get more detail, I'll be happy to commit to writing a further statement either individually or on a joint basis with my colleague Eluned Morgan.

Thank you for your statement, Minister. I hope and pray that you are able to meet all your targets. Minister, are you content that we are administering every dose that we receive? There is widespread concern that the length of time between the two doses is far too great. Will you publish the JCVI advice that you have used to inform your decision to increase the time between the doses? Can you please outline how much protection is granted by a single dose of each of the available vaccines? The main barrier to quicker vaccination of the population is supply, so, Minister, are you able to update us on the progress being made on the approval of the other vaccine candidates, such as the one from Johnson & Johnson? Finally, Minister, we can't afford to waste this most precious resource. You have said that only 1 per cent of the vaccine has been wasted so far, but this amounts to thousands of doses, and thousands of people who could have been vaccinated have not received their first dose. So, Minister, what steps are you taking to reduce waste to around 0.1 per cent, rather than its current level? Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you. I don't know where you get the 0.1 per cent wastage target. Actually, the fact that we have a wastage rate of less than 1 per cent shows that we have a highly efficient vaccination programme, which is part of what we should take real pride in, that our NHS Wales-led programme is actually achieving. We are publishing from today wastage rates, so you'll get to see on a regular basis how effective and efficient we are being.

When it comes to the approval of other vaccination candidates, I'll just remind the Member and anyone else watching that it's not up to politicians to do this and it's an important part of our system that politicians don't approve vaccination candidates. The independent regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, approve vaccines for use and the basis upon which they can be used. It's an important safeguard in our system. They have to review the data and they determine whether a vaccine is able to be used. It's then up to politicians to make choices on the delivery of those vaccines. That is still very much the position. So, any other candidate vaccine will need to go through the same rigorous process, will need to have the same determination made by the MHRA. We have the third vaccine, which we expect to be available later in the spring, the Moderna vaccine. It's been approved, and that's when we expect to have supplies arriving within the UK. That's already a matter of public record. Any further approval will be subject to a public announcement by the MHRA in the usual way.

When it then comes to their use and the JCVI advice on the inter-dose interval between the first and second dose, this has already been published. It's not a matter of me publishing it, it has already been published and JCVI members have done a regular round of interviews for the last few weeks, explaining their advice, how they've come to that advice, the reason why the advice they've given covers the first nine priority groups, where 99 per cent of hospitalisation and deaths occur from COVID-19, but also, in particular, that advice on the inter-dose interval, which is classic public health advice on making sure that we provide as much protection as possible to the largest group in our population as quickly as possible, rather than providing a higher level of protection to a much smaller group of the population within the same time frame. It's part of the reason why Public Health Wales and their colleague agencies in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland support the JCVI advice on extending the inter-dose interval to 12 weeks. It's also why every single chief medical officer in the United Kingdom supports that advice. And it would be a very odd thing indeed if I decided as the Minister to overturn the advice of the chief medical officer, to overturn the advice of Public Health Wales and to overturn the advice of the independent expert JCVI on how to deliver a vaccine. It is not a position that I'm going to undertake. I would make the chief medical officer's position absolutely untenable if I did so. But, more than that, I would be ignoring the very direct advice that says that this approach will actually save lives and an alternative approach will cost lives. And I am absolutely not going to do that. 

15:20

Can I thank the Minister for his statement, and also it is appropriate to salute the heroic efforts of all involved in delivering this huge vaccination programme. I know my GP colleagues are absolutely chomping at the bit, and if they could get more vaccines, they'd be lining up people as we speak. So, there's a phenomenal performance happening as we speak.

One question, which I alluded to this morning in the briefing, and thank you—[Inaudible.]—Frank Atherton as well, and Rob Orford, for their involvement. But can I press you, here in a public forum, about the importance of the messaging concerning the vaccine? We've all seen the pictures of people being delighted to receive their vaccine, and it is in fact a great occasion, but it does take three weeks for your body to develop some protection against severe COVID infection after a jab. Obviously, you're more protected after two jabs, but you could still catch COVID, you just don't get the severe illness. That's the benefit of the vaccination: you don't get the severe illness and ending up in hospital. So, of having the jab, the important message is not to discard and ignore all those social distancing, stay at home and wear masks-type messages, because after vaccination, you can still pass on the coronavirus to others. So, celebrations indeed after getting a jab, but you still need to stay at home, and all the rest. So, can I ask you now what you are doing exactly to get that very important message across?

Thank you for your comments, and I agree with you that it's been a phenomenal performance from colleagues in primary care and right across our NHS Wales-led team to deliver the significant additional pace in vaccine delivery. And I'm pleased that you and colleagues find the briefings with me, the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser on health to be useful. We'll continue to do that.

On the vaccine messaging, I think this is a useful opportunity to restate that it does take time to receive the protection from the first dose of the vaccine, and so people can't have their vaccine shot and then act as if everything is normal for them and proceed to take greater risks. That wouldn't mean that they'd be benefiting from the protection at all. But even with the protection, you're right: the vaccines have been trialled and show data about protecting people from harm. That means you're much more likely to be protected from becoming seriously unwell and subject to hospitalisation or death, once the protection has kicked in. That does not mean, though, that you won't get COVID; it does not mean that you can't transmit COVID to another person, so it's really important that everyone still follows the protective measures that are in place for all our benefit. Even with significant numbers of people covered and protected, there is still going to be the potential for real harm to be done if there is a breakdown in social distancing, if there is much more mixing between people indoors, and people forget the protective behaviours of hand washing, or face coverings, and of having good ventilation.

It's particularly important, I think, to make this point when, sadly, our death figures in the last week have been so very high. We are starting to see an improvement across our NHS with the pressure, we're starting to see a levelling off and a slight levelling down in admissions, but that is against the backdrop of record highs of people in our hospitals. It's worth reminding people that whilst we're seeing an improvement, that improvement still means that critical care today is operating at 140 per cent, down from 150 per cent, but still 140 per cent of its normal capacity, so we all still need to stick with this for another period of time to make sure we don't lose people who don't need to fall off the road on the journey that we're on to the end of pandemic.

15:25

Minister, may I thank you for the update today and may I also thank you for everything else you're doing? Although my party would prefer the UK Government to be leading the programme rather than Welsh Government, that doesn't mean we don't appreciate the amount of work that's being put in. You seem to be working extraordinary hours under extraordinary pressure and I would like to thank you and everyone around you for that.

Could I ask about the over-80s target that was set at 70 per cent for the weekend? I think you said we're at 52.8 per cent on that. You said the snow was a material factor; can you estimate what percentage of vaccinations may have been delayed on account of that? And can you also tell us when you would now expect to hit that target of 70 per cent, and also when we might hope to catch up with the proportion of over-80s that have been vaccinated in England, which I understand is just shy of 79 per cent on the latest data?

Can I also ask you specifically about the Pfizer vaccine? There does seem to have been an acceleration in vaccination on the back end of last week, and that is something that we would applaud. Our numbers, though, still are substantially below what England has done cumulatively. Is the Pfizer rate accelerating? Have we moved away from the policy the First Minister explained of spreading out vaccination so that we didn't have any risk of vaccinators being idle for any period? Has that changed?

And I understand—I certainly don't want the Welsh Government to say anything like the Scottish Government did in terms of releasing inappropriate information—but what degree of confidence do we have in the continued supply of that Pfizer vaccine, particularly given threats or suggestions coming out of the European Union around the manufacture of that in Belgium? And what are the plans for—

Of course; final bit—the second doses for those who've already had the first dose versus moving down the risk profile in providing vaccination with that Pfizer vaccine?

Thank you for the questions. I'm not able to give you a hard percentage estimate of the impact of the adverse weather, but we are aware there was a significant amount of activity that was pulled, and rather than plucking figures out of the air, what I am committing to doing is to making sure that we continue to provide daily information, that we continue to provide twice-weekly information on a Tuesday and a Thursday giving more detail, so people will be able to see transparently the progress we're making on each of these priority groups, on the backdrop of the assurance of the much greater pace that we have demonstrated we can deliver when the supply is with us. 

I note that you asked about when we'll catch up with England on the over-80s. Actually, on some of the other categories of health and social care workers, we are, of course, ahead of England, but I'm only being asked about areas where we're behind England. All that information will be continue to be provided about where we are, and you'll see that again in the information that is being published on a daily basis by Public Health Wales. So, I think we have a good approach to being transparent with our data and our information, and in the level of assurance people can have that that published data is accurate.

We are accelerating in our use of the Pfizer vaccine. As I have said repeatedly, we are providing as much as our NHS can deliver. We know that we have new ways where we can be a bit more flexible in the use of Pfizer now as well, and that's a good thing too. So, we haven't just built up our infrastructure; we've got additional ways of using that as well. When it comes to commercial sensitivity, I think I dealt with this earlier in response to Rhun ap Iorwerth, and also in the opening as well. It's about making sure that we're as transparent as we possibly can be, but taking account of the sensitivities that exist around stock numbers.

When it comes to the second dose of vaccines, we are of course already planning for those, and we're having to consider then what that means in terms of the use of our stock, especially for the Pfizer vaccine, because the first groups of people who will be eligible for their second dose will be people who have had the Pfizer vaccine itself. So, we need to make sure we have stocks of those to deliver second vaccines whilst still being able to carry on the work of getting through the first not just four priority groups, but the first nine priority groups we have, with the vaccines available. That is partly why added supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine are so important to us. 

15:30

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Health Minister, I do welcome greatly your statement today that the vaccination programme across Islwyn, administered by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, is doing well, and is further innovating. I also want to put on record my sincerest thanks to all those risking their lives across the front line, and also those in leadership roles during this war on COVID-19. I'm extremely heartened that a new vaccination centre is opening in Newbridge, and I welcome the innovative 'contact first' programme for Islwyn and wider. As of yesterday, over 48,840 people had been vaccinated across the health board, 20,471 people over 80 had been vaccinated, 14,000 front-line staff, and residents from 90 care homes. The vaccination programme has been going so well that GPs will be offering the vaccine to priority group 3 when all those over-80s have been vaccinated this week. So, First Minister, to what do you credit the successful roll-out of the vaccination programme across my constituency, and what assurances have we received that the very critical supply of vaccine will continue at pace so that the programme can accelerate even further?

It's good to hear praise for health boards, which I think are doing an extraordinary job in dealing with all of the pressures that our national health service face in this, the most extraordinary event that we have had to live through. This really is a genuine once-in-a-century event. No-one has had to deal with a pandemic like this, in modern times at least. 

When it comes to vaccine delivery, and in terms of supply, as I said, I'm having weekly meetings with Nadhim Zahawi, who is the joint Minister working between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy and the health department on vaccines, about the challenge over the messaging. We have relationships with Pfizer because of their broader interests and research in Wales. You'll be aware of the partnership that they've entered into with Swansea University and their interest in value-based healthcare; that's part of the reason they came to invest in Wales rather than another part of the United Kingdom, for that significant partnership. And also, there's the interest we have with AstraZeneca, who have their fill and finish plant in Wrexham. So, we're having conversations with them directly too. It's been a very practical working relationship between my officials—and the conversations I've had too. We're certainly in the position where they are both looking to increase their supplies, not just for the UK, but for the rest of Europe as well. There's a significant opportunity to help protect many, many citizens right across not just the continent but across the world, of course, and I'm very pleased that AstraZeneca have given a commitment to provide cost-price vaccines to other parts of the world. 

In terms of why we've made such progress in Islwyn, and indeed across Gwent and the whole of Wales, it's really because there's such a 'can do' approach. There is a real team Wales approach going through our NHS, through partners in local government, through the military assistance we've had, and that is a key factor in this. Our teams recognise that we are doing something for the nation here that will protect and save many, many lives, and bring us to the point where we can make more normal choices again, and be able to release some of the freedoms that we have all had to give up to keep us alive. I look forward to the day when the vaccine programme really has provided that level of protection to the public and we can look forward to much better figures for our national health service, not just with COVID but with non-COVID matters too. Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer.

15:35

Thank you, Minister.

Item 4 and item 5 will be chaired by David Melding. So, I now hand over the chair to David Melding.

David Melding took the Chair.

4. Statement by the Minister for Education: Update on Qualifications for 2021

We move to item 4, which is the statement by the Minister for Education—an update on qualifications for 2021. I call the Minister, Kirsty Williams.

Thank you, acting Presiding Officer. Last week, I announced my intention that learners undertaking WJEC-approved GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels would have their qualifications awarded through a centre-determined grade model. This decision reflects my priority of supporting learner wellbeing and progression in the reality of the public health and policy context we now find ourselves in. While there is still more work to be done, I hope that the announcement of the centre-determined grade approach—where learners' grades will be determined by their school or college, based on an assessment of their work—will help remove learners' anxiety. This way forward has been developed by the design and delivery advisory group, and puts learner wellbeing and public confidence at the centre of our proposals.

As part of this approach, centres will be able to use a range of evidence to inform their decisions, including non-exam assessments, mock exams and adapted past papers made available by the WJEC. There will be an assessment framework to support them to develop their plans for assessment. This will give schools and colleges flexibility when deciding what assessment information to use as they focus on teaching the core content that will help learners as they progress through the next steps of their education. These assessment plans will be quality assured by the WJEC and demonstrate how the centre has determined a learner's grade. Every school or college will also be required to build on or develop quality assurance processes, and will be supported in doing so by guidance from the WJEC. Once this quality assurance has been completed at the centre, the grade will be submitted to the WJEC.

I have also asked the design and delivery advisory group to consider how to promote greater consistency across centres in delivering our approach. This includes asking them to support Qualifications Wales and the WJEC in developing and setting out both the assessment framework and the quality assurance processes that will be adopted. I recognise that the appeals process is of concern and interest to learners and practitioners alike. I can confirm that learners will be able to appeal to their school or college if they believe they have been awarded a grade that doesn’t reflect their level of attainment, and to the WJEC if they are unhappy with the process followed by their centre. We will work to ensure that clear and accessible information about appeals is made available, and will explore a professional learning offer for practitioners so that the processes that are applied are consistent, equitable, and fair.

In addition to the expertise of the headteachers and college principals on our design and delivery advisory group, who have dedicated so much time to the development of these proposals, the group will expand their membership and will engage with wider stakeholders to support them in the next stage of their work. Part of this work will be giving consideration to the equalities and workload impacts of any new arrangements, alongside the development of guidance, communications and professional learning that will support schools and colleges in their professional judgements. I have also asked the group to consider arrangements for private candidates as a priority. I recognise that there are some private candidates who are concerned about a centre-determined grade approach, as not all private candidates were able to receive a qualification under the arrangements made last year. I would therefore like to reiterate my absolute commitment to ensuring that there is a clear option for them to support their progression.

In summary, the centre-determined grade approach puts trust in teachers' and lecturers' commitment to prioritise teaching and learning in the time available, and their knowledge of the quality of their learners' work. Teaching the core content and aspects of each course, however, remains extremely important, so that all learners are supported to progress with certainty into their next steps and with confidence in the grades they’ve been awarded. We have, therefore, sought to make the grading approach as clear as possible in the circumstances, while remaining as simple and responsive as possible.

We are working with colleges and universities to look at how they can support learners through this transition and I am very grateful for their ongoing commitment and support. It is vital that the wider education sector continues to come together in this way to support our learners, including by strengthening professional judgments through support that ensures consistent and transparent arrangements. Qualifications Wales is also considering the approach for other Wales-only qualifications, including the skills challenge certificate, Essential Skills Wales and approved vocational qualifications. They are also working closely with fellow UK regulators to ensure consistency of approach and fairness for Welsh learners studying for vocational qualifications that are also available in other nations.

As we continue to work at pace to develop our proposals, I encourage learners, teachers and lecturers to continue to focus on learning in the core areas of their courses in the coming weeks. It is this learning and the development of associated skills and knowledge that will continue to open doors for learners in the future, even after the qualification itself has been awarded. I want to thank each and every learner and educational professional for their ongoing flexibility and adaptability in responding to the situation in which we find ourselves. Thank you, acting Presiding Officer. 

15:40

Can I just offer my thanks to the design and delivery advisory group as well? I don't suppose they were expecting to do this work. I think the necessity for your announcement last week and this statement today, Minister, shows how close we are to the edge with education at the moment, and I know you're making decisions that you'd rather not make. So, my questions today are no reflection on teachers and lecturers, who, I have to say, continue to astound me during this period. But that statement today is evidence that online learning is not hitting its mark and, I think, by half term, we'd all be expecting you to tell us your plan A, your plan B and your plan C for getting schools open by the end of next month. 

Last autumn, Qualifications Wales was adamant that it would not be possible to create and introduce a reliable moderation system for what were, then, centre-assessed grades. The framework you're talking about today can only be a pale imitation of something that was impossible six months ago. So, how close to not being able to comply with its statutory duties has this decision pushed Qualifications Wales, and, for that matter, the WJEC? And how confident are you that this new way forward will ensure public confidence in our young people's achievements, as well as protecting teachers from accusations of unconscious bias, however unjustified those are?

If the WJEC can offer adapted past papers to schools—you mentioned them today, and there's a strong hint there, isn't there, that they should be picked up and used for internal tests, graded in line with helpful WJEC guidance—why is it so difficult for the WJEC to set these papers formally in May or June, and mark them, bringing in a clear and external sign of consistency and rigour to the system? What can you tell us about how the WJEC is going to be able to quality assure every single school or college's internal process for assessment in time? If it decides that some schools already have a strong process, which falls within their guidance, how will that empower a young person to challenge a school on its process? More importantly, what if a school that the WJEC hasn't got round to seeing claims its process is equal to or better than a WJEC-sanctioned version?

You mentioned professional learning. Which practitioners do you envisage will need this grading training? You can't seriously expect it to be every teacher or lecturer in years 10 to 13. And as for non-exam assessments, they're already not going to be moderated, but you do urge schools to continue doing them. Which way do you think this is going to go? Is it going to be schools maximising their use, if the weighting given to them in the new framework encourages that, or schools and colleges minimising their use to do more teaching to a test in order to get up the evidence of graded work? Because not all schools have been canny enough to carry out topic testing as they've gone along this year. 

And then, just briefly from me, AS levels. Why won't they count towards a student's final grade? Either you have confidence in the system or you don't. I think maybe you should consider offering them the choice—the students who are doing AS this year—whether to bank their grade or not. And, if you have a moment, perhaps you can just give us an idea of the timetable when we might hear some more information about private candidates and the UK-wide vocational qualifications. Thank you.

15:45

Thank you, Suzy Davies, for your questions and your acknowledgement of the hard work of the design and delivery group, as I said, made up of headteachers and college principals who have worked at great speed to provide advice and guidance. I'm grateful that they have agreed to continue to do that work with an expanded membership now, as we move into the next phase of operationalising the decisions that have been made.

Suzy quite rightly points out the challenges of the centre-determined grades system. All methods of assessment have their upsides and their downsides, and the job is, having decided on an assessment mechanism, how you can mitigate the downsides. Ensuring that there is a consistent moderation scheme when each school's experience during this last year will have been so very, very different does provide real challenges for creating that moderation system, especially if there are pieces of work that have not been possible to complete in some schools. So, you could end up in a situation where you are comparing apples with pears rather than apples with apples. That's the challenge of designing a moderation system in the current climate, but we can take steps to mitigate against that, and that is what the design and delivery group will be aiming to work towards.

With regard to WJEC assessments, this is a tool that will be available to schools. Some schools potentially will have lots and lots and lots of material on which to base a centre-determined grade. Other individual classes, teachers, schools perhaps would like some additional support and help, and rather than designing their own, they will be able to avail themselves of material that is quality assured, equalities assured, and has gone through all the processes that you would expect a WJEC assessment to go through. I believe that will offer a valuable opportunity for schools to avail themselves of, but clearly that is a matter for individual schools. But I think it is a valuable resource that the WJEC will make available, and can play an important part in helping teachers assess children and designate a grade.

With regard to training, that is for individual teachers to identify the training needs within their individual workforce, and which individuals within their school perhaps are crucial in terms of operating the system, and additional training will be made available. What we have learnt—one of the very few silver linings of this entire pandemic—is that we have transformed the way that we have been able to deliver professional learning, and I am confident that we'll be in a position where those schools that want to or need to avail themselves of this additional support will be able to do so.

The evaluation process of the school's procedures is an important part of creating that national approach and that equity and fairness. That's why we will be working initially on the assessment tools, and an assessment framework that will be a national framework, and it is then for schools to identify how they will utilise that framework within their individual setting, and for the WJEC to assure that. With regards to the appeals process, it's only right that, in the first instance, if a candidate is unhappy with the grade they have been designated, then that has to be an appeal to the people who designated the grade. It's simply impossible to make an appeal to the WJEC, who will not have played a part in designating that grade. But clearly, having the WJEC assure a school's processes, if a candidate feels that the school's processes have not been correctly applied, then it is perfectly appropriate in those instances that the WJEC would be responsible for the appeals process.

Finally, with regard to AS-levels, the arguments that we rehearsed last year about how UCAS scores are designated in AS-levels, and how that translates into A-levels, still stand. In the absence of being able to run exams or, indeed, our initial procedures, we will revert to the policy that existed this year. All AS candidates will be designated a grade. That is important for those candidates who are deciding not to continue with that subject, but it's only fair that their learning to date for that qualification is awarded and, of course, many students feel that it is very, very valuable to have those grades when it comes to their UCAS application, but their A2 exams—and I hope, my goodness me, that we're in a position to run those examinations—that tier will be the basis on which their entire A-level will be awarded. 

15:50

Thank you for the statement. I want to take the opportunity this afternoon to mention Louise Casella's review, which was commissioned by you following the exams fiasco of last year. At last, on Friday afternoon the independent review of the summer 2020 arrangements for the awarding of grades and considerations for the summer of 2021 was published; it's a lengthy title. This was the final version and it hasn't had a great deal of coverage, so I'm going to take this opportunity to set out some of the main conclusions and to put them on the record today, because I do believe that they are exceptionally important. I'm very grateful to Louise Casella and her team for the thorough work that they undertook and for their stark conclusions. The Welsh Government and the education system as a whole need to pay close attention to this review. 

The report notes that a number of mistakes were made that could have been avoided, and that was by the WJEC and Qualifications Wales. The errors included failing to anticipate the scale of the issues that would arise, and the risk of inequality for so many individual learners as a result of the lack of action by those two bodies. Specifically in terms of moderation, the report states this:

'Qualifications Wales and WJEC did consider whether some form of external moderation of the CAGs could be undertaken prior to final submission, but this option was dismissed with the assumptions underpinning that decision not being fully tested. The right for WJEC to go back to centres submitting CAGs that appeared out of line with expectation was also reserved, and expected by centres, but this did not take place.

Without external moderation of the decisions reached in assigning CAGs and rank orders, and without training of assessors to ensure the avoidance of any bias in arriving at CAGs, total reliance was being placed on the statistical standardisation processes to ensure fairness between centres.' 

And I have quoted there from the report itself, and in weighing up what I have just described, the review does come to this conclusion, and I quote once again,

'This is akin to a failure of leadership and governance in relation to the arrangements for deciding on grades during the summer of 2020.'

Now, this is a damning verdict but, again, it's the same people who are in charge in both of these bodies, and they continue to have great influence on the process since the fiasco in 2020, which created so much concern to so many young people. 

In conclusion, I would like to ask you, Minister, therefore, whether you have considered dismissing some of the people who run the WJEC and Qualifications Wales in light of the findings of the damning Casella report, or have you at least considered a further review of your own to see whether steps of this kind need to be taken? And if you're not considering a further review in order to decide whether further action is required, will you explain why?

15:55

Thank you very much, Siân, for your comments. We've had an independent review. You have quoted at length from its report. I do not feel that there is any need, or indeed any further help a further review at this time will be. What we need now is to ensure that the lessons of the Louise Casella report are learnt. If the Member was being fair, I'm sure she would acknowledge that already in the way in which we have handled this situation, both within this Government and without the Government, is reflective of the recommendations, first of all, in the initial report by Louise Casella's group, and in the subsequent full report.

I'm very grateful to Louise and her team for the work that they have done. There are, as I said, valuable lessons to be learnt, which are already being enacted by myself and those that are working with us, to ensure that the awarding of qualifications this year does not cause the distress and difficulties that it did for learners and educators last year.

It is very important that we make the distinction between how last year's grades were arrived at and how this year's grades were arrived at. Last year, the standardisation, as was pointed out in Louise's report, relied too heavily on an algorithm, to ensure that there was fairness across the system, and to try and mitigate the concerns that we will have to try and mitigate again this year, which are legitimate concerns about unintentional bias, about how this system potentially has equalities impacts, as was outlined in previous reviews of last year's centre-assessed grades. We need, now, to mitigate against that, and that is what everybody that is working on qualifications for this year is committed to doing.

Thank you very much for your detailed statement. We're both of the female species, so obviously we're not unfamiliar with the concept of discrimination, so I just want to address the challenges that any system faces in addressing gender, ethnicity, physical appearance, prior learning difficulty, that consciously or subconsciously, any human being is capable of making. We've got lots of research to back all that up, and we also know that some schools are much better at accurately predicting attainment based on under- or over-predicting what they were going to do in exams and then—. And all of this, of course, is very important to get right, to ensure we are challenging students and teachers effectively.

So, I'm very pleased to see that you're endeavouring as far as possible to get a design and delivery advisory group to own the challenges that this is bound to throw up, so that we can ensure not just that all our centres of learning are endeavouring to overcome these sorts of problems, but also that we've got external people ensuring, where those checks and balances are inadequate, that we've got adequate ways of providing against that bias, so that we're not having mountains of appeals, which cause so much grief to young people. I wonder if you could just say a little bit more about how successful you think you're going to be, to really tie the profession into addressing what are genuine problems.

Thank you, Jenny. We have to be honest and recognise that in moving to this approach there are risks that we will need to take steps to mitigate, and there is no good pretending otherwise. Sometimes, this debate about awarding qualifications is sometimes dominated by the suggestion that this is the simplest and fairest of models, but, actually, in speaking to young people, there are many young people who have concerns that, as you said, intentional or unintentional bias could affect their outcomes. And we know from the equalities impact work that was carried out on last year's system that those are real issues that we will need to work hard to overcome.

So, if I can just outline three ways—the first of three ways in which we will seek to do that. Firstly, it is the adoption of a national assessment framework that all schools will need to work within. Secondly, it is training—so, therefore, making sure that centres are aware of these potential challenges around fairness and equalities and making sure that steps are taken in the training of staff in assessment and that they are aware of that and can take action accordingly. Thirdly, it is the availability, which I referred to earlier, of equality-assured materials from the WJEC. I'm sure that many people in this Chamber will be aware, but, in setting an examination paper, a great deal of attention is exuded in designing questions that seek to be as open and inclusive as possible, talking about situations that are available to all children, talking about concepts or scenarios that children of all genders and from all walks of life will be familiar with. If you're asked to write a creative piece of writing about a foreign holiday when you have never had the luxury of experiencing a foreign holiday—. These are the things and thought processes that go behind designing examination papers and questions, and therefore making sure that there is available to all schools a set of equality-assured adapted papers and assessment materials that schools can then use, knowing that they've been through that process, is one of the ways in which we can mitigate against the risks that you're quite right to point out.

16:00

Thank you very much. I do welcome your statement and the difficult decision made by the Welsh Government to cancel examinations in summer 2021 in order to allow more space and time for teaching and learning. This decision affords learners, their families and teachers the certainty that is required at a very uncertain time. Every day, children and their teachers are continuing their education remotely, and I know that, in Islwyn, many schools are adapting their teaching methodologies and ways of connecting with one another, and I do wish to thank all those across the statutory sector and within local government and our consortia for their determination and strong leadership. Minister, the well-being of learners and ensuring fairness across the system is central in all that the Welsh Government does when deciding on such issues. So, in what ways can the Welsh Government ensure, as far as possible, that all learners throughout Wales receive a relatively equitable learning experience during these very difficult months of winter and spring?

Thank you, Rhianon. It is really important, even in these most challenging of times, that we keep focus on learning core concepts within these subjects that children will be examined on. But it is clear that you cannot examine a child on content that they have not sat; it simply can't be done and it's not fair. This system allows schools to be able to make a judgment on work and course content that a child has been able to cover. And again, we will be giving further advice to schools to make sure that core content in qualifications is the focus of the work going forward. And schools were working very hard throughout the last term to do that and they continue to strive to do that now. But, clearly, core concepts in subjects is really important.

We're also in early discussions with Welsh universities and further education colleges as to what we can do to potentially address any learning loss—so, working with our universities to establish pre-university courses that can be run remotely and digitally during the summer to make sure that everybody is up to speed with core concepts, which allows them to make sure that their passage into undergraduate study is a successful one, and, again, working with colleges and local schools to help pupils successfully transition perhaps from their local high school into their college with all of the requisite skills, or, again, a programme, above and beyond when that formal course has come to an end and grades have been submitted, that looks to keep children learning where at all possible to continue to develop their skills and key competencies as we go forward. Because that's what we need: qualifications awarded, yes, but also young people feeling confident about their next steps and feeling able to move on successfully to whatever it is they decide to do.

16:05
5. Statement by the Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language: Promoting the use of Welsh in families (transmission in families policy)

We now move to item 5, which is a statement by the Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language, and this is on promoting the use of Welsh in families. I call the Minister, Eluned Morgan.

Member
Eluned Morgan 16:06:04
Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language

Thank you very much, Chair. I'm very pleased today to be able to publish our national policy on Welsh language transmission and use within families. I said back in February, when publishing the draft version of the policy, that it's important that we understand that the language we use at home affects how comfortable our children feel using that language later in life.

Our aim with this work is to support and encourage those with Welsh language skills who perhaps haven’t used them lately to speak more Welsh with their children—in other words, to transmit the language to the next generation. The policy focuses on how we can influence this. Of course, the language we use with our children—indeed, all language behaviour—is the result of many different factors. Changing our behaviour isn't easy, particularly when patterns have been established.

As the data and research show, there are homes in all parts of Wales where parents can speak Welsh, but for many reasons—lack of confidence, habit, a feeling that their Welsh is, somehow, not good enough—don't use the language with their own children. Therefore, we have to do everything we possibly can to help them to do so.

Back in February, I emphasized that I wanted to hear from families as part of the consultation on this policy—this work is being done for families, after all. As part of the consultation and our research into the transmission of the Welsh language, we've heard from families where parents have lost confidence in the use of the language. We've also heard opinions and experiences from parents who are the only adult in the home who is able to speak Welsh. Some of the people we've spoken to have been through the Welsh-medium education system themselves but they have been raised in English-medium households. We've heard, we've listened and we've fed all of these views into this work.

One parent—I'll call him Steve—spoke Welsh but explained that his partner didn't. Steve's partner felt that there was something missing from her life because she didn’t speak Welsh. Neither she nor Steve wanted their child to miss out. We've also heard from Lucy. Lucy can speak Welsh, and, in looking back at her time at school, she remembers that she only started using the Welsh she had in her teenage years. She's now an adult and a mother, and has a different perspective on her Welsh language ability. She was eager to use the language with her child from the very beginning. Each of these different perspectives, and many others, has enriched the development of this policy.

Of course we need to help parents to begin their own journeys with the language by offering opportunities to them to learn Welsh, and that's why we are already supporting that through the work of the National Centre for Learning Welsh, Mudiad Meithrin and other partners. But the focus of this policy is to influence homes where people can already speak Welsh in order to help them to use the language with their children. This will contribute to increasing the number of Welsh speakers and, all-importantly, double the daily use of Welsh, Cymraeg 2050's two main targets.

One single thing won't make more people transmit the Welsh language. This policy presents a series of actions that we will put in place over the next decade in order to create a virtuous circle of parents using Welsh with their children, and those children likewise speaking Welsh with their own children.

We want to build on the foundation of work undertaken in Wales over many years; we don't want to reinvent the wheel. We now need to push the boundaries and experiment with new ways of working, by taking risks from time to time, being prepared to fail, but also learning from those failures, and doing so without pointing the blame at anyone. Only by doing this can we understand the impact of our work and improve it.

We want to create an environment of collaboration between individuals and organisations where everyone has an opportunity to share. After all, nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. We won't see all the results of our work overnight. What we're trying to achieve is intergenerational—that's the whole point. But the work of ensuring that there are future generations of Welsh speakers in the family begins today. Thank you.

16:10

Thank you very much, Minister, for this statement. I've been saying that there is an unconscious choice of language very often and we need to face up to that if we are to have a successful policy. So, I'm pleased to see this move towards a better understanding of the role of language within the family dynamic. And in looking at the recommendations in the policy, I turn to the second, that family dynamic I mentioned, rather than structural language procurement. I suspect that the 'who' in every family is just as influential as the 'how'. There are a number of recommendations related to further research methodology, and certainly we need a cohort of more than 60 families for this. But is it necessarily a process that you intend to push forward? How do you intend to manage that in a sensitive manner and what have you learnt about the process of working with these 60 families?

I was also pleased to see, in the launch of the consultation last year, a recognition that it's the education system that will ensure language procurement, but it doesn't mean that it's necessarily transmitted. The report has said that and I don't want to look at the experiences of learners today, but we could agree, I'm sure, that it's not always been a positive experience for all. And for this current generation of young adults who've had a poor experience of learning Welsh, or who haven't enjoyed their Welsh-medium schooling, what can we tell them now to help them over what may be an emotional barrier? Because it's fine for people like me who have been determined from the very outset that my children should benefit from what I didn't benefit from, namely bilingualism at the time—I was determined in that. But what can you change now in the short term in terms of messaging for new parents who may have a negative outlook on the Welsh language that bilingualism is a virtue and it's particularly pertinent to those learning at home at the moment?

Now, teacher training—I’m enthusiastic about hearing more about where the education profession fits in to this from the point of view of the psychology of language transmission, because this strikes me as a case of 'physician heal thyself' on occasion. With far more teachers in schools and colleges with Welsh language skills than are willing to teach Welsh, or to teach through the medium of Welsh, how do you see that specific recommendation in the policy working?

And, finally, I was speaking to someone who leads the international language mentoring schemes run by some of our universities in Wales, and she made the point that safe spaces were needed for adults who had some knowledge and skills to make mistakes, and you've just focused on that yourself in your final remarks. The family could be one of those places, and it's just another way of playing with the language—that's what making mistakes is. Playing with the language like this could help children in terms of their language patterns and encourage them to ask questions without criticism, never mind increasing the confidence of adults. So, what is your broader thinking about safe spaces for adults to play with the language outside of the home? And, if possible, I would recommend our policy, and if you'd like to know more, I'm happy to tell you. Thank you.

16:15

Thank you very much, Suzy. First of all, I do think it's worth looking back historically at what's happened, because we do know that, in the first half of the twentieth century, many people who were Welsh speakers decided not to pass on the language to the next generation. We have to learn from what happened there and what the historical context was. The chapels were in decline, there were all sorts of things changing. There were social changes happening and we do have to learn from our past. And we also have to be sensitive to the fact that intervening within families is something that's very difficult indeed, and I don't think there's a role for Government. We have to be very, very sensitive indeed in terms of how the Government can intervene in families, and that's why I think we have to tread very carefully in this area.

What's clear is that in some families, the choice of language is something that's decided; it's been discussed. And, certainly, in my family, it was a condition of marriage that my husband had to learn Welsh so that we could speak Welsh to our children. Now, we're not going to ask the people of Wales to make speaking Welsh a condition of marriage, but I do think that what we hope to do is that people at least are encouraged to have that discussion, that they make language choice a consideration. Because what's been clear from what we've heard is that it's something that people fall into without really considering, and it's only later, after language patterns have been established, that they start to consider it in earnest, and it's more difficult once people have fallen into those language patterns.

What we're doing here, of course, is building on existing programmes. Twf, for example, from 2001, and the Cymraeg i Blant programme. So, we're building on those and have considered lessons learnt from those, and it's important that we bring all of that together. This isn't aimed at teachers, but I do think that there is some research that teachers could assist us with here. That is why tone and the words we use are very important, that we get that right and that we don't push people into doing things that they're not comfortable with. And there's a great deal of work that we've done as a department that has assisted us in terms of what will help others to make more use of the Welsh language. Therefore, I do think that it's important that we do look at lessons we can learn. Failure is an important element here, as you've said, Suzy, and learning from failure. And I think it is important that there are spaces where people aren't criticised, and I would be more than happy to hear some of your ideas, Suzy, because one thing we've made clear here is that we have no monopoly on good ideas; we're very eager to hear if people have alternative ideas. Because this is a relatively new area; there are not many people in the world doing this. We've looked at other countries. The Basques have done certain things that we're interested in looking at, for example, as steps forward too.

Thank you for the statement and the report, and I look forward to reading it in detail. The focus of the policy, as you said, is to influence homes where people are already able to speak Welsh in order to help them to use the language with their children. Now, at the end of the day, it's pride in the Welsh language and confidence in its value that will create this great shift that is required, and I'd like to know what will be in your manifesto in terms of promoting that to all families in Wales in an ambitious way over the next years.

You said that there isn't a silver bullet that's going to make more people transfer the Welsh language, and that this policy introduces a series of action points. So, can you outline what those actions are, broadly speaking, and how did you decide upon them? What's the evidence underpinning these actions that you have selected, and how are you going to monitor the success of these to see whether they are reaching their objectives or not? And as you've mentioned, there is some work that has been done over the years in helping families to make more use of the Welsh language with their children. The aim of the Twf project, which was in place between 2001 and 2016, was to raise awareness among families of the benefits of raising children bilingually, and having a positive impact on their use of the Welsh language. I clearly remember the Twf scheme when it was operational in parts of my constituency, and I have to say that I was very disappointed when it came to an end because it did succeed. I witnessed that myself in terms of the families that I saw benefit from being encouraged through this scheme. Cymraeg i Blant was put in place as a successor to Twf in 2016, but without sufficient investment. Would you agree with me on that, that there wasn't sufficient investment for Cymraeg i Blant? I think the aim is to increase the number of children in receipt of Welsh-medium education—so the emphasis has shifted slightly—and also to support parents, carers, prospective parents, prospective carers and other members of the family to introduce the Welsh language at home and to transmit the language to their children, but as part of the effort to get more children into Welsh-medium education. Do you believe that there is now an argument for reintroducing the Twf scheme, given that it is still considered to be a successful programme, which is still used as an example of good practice in this area?

And finally from me, there have been major problems that have emerged as a result of the pandemic, in terms of parents who aren't confident in their Welsh language skills, or don't speak Welsh at all, trying to support children in Welsh-medium education. And I can imagine that it's a huge challenge to try and do that. Estyn has noted it as a major risk. Will this be given a prominent role in the Government's education recovery programme? What discussions are you having with the finance Minister and the education Minister to secure additional funding to support the great rebuilding work that is required—and will be required—over the next months, way beyond the period where the virus is in decline?

16:20

Thank you very much. I think you're quite right: the way we ensure that this works is to ensure that those who do speak Welsh feel pride in the fact that they speak Welsh. But we also need to raise the confidence of those people who've been through Welsh-medium education, have stopped using the language for a time, and we need to relight that fire within them, so that when they do have children, they want to ensure that they speak Welsh to those children. And what surprised me was that it's still an issue, for example, in Anglesey, where there was one parent who spoke Welsh, only 38 per cent of those children spoke Welsh at three years of age. And even when there were two Welsh-speaking adults in the family, it was only 76 per cent who were transferring the language to their children. So, there is a problem there, and even if we were to start there, we would already be making progress in terms of increasing numbers. So, this is part of our programme to reach that 2050 target.

Of course, you'll have to wait to hear the details of our manifesto, but you will be aware, in terms of the curriculum, that we are very eager to ensure that awareness of Wales and Welsh history is all very important, and that an awareness of the Welsh language is part of what we hope people will learn in the future.

In terms of the action points, it's a mix of things where there is evidence of what's happening, because we have looked at programmes such as Twf and Cymraeg i Blant and have learned from those, but it is also innovative, and we don't want to apologise for being innovative in this area. Cymraeg i Blant, of course, has been assessed, and as part of that assessment we have looked at the gaps that we believe need to be filled, we've also looked at Twf and we've considered whether we can get the best out of Cymraeg i Blant and this new scheme. Of course, some £700,000 is spent on Cymraeg i Blant, which is quite a fair bit of funding, and that helps with ensuring that midwives speak to parents at those very early stages and so on.

In terms of the pandemic, of course, it is important that we maintain the confidence of children and their parents, particularly those who send their children to Welsh-medium schools, but don't speak the language. We've done a great deal of work with Bangor University to try and ensure that there are blogs available for parents, so that they understand, because we have a great deal of experience here in Wales of reintroducing the language and ensuring that children can learn the language quickly. Those moving to Wales are immersed in the Welsh language when they reach communities, we know how to do this and we know what's possible. Evidence shows that it won't be a problem, but what we must do is to increase those parents' confidence, so that they are aware of that work that has been done already. Of course, we will be doing a great deal of work to ensure that we hasten that process and that we do restore the situation as soon as the children are back in schools.

16:25

Thank you, Chair. I welcome the Minister's statement. I know from experience that learning a language as an adult is not easy. If Welsh is to become a community language, then the best place to start is in the home and from the cradle.

For anyone interested in the future of the Welsh language, the 2011 census results were very disappointing. They showed a reduction in the number of Welsh speakers since the 2001 census, and if this rate of decline continues, only in Gwynedd will there be over half of the population that will be Welsh speaking by 2051, and that will only be by 1 per cent. The challenge is to promote speaking the Welsh language in families where only one parent is Welsh speaking, or where only the grandparents speak the language. Would the Minister agree that we need to see the Welsh language taught at home and then used in the community?

Thank you very much, Mike, and I know that you're an example of someone who's learned Welsh, but that your daughter has been through Welsh-medium education, and I'm sure that one day, when maybe she has children, she will speak it to those children. So, it's an excellent contribution. Thank you very much, Mike, another step to keeping the language alive.

What's important, I think, is that we do understand that using the Welsh language at home is important, as you've said, Mike, and what we have discovered is that those who speak Welsh within the home are more confident in their Welsh language skills and are therefore more likely to use the language when they're older. That makes a huge difference, and that's why—. What we need to crack here is that next generation of children who've been educated through the medium of Welsh, who may have lost their skills a little as they've gone into the workplace or may have left Wales for a period of time and then returned, that they pick it up again and give that gift to the next generation. That, of course, will be a very special gift, and a gift to the nation, too. I do think it's important, Mike, that we do mention grandparents and others who can help in this regard. That's certainly something that we should be considering too.

16:30

Diolch yn fawr. I now hand the chair back to the Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm not sure we have a smooth transition here. Has the Deputy Presiding Officer returned yet?

Can we unmute the DPO? Well, whilst we are dealing with this technical difficulty, I will call the next item. 

6. The Marketing of Seeds and Plant Propagating Material (Amendment) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Item 6 is the Marketing of Seeds and Plant Propagating Material (Amendment) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to move the motion—Lesley Griffiths. 

Motion NDM7553 Rebecca Evans

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

1. Approves The Marketing of Seeds and Plant Propagating Material (Amendment) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 laid in the Table Office on 18 December 2020.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Chair. I move the motion. These regulations amend the Seed Potatoes (Wales) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Marketing of Seeds and Plant Propagating Material (Amendment) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. They also revoke elements of the Retained EU Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Seeds (Amendment etc.) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. These amendments are to ensure legislation relating to plant propagating material and seeds remains operable and accounts for matters including the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol. The UK Government have made equivalent amendments in the Animals, Aquatic Animal Health, Invasive Alien Species, Plant Propagating Material and Seeds (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. Regulation 2 of the regulations also addresses errors identified in EU exit legislation and contains provisions that effect a change of drafting approach. The amendments are technical in nature and do not reflect a change of policy. Thank you.