Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

07/12/2021

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

Statement by the Llywydd

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

13:30
1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Jenny Rathbone. 

Rail Infrastructure Investment

1. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government about Wales getting its fair share of rail infrastructure investment following the Hendy report’s endorsement of the south-east Wales metro proposals? OQ57341

Llywydd, I thank the Member for that question, and I welcome the Hendy review's support for our metro and the Burns commission recommendations. The Deputy Minister for Climate Change will meet the UK Minister responsible for the review on 15 December to discuss the report, the latest in a series of meetings concerning its work. 

Well, that's excellent news, First Minister, because it is now four years since the UK Government decided to cancel the electrification of the main line to Swansea. How long does it take for the UK Government to come up with their alternative plan for modernising Wales's rail network? And I hope that, in your discussions, and Lee Water's discussions with the UK Government, there's full understanding that Wales is entitled to a modernised railway system just like the rest of the United Kingdom. 

Well, I thank Jenny Rathbone for that. Of course those are the points we make repeatedly to the UK Government. The current system simply doesn't work for Wales. The rail network enhancement pipeline is still focused on investment in the south-east of England. We have no control over it. We have no say over the process, and the process itself is opaque, it's bureaucratic and it's slow, as Jenny Rathbone has said. 

And then the playing field simply isn't level here. HS2 we talk about here in the Chamber often. With the HS2 programme, the comparability factor, which drives money through the Barnett formula for Scotland, is 100 per cent. For Northern Ireland, it is 100 per cent. For Wales, it's 0 per cent, despite the fact that HS2 does not enter Wales at any point, and the UK Government's own analysis shows that it is more likely to do economic damage to Wales than to do economic good.

And Jenny Rathbone, Llywydd, is absolutely right to point to the fact that when the electrification of the south Wales main line was cancelled by the Conservative Government as far back as 2017, the Secretary of State for Wales at the time made a great deal of the fact that there would be a series of business cases coming through to improve journey times along that line. Not a single one of those business cases, four years later, has been completed.  

First Minister, having met with some of the colleagues that we have in the Westminster Parliament, the UK Government does recognise, in improving transport connections, as do you, that they are an important part of helping people access job opportunities and supporting business growth all across Wales. And I completely agree with you—levelling up is very important to them, as much as it is to all of us. That is why they are actually investing record amounts in Wales's railway infrastructure, including more than £1.5 billion in the Wales route from 2019 to 2024, £5.7 billion on new InterCity express trains on the Great Western main line, £125 million on the Wales Valleys lines upgrades, and £50 million on resignalling on the north Wales coast main line. 

The Hendy report, as you mentioned—I appreciate it; you welcome it, and I welcome it too—said that devolution has been good for transport and delivery has been devolved, but that this has resulted in a lack of attention to connectivity between the nations of the United Kingdom. The UK Government stands ready to support any rail infrastructure scheme, including new stations, with a strong business case behind it. Will you, First Minister, welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to improving transport infrastructure in Wales, and will you commit to working collaboratively with the UK Government on the Hendy proposals to improve transport to strengthen the Welsh economy and provide greater connectivity?

Well, the part of the Member's contribution that I did agree was her endorsement of the Hendy review. It does indeed say, as she says, that devolution has been good for transport, and I think that is a solid basis from which we can now hope that the UK Government will go ahead and implement the proposals. Because let's be clear, Llywydd, what we have is a report that the UK Government commissioned, and which says to them that they need to invest, they need to invest properly, in the south Wales main line, the north Wales line, in order to improve connectivity. We're promised a reply from the UK Government in the new year. At that point, what we will need to see is genuine investment—genuine investment on their responsibilities, which the Hendy review, fairly and squarely, puts to them. And if at that point we see that investment coming through, then I'll be prepared to sign up to some of the Member's propositions about increased investment. We certainly haven't seen it up until now. I'm optimistic that we will, if the UK Government is prepared to act on it, see investment as a result of the review.

13:35

I'm glad that it seems that the south Wales metro line is finally moving forward; we've been discussing it for many years. I think the Counsel General said in the past that he described the south Wales metro line as some sort of Loch Ness project—nobody was quite sure whether it existed or not. But I'm glad, with the endorsement now of the Hendy report, maybe Nessie will come up for air now and we'll see that it does actually exist. Professor Mark Barry has done a lot of work on this, to keep the metro line on the political map. And earlier this year, in collaboration with Cardiff capital region, he published a passenger rail vision. This document provides clear examples of transport-enabled economic regeneration and development. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of that report, and what discussions have you had with the Westminster Government to ensure that sufficient funding will come to turn the dream of a south Wales metro into reality? Diolch yn fawr.

Diolch yn fawr. Llywydd, the south Wales metro is funded by the Welsh Government—£438 million-worth of investment that we will have mobilised in order to make a reality of it. I pay tribute to the work of Mark Barry, quite certainly, who has for so long made the case for improved rail investment in this part of south Wales, in the south-west of Wales, and more generally too. The work of the south Wales metro is absolutely well under way—I know from my own constituency, where there is inevitable disruption to local communities while that major investment in electrification of the Valleys lines is taking place. But people recognise that the temporary disruption—provided it's properly managed—is a long-term investment in the improvements that the south Wales metro will bring: a modern, twenty-first century system that will allow people to leave the car at home, use the new public transport facilities. It's an economic investment, it's an investment in the future of our economy, and it's an investment consistent with the climate change challenge that we know we are facing.

Community Benefit Societies

2. How does the Welsh Government support the development of community benefit societies? OQ57315

Llywydd, I thank Peter Fox for that question. Core funding is provided to the Wales Co-operative Centre and Social Firms Wales to support the development of co-operative enterprises, including community benefit societies. Support from the Social Business Wales service and the Community Shares Wales resilience project is also available to promote their establishment in Wales.

Thank you, First Minister, for that response. Recently, I had the pleasure of discussing my proposed food Bill with members of Câr-y-Môr, a community benefit society, which my colleagues in west Wales will be very well aware of. They are owned by over 100 local members, but focused on serving the broader interests of their local community. It was great to hear about their plans and how their work is contributing to the sustainable development of our coastal environment. However, they raised some issues that they had experienced, which have hindered the development of CBSs across Wales. For example, there was a need to ensure that the CBS model was more widely understood amongst Government organisations and public bodies, as well as funding providers, such as banks. Due to a lack of knowledge about how they work, some CBSs have struggled to access reliable sources of funding, as well as access to sufficient advice and support, and there's fear that they may collapse if this can't be addressed quickly. First Minister, do you agree with me that CBSs are an important way of promoting sustainable development in Wales? And what else can Welsh Government do to help CBSs, like Câr-y-Môr, to fulfil their potential and to help others duplicate this model to create more locally owned businesses? Thank you. 

13:40

Llywydd, I thank Peter Fox for that. I am familiar with Câr-y-Môr, but more in the south-west Wales context, in the Solva and St David's area, and it is a very fine example of a commercial enterprise, but with strong community roots, looking to start the first commercial seaweed and shellfish farm in Wales. I think the things that they have said to Peter Fox probably are true: a better understanding of that new model and what community benefit societies can do, particularly a better understanding amongst potential commercial investors, so that they're not reliant either on their ability to raise money from very local communities or through the Welsh Government. There's genuine potential for commercial investment in some of these ideas as well. I'm perfectly happy, Llywydd, to ask my officials to meet with Câr-y-Môr to hear directly from them about their own experience, and then to see what more we can do to promote the understanding of community benefit societies, and look for new ways in which they can be further promoted in Wales. 

I recently met with Mark Hooper from Banc Cambria in Abertillery to discuss the availability of banking facilities in different parts of our communities. The Welsh Government has restated today, in its statement on the programme for government, its commitment to community banking. Would the First Minister agree with me that the priority for community banking and taking forward the launch of Banc Cambria, as a national community bank in Wales, is to ensure that people across the whole country have access to financial services in their own communities, and that some of our most deprived communities have banking and financial services available to them with branches back on the high street? 

Llywydd, I very much agree with what Alun Davies said there. We are committed to supporting the creation of a community bank for Wales, headquartered here in Wales, owned and run for the benefit of its members as a mutual community financial institution. I know that the aim of Banc Cambria is to provide every day full retail banking services, particularly in those communities where we've seen a flight of mainstream financial institutions, leaving many high streets bereft of facilities on which many people have relied. I very well remember, Llywydd, a visit to Buckley with my colleague Jack Sargeant, where, from a single spot on the high street, Jack was able to point to four different buildings—landmark buildings a couple of them—that, even five years ago, had been occupied by mainstream banks, every one of them gone from that high street. And the importance we attach to the idea of developing a community bank for Wales is to bring those services back to high streets in the way that Alun Davies suggested, and particularly to do so in those places where those mainstream financial institutions, which made a lot of money out of those communities, have fled, very often leaving very little behind. 

I remember the visit with the Prif Weinidog to Buckley in my constituency very fondly. It was an excellent visit some months ago. Last Saturday was Small Business Saturday, as we know, and it's those small businesses, like the butchers in Buckley high street, the hairdressers in Buckley high street and the many other businesses, that keep more money in our communities every single day of the year. And, like my colleague Alun Davies, I recently had a great conversation with the excellent Mark Hooper of Banc Cambria about the types of benefits a community bank can offer to small and medium-sized enterprises. So, I welcome the drive from the First Minister in driving this bold agenda to this stage, where we have secured cross-party support for the establishment of a community bank in Wales, and it will be delivered in Wales. But can I ask the First Minister how can we continue this type of bold agenda where community focus is right at the heart of our bold and radical programme for government?

13:45

Well, I thank Jack Sargeant for that, Llywydd. I too was out on Saturday, marking Small Business Saturday and meeting with businesses who do so much to keep our high streets vibrant and alive. The Royal Society of Arts, Llywydd, which first brought the idea of a community bank to the Welsh Government, had very dramatic figures of the collapse in lending to very small enterprises within a mile radius of a commercial bank when it ceases to be available in that locality. Within a year, lending to that sector really, really goes down, which is why, as well as being a very important development for individual people who otherwise are financially excluded, having a community bank on the high street will also be very good for those local businesses as well—not looking for large amounts of money, but looking to make that next small investment that puts that business on the path to expansion and to further prosperity. The Minister for Economy will make a statement here on the floor of the Senedd next week on the creation of the community bank for Wales, and I think it will demonstrate the ways in which we are able, as Jack Sargeant said, to go on supporting that community-focused agenda.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders.

And it's very good to see the leader of the Welsh Conservatives back with us, Andrew R.T. Davies.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Thank you very much for the very warm welcome and, with your indulgence, I will pass on my thanks to all Members from across this Chamber and beyond who've sent best wishes to me, in particular the personal note the First Minister wrote to me—it was greatly appreciated—along with other Ministers as well. We can give no quarter yield in this Chamber, but when we get outside this Chamber we are all human beings, and that support was greatly appreciated, to say the least. I went out of this Chamber in September 19.5 stone; I am now 17.5 stone. So, there's two stone less of Welsh beef in this Chamber today. [Laughter.]

But back to the business at hand, this is First Minister's questions. I'd like to ask you, First Minister, around primary health care and, in particular, last week's comments from the British Medical Association that said that something had to give with the booster roll-out in other services, and the health Minister agreed with the provision that most probably there would have to be a curtailment in those provisions, in doctors' surgeries in particular. Other Governments in the UK have made an announcement over the weekend. Are you in a position to announce what services might be temporarily withdrawn from community services, especially primary medical services, because obviously that ultimately could lead to greater demand on accident and emergency units across Wales?

Well, Llywydd, before I begin, could I say it is very good indeed to see the Member back in his place in the Chamber this afternoon? Thank you for that important question as well. We are concluding our discussions with primary care providers in Wales. We do want them to play a greater part in the short-term but urgent need to bolster our vaccination programme ahead of the arrival, as I'm afraid we now must expect, of a major wave of the omicron variant. In Wales, we have taken a wider view of primary care than in some parts of the United Kingdom in the vaccination field, so we also include high-street optometrists and dentists as well, who are able to clinically successfully carry out vaccination. The things that will have to be put to one side temporarily, we hope, will be the most routine aspects of primary care—important things, I know. We pay a lot of money through the contract to our general medical services colleagues to carry out those surveillance activities, monitoring of people's diabetic condition, their blood pressure, all of those things. It's not for a moment to say they're not important, but of all the things that GPs do, they probably can be set to one side for a brief period of time in order to have greater capacity in primary care to deliver more of the vaccination programme, because of the urgent need to get ahead as far as we can, and as fast as we can, of the likely impact of that new variant.

13:50

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. It is important that we understand what services might be withdrawn; you alluded to health checks, for example. When might we know the outcome of these negotiations, because people are genuinely concerned? There have been understandable pressures on GP surgeries and getting appointments and I think it's really important that people understand what they can expect in the winter months going forward, with all the pressures that there are on GP surgeries. But importantly, what safeguards are going to be put in place to make sure that people can access the services over the important Christmas period and into the new year? Traditionally, that's a pressure point for understandable reasons and I hope, in those negotiations with primary care, that those discussions are leading to the provision of extra services, so that A&E can get that respite that it desperately needs. We know what went on in an A&E unit in Cardiff over the weekend where a plea went out not to turn up unless it was a life-threatening situation. I would suggest that that is replicated in A&E units across Wales, and so, knowing when those negotiations with primary providers are going to be concluded and what services might be withdrawn, I think is of critical importance. So, if you could give that, we would be most grateful.

Thanks again to Andrew R.T. Davies. We will make those announcements as fast as we are able to. There are a couple of pieces of the jigsaw that we are still completing. We hope to get additional help in this coming vaccination campaign from the fire and rescue service, for example, who do a great deal as first responders and who we think, with some extra attention, would be able to provide vaccinators. We are looking to involve more help from the armed forces as we did earlier in the pandemic, and we're just waiting to get the final confirmation of the help that we can get from them. And, of course, pharmacies are another major contributor to vaccinations. So, there are just some bits of the jigsaw that we are waiting for final confirmation on. All of those would help us to reduce the need for GPs to pull back from some of their more routine activity, because we want to minimise that as well, and to do so for exactly the reasons that the leader of the opposition has said.

The system as a whole is under enormous pressure in every part of it, and if we reduce activity in one part of the system, the risk is that you just displace that activity into some other part of the system that is already hugely pressurised. So, I'm hoping that, very shortly, as fast as possible—we're talking days, not weeks—we will be able to make that announcement, but there are just those final bits that we need to make sure that we've got completely in place, so that we can use primary care and our GP teams, but do it in a way that allows them as much as possible to go on doing the other very important things that they provide.

Thank you for that, First Minister. I'll look forward to that announcement imminently, hopefully.

But you talked of a jigsaw, and the pattern of healthcare is about a jigsaw and it's important that Government has strategies with its partners. Now, last week, to the health committee, Cancer Research highlighted how Wales, shortly, will be the only part of the United Kingdom without an up-to-date cancer strategy. We know, over the weekend, that the Welsh Government—and I commend them for doing this—brought forward a staff training budget with an increase of £250 million and that will provide a 15 per cent uplift, as I understand it, in training provision. But what we do know is that there are many people who haven't come forward with cancer symptoms, and we do know that, by 2030 according to Macmillan, we'll need an extra 80 per cent of cancer specialist nurses here in Wales. So, to bring this jigsaw together, it is important that there is a strategy in place that pulls all the component parts together, so that cancer services can deal with the tidal wave—and I regretfully use that word—of undiagnosed cancer that does sit in communities, because people, for understandable reasons, haven't come forward. Will you commit today to bringing forward a cancer strategy so that all cancer services across Wales can work to that strategy, and wherever you live in Wales, you will be assured of a world-beating cancer service, wherever you live in Wales, rather than a postcode lottery, which I say doesn't exist at the moment, but we don't want that to open up in Wales?

I thank the leader of the opposition for that and I thank him for drawing attention to the eighth year in a row in which there will be new and record investment in creating the workforce of the future for our NHS. And what Mr Davies said is right: we have cancer services of very high quality in all parts of Wales at the moment and that is a very precious resource to make sure that we sustain.

On the issue of a cancer strategy, I think in some ways this is a debate about semantics rather than substance. England has a cancer plan, Scotland has a cancer strategy and we have a cancer quality statement. Now, those quality statements are derived from the parliamentary review of the health service here in Wales, which described ways in which we could make sure that, in all of the major conditions—heart disease, stroke and, of course, cancer—we had statements of national priorities, a focus on treatment and the early detection of disease. We published our cancer quality statement in March of this year and I think that it does the things that people who ask for a strategy or a plan are looking for. Now, of course, we are very happy to discuss that with those third sector organisations that the leader of the opposition mentioned, but it is not the case that there is no plan for Wales. There is a plan and there is a strategy; it's captured in that quality statement. The aim of the statement is to do exactly the sorts of things that the leader of the opposition suggested.

13:55

Diolch, Llywydd. Can I start by saying how glad I am to see the leader of the Welsh Conservatives back in his place here? We've disagreed many times in this Siambr, Andrew, and I'm sure we'll disagree many times again, and sometimes passionately, but can I say that we've always had the best of personal relationships? Can I also pay tribute to the way in which you spoke openly about issues of well-being? You are a real inspiration for us all in that.

First Minister, the chief executive of the Development Bank of Wales has been making personal investments in companies based in Wales without seeking prior approval of the board. Is that something you, as First Minister, are comfortable with?

I expect any chief executive or employee of an enterprise or agents of the Welsh Government to observe all of the proprieties and the rules that are required of them. I'm not sure if the leader of Plaid Cymru is suggesting that there has been impropriety here, but if he is, he should say so, and if he says so, then we will investigate that.

Well, Mr Thorley did seek board approval and also wrote to the then-Minister for the economy before taking up his paid role as the chair of Zip World. Perhaps the First Minister could confirm whether Mr Thorley's personal investment in Zip World was also subject to prior board approval, as has been reported in the press.

Now, if it was, and the reason that I raise this—. Well, the question is clear, isn't it? Why was the same principle not applied to his investment in the Cardiff-based start-up Love to Visit? Can I ask you a fairly basic point of principle, First Minister, if it is stipulated that Mr Thorley, who is already among the highest paid employees of any publicly funded body in Wales, should not invest in companies using knowledge or networks he has acquired through his work at the development bank? Wouldn't you agree with me that it's not an assessment that Mr Thorley should be able to make, effectively as judge and jury in his own case?

Well, I certainly agree with the final point, Llywydd, that where any person is carrying out work on behalf of the public interest in Wales and is in a publicly appointed position to do so, then they are bound by rulebooks that are not of their own making, nor should they be the sole arbiter of whether they are complying with those rulebooks.

I'm not familiar with the detail of the decisions that are made by the chief executive of the Development Bank of Wales in the way that the leader of Plaid Cymru is. If there are specific concerns that ought to be investigated, then they need to be brought to the attention of the Government and then they will receive that attention.

As you know, First Minister, your predecessor Rhodri Morgan was highly critical of senior leadership figures within the Welsh Development Agency having outside business interests that gave rise to negative perceptions. He said, and I quote:

'Business does not just have to be done, it has to be seen to be done. That is well-nigh impossible when you have inter-locking relationships.'

It's not enough to say that these matters are just for the board, for example, when this is a publicly owned company with the Welsh Government as its sole shareholder. You amended the framework document that sets out, as I understand, the Government's expectations of the bank in relation to governance—some of the questions that I've raised with you today—in February of this year. Can I ask that you publish that document, along with the remit letter you signed with the bank as a Government last month? Will you insist on a review of governance arrangements to ensure they meet people's reasonable expectation that the public interest is neither overlapped nor overridden by the private interest of individuals, to avoid some of the problems in perception that I've raised with you today?

14:00

I entirely agree with the final proposition that Mr Price made; people should not put themselves in that position. I very well remember the views of the former First Minister on the WDA and its history and a number of its employees. It is the regular position of the Welsh Government to publish remit letters to organisations that we sponsor, but the Development Bank of Wales does deal in commercially sensitive areas where it isn't always possible to put into the public domain the same level of information that is possible for bodies that don't deal in those same areas. I'm reluctant, Llywydd, to give general commitments on the back of suggestions that I'm not completely certain of the basis of them, or indeed what is being alleged. I will read very carefully the Record of what's been said this afternoon and, of course, if I think that any action does need to be taken by the Welsh Government, then that action will follow.FootnoteLink

Roads Review

3. What progress has the Government made in relation to its roads review? OQ57345

I thank Mabon ap Gwynfor for that question. The roads review panel has worked quickly to identify and consider projects that are within the scope of the review. We expect to receive the interim report later this month. The final report and recommendations are expected to be ready in June 2022.

Thank you very much for that response. May I read a section from the scope of the review, which is part of the criteria for the roads review? It says that:

'Access roads with the primary purpose of linking a site or premises for heavy industry to the public highway, or within the boundary of a heavy industry development site, will be excluded from the review. Access roads with the primary purpose of serving residential, retail and light office / light industrial developments should be paused at the next decision gateway to allow them to be considered by the review panel.'

Do you think that there is an inconsistency here as you are exempting heavy industry—the most polluting roads—from the review, but are preventing those roads that will serve more rural areas, for light industry, such as Llanbedr, for example? Will you therefore explain the rationale and the science behind this?

Thank you for that additional question. It's important, Llywydd, for me to go back to the purpose of the roads review. We have undertaken the review because it's a fundamental part of this Government's response to the environmental emergency, which was declared with his party. What we are doing is trying to be clear with people in Wales that we can't continue to build new roads as the default solution to transport challenges. That's why we've asked the panel to undertake the work that we've asked them to do, and that's why we've done it the way that we've asked them to do it.

I know that people in the Member's constituency have had concerns about the choices that have been made after the panel looked into the new roads that were going to be built around the Llanbedr community. However, that's what the purpose of the review was—to examine the case for new roads. When the review panel came to the conclusion that other options offered better opportunities to reduce carbon and air pollution, that's what the Minister has accepted, and those are the things that the review group will look at wherever new roads are considered.

14:05

First Minister, you’ll be aware of the coastal road to St David's through Newgale, which has been affected greatly by coastal erosion and storm damage in recent years. Indeed, it’s been suggested by some studies that, by 2036, the road in Newgale will be underwater due to the rapidly changing impact brought about by climate change. I appreciate that the Welsh Government has confirmed a moratorium on new roads being built in Wales, but the local authority has quite rightly been working on a project to redirect this piece of road around the village of Newgale, so that communities can still connect with places like Solva and St David's from Haverfordwest. First Minister, can you, therefore, tell us what discussions the Welsh Government is having with the Pembrokeshire County Council about this particular stretch of road? Can you confirm that you will still consider financially supporting this project to build a new road so that the communities that I represent have a road network that is safe and accessible for the future?

I take very seriously the points the Member has made. I’m familiar with that piece of road and the risks that climate change pose to it. What I don’t think we can have, though, Llywydd, is a position in which everybody will agree on the basic principle that if we’re to be serious about climate change, we cannot make building a new road the default option every time there is a transport problem, but always to want to make a road in their part of Wales an exception to the rule that we have agreed on. The Welsh Government does remain in conversation, of course, with Pembrokeshire County Council. We’ve agreed that the improvements to the A40—they're not the Member’s constituency, I don’t think, but in the county—will go ahead. The fact we have a roads review does not mean that where there are clear safety considerations, for example, that investment in new road facilities will not go ahead. It’s simply that the bar has to be higher than it was in the past to make a new road the answer to a problem. Because unless we are prepared to grasp that difficult nettle, the chance that we will be able to get to carbon neutral by 2050, let alone 2035, will be vanishingly impossible.

The Climate Emergency

4. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of local and community involvement in combating the climate emergency? OQ57343

I believe there's a stronger sense then ever before of the urgency of the climate emergency. The practical ways in which local action and community involvement can make a difference are vividly illustrated in 'Working Together to Reach Net Zero', the companion document to our net-zero Wales plan.

Diolch, Brif Weinidog. It’s really encouraging to see people and organisations with plans and initiatives to both lower their own carbon footprint, but, more importantly, lower others' as well. Two such organisations in my constituency are RE:MAKE Newport, who have opened the first permanent repair cafe in Wales, with the support of many volunteers in the community, and the award-winning Sero Zero Waste, based in the grounds of Tredegar House, who sell refillable and sustainable products. These are almost universally accepted as good initiatives, but setting up organisations can be a struggle, and maintaining them long term quite often requires support. How is the Welsh Government helping organisations such as these to both establish and thrive long term, and how can we encourage more of them to start up in Wales?

14:10

I thank Jayne Bryant for that and for both of the two practical examples that she mentioned. I said that Jack Sargeant had taken me to see the impact of bank closures in Buckley; it was the Member for Newport West who took me to see Sero Zero Waste, the community shop at Tredegar House, and the two fantastic young women who had taken the risk of setting it all up and who have made such a success of it.

As far as RE:MAKE Newport is concerned, then the Member will know, I'm sure, that it is funded by the Welsh Government's landfill disposals tax communities scheme, a scheme designed particularly here in Wales when that piece of fiscal responsibility was transferred to us and endorsed as the legislation went through the Senedd. Repair cafes are a phenomenon of Wales—we have over 60 of them already—but something that I think RE:MAKE Newport offers is a step further again. Because, in a way that I'm familiar with from some other examples, you can take in household items that need to be repaired, and if you don't need them yourself, you are able to contribute them to a lending library where people who may not have easy access to quickly repaired items can go and borrow them for their own use.

We look around the Chamber here and we generally think how lucky all of us are that, if something small goes wrong at home—if the kettle breaks down, if the toaster needs repairing—we don't have to think about where we're going to find the money to be able to replace that item. But we know in Wales there is an enormous percentage of households who have no savings at all to fall back on and where even minor domestic difficulties loom very large over that household's ability to be able to manage through the week ahead. Those lending libraries of repaired items are a real lifeline in those communities, and it's great to see RE:MAKE Newport being part of that latest step in that development.

First Minister, just this weekend, towns and communities across north Wales, and probably the whole of Wales, tried to steel themselves against yet another torrid onslaught of very stormy weather. My local authority, Conwy County Borough Council, took several pre-emptive measures by closing all available floodgates, but we've seen really extensive damage to the promenade at Llanfairfechan. It stretches right through to West Shore, and there are implications now for the railway line that runs along that. It's so bad that even recent works after one of the previous storms have been washed away now in the sea. To me, such incidents as this prove the finding of the third UK climate change risk assessment, that more action is needed from all Governments to address the risk of climate change impacts, but especially more frequent flooding and coastal erosion causing damage to infrastructure. So, First Minister, what proactive steps is the Welsh Government taking to engage with our communities, and in particular our local authorities who bear the brunt of this, and Natural Resources Wales, to identify at-risk infrastructure points to ensure that storm-resilient precautions are introduced? And more so, what steps can you take now as a Welsh Government, First Minister, to make sure that there is a contingency fund in place to support our local authorities in the aftermath of such recurring storms? Because I think these now are going to become more frequent than they have been in the past. Thank you. Diolch.

I thank Janet Finch-Saunders for that really important point. There's no doubt, Llywydd, that climate change is already happening in Wales. Intense weather events and the frequency of them during the winter are going to be part of our lives much more than they were in the past. We've seen it already in communities here in south Wales. I made a visit with the then leader of Conwy council to a community that had been very badly affected by floods a year ago. I pay tribute to the work of local authorities, emergency services and, indeed, NRW workers who've been out this last weekend, and are out again today, in the high winds and the rain that we're seeing, working hard to try and protect communities from the impact of these extreme weather events. We will invest a record amount again this term, Llywydd, in flood and coastal defences right across Wales. Where emergencies hit, there are separate arrangements, of course, akin to the old Bellwin formula as it used to be known, that help local authorities where they have to pick up the immediate costs, as I remember Ceredigion County Council had when Aberystwyth front was badly damaged in high winds and sea swells. That is going to become a more permanent feature of the way things happen in Wales while we deal with the impact of climate change, and making sure that we have the arrangements fit to meet those circumstances is an important point that the Member's made this afternoon.

14:15
Digital Skills

5. How does the Welsh Government intend to develop digital skills in Ynys Môn? OQ57347

Learning digital skills is a mandatory requirement across the new Curriculum for Wales, and schools in Ynys Môn have access and resources that are bilingual and incomparable, which are provided through the Hwb programme. The Welsh Government is also funding digital literacy programmes that are free for all adult learners on the island and across the country. 

Thank you very much for that response. This lunchtime, I was chairing the latest meeting of the cross-party group on digital issues, and skills was our topic today. There was a very interesting discussion, and we heard examples of excellent work already work already happening, not only in Ynys Môn in the M-SParc science park, but also in Gwynedd—a new council digital strategy there—in Gower College Swansea and the skills partnership in the south west. But it's important that good practice is shared. So, how can the Welsh Government ensure that good practice is effectively shared so that people of all ages in Wales, wherever they live, know that they can access the education that they need in the digital sphere, and also that employers in all parts of Wales are aware that they can have a pipeline of people with the skills that they need?

I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for that question. I saw that the cross-party group was meeting once again this week, and, of course, I'm familiar as well with the work that's being done in M-SParc on Ynys Môn, and Blue Lobster, one of the companies that is working out of M-SParc, is an example of the point that Rhun ap Iorwerth was making.

If I was to take just one example, Llywydd, of the point that the Member was making about sharing good practice and making sure that good things that are happening in one part of Wales are known about and can be developed elsewhere, then maybe, for this afternoon, I will just point to the degree apprenticeship programme. These are degree level apprenticeships, many of them in the digital skills area. Up until about a year or so ago, we had no degree apprenticeships on the island of Ynys Môn, now we do. That's very good news and it's great to see those young people coming forward to take advantage of those opportunities. I think one of the reasons that that will have happened is because the success of the degree apprenticeship programme in some other parts of Wales, some early movers, has now been communicated across the network of FE colleges—and the Member has an excellent example in Llandrillo of a forward-looking FE college—and that good practice in some parts of Wales is now being spread through that network, and I hope is resulting in those additional opportunities for young people, and not just young people, people of all of ages—

as Rhun ap Iorwerth was saying

—to take advantage of those chances, particularly in skills that will be needed across a whole range of industries in the future.

14:20
Violence Against Women

6. What is the Government doing to eliminate violence against women? OQ57336

Llywydd, public consultation begins today on the Welsh Government's next five-year strategy for eliminating violence against women, and there'll be a statement later this afternoon from my colleague Jane Hutt. Amongst other actions, it focuses on bringing together all agencies in Wales to challenge attitudes and behaviours and improve the trust of women in the help available to them.

Diolch yn fawr. Last week, we saw the release of some disturbing figures for the Gwent area when it comes to domestic violence. The South Wales Argus reported that domestic abuse crimes have more than doubled in Gwent during the last six years. Despite legislation like the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 and high-profile campaigns like the recent White Ribbon campaign, we still have problems in Wales with domestic abuse. Eradicating this crime has been made even more difficult due to the changing nature of our working lives, with many now working from home. The pandemic has coincided with a spike in domestic violence, sadly. How is this Government tailoring its approach to tackling domestic violence, given the way coronavirus has changed people's lives?

I thank the Member for another very important question this afternoon. Those were disturbing figures that were published and, as ever, it is very difficult to distinguish between the success that organisations on the ground have had in persuading more people to come forward and to report crimes of domestic abuse from the actual increase that we know has been there as a result of the pandemic, but because we have never succeeded in eradicating domestic abuse here in Wales. There are a series of ways in which the Welsh Government works with others to try to respond to the most contemporary patterns: £4 million in additional investment during the pandemic period, the work of the taskforce that we have brought together in Wales on domestic violence, led by a police and crime commissioner. It meets every week, it's meeting again on Thursday of this week. It is developing the blueprint approach here in Wales that's been very successful in relation to youth offending and female offending, and that blueprint approach is reflected in the strategy that we are launching for consultation today, a strategy that focuses on co-ordination, on making sure there are specialist services available when necessary, and where there's a national framework of standards to make sure that the services that are available in one part of Wales reflect the nature and quality of services that will be available elsewhere.

Bus Services in North Wales

7. What plans does the Welsh Government have to improve bus services in North Wales? OQ57332

I thank the Member for that, Llywydd. Transport for Wales is working with the local authorities in north Wales to prepare a comprehensive plan to improve local bus services as part of our recent announcement to create a fully integrated public transport metro network across the area.

Diolch, First Minister. Much of north Wales is rural, unlike large city areas such as Cardiff. It is a complicated web of transport hubs consisting of many isolated rural communities, a large amount of historical town centres, health facilities, railway stations, and it's intrinsically linked with education to make it viable. How will Welsh Government ensure that the vast knowledge of local authority expertise and good relations with operators of this complicated network are shared effectively with corporate joint committees and built upon for this vital service, while retaining local choices?

I thank Carolyn Thomas for that, and she's right to point to the complexity of planning transport services over a geography that includes urban concentrations, but many, many rural areas as well. As the Member knows, the Welsh Government will bring forward legislation during this Senedd term to reform bus services across Wales, making sure that they are organised and delivered in line with the public interest, rather than being driven by the pursuit of private profit. But the way that we have designed corporate joint committees, Llywydd, I think does offer that flexibility, because each corporate joint committee, able to employ staff directly, to hold assets and budgets, will be the product of the local authorities who form part of that CJC. And it will be for that CJC to make sure that it acts in ways that reflect the nature of the area that they are serving, and that its staff are able to discharge its functions in a way that reflects the particular needs of that CJC area. 

Now, I am very committed to the fact that we have asked local authorities to deliver CJCs in the first instance that are in the fields of transport, strategic development and local economic planning, because I think those are three clearly interlinked responsibilities of local authorities, and making each one of them come together across those geographies in a CJC will allow for exactly the sort of local flexible intelligence to be applied in discharging those responsibilities on those new footprints. 

14:25
A Four-day Work Week

8. Has there been any correspondence between the Welsh Government and the Future Generations Commissioner's office relating to a four-day work week? OQ57314

Llywydd, regular discussion takes place between the Welsh Government and the future generations commissioner's office on a range of issues, and that includes the case for a four-day working week.

Thank you for that response, First Minister.

Recently, I met with the future generations commissioner to discuss both a universal basic income and a four-day working week, and I was interested to hear that her office had been contacted by several businesses in Wales seeking support to pilot a four-day working week. I understand that the Welsh Government is seeking to learn from pilots elsewhere in the world, but given that there are a number of Welsh businesses looking to trial a four-day working week and raring to go, would the First Minister consider lending the Welsh Government's support to these businesses so that we can kick start Wales's journey to a four-day work week?

Llywydd, I think that where there are businesses—and I know that Technovent in Bridgend, which is, I'm sure, well known to the Member, is one of those businesses that has expressed such an interest—of course where there are businesses that decide that it's in their commercial interest to move in that direction now, the Welsh Government would be keen to support them. In general, as Luke Fletcher has said, Llywydd, we are very keen to learn from experience elsewhere. When I was in Glasgow at COP26, I had an opportunity to meet with the First Minister of Scotland, the Prime Minister of Iceland, and with senior figures from New Zealand, as part of a network to which we all belong, looking at the future of work. And I was very interested to hear of the developments that have taken place in Iceland already, and that the Scottish Government has proposed for this Senedd term. And we will, through that network to which we belong, continue to look at the experience that others are getting, bring that information back to Wales to see what possibilities there are for us. But none of that precludes us supporting local initiatives, where companies have already concluded that, for them, a four-day working week is in their own commercial interest. 

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item is the business statement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement. Lesley Griffiths. 

Member
Lesley Griffiths 14:28:51
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Diolch, Llywydd. There are two changes to today's agenda. The First Minister will make a statement on a programme for government update and, additionally, the statement by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on the renewable energy deep dive will now be issued as a written statement. Draft business for the next three sitting weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Trefnydd, as everyone knows in this Chamber, in my home constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire is the headquarters of the British army in Wales. We have the fantastic Sennybridge training camp, Dering Lines infantry battle school, and, for over 200 years, we have proudly been home to the Brecon barracks, which I am pleased to say in this Chamber has been protected from closure in the Ministry of Defence's proposed reforms. But there is one thing we now miss, and that's an armed forces veterans commissioner for Wales to lead on representing our brave veterans. Wales is the only UK nation without the role, and I'd like to ask for a statement on the progress made to date on appointing an armed forces veterans commissioner for Wales. Diolch, Llywydd.

14:30

This is absolutely not a matter for the Welsh Government; this is an issue that the UK Government, I know, have looked at, but it's not an issue for the Welsh Government. 

Trefnydd, I'd like a statement, please, about how decisions on NHS treatments are made in Wales. Over the weekend, a constituent of mine, Maria Wallpott, won her case in the High Court after the NHS in Wales had refused to fund a specialised treatment for her cancer that is available in Scotland and England. Now, I realise fully that the Government won't be able to comment on individual cases; it's the more general issues that have been highlighted that I'd like to see the Government reflect on, please. 

Decisions like this are currently made by the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee, and I'm concerned that the guidelines they follow may be too rigid. In Ms Wallpott's case, her oncologist at Velindre had confirmed that she had a very rare cancer; the oncologist had only seen one instance of it in five years, and the oncologist believed that Ms Wallpott's case would meet the exceptional threshold in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance, but the Wales individual patient funding requests panel, on behalf of this other committee that I've mentioned, they decided against providing the treatment. I know the family has raised concerns about whether the committee is under pressure to refuse people potentially life-saving treatments because of cost.

Again, I realise that the Government can't become involved in or comment on individual cases, but I think that having a statement setting out the processes that are followed by the specialised services committee and the principles they follow in making decisions would be useful for transparency. The long titles of the various panels and committees I've mentioned, they are confusing, but the main concern I have is that the processes mean that some treatments are being denied to patients in Wales that would be available in other parts of the UK. 

Thank you. I think you raise a very important point, and I know the Minister for Health and Social Services is looking at those guidelines. As you say, they could be too rigid, because I remember very well from my days as Minister for Health and Social Services around the flexibility that was available to the specialised services committee that looks into this for us. So, if there is something that I believe is worthy of an update to Members, we will certainly look to do that. 

In October this year, Mark Hankinson, who was the director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, was convicted of encouraging illegal fox hunting. He was caught on camera advising hunts on how to break the 2004 Hunting Act. He exposed what many believe to be true of trail hunting, that it's used as a smokescreen for illegal hunting. Since his conviction, I was pleased to see that a number of organisations, including Natural Resources Wales and the National Trust, have since banned trail hunting on their land. Members of the National Trust voted overwhelmingly to support that ban. Cheshire West and Chester local authority are also set to follow suit. Trail hunting is also currently suspended on the lake district national park.

Minister, I'd like to call for a ban on trail hunting on all publicly-owned land. That includes town centres, where many of the hunts have traditionally met for their Boxing Day and their New Year's Day hunt. I would like to urge the Welsh Government to look and work closely with other authorities and organisations and landowners to make this a reality. It's not just our wildlife that has suffered horrendously as a result of so-called trail hunting, but also dogs. Many are run over on busy roads during a hunt, or, as seen in recent footage, shot dead when they are no longer deemed useful. This, sadly, is not illegal, but nonetheless is barbaric. 

Thank you, and I very much welcome the decision made by Natural Resources Wales on 18 November not to renew their agreement with the Masters of Foxhounds Association. And, as you say, the National Trust banned trail hunting on their land from 25 November. That decision was made in a public session, where careful consideration was made of all the issues involved following the outcome of the court case to which you refer against a senior leader of the Masters of Foxhounds Association. Your request around consideration of a ban on trail hunting on all public land is something that would need further consideration by the Welsh Government. 

14:35

Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on the current weight restrictions for vehicles in operation on the M4 between junction 24 and junction 28? I know that's very specific, and the reason why I ask is because a constituent—. I know you don't like to answer on a specific case, but the reason why I'm asking is because it's slightly confusing as to what's arisen in front of me.

So, a constituent has contacted me regarding a freedom of information request he'd sent to the Welsh Government, asking how many heavy goods vehicles have been stopped since the restriction was put in place and how many were found to be over the restricted weight limit. The Welsh Government responded, and when they responded they said that they did not hold any information and that he should contact the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, as they undertake the activity—which would all seem fine. But then the DVSA said that they did not have the information, as it was outside their remit and that he should contact Highways Wales—again, okay, fine. My constituent then contacted Highways Wales. He said that his inquiry was considered, and I quote, 'policy/programming in nature', and that they had forwarded his request—again, back to the Welsh Government. So, can I please request a statement from the Deputy Minister just to clear up this confusion and provide the information required? Because it does appear to the constituent that the weight restriction is just a smokescreen to cover up the Welsh Government's lack of action to tackle congestion on this stretch of the M4. Thank you, Minister.

Thank you. As you say, it is a very specific query. Obviously, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change does have questions tomorrow, so I would encourage you to look for an opportunity to question him tomorrow. But if that doesn't materialise, perhaps write to the Deputy Minister.

Trefnydd, at the beginning of this month, correspondence was issued by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change to the planner for Persimmon Homes east Wales. The letter concerned a controversial plan to build 300 homes on fields around Heol y Cefn, Cefn Fforest, Bedwellty—controversial because this green space is much appreciated locally, and there are brownfield sites within close proximity that many people say are more suitable for development. The matter was raised during a recent street surgery on the nearby Grove Park estate. The Welsh Government refused planning permission for this development in 2020, but this decision was challenged at the High Court, which subsequently quashed the Government's decision. The recent letter was giving notice to Persimmon that the Deputy Minister is inviting representations on whether the inquiry should be reopened. Not only would I like this inquiry reopened, but I'd like the Government to review the current planning process with a view to tightening up procedures so that, when decisions are made to overturn planning applications, they are robust and have a stout defence behind them, ready for any legal challenge. My concern is that, if this development goes ahead without much of a fight, developers will be rubbing their hands with glee in the knowledge that Welsh Government refusal on matters of planning are merely a bump in the road to getting what they want eventually.

Again, I think that's obviously a very specific issue that you have raised, and the fact that it's been a matter of a court case—I don't think really it's appropriate for an oral statement. But I will certainly ask the Deputy Minister to consider your question in the round, and, again, if he thinks there is further information that he is able to provide, that he writes to the Member.

Trefnydd, you may have seen in the press the furore around the owner of Aberdare Market and Town Hall Company invoking a mid-nineteenth-century Act of Parliament to effectively threaten charitable and fund-raising Christmas fairs from taking place in my constituency. This included planned events at St Elvan's Church, at the new Welsh Government-funded Cynon Linc community hub and in Aberaman band club—all of which would have brought additional footfall and helped regenerate and sustain Aberdare. Now, it's clear that stallholders in Aberdare market don't support this draconian intervention, so I hope none of the bad feeling generated by this will reflect on them. But I would welcome a statement from Welsh Government setting out Ministers' views on this case, and their reflections as to the impact of such prohibitive and outdated private Acts of Parliament, which run contrary to wider economic and regeneration policies.

Thank you. And I am aware of the consternation this has caused in the Member's constituency. It's obviously a legal issue that is being enforced at a local level, so I'm unable to comment specifically on it. But I think it's really disappointing, particularly at this time of the year, that local businesses and community members have been unable to work together for the benefit of the town. In the absence of any changes to the UK legislation, I understand Our Aberdare business improvement district, along with other key partners in Aberdare town centre, and that includes the market, are looking to negotiate a way forward on the issue. As a Government, we fully recognise that markets can deliver a variety of much needed benefits for our town centres, and that's why our Transforming Towns placemaking grant can be used to enable local markets to be held in town centres, and why we also commissioned a best practice guide. 

14:40

Business Minister, many of the services we rely upon are greatly enhanced by a variety of third sector organisations in our communities. This was clear during the pandemic, and, to some extent, I think we underestimate the reach that these organisations have. In my own region, the St John Ambulance Brigade, working for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, has helped thousands of people through their form of service. There are many examples, which highlight not just their key role now, but for the future. Will the Government schedule a debate setting out how we will tell them that the role of the third sector is a crucial part of our public service delivery network? Thank you.  

I think the Member highlights a very important point of how much we've relied on our public services, along with our third sector organisations, to help us as a Government through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Minister for Social Justice is in the Chamber and has heard your request, and I'm sure, in the debates that we hold regularly around the third sector of Wales, that she will consider your request. 

Trefnydd, I've raised this issue a number of times now, but, as the issue has not been resolved, I still have constituents contacting me about the difficulty of getting a COVID pass if they can't be vaccinated for medical reasons. The medical reason often means that they also are unable to take a lateral flow test. The Welsh Government website continues to say, 'We are working on a system that will allow this to happen.' Access is being denied to people at the moment, because of the difficulties that they face in getting a pass, and this needs to be resolved urgently. One family contacted me to say that their son, who has autism and who is unable to get vaccinated or take a lateral flow test, was unable to attend an event with the rest of his family because of this, and that this issue was having an adverse impact on people's rights in similar situations. Can we please have a statement on this work from the health Minister, and a timetable as to when this work will be completed?

Thank you. I think you're quite right: it does need to be resolved urgently. And you'll be aware that next Tuesday the Minister for Health and Social Services is updating Members in relation to COVID regulations, and we're also having an oral statement. And I will certainly ask her to look into this issue, and, if we're not able to update Members beforehand, if she can do so during that statement. 

Good afternoon, Trefnydd. I'd like to ask for an urgent statement from the Deputy Minister for Social Services with regard to child protection services across Wales. We will all be absolutely horrified at the very tragic death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes this week, and we must not forget that the people responsible for that are not people working in social services, or, indeed, in any other statutory services. But it is incumbent on us to look at the state of our local authorities, particularly with regard to child protection vacancies. And I know, from my own local authority, how they're struggling to find social workers and team managers at the front line to work in those roles. Just a really quick personal story: my first child protection case was an eight-year-old little girl who had an injury. I thought it was an accidental injury; I was very inexperienced. I went to my team manager and told him the situation. Straight away, he said, 'No. That's not an injury that's been caused accidentally' and he had the experience to be able to guide me and take me through the process. It is absolutely essential that we look at that situation, and that we can confidently say that we have the people in the right places to protect our children in Wales. Thank you. 

Thank you. Certainly, the horrific murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes has I think shocked many of us. And here in Wales you'll be aware that we've had the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which introduced strengthened and robust safeguarding arrangements for Wales, and that really underpinned the Wales safeguarding procedures and all-Wales practice guides. And they're owned by the safeguarding boards and they were issued back in 2019 and they do provide us with that consistent, evidence-based safeguarding practice across Wales, and, as a Government, we will continue to work with the National Independent Safeguarding Board Wales and the regional safeguarding children boards so that we can support those practices.

I think you make a very important point about who harmed Arthur, and I think it's often the case that the people who should be absolutely protecting and looking after their children are not the ones to do so. And I think we also need to pay tribute to the challenges that our social workers face on a daily basis. Intervention in private family life has got to be proportionate and appropriate, and I think the point that you raised about your own personal case is very important also. And, again, the Welsh Government has done a great deal of work to provide training.

14:45

Thank you very much, Llywydd. The numbers suffering from COVID-19 continue to be stubbornly high and now we have the omicron variant that has emerged, with the statistics showing, or at least suggesting, that the disease is doubling on a daily basis. A number of schools in Dwyfor Meirionnydd have sent children home from school recently. My own son was sent home for 10 days from Ysgol Godre'r Berwyn in Bala because of the high numbers of children and young people infected with COVID there. But there's a real concern among parents in some of these areas that children haven't been offered the vaccination as of yet. I note that the Government made an announcement today that the booster will be offered to all adults in Wales by the end of January. Will you ensure that a statement is made as soon as possible on when every child and young person will be offered the vaccination, as well, please? 

Yes, absolutely we will make sure that we update Members.

3. Statement by the First Minister: Programme for Government—Update.

The next item is the statement by the First Minister on the update on the programme for government, and I call on the First Minister to make the statement—Mark Drakeford.

Llywydd, our programme for government for this term was published within weeks of the elections in May, and I made a statement to the Senedd on 15 June. The programme was published early, so that we could make a start on the radical and ambitious policies that we need as we face the unique combination of the ongoing pandemic, the aftermath of Brexit and the challenge of climate change. We also face the first majority Conservative Government at Westminster in the history of devolution, a Government that routinely attempts to undermine and roll back the devolution settlement at every turn, a settlement which has been endorsed in two successive referendums. Today, I want to provide an update on progress and draw attention to amendments made to the programme for government to reflect the co-operation agreement, which the leader of Plaid Cymru and I signed last week.

Llywydd, I make this statement as we continue to respond to the pandemic, including to the latest adverse developments in order to meet our overriding priority in the programme for government, and that is to keep Wales safe at a time of a global public health crisis. This week marks a year since vaccinations became available. Since then, more than 5.5 million doses have been given to adults and children over the age of 12 in Wales, thanks to the enormous efforts of our vaccination programme.

Last week, the first case of the new omicron variant was confirmed in Wales. We now stand on the brink of another potentially perilous moment in our efforts to keep Wales safe and to keep Wales open. Our public health experts have modelled the potential effect of the new variant in Wales, drawing on the latest information from South Africa and other parts of the world. While there is still a great deal to be learned and any modelling at this point is inevitably provisional, we have to brace ourselves for the potential for a formidable wave of new infections in the new year, potentially just six weeks from now, if we cannot slow the spread of this new variant.

Vaccination remains our strongest defence against this cruel virus. By this time next week, a million people in Wales will already have received a third, booster dose. But there are still too many people yet to take up the offer of vaccination, and if there is one message that I would like to convey today, it has to be this: when you receive your invitation for a vaccine, whether it’s your first, second or booster vaccination, please make it your priority. There is nothing else that you will do that day that will do more to help keep you or to keep others safe. And it is never too late to be vaccinated here in Wales. If you've yet to be vaccinated, please, come forward now. It is the best Christmas present you can give yourself and your family this year, and it’s not too dramatic to say that it’s an investment in making sure that you are here for a healthy and happy Christmas next year as well.

Llywydd, despite the ongoing challenge of responding to the pandemic, as a Government we continue to press forward, wherever we can, with our priorities and all those actions that will create a better future beyond the pandemic. My party set out six headline pledges in our manifesto earlier this year. We have made significant progress on all of them, and I'll highlight just three today.

We said that we would retain the 500 police community support officers we have in Wales, who do so much to keep our communities safe, and that we would fund a further 100 over the lifetime of this Senedd. That pledge will be kept in full not over five years, but in the first year of this Senedd term. The funding has been secured and the recruitment of the 100 extra PCSOs is well under way. I had the privilege of spending time on the beat with police officers in Wrexham recently, where I heard first-hand about the benefit that those extra posts will bring to front-line policing.

Last month, the economy Minister launched the first phase of the young person’s guarantee, a guarantee that will ensure there is no lost generation here in Wales following the pandemic. We also promised to pay social care workers the real living wage. We've now received the advice from the social care forum about how to do that for a large and mobile workforce spread over hundreds of employers in the public and private sectors, and, when we publish our draft budget on 20 December, there will be further detail of how we will take that very important commitment forward.

Practical efforts to deliver the remainder of our radical programme continue every day. We promised we would invest in our health and care workforce and create a new medical school in north Wales. This weekend, as the leader of the opposition said earlier, the health Minister announced extra funding for the health and medical workforce of the future for the eighth year running, adding another £260 million to the training budget.

We said we would create a new national music service for Wales, and last week the education Minister confirmed £6.8 million for music and the arts in schools, giving students access to musical instruments.

We made a commitment to go on working to eliminate violence against women and girls, and, as I said earlier this afternoon, today we launch consultation on our new five-year strategy.

Llywydd, later this afternoon my colleague Rebecca Evans will make a statement on how we intend to reform the council tax here in Wales. This is one of the specific areas covered by the co-operation agreement. I believe it is an excellent example of what the agreement will enable this Senedd to achieve. Council tax is the most regressive form of taxation in Wales. Those with the smallest incomes pay a far higher proportion of those incomes in council tax than those who are far better off. In the last Senedd term, a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies set out ways in which council tax could be reformed to make it fairer. Now, there are some veterans in this Chamber of the last major council tax revaluation of 2003, and they will remember just how complex and politically challenging that proved to be. The co-operation agreement will give us the stability and the combined political capacity to make reform happen again, 20 years on from that first revaluation. And, Llywydd, we will go beyond the reform of the current system. We will use the next three years covered by the co-operation agreement to build together on the work carried out in the last Senedd term on more fundamental alternatives to council tax, alternatives that could be both fairer to the citizen and more effective in supporting economic development in all parts of Wales. This is just one example from the 46 areas in the co-operation agreement, and each one of those is now represented in the revised programme for government, which we have published.

Llywydd, there is only one programme for government. It is the framework within which the civil service and other partners focus their efforts on the priorities across our devolved responsibilities. There are key parts of the programme that will now be taken forward in a progressive alliance between the Welsh Labour Government and Plaid Cymru, and that will harness our efforts in the face of unprecedented challenges and the hostility of an incompetent and neglectful UK Government at Westminster. [Interruption.] Well, Llywydd, others won't know that there are cries of 'shocking', and I agree with that—it is shocking the degree of hostility and incompetence that we face every single day from that Government, so I'm happy to associate myself with those comments.

Amongst the immediate focus of those programme for government policies that reflect the co-operation agreement will be the extension to free school meals in all primary schools for all primary school pupils, the expansion of childcare to two-year-olds, and radical and immediate actions to address the problems faced by people unable to secure a first home in communities with many second homes and holiday homes as well. Consultations have been launched on a range of policy instruments that we can use, and now the real work to develop and deliver new policies in those areas will be taken forward in partnership.

Llywydd, I will end where I began this afternoon. I'm very pleased to have been able to provide this update today. I believe the ability to work with others on shared agendas has been the hallmark of successive Senedd terms, and will offer tangible benefits to people in Wales over the next three years. But, the pressing public health emergency will have to preoccupy us all over the coming weeks. Through our vaccination programme and all the other actions we can take to keep one another safe, we will weather the storm that lies ahead of us. But that is not a responsibility of the Government alone. There is the need for each one of us, for every Welsh citizen, to go on acting together once again to save lives that would otherwise be lost, to protect our health service and our social care services from the risk that they would otherwise be overwhelmed, and to lead Wales safely through a period of danger that is facing us all.

14:55

First Minister, thank you for your statement, and can I agree with you on your last pronouncement there about the challenges ahead for us, and the need for people to come forward and get the booster vaccine, and bearing down on this terrible virus, and also the pressures that it's putting on our NHS? So, it's always good to start a statement on a point where we can find common agreement, but where we disagree, obviously, is what the leader of Plaid Cymru said about the agreement that you've reached with Plaid Cymru—that this was a down payment on independence. So, is this programme for government that you're introducing today a down payment on independence, First Minister, because it would be good to hear what your take is on it, because—and the last time I looked—I've always thought that the Labour Party was a unionist party?

Could I also ask around the mechanisms of how the programme for government will be scrutinised now that there will be designated Members coming out of Plaid Cymru to support the policy development and work within Government? At the moment, there is no mechanism to scrutinise designated Members, because it's a new term, it's a new position. I congratulate Siân Gwenllian, who I think is the first appointment as a designated Member in this agreement. But do you agree with me that it is important that the role that they will assume within Government is scrutinised and that that is afforded the opportunity from the Government in their time for us as an opposition party to scrutinise those Members? Because this isn't solely a role for the Presiding Officer; the Government control business on a Tuesday and, in my understanding, could make time available for that to happen. So, I think that's very important for us to understand, because this is a three-year deal; it's not a three-week deal, it's a three-year deal, and it's important that we as opposition Members can have that opportunity to scrutinise the designated Member role supporting Ministers on the front bench.

I'd also like to understand how the programme for government is making progress on waiting times, in particular the chronic waiting times we're seeing because of the COVID pandemic where, if you take young people out of those waiting times, nearly one in four people are on a waiting list now somewhere in Wales. If we're not careful, and if your Government isn't careful, these waiting times could ultimately consume the Government going forward. I appreciate the previous health Minister said it would take a full Assembly term, or parliamentary term, to deal with these waiting times, but I think it's important that we can understand what progress is being made, because behind every stat that comes out is an individual and a family with a loved one who, ultimately, is most probably in some form of excruciating pain waiting for a procedure within our NHS.

I notice you didn't mention anything on the clean air Act, First Minister, which was part of your leadership manifesto and was a key debating point within the parliamentary election that we had in April. I'd be pleased to understand if you could update us on that, because I know from lobbying and also outside organisations that there is a very keen need to progress on this. If Mike Hedges was here, I'm sure he'd be joining me in that, because I know that he's kept a very keen eye on the progress, or not as the case may be, to date with the introduction of a clean air Act. 

On free school lunches, which is a central policy of the agreement that you've reached with Plaid Cymru, I'd be grateful and I'm sure many others would be grateful to understand the budgetary implications of this policy and to try and understand how it balances up with the need for those with the broadest shoulders to make the biggest contributions. I'm not sure it's a sensible policy area where you have solicitors, estate agents and accountants benefiting from having free school lunches when the system already allows for those on challenging income positions to receive those free school lunches as they rightly should. I think the cheers in St Andrew's Crescent in Cardiff, knowing that now they're going to benefit from free school lunches, isn't a good use of valuable public resources, to say the least. 

We do agree on the reform of school term times. I think that's a sensible proposition. I can remember when I first came in here in 2007, Jane Hutt had a very short period as the education Minister at that time, and I remember raising that particular point with her. Some people might have forgotten that, but I do remember raising that point and at that time I didn't seem to get much traction on that particular idea.

We do want to see progress in the care system. We do want to see progress on the building safety fund, which is talked about in the programme for government, and I appreciate there's a statement next week on this, but it is vitally important that that statement does come forward with tangible proposals to address this key area that many residents find their lives being blighted by at the moment.

You touched on local government reform, and in particular around the funding formula. Good luck with that, I'd say, to be honest with you. I think you're in for a challenging time to say the least there, First Minister. But that's what Government is about, challenging these things and making sure that we put solutions in place, or should I say you put solutions in place. But what I'd be pleased to try and understand is whether it's a two-stage approach: (1) revaluation to start with, and then (2) more fundamental reform. And if that is the case, would both aspects be completed within this five-year term of office, or will it be revaluation this term of office, more fundamental reform post 2026? I think, especially ahead of the local government elections next May, people need to know where the direction of travel is on this important policy area. As you highlighted, it's 20 years since the last revaluation, but the complexities around it are challenging to say the least. 

My final point I'd just like to raise with you is the constitutional commission, which I appreciate is just up and running now. This is just for my own curiosity. Reading the partnership document with Plaid Cymru, it says that the interim report and their final report will be presented to both parties. I'm just interested to see why that is included in the document as a position that that constitutional commission has to present its interim report and its final report as if it's exclusively for Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party to take ownership of that document. So, that's more for my own curiosity to be satisfied, but I'd be grateful if you could answer the points that I've put to you.

15:05

Well, I thank the leader of the Welsh Conservatives for those detailed questions, and can I thank him for the way he began, for his support for the call for people to come forward for vaccination? Every single Member of the Senedd has a reach into our own communities. We regularly publish things; we're always trying to communicate with people who vote in our localities, and anything any one of us can do to get that message over is another small contribution to building the defence that we will need in Wales, if we were to see an omicron wave of infection of the sort that some analysts are suggesting.

Independence doesn't appear at all in the co-operation agreement. It is one of those things on which we will continue to have many debates, I'm sure, across the floor of the Senedd. My party's position has not altered at all. We believe in an entrenched devolution system, a devolution system that cannot be arbitrarily rowed back by a Government at Westminster, but we also believe that Wales is better off in a successful United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom is better off for having Wales as a part of it, and I'm quite sure we will go on debating those different positions.

The scrutiny issue, I genuinely think, Llywydd, is not a matter for me. I'm very wary of the idea that the Government should have a hand in drawing up arrangements to be scrutinising the decisions that we make, but there were important points made by the leader of the opposition, quite definitely. I know that the Business Committee will have taken a paper today that groups in the Senedd will want to consider, and in the end, it is absolutely a matter for the Senedd to decide on its own arrangements, not for the Government to have a direct hand in them.

I don't dissent from part of what the Member said about waiting times in the NHS. It's a matter of considerable grief to me that we went into the pandemic with waiting times in the Welsh NHS the lowest since 2014 and falling, and now we face a very different position, as does every part of the United Kingdom. I'm pleased, in a very modest way, to see in the latest figures some waiting times coming down for some of the most urgent conditions. We talked about cancer earlier, and waiting times fell for cancer in the most recent period, but those are small advances in a very difficult position, and we continue to work with other Governments. If there are any ideas that we have not thought of for ourselves that can help us to make the progress we want to make on waiting times in Wales, then of course we want to learn those things from anywhere where they are available.

The programme for government continues to contain a commitment to introduce a clean air Act for Wales, consistent with World Health Organization guidance and to extend the provision of air quality monitoring, and that process will begin early in the Senedd term with a normal White Paper, followed by a Bill for the Senedd to consider. I continue to look forward to working with other parts of the Chamber who have a shared interest in that.

We have a fundamentally different view on the issue of means testing and universal services. I think school meals is in some ways the paradigm case for the impact that means testing has, because it casts a stigma over those people for whom the system is meant to be a beneficiary. I remember a very old story, Llywydd, which my colleague Jane Hutt and some others here will remember. The former leader of South Glamorgan County Council, Lord Jack Brooks, used to tell a story about how, as an 18-year-old, he went out to a dancehall here in Cardiff, all dressed up for the night, and he saw a young woman coming across the room to him and he thought that maybe his evening was going to be more successful than he had originally anticipated, and this young woman came up to him and said, 'I know you', she said, 'You're Jack Brooks, aren't you?' and he said, 'Yes', and she said, 'You're the one who used to have free school meals when we were in primary school together.' And even at that age, the hurt that that caused him had never left him and it must have been 50 years later that he told us that story and it was still vivid, you could tell in the way that he told it. And that's why, on this side of the Chamber, we believe that universal services where there is no stigma attached—. And of course the people in St Andrews Crescent should pay, but they should pay through the taxation system, a graduated taxation system that takes more back from people who have more to start with, not means test the service so that those people who really need it don't get the service they really need, they get all the disadvantages that go alongside it. My colleague Rebecca Evans will set out the budgetary implications; we've made proper budgetary provision for the policy set out in the agreement.

Thank you to Andrew R.T. Davies for what he said about reforming the school term and the school year, it'll be good to work on that together, and for the issues of social care and building safety. The proposal for local government reform is a two-stage process. In this Senedd term, I'll want us to grasp the difficult issues of reforming the current system, so that the current system is as fair as we can make it, and at the same time, we will go on working on the possibilities for more fundamental reform. There was a lot of work done on this in the last Senedd term, but if you're going to, let us say, replace the council tax with a form of land value taxation, that can't be done in a single term; that would lie beyond the current term.

The reports of the constitutional commission will, of course, be available to all parties once they are published and I'm grateful to the leader of the Welsh Conservatives for having made a nomination to the commission. I'm sure that her participation in its deliberations will add a great deal to the necessary challenge that you want in a group of people brought together to look at such fundamentally important matters.

15:10

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I knew that that phrase, 'a down payment on independence', would upset the Tories; they're very easily upset these days. But what I meant by that, what was on my mind, was another phrase that Raymond Williams coined where he talked about real independence. Not independence as a theory, but real independence for him were the policies that would transform people's lives. And although you and I, First Minister, disagree on the constitutional future of Wales, both of us would agree that the purpose of politics is to change people's lives.

And as one who was, for a period of time, in receipt of free school meals as a secondary school pupil, I can tell you that this is the proudest moment in all my time in politics, to see not only that policy contained within the co-operation agreement, but it being reflected here today in the programme for government. That is something that we can take pride in and, of course, the co-operation: it's two parties coming together in a spirit of co-operation, to achieve what? In order to achieve change and, indeed, to transform the lives of the people of Wales today and, of course, from our party's perspective, to sow that seed in people's minds, 'Well, if we can do this within the limitations of our powers and our budgets, well just imagine what we could do as a nation if we held all of those powers in our own hands in the future.' That's what was on my mind when I talked about a down payment on independence.

I welcome the spirit of co-operation in which you've presented this statement today. We don't agree with everything in the programme for government, because it is the Government's programme, of course. Although around a quarter of the commitments are in the new version, that is, the delivery objectives—because there is a difference, is there not, between the co-operation agreement and what's reflected in the programme for government; that is, you are focusing in this document on what the Government will deliver—three quarters of them are things that are outwith the co-operation agreement: some of them we as a party agree with, and we will support, others we will continue to oppose as a constructive opposition.

It's interesting, I think, this debate about the role of Government and opposition. It reminds me of a famous phrase by the American political scientist Robert Dahl, who once said:

'To say where the government leaves off and the opposition begins is an exercise in metaphysics.'

He was a great theorist of pluralism in democracy; that, actually, in a true democracy, power is distributed and we all have a role—we all have a role—in actually being part of policy making and making a difference. So, I don't buy into this very arid Westminster adversarial model. We all have a responsibility in this Chamber. Everyone who's not in the Cabinet, actually, including Labour backbenchers, has a scrutiny role, and it's a role that we should all take very, very seriously.

But we also should be co-operative in our approach to making a difference. It was interesting to read the legal advice that you've received from Lord Pannick, Llywydd, that's been distributed to Members this afternoon. He goes on to say about the co-operation agreement that, 'From a constitutional perspective, it's difficult to see how it could be improper to adopt a procedure that develops policy by seeking to build consensus, thereby gaining the support of those representing a greater proportion of the electorate'.

It should be at the heart of any democratic system, but it certainly was baked into the foundational principles of this institution. Though this is the programme of the Government—it sets out the outcomes that you, as an executive, are seeking to achieve—I applaud the embrace of a co-operative approach to politics, because that's the way in which we can have, collectively, as an entire Senedd—. Because I know that there are constructive ideas, and I was glad to support Peter Fox's Bill in terms of creating a food system for Wales. Good ideas can come from everywhere, and by working together we can better achieve that better Wales that we should aspire to on all sides. 

15:15

I thank Adam Price for those comments. Of course, I agree with what he said about the spirit of the programme that we've agreed together. Where we can co-operate, it's important that we do co-operate, and that's been part of the history of devolution here in Wales from the outset. What we've agreed in this term is something new—something that we've created together here in Wales—but it's part of the tradition that we've created. We can co-operate, it's important for us to do that.

Seventy-five per cent of the programme for government is, indeed, outside the agreement, and there will be days when we have differences of views on many of those items, but that's exactly what we recognised would happen when we started off on the journey to create the agreement we were able to sign last week.

This may be relatively novel here, in the sense that it's the latest manifestation of co-operation, Llywydd, but it's not unheard of at all in other parts of the world. Indeed, the Pannick advice that I saw drew attention to the agreement between the Conservative Government in Westminster and the Democratic Unionist Party, when they had support for that Government from outside the Government, with an elaborate machinery to support it and £1.5 billion worth of investment to oil the wheels of those arrangements as well. So, there is nothing that we are doing here that does not have important parallels elsewhere—in Scandinavia, in New Zealand and, indeed, closer to home.

I have been struck, Llywydd, by the number of people who have said to me in the last week or so how pleased they are to see people in the Senedd working together on really challenging agendas. I think it is what people outside the narrow circle of politics that we operate in look to us to do, and where we can, we should. That's true of any part of the Chamber where that sort of agreement can be found. And where we cannot, then the debate that we have and the clash of ideas allows us all to think about the ideas we advance and, hopefully, to improve them as part of that process.  

15:20

Thank you, First Minister, for your statement today. I’m really glad you gave that robust message around the importance of vaccinations and boosters, which will, of course, underpin what we want to do over the coming period. Will you also reaffirm the importance of face coverings, physical distancing and hand washing to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe this Christmas?

I also welcome the commitment to extend free school meal provision, building on the previous programme for government. I think one of the most important interventions during the pandemic has been providing access to free school meals 365 days of the year to eligible children and young people. We know, of course, that provision has been guaranteed by the Welsh Government until Easter 2022, but what consideration has the Government given to this aspect of its work, and whether it might be extended, to make sure that children and young people don’t go hungry during the school holidays?

Finally, I welcome your comments around the real living wage for our social care workforce. When can we expect an update on the next steps from those discussions?

I thank Vikki Howells for those questions. She’s absolutely right; vaccination, while it is the single most important defence we have, is by no means the only one. It's those simple things that we’ve learned to do in our own lives—the face coverings, the social distancing, hand washing, just being respectful of other people. If you’re out and about and there’s a lot of other people there, think about the other people who are in the room with you and treat them with proper respect. I believe that the COVID pass is an important part of the defences that we’ve built here in Wales, and those everyday actions that we can take together, cumulatively, amount to an important defence.

On the particular issue of holiday hunger, the programme for government does, of course, commit us to going on developing the system of responding to holiday hunger that we embarked upon at the start of the last Senedd term, even when there was no money for anything, because our budgets have been cut year after year. When I was finance Minister, one of the things that I was proudest of was the fact that we found money in that very first year to begin a national system of help for young people so that they didn’t go hungry during the holidays. More than just a meal, it was that whole experience of young people being able to come into school, focus on nutrition, parents involved, cooking meals together, learning through fun, physical activity—that basket of issues that our SHEP programme, the school holiday enrichment programme, has been able to deliver in an expanding number of schools, year on year, up to the point of the pandemic, and then again in the school holidays in this year. The programme for government commits us to go on extending that work.  

Prif Weinidog, I note that in the updated programme for government, the nitrate vulnerable zone regulations are included, having not been included in the original programme published in June. On Sunday’s episode of the BBC's Politics Wales, you said that there would be no roll-back of the NVZ regulations and that—and I quote—'it was never the intention there would be some sort of blanket approach'. So, if a Wales-wide yet targeted approach was always this Government’s intention, then what exactly have Plaid Cymru achieved in the co-operation agreement for farmers, given that they previously opposed the NVZ regulations? And if, as you say, Prif Weinidog, there are to be no changes to the NVZ policy, then is the evidence currently being gathered and the recommendations due to be submitted by the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee completely futile? Diolch.

I’m afraid, Llywydd, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding from the Member about what we have agreed. It is not that there is no change to the policy—it is that there is no change to the regulations that were passed on the floor of this Senedd towards the end of the last term. Those regulations remain on the statute book and we will not be revoking them. But, of course we will listen carefully to the work of the committee; the agreement commits us to working closely with the farming community about the way in which those regulations are used, in order to do what I think every Member in this Chamber wants to see done. Pollution in the farming industry goes on year after year; the numbers don't come down. The reputational damage to the industry is significant and it accumulates year by year, as we fail to get a grip on where the difficulties take place. The agreement commits us to deploying the regulations in a way that focuses on those greatest areas of difficulty. That's very consistent with the way I would want to see the regulations used. If there is advice that we get from the committee about how we can use the regulations to bear down on agricultural pollution, to defend the reputation of the industry, to make sure that it can go on, as so many farmers do, working hard to gain a reputation for the quality of the products that they are involved in, then we will have a very good outcome.

15:25

Thank you, First Minister, for the statement. I welcome this expanded and reformed programme of government to reflect those areas where Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government have been able to find that common ground where we can collaborate. And, of course, we've kept an unflinching focus in those discussions on securing the well-being of the people of Wales and transforming the lives of the people of Wales, as Adam Price said, and the broader democratic interests of Wales too.

I'm sure you would agree with me, First Minister, that this shows that more can be delivered through collaboration, where that's possible, rather than the competition that we often associate with other Parliaments within these isles. But this is a vehicle now to tackle some of those policy areas where we need the strongest leadership. They are the areas where you need the most determined political will to tackle, and I'm thinking particularly about the climate emergency, the housing crisis, the democratic deficit, just to name three areas.

Mapping the route to net zero by 2035 to me is a very clear statement of intent, that Wales wants to join those nations and regions that have shown the greatest ambition anywhere in the world in tackling what is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. And ambition never stays still, particularly in this context. I've said in the past that there are too many people in this world who try and go halfway up the mountain and succeed; we must aim for the peak. And, okay, we're pragmatic enough to accept that we won't get there every time, but we will go further than halfway, and therefore, that ambition is certainly something that we need to commit to.

The housing crisis—

You are way over time, Llyr Gruffydd, so please ask your final question.

I didn't understand that there was a time limit.

The Tories are clearly pretty exercised by the co-operation agreement, and I wonder what the First Minister's assessment is of why that may be. Because we all remember, as you referred to, the Tory £1 billion bung—is it that we've shown the proper way of negotiating a parliamentary agreement with full transparency in terms of the workings of this agreement that you think that they're so agitated?

I thank Llyr Gruffydd for the comments. We only have 30 votes in the Labour Party on the floor of the Senedd, and if we do want to press ahead with radical and ambitious issues, that's not adequate. And that's why the agreement is important, because it does focus on the areas that are difficult to press ahead with without more support.

That is exactly why I have believed that an agreement was so important. I remember saying to the leader of Plaid Cymru, in one of our very first discussions, that I wasn't particularly attracted to an agreement on easy things, because easy things we can probably do anyway. What I wanted was an agreement on difficult things, challenging things, where, if we couldn't form an agreement, the chances were diminished that we would be able to make the progress that I think people in Wales would benefit from as a result of the agreement. 

Maybe in a spirit of co-operation this afternoon, Llywydd, I will say that, actually, I didn't hear fundamental hostility to the idea of an agreement from the leader of the opposition. I heard instead concerns about scrutiny and differences of view on particular policies, which I absolutely expect, but I did not myself hear, in the contribution of Andrew R.T. Davies, a fundamental disagreement on the fact that parties in this Chamber can reach an agreement, and can then work together to achieve those outcomes. 

15:30

Thank you, First Minister, for your statement this afternoon. I want to focus on one issue, and that's mental health. 

During the period immediately before the pandemic, 11.7 per cent of Welsh people suffered severe mental health issues. This share climbed up to 28.1 per cent in April 2020, particularly affecting young people and children during that time. So, I just wondered if I could ask for some clarity on what the commitment in the arrangement with Plaid Cymru is to improve the referral pathways that are mentioned into treatment, and how that will come about in practice, particularly for young people. 

And, secondly, if I may ask: whilst physical health emergencies can arise at any time of day or night, so as well can mental health emergencies. And we won't achieve parity of esteem between physical and mental health issues unless we have a 24/7 crisis care service. May I ask what ideas you have to move that forward within the agreement? Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

I thank Jane Dodds for those questions, and, of course, I agree about the importance of mental health, particularly among young people, as I've said more than once on the Senedd floor. Every time I meet groups of young people, mental well-being arises every time. 

There is one point in the co-operation between us and Plaid Cymru on mental health. That's something specific, and the Minister responsible for mental health will work on that. But, of course, that's just one thing in a bigger series of programmes that we have in mental health. 

When the draft budget is laid, Llywydd, Members will be able to see, I believe, continued investment in the broader field of mental health, including emergency and crisis services that go beyond the specific part of mental health that we've been able to agree as part of our co-operation agreement. And I hope that when the Member sees the budget, she will recognise the impact that she and other Members in the Chamber have had when they have regularly pointed to the impact that the pandemic has had on the mental health of our young people in particular. 

I too, First Minister, thank you for your statement, and do want to ask around mental health community facilities, which are mentioned in your agreement with Plaid Cymru—you say you want facilities run by trained third sector staff, and this is something that I do support for young people because we are seeing child and adolescent mental health service referrals going up, and waiting lists getting longer. Some people simply can't just wait on a waiting list while their problems get worse. It does state there will be clear referral pathways into NHS services with urgent mental health or emotional well-being issues. 

So, can you just give us some clarity and assurance that, when those young people are referred into the NHS, those services that will be required will be there urgently for those people, because I don't think it's acceptable for them to be referred and then have to wait months and months and months for an appointment? Diolch, Llywydd. 

I thank the Member; that it is an important point. I met recently with a very successful third sector organisation in the field of mental health, together with the Minister, Lynne Neagle. And the point that we discussed there is one that I know I have rehearsed many times here in the Senedd, that the reason why young people sometimes wait too long is because there are too many people in the queue for an appointment who don't need that sort of service. And the third sector organisation was, I thought, very convincingly able to demonstrate that, with their much lower level, non-clinical-type of intervention, only that much smaller fraction of young people who needed a genuinely specialist service then went on to look for that service. And because there were fewer people coming through the door, then that specialist service was able to see them more quickly. So, that's why we talk about referral pathways. We want to make sure that there are those everyday services, non-stigmatised, available to young people who are going through a tough time in the difficult business of growing up, particularly in the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic. They get the help they need from trained people, capable of responding to that level of need, but those people are also sufficiently skilled and qualified to be able to identify those young people who need something beyond what they can offer, and then only those young people move on to those services, making them more quickly available as a result.

15:35

I want to thank you, First Minister, for your programme of government statement here today, and the spirit of co-operation outlined. I was delighted that you referenced that the Welsh Labour Government promised in the election campaign to create a new national music service. So, it was pleasing to see the education Minister confirm that £6.8 million will be made available for creative arts learning in the curriculum, and music in part, giving students better access to musical instruments. And I particularly welcome Jeremy Miles's commitment that the instruments will be distributed in the first instance to learners who are less likely to already have access to them, such as those eligible for free school meals. This is a promising start to delivering on our stated commitment. First Minister, when will the engines of teaching and learning the new music service for Wales be delivered, and what does it say to the people of Wales about how highly the Welsh Labour Government values access to musical education? What further measures, First Minister, will Welsh Government be taking to ensure no child in Wales is left behind?

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I can honestly say that I didn't know Rhianon Passmore was behind me during the statement—otherwise, I would have made even more of the investment that Jeremy Miles announced in music services. I'm sure I'm very far from the only Member of the Senedd who was given an instrument in school to try out, to see whether I would go on—as I then did, to learn to play the clarinet. And if it hadn't been for the fact that there was an instrument there for me to try out, that would never have happened. It wasn't easy finding money for an instrument in the house that I grew up in, but my parents, having seen what I could do, were very committed to making sure that I went on enjoying that. And I was very, very fortunate to have been brought up in that great Welsh tradition of school orchestras, county orchestras, national youth orchestras. It was a formative part of my upbringing, and we want to make sure that young people in Wales go on being able to play a full part in exactly that. The national music service is a commitment for the five years of the term, because money alone, as I know Rhianon will know very well, is not the whole of the answer. There's an issue of the workforce, and the skilled workforce, and making sure that there are facilities for young people to be able to enjoy as well. But it's an important commitment there in the programme for government, and I'm very glad we've been able to give it some prominence this afternoon.

The First Minister made reference in his statement to some of the major changes made to the programme for government in light of the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government. Without doubt, the commitment to introduce free school meals for all primary school children, and to extend free childcare to all two-year-olds, are two practical steps that will benefit thousands of families directly, and will make a major contribution to mitigating the effect in increasing living costs for households, and make a Wales that is more just for everyone. And that's why anti-poverty organisations, such as the Bevan Foundation, have welcomed the agreement. Will the First Minister join with me in giving due thanks to the contribution that many anti-poverty groups and campaigning groups, such as Cynulliad y Werin, have done over many years, in leading up to adopting these policies that are now at the heart of the programme for government today?

And, as one who's been campaigning for free school meals for all children, I'm extremely pleased that the Government is to prioritise expanding free school meals, particularly. I'm sure the Government would agree that it's an important first step to eradicate the appalling levels of child poverty in Wales, and to agree with the Bevan Foundation and other groups that we need to go further when resources allow. And, as these innovative and bold policies are put in place, it is a shame that the Conservative Party, that hasn't won a single election in Wales, is fighting against these efforts to battle poverty. The appalling cut to universal credit is one of the latest examples of that. So, First Minister, what can we do, in light of the agreement, to ensure that such policies, that have no mandate here in Wales, are not forced upon our people, undermining the major steps forward that we're taking? 

15:40

Well, Deputy Llywydd, I thank Sioned Williams, and I agree that we are lucky in Wales to have a number of agencies in the third sector and people who undertake research who help us to create policies that are appropriate for the challenges we face in Wales, and, of course, the purpose of those bodies is to pressure us to do more. And that's great, isn't it? We're lucky to have people who are willing to strive in that fashion and to show us how we can do more than we expected to do. Of course, for me, as the First Minister, the first priority is to focus on the things that we've agreed to do in the agreement and to do everything that we can to pursue everything that we have agreed together. But receiving support from external bodies outside the Senedd, particularly those focusing on child poverty—well, we're very lucky to have them. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Deputy Llywydd. And thank you for your statement this afternoon, First Minister. While your compact with Plaid Cymru—or should I say coalition in all but name, according to many of your own backbenchers, at least—has generated a great deal of furore down here in the Cardiff bubble, it means very little to the care worker in north Wales struggling to make ends meet on less pay than someone working at the local Lidl store. First Minister, how does this update provide any clarity for the care sector? When will care staff see a decent wage and better conditions? How will consulting on a national care service deliver much needed improvements to care provision in Wales? What timescales do you place on legislating to further integrate health and care?

And, finally, First Minister, your pronouncement on eliminating profit from children's care is already impacting the sector, as care providers are finding it difficult to secure finance to open new care facilities. I note that you have dropped this commitment to achieving this unreasonable and unrealistic goal during this Senedd term. When do you plan on eliminating profit from care, given that the private sector provides 80 per cent of care? Wouldn't it be better to abandon the goal altogether? Surely we should focus efforts on ensuring children get good quality care in Wales, rather than pursuing a dogmatic vendetta against the private care sector. Thank you.

Well, I entirely disagree. I think there was a substantive point at the end there, and, I'm afraid, the Member has got it completely wrong. I am very proud of the fact that we are committed to eliminating the pursuit of private profit in the care of children here in Wales. I have a vivid memory of the report that the children's commissioner prepared for us, when a young woman talks about the way she saw herself put up on a website and her care offered to the company that was willing to do it the cheapest, and that is not the way I want to see our children in Wales looked after. There is a journey here. We have to build up the capacity of our public services to provide that care closer to where young people live, and to look after more children where families are struggling closer to their own communities. But that's the way to look after children, here in Wales, where the money that the public provides is exclusively devoted to the care of those children, without an increment being taken away, and almost always taken out of Wales as well, into the profit margins of private companies. He may think that's a good idea; on this side of the Chamber we certainly don't.

15:45
4. Statement by the Minister for Finance and Local Government: Reforming Council Tax in Wales

Item 4 is a statement by the Minister for Finance and Local Government on reforming council tax in Wales, and I call on the Minister, Rebecca Evans.

Diolch. Our programme for government makes a clear commitment to reform council tax to make it fairer. The co-operation agreement that we've entered into with Plaid Cymru reaffirms that aim, and today I want to set out the first initial steps along that journey.

As Members know, council tax plays a significant role in supporting some of our most essential public services, from educating our children to caring for our loved ones to recycling our waste, to give just a few examples. But the system is in need of reform. It is our ambition to ensure the contributions made by the people of Wales are applied as fairly as possible. The council tax system should be more progressive in its design and it should be modernised in its delivery, having existed in its current form since 1993.

I am proud of our Welsh Government's achievements on council tax in the last term. We have removed the threat of imprisonment for non-payment, we have created a new exemption for young care leavers, we have improved access to discounts for people with severe mental impairments, and we have launched a national campaign to raise awareness of the available support, including our national council tax reduction scheme. I'd like to put on record my thanks to Members and local government colleagues for working with us on those important changes.

In February, I was pleased to publish a major piece of work, 'Reforming Local Government Finance in Wales: Summary of Findings', including work by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Bangor University and other renowned experts in this field. It captures the important evidence that we need to identify the choices ahead of us and to inform the decisions that we need to take. We examined a wide range of options, from modest change through to fundamental redesigns, such as a land value tax. Those findings will help us think about the options for meaningful reform over the next five years, as well as the foundations we need to lay for more fundamental, longer term change.

I recently met local government leaders to gather their views from across Wales. They will be vital partners in helping to co-design and deliver what we set out to achieve. I've also begun to work closely with Plaid Cymru colleagues on this important shared priority. I recognise that this will be an important change, and that is why I am keen that these reforms are part of a national, civic conversation with the people of Wales. That is why I will consult, in due course next year, on an ambitious package of council tax reforms as the starting point of this journey to ensure everyone has the opportunity to contribute to this important debate.

An important first step, and a vital building block upon which other changes will follow, will be to look at options for a revaluation in Wales. Having undertaken a revaluation in 2003, Wales is the only part of the UK that has updated its council tax base since the 1990s, but the tax distribution in Wales is still almost 20 years out of date. Revaluing this term, and doing so more frequently thereafter, will give us the platform for change. It will give us the opportunity to add bands to the bottom or the top ends of the scale to better reflect household wealth and peoples' ability to pay—the first steps to a fairer system. We'll also look at changes to our council tax reduction scheme. We have continued to maintain entitlements to reductions for over 275,000 vulnerable and low-income households, and I'll shortly bring forward regulations to update the scheme for next year, where we will again be investing £244 million to support it.

However, the scheme was developed at pace following the UK Government's decision to abolish council tax benefit in 2013. Since the introduction of our national scheme, we have seen the beginning of the roll-out of universal credit. As the roll-out of universal credit scales up, it introduces complexity into the way that people apply for support and the way their entitlement is calculated. We need to ensure that our scheme takes full account of the impact of universal credit, but we could go further. We need to review the council tax reduction scheme to ensure it's modernised, easy to access and doesn't deter anyone from applying for their rightful entitlement to support. We will also look carefully with partners at the way in which we can modernise the updating of council tax bills, taking advantage of new technology as part of the wider work we are doing to improve individuals’ interaction with, and understanding of, key public services. Now is the right time to work together on making council tax fairer and more progressive. We need to think boldly. 

I want to be very clear—individuals will see no immediate changes to their bills. We have a great deal of work to do before reforms can be introduced. I'll also look carefully and sensitively, as we move through these changes, at the potential options for transitional support for those impacted by any changes. I'll ensure any decisions we take during this Senedd term keep open the potential for going further in the future. I'll continue to explore more radical ideas, such as a system more closely linked to land values as a more progressive form of raising revenue.

Finally, allied to our longer term considerations, I'm considering what reforms are needed to the non-domestic rates system. There are distinct linkages between these local taxes, and it's another key revenue stream for local services. The research we carried out last term highlighted real opportunities in this area, and reform will be necessary to ensure that the local tax system as a whole remains fit for purpose as we recover from the pandemic. 

As we face economic instability, inequality and a climate change emergency, we need to ensure the arrangements for local taxes are resilient, that they can protect funding for public services and help support our ambitions for a fairer Wales. These reforms will be significant undertakings that will need legislative time and the support of Members from across this Senedd. And I will, of course, keep Members informed of developments. Diolch.

15:50

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thanks, Minister, for bringing forward today's statement on reforming council tax here in Wales. I'm sure Members across the Chamber welcome an announcement that consultation will be taking place next year on this, and as you describe it as an ambitious package of council tax reforms, I would, Minister, be interested to hear more of how radical you think these reforms may end up being. I note in your statement there is a desire to consider reforms to the non-domestic rates system as part of local taxation, so I'd be grateful if you could expand on this, perhaps, in your response.

I just have three points I'd just like to raise, and perhaps question on. I'd firstly like to welcome your engagement with local councils, and with leaders in particular, as you mentioned, and you've highlighted in your statement the exceptional work undertaken by councils, which, again, was highlighted and still continues to be highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. But we do need to understand why some of this reform is having to take place, and, according to Audit Wales, the Welsh Government's core funding for local government since 2010 has seen a 17 per cent reduction, and local councils simply haven't been funded sufficiently by Welsh Government. So, this deprioritisation of council funding has consequently seen many councils having to make tough decisions in relation to council tax increases, which has ultimately led to council tax here in Wales increasing by nearly 200 per cent since the start of devolution under this Labour Government. So, Minister, with this consultation, how will you balance the ability for councils to be in charge of their own financial destiny whilst not overburdening those local taxpayers?

The second point, Minister, is that I note in your statement and relevant press releases that an option for reform of council tax in Wales could be the revaluation of the council tax bands for the first time since 2003. I'm sure, Minister, you will be fully aware that, at the last revaluation, a whopping one out of three households received an increase in their bills as a result of the revaluation. In your statement, you do state that council tax is out of date and can be unfair. I don't think this can be necessarily argued with, nevertheless, revaluation could see hard-working families hit with those higher bills, so, Minister what plans do you have to ensure that we won't see so many people negatively affected by having those increases—those significant increases—in their council tax bill?

And then, finally, Minister, many people across Wales live on the border with England, working closely with friends, colleagues, neighbours, of course. I think it's around two thirds of the population of Wales living so close to the English border, and council tax reform could see many people in Wales put at a disadvantage to those just living across the border. So, I'm just wondering what talks you're having with your counterparts in the UK Government regarding this, and, indeed, council leaders across England. If those talks aren't already happening, when will you plan to hold those? Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

15:55

Thank you very much to Sam Rowlands for his questions this afternoon and the way in which he's approached what is a really, really significant undertaking over the course of the next Senedd term. And he does recognise the importance of consultation. And today I'm announcing that, in due course, next year, I'll be undertaking a consultation, a large-scale public consultation, in the order of around 12 weeks. And that's for the public, but also there'll be the need to undertake some really serious engagement with local government leaders and the revenues and benefits officers and so on. So, we're putting in place at the moment those structures to make sure that we have regular engagement. And I know that Sam Rowlands has particular expertise in this area, given his background in local government, so I'll be keen to explore his views on the proposals as they come forward and undertake some further discussions on that. 

There was a question in relation to non-domestic rates reform. So, today, what we're talking about is the future of reform of council tax. However, it is really important to recognise that non-domestic rates are another important part of that local government finance picture. Inside the document that I've referred to, the summary of findings—which, Deputy Llywydd, is a fantastic read and I commend it to all colleagues, as I've been doing since we published it in February—it does set out all of the research that we undertook over the course of the last Senedd term, looking at different options for council tax. So, it explores some of those radical options that Sam Rowlands was describing, such as a land value tax, but it also talks about the work we're starting to pursue in terms of reform of non-domestic rates. And that work is more in its infancy than the council tax work, because we've made so much progress over the last Senedd term. But, as I say, non-domestic rates are a really important part of that picture, and it's impossible, really, to see the two sides of that local government finance coin separately from each other. 

Some really important questions about any transitional arrangements and what the impacts might be on households. So, the Institute for Fiscal Studies undertook research for us over the course of the last Senedd term, and I'm really pleased that we were able to work closely with them on that. And it explores whether or not a less regressive system could be possible through the introduction of a revaluation or a revaluation with additional bands, or a proportional system without bands. And that does conclude in the research that our current system is now out of date, it's regressive, it's distortionary, although the research did also recognise that we're the only part of the UK to have revalued since the 1990s. And understanding now the impact of the revaluation on citizens, councils and local economies is going to be absolutely vital in taking this work forward. And the IFS work does help us to do that.

So, that work estimated that undertaking a revaluation and keeping the current nine bands would move around 25 per cent of properties up bands, 26 per cent would move down bands, and around 49 per cent would stay the same. But, obviously, there are implications in terms of different local authorities being affected in different ways. But part of what we're also looking at would be to increase the number of bands, which obviously would change that picture as well. So, lots of work for us to be doing as we move forward, but I think the questions that have been identified about the implications for households and for local authorities are the right ones and the ones that we'll need to pursue in the period ahead. And alongside that, then, to look at transitional arrangements for those households that might be affected. That's something that I'm keen to explore in due course, and also keen to have that engagement with the UK Government, and we'll be reaching out to them. I've talked to them, as I've talked to everybody since February, about the summary of findings document, and I've commended it to the UK Government as well. 

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Look, we have it in our power in this Chamber to radically reform what is one of the most regressive taxes that we have, actually. It's a legacy of the Thatcher era. It's grossly unfair, because it levies almost four times as much as a proportion of wealth on the poorest as it does the richest. Now, that's not something that we should tolerate, and that is something that needs to change. I'm glad that, as a result of the co-operation agreement between the Government and Plaid Cymru, we are now facing up to that, challenging that, and hopefully changing that as well. The current regime is outdated, it's unfair and it's inconsistent as well. We all know of villages maybe hundreds of yards apart where the disparity is hundreds of pounds in the bills that they pay every year. So, as the Minister said, this is the beginning of a journey, and the three-year co-operation agreement will take us part of that journey, but let's make a good start at least.

I'm glad that the Welsh Local Government Association has today welcomed this announcement. I think that's positive because, obviously, as key stakeholders go, they're probably one of the most key ones in this context. But it is going to be a broad process where all stakeholders are invited to be part of that discussion. Now, we as a party in our manifesto committed to reforming council tax and to, longer term, of course, actively considering a single property tax based on the principle of a land value tax. So, with that in mind, I'll just ask a couple of questions.

In order to assess the real implications of a land value tax, we need more data, of course. That's become clear in some of the work undertaken by the Bangor University report. The first recommendation in that report was to go about gathering the necessary data in a more meaningful way, perhaps. So, can I ask you what work the Government has done or intends to do to gather that data in order to lay the foundations for the discussion that we need to have on a land value tax?

Thinking that there's been no revaluation for 20 years does tell us a lot about where we are and how outdated the situation is. So, would you agree with me that we need to move to a more dynamic footing, where revaluation happens more regularly, whilst of course being aware of the need to create mechanisms that even out the peaks and troughs that would emerge as a result of doing that?

And finally, you refer to new techniques or technologies in your statement. What sort of things do you have in mind in that context? Thank you.

16:00

Thank you very much for those questions and for the way in which we've already started working collaboratively and jointly on what is a really important shared endeavour. All of those points that you made at the very start of your contribution, in terms of how unfair council tax currently is and how regressive it is, just really give the context of this work and why it's so important that we take forward the agenda and make some good progress now in this Senedd term.

I'm also really pleased that the WLGA has welcomed this piece of work and the way in which, again, they've been so willing to engage on what is going to be a really big and important piece of work. They are absolutely key stakeholders. We're currently, as I mentioned in response to Sam Rowlands, putting in place those structures that will help us to ensure that we have access to the necessary expertise throughout this piece of work, and the WLGA obviously is a key partner in that. 

In terms of the land value tax, the Bangor University study did present us with the first ever detailed consideration of a local land value tax in Wales, and it had a real focus on the practicalities of implementation, rather than the conceptual ideas of a land value tax. There does need to be some further work now. I think what we had in the Bangor University study was really an initial feasibility report, due to the scope of it, but I think that if we do need to move forward further we should look to the key potential future considerations that would require us to outline the requirements for a comprehensive cadastral database. Obviously, we need that before we can even start to move forward on that agenda. We'd need to discuss the feasibility of that with partners and time frames, costings, and consider opportunities to link with the wider devolved taxes agenda.

We also need to understand the implications of land ownership and land use in Wales, and whether there would need to be any changes to the planning system as a result, and to undertake a statistical analysis of agricultural land, which of course would be part of our considerations in terms of how this may or may not include agricultural land. And then obviously we'd need to undertake a fuller analysis of the legislative and devolution requirements. Replacing council tax, non-domestic rates, or both, with a land value tax is really a fundamental departure from what's been a centuries-old statute and most likely would require several Acts of the Senedd, and obviously that would be a really complex, lengthy exercise, but of course, it could bring us opportunities then in terms of the modernisation of and consolidation of the law as well.

We'd have to look to how we overcame some of the constitutional obstacles. The Government of Wales Act confirms local taxes to fund council expenditure and local government finance as being devolved matters, however, the quasi-devolved nature of the valuation function means that the Welsh Government must seek permission from the UK Government to change the valuation function in any significant way, so obviously discussions to be had with UK Government on that as we move forward on this really important agenda.

I absolutely agree with the points that Llyr Gruffydd was making about having a more dynamic system, where we have more regular revaluations. I think there are some quite exciting opportunities for us here, because now, of course, we've got the Welsh Revenue Authority and we collect the land transaction tax, so we have a regular, live, updated and real-time picture of house prices here in Wales. So, we're looking at ways in which we can exploit that, and potentially create a system where we have access to data not just for the purposes of local taxation, but actually for helping us understand the picture in relation to second homes and what we can glean from that to help develop policy, and you could include information about the energy efficiency of properties, for example. So, a huge opportunity for us here in terms of using or creating a new database that would be part of this work going forward, and that applies to the revaluation work just as much as it does to any work that might need to be taken forward in future in terms of land value tax. But, obviously, lots of exciting opportunities for us to do things differently and to do things better, and I'm very much looking forward to working with Plaid Cymru on that.

16:05

Firstly, can I welcome the statement? The property valuation is nearly 20 years out of date. It is almost certain that values will have gone up. There's also that values will have changed relative to other properties. Of course, the advantage of a tax on property values is that it's very difficult to avoid, compared to income tax. Council tax is set on band D and all other band payments are based on that. Properties in band A pay two thirds the amount charged on band D, and properties in band H pay twice band D. What that means is a £40,000 house pays two thirds of a £120,000 house despite being a third of the value; a £420,000 house pays twice as much as a £120,000 house and three times as much as a £40,000 house. We also have a situation, which is called the Blaenau Gwent problem, where over half the properties in Blaenau Gwent are in band A.

We know this whole system is unfair. The payment is not proportional to the value and is skewed to those living in lower value properties paying more, and we know that the value of properties is probably the best indicator of wealth we've got. Will the Minister consider a revaluation with narrower bands and with no upper limit, and revaluations at least every five years? Will the Minister also consider returning business rates to local authorities? And thirdly, would not a land value tax mean—not mean—that there'd be no social housing in areas of high land value?

I'm really grateful to Mike Hedges for that series of questions and I know that this is an agenda that he is also very passionate about. At the start of his contribution, he gave us some really stark examples, really, as to why this work is so necessary in terms of council tax being regressive at the moment, and needing to change in order to become fairer. I think that the fact that we're at the same time as this work going to be undertaking a review of the council tax reduction scheme, and an evaluation of our discounts and exemptions and so forth, is really important because we can't take those pieces of work in isolation, and any support that we can provide to households needs to be done in a way now that will be cognisant of the new values and so forth.

All of those questions that Mike Hedges has described will be part of the consultation, where people will have opportunities to provide views on them, so that point about where the upper limit should lie, those points about a larger number of narrow bands and so forth, so there will be opportunities to contribute those ideas as part of the consultation, which will take place next year. What we're outlining today is the broad way forward rather than specific proposals for the way forward, but those questions, I think, again are ones that we'll have to grapple with in the period ahead.

16:10

Thank you, Minister, for the statement. I think, as we've all heard today, everybody welcomed the opportunity to revisit council tax. I think we're all agreed that it's not a particularly good tax, and we've seen that from the huge amount of arrears we've seen over the years, which have increased by 42 per cent to over £156 million-worth of arrears. So, I think there is scope for a fairer system, and I was very pleased that you said you'd need to make things as fair as possible, and Llyr's view that it is grossly unfair at the moment.

It's fairness that I do want to focus on, because I think we have to take a very cautious approach when we reform council tax in Wales that we don't actually disadvantage a whole swathe of people. For example, in my own constituency, it's recognised that generally properties are of a higher value, and what follows then is obviously higher council taxes. But it's known that Monmouthshire, for instance, has large areas of people who are cash-poor but asset-rich, so, Minister, how are we going to make sure that our reforms, or your reforms, take into account people's ability to pay that tax, rather than simply just basing it on how much property they've got, or what it's worth? I think it's really important that we look at that closely.

I'm also very pleased to hear what you've been saying around business rate reform. That is a key part of the bigger picture, especially. I welcome working very closely with local authority leaders—that's absolutely fundamental and the WLGA are well-placed to advise us on the best shape for things moving forward. But a fundamental point is about actually making sure local government is funded right. We don't want to just see this a quick fix, trying to lever in more money to support local authorities. It's got to be done—

—in a thought-out way. Sorry, Deputy Llywydd. So, Minister, I look forward to the statement in February, and just look forward to understanding how better you will work with councils to change that council tax system. Thank you.

Thank you very much for raising those issues. You began by talking about council tax arrears, which of course is a concern for us when we find individuals and families in that situation. Council tax collection rates are actually very high, but the overall impact for those facing debt and arrears is of concern, and that's why I'm really pleased that we've been able to agree with local government the council tax protocol for Wales. That is a document that sets out the good practice guidance for the collection of council tax, again developed in full collaboration with local government and endorsed by Welsh Government and the WLGA, and signed up to now by all 22 local authorities. That really sets out the good practice approach for local authorities and debt advice agencies to ensure that any action they take is proportionate, is fair, is consistent, and provides the basis then for a more constructive relationship with council tax payers, particularly those who are struggling to pay.

So, again, this is an example of the good work that was achieved over the previous Senedd term, but something that we obviously need to build on, because we do still have a system that is unfair. I think it's really good that that's recognised from all quarters of the Senedd. I think transparency is really important in this agenda as well, which is why we've been pleased to be publishing all of the research that we received over the course of the last Senedd term. And of course it's distilled down into our summary of findings document.

In that vein of transparency, the Institute for Fiscal Studies report has done some analysis by household types, and it does indicate that bills, if we went for the revaluation without the additional bands, and so on—so it's just one indicative example—it does suggest bills may increase for pension-age couples and working-age couples without children, but then bills could reduce for lone parents, single pensioners and couples with children. So, it's important that we undertake that distributional analysis of all the work that we undertake to understand the impact on households, and what, if any, transitional arrangements we would need to put in place to support them, and then to make sure that the council tax reduction scheme and our suite of exemptions and discounts are fit for purpose for any new system as we move forward.

16:15

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, thank you for your statement today. First of all, would you agree that the 22 local authorities across Wales have been absolutely incredible in supporting vulnerable people, communities and businesses during the whole pandemic, and that it demonstrates the value of public services at a very local level? Of course, reform of council tax is overdue, but there are other ways that the Welsh Government has been supporting councils in delivering vitally important enabling projects, like the Wrexham Gateway in north Wales and the global centre for rail excellence in mid and south Wales, both supported by Welsh Ministers through local authorities. Would the Minister reaffirm the Government's commitment to supporting such job-creating magnets alongside, of course, councils raising revenue through a reformed system? And finally, Minister, I'd be very grateful if you could just once more assure Members that there will be no sudden changes to Bills, and that the new system will address the unfairness of council tax. 

I'm grateful to Ken Skates for raising these issues and giving me this opportunity to place on record my thanks and the Welsh Government's thanks to all 22 of our local authorities, who have done absolutely incredible work supporting communities through the pandemic, but then, as Ken Skates sets out, going beyond that in terms of the ambition that they have for their areas. Those great examples of the Wrexham Gateway project and the global centre for rail excellence show some further ways in which the Welsh Government can work with and support local government in their ambitions to create and develop economic well-being in their areas, and provide those sustainable, skilled, important jobs. I think our work goes far beyond the work that we've been doing over the course of the pandemic, important though that is. I think that we've got lots more to celebrate with local government as well. And then, finally, just to confirm that there will be no immediate changes as a result of today's statement. What I'm setting out is the direction of travel and a commitment to consult widely next year, before we firm up proposals as to what a fairer council tax system might look like in future. 

Thank you. Minister. We will now suspend proceedings to allow change-overs in the Chamber. If you wish to leave the Chamber, please do so promptly. The bell will be rung two minutes before proceedings restart. Any Members who are arriving after the change-over should wait until then before entering the Chamber.  

Plenary was suspended at 16:17.

16:25

The Senedd reconvened at 16:28, with the Deputy Presiding Officer in the Chair.

Croeso nôl. Before we start this second session, Peter Fox would like to make a clarification for the record. Peter.

Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. It was remiss of me in the last session not to declare an interest as a county councillor for Monmouthshire County Council, so I'd like to do that at this point. Thank you.

5. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change: Renewable Energy Deep Dive
6. Statement by the Minister for Social Justice: The Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Strategy

We move to item 6, a statement by the Minister for Social Justice, the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy. I call on the Minister, Jane Hutt.

Deputy Llywydd, I know that my statement today on the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy will strike a chord across the Senedd. There was strong support for tackling violence against women expressed in this Chamber over the past few weeks and months, and I'm very pleased about that.

You will be aware that I worked in the early days of setting up Women’s Aid refuges in Wales, with the first Government grant in Wales to co-ordinate a network of specialist providers and seek legislative backing to address the abuse of power and misogyny that lies behind much of the violence that women face. But I now have the opportunity, as Minister for Social Justice, to drive forward our next phase of action with survivors to tackle violence against women, which is endemic in society, as recent events have shown.

We were all shocked by the events of this summer. The murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and Wenjing Lin have brought into frightening relief the toxic masculinity that led violent men to murder them and the focus that is placed on women’s behaviour rather than that of the perpetrators.

However, there's been an important change in the public’s reaction to these events. I welcomed the public response that sought to honour their memory by tackling the misogyny that killed them and reclaiming them as human beings with real lives, not as victims. I've been particularly heartened by the male voices we've heard recognising that male violence lies at the heart of this problem and, therefore, that men have an important role to play as part of the solution.

This is the public mood we seek to harness and lead with this violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy. Women have long found allies amongst men, such as those among you who champion the White Ribbon campaign we're currently celebrating. We must now turn that support into leadership that stretches across the whole of society, so that cat-calling, harassment, sexist banter and objectification do not provide the foundation stones on which abuse, coercion, rape and murder take place.

We've achieved a lot in Wales in tackling VAWDASV, yet still domestic abuse is the biggest killer of women aged 19 to 44 in the UK. I will repeat that to allow it to sink in: in the UK, domestic abuse kills more women aged 19 to 44 than breast cancer. One hundred and fifteen women have been killed by men so far this year, and one in four women will experience domestic abuse and one in five sexual assault in their lifetime. Whilst we can acknowledge what we have achieved, the scale of the challenge and the commitment we all need to make is clearly illustrated by that fact; a fact that I'm sure we are all determined to change.

So, how will the strategy make a difference? This strategy is built on a strengthened partnership. We've operated with a considerable amount of commitment between key partners, both statutory, in the specialist sector, and with survivors. But, we need to strengthen the structures of leadership and governance to ensure that action is co-ordinated and directed so that, collectively, we offer more than the sum of our parts.

Much of the response to VAWDASV falls to non-devolved bodies, such as the police or the prison and probation service. If we are to make our contributions complement each other, if we are to be accountable to each other, then we need a governance system that can drive real collaboration. This, then, is a whole-Wales public sector strategy that is signed up to not just by the Welsh Government, but also by relevant non-devolved bodies.

The national partnership board featured in these new arrangements in the strategy will bring together devolved and non-devolved partners. I will co-chair this board with Dafydd Llywelyn, the lead police and crime commissioner for Wales for the four police forces. Development of this blueprint approach was discussed at the policing and partnership board on Thursday 2 December, which I chaired, with strong commitment to the new strategy expressed by the four chief constables, police and crime commissioners and their partners. The board will also be populated with the voices of a diverse group of survivors to co-produce our solutions and monitor our progress.

Tackling street harassment is an important part of this strategy. It's central to our view that by reducing the overall level and increasing the unacceptability of street harassment and the attitudes that lie behind it, we reduce the overall likelihood of violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence by challenging the misogyny that lies beneath it.

Equally, workplace harassment has a significant impact on life chances for individuals; gender equality as well as cross-sectional equality issues such as race, disability and LGBTQ+. We will work with social partners to tackle workplace harassment.

Learning from public health approaches, we will work with perpetrators to both challenge and support those who carry out abuse to both deter and facilitate enduring change in their behaviour.

We want to continue to develop our work with professionals to equip them to identify, challenge and refer cases of VAWDASV through programmes such as 'ask and act' and the 'identification and referral to improve safety', or IRIS, scheme engaging general practitioners at the frontline, but we will also bolster our wider public awareness campaigns to reflect our focus on prevention.

We’ll facilitate change at the whole-society level by leading public discussion to de-normalise violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence and the attitudes that support it.

Finally, Deputy Llywydd, I want to highlight the co-productive aspect of the strategy. The voices of survivors from different communities and backgrounds will be integral to developing our strategy in a way that can work in the real world. Listening to those diverse voices will help us to find solutions that build on the strengths of survivors.

This is a cross-Government strategy with active engagement and support from ministerial colleagues in education, health, housing, local government and the economy. Of particular relevance to the strategy has been the follow-up to the 'Everyone’s Invited' report, with an Estyn inspection due to report shortly, and expectations of the role that the new curriculum will play in a positive role in the development of healthy, respectful relationships between our children and young people.

In developing this strategy, we have been supported by the involvement of a number of stakeholders. Clearly, we are at a consultative stage, so we remain open to the responses that will flow from this consultation, but I’m confident that we’ve formed a very strong base for this strategy, and I call on Members to commit their support to its delivery. Those who are exposed to violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence will expect this of us as we strive for Wales to become the safest place to live for women and girls, where we all have a right to live fear free.

16:35

Diolch. Working alongside Plaid Cymru’s Jocelyn Davies and Liberal Democrat, Peter Black, I was one of the three party spokespeople in the fourth Assembly who took the Welsh Government to the line over passage of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, securing Welsh Government pledges in several areas. We called for a commitment to introduce healthy relationships education in schools, citing Hafan Cymru’s Spectrum Project, which I and others had observed in the classrooms as a best practice model to help prevent abusive behaviours from developing. Speaking here three years ago, I challenged you over the delay in implementing this. How do you respond to concern that the relationships and sexuality education, or RSE code forming part of the new Curriculum for Wales, which is before the Senedd next week, appears not to provide guidance for teachers on what constitutes acceptable, age-appropriate material, leaving them in the unenviable position of having to make the decision themselves, in contrast to the 'plan your relationships, sex and health curriculum' guidance for schools in England? And, given that Hafan Cymru states that it is part of the Welsh Government’s drive to deliver sessions in schools, focused on healthy relationships, how will you ensure that this will not be lost to internal provision as schools implement the new RSE code?

During the passage of the Act, I moved amendments calling for the national strategy to include provision of at least one perpetrator programme. As Relate Cymru have told committee, 90 per cent of the partners they questioned some time after the end of their programme said that there had been a complete stop in violence and intimidation by their partner. The Minister responded then that he did not consider my amendment appropriate, but had jointly funded research to help inform future responses to perpetrators. Speaking here four years ago, I highlighted evidence that the cross-party group on violence against women and children that Relate’s programme, Choose2Change, was the only current Respect-accredited programme in Wales. Speaking here three years ago, I raised questions over pre-custodial perpetrator programmes and how they will reflect the Respect accreditation standards. However, the only mention of perpetrators in the latest violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence national advisors’ annual plan refers to exploring a blueprint for the whole system, that aims, amongst other things, to hold perpetrators accountable. What, therefore, Minister, is the current state of play?

Speaking here four years ago, I noted that Welsh Women’s Aid were concerned about the lack of health budget being invested in specialist violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence providers. Speaking here 20 months ago, remotely, I referred to the letter sent to you by Welsh Women’s Aid stating that violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence specialist services across Wales have expressed confusion, frustration and concern as to what additional funding is being made available as a response to COVID-19. What action have you, therefore, taken since to ensure sustainable funding for these essential services in both normal and exceptional times?

The crime survey for England and Wales shows that women were more likely to be victims of each type of abuse—sexual, non-sexual and stalking—except sexual assault by a family member than men, with seven in 100 women aged 16 to 74 experiencing domestic abuse in a single year. However, as I stated here three years ago, North Wales Police had announced that a quarter of their domestic abuse reports involved men, and the crime survey for England and Wales states that 42 per cent of the cases they're now picking up are affecting men and that three quarters of suicides are men. In your response, you stated that

'the scale of the problem is nothing like what the figures that the Member quoted would lead you to believe.'

Well, they were official figures. Of course, women are far more likely than men to be killed by partners or ex-partners, but men can be victims too, and the number of men killed as a result of domestic violence has been rising. Of course, there are different contexts applying to domestic abuse against women and men. However, surely we should be working to support all victims of violence and domestic abuse, using strategies and proven interventions that deliver this.

During the passage of the Act, I also put down an amendment calling for what Welsh Women's Aid had called for in the past, which were gender-specific strategies for men and women. Again, the Minister stated that this wouldn't be in the Act but the need would be addressed as we move forward.

How will you therefore deliver on the Welsh Government's pledge during the passage of the Act that this would be addressed? Diolch.

16:40

Thank you very much, Mark Isherwood, and thank you for your continued support since you played that key role as we got through the Welsh Government's Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 legislation. And it was very much cross-party engagement that led us to that all-important Act, the first of its kind to be on the statute book. And I'm glad that you have made reference to the importance of the work that we're doing in education with young people, particularly looking at the work of Spectrum; raising children and young people's awareness of equality, respect and consent is crucial if we're to stop violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. And the relationships and sexuality education, of course, as you know—and we were all proud to put this through on to the statute book in terms of the curriculum Bill earlier on this year—it will be a statutory part of the new curriculum for all learners, and we continue to fund Hafan Cymru's Spectrum project.

I think some of you might have seen the, I thought, very good, excellent programme—I thank ITV Wales for a programme presented by Ruth Dodsworth, who was actually a victim of coercive control, last night. She was presenting the programme about tackling coercive control, and, actually, we saw the impact of Hafan Cymru's Spectrum work in schools and the impact it had on young girls and on young boys in terms of learning about developing healthy and respectful relationships, and it's delivering training for school staff and governors. Over 150,000 children and young people have been educated about healthy relationships through the Spectrum project since 2015, since the legislation came into force.

I will comment on the budget issue, because the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence revenue budget for 2021-22 is £6.825 million, and that's including non-recurrent funding—an increase from the 2020-21 budget. And that was additional funding, recognising the impact of the pandemic, seeing the need to put further support to service providers, vital services to deal with increasing demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and also increasing the allocation to third sector organisations by a 4 per cent uplift for one year, to ensure they could respond to the increased demand as a result of the pandemic. More money into capital as well, to ensure that we could engage, enable, fix assets to be adapted and equipped, and also for more appropriate buildings and equipment for those working in the sector.

Now, we're working at all levels, and I think in terms of addressing the issues and the forthcoming strategy, I hope that you will—and I'm sure that you will respond to the consultation fully—recognise that we have got a focus on stopping violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. This is an issue that is a matter for society. It requires a societal response. We've got to change attitudes and change behaviours as well, and I think we will do that through education. I've already commented on the work that's being carried out in the new curriculum, but also, very shortly, we will have the Estyn report responding to sexual harassment in schools following the Everyone's Invited report. The outcome of that review will also guide us in our work to keep more children and young people safe, as well as looking to the role of relationship and sexuality education, RSE.

But I do think it's very important, in terms of the statement I've made today, to recognise the level of violence against women. I have, of course, mentioned the fact that we need to work with perpetrators, and that's what the Drive programme is doing, which is funded by the police and crime commissioners. We need to work with perpetrators to change their behaviour, but that is also about challenging the misogyny and toxic masculinity, which, actually, I have to say, when we did come together on the steps of the Senedd, cross-party, it was great that men from each party spoke up so clearly about how they wanted to challenge male violence in Wales and to make a real change in terms of the way forward.

16:45

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I welcome the statement from the Minister today and the actions set out to tackle the current unacceptable level of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, which is scarring our society here in Wales. The latest statistics, as the Minister mentioned, show clearly that we need to do more to tackle the situations that lead to these types of violence at root, and that we need to create a step change in social attitudes in order to eliminate behaviours that cause trauma, that cause suffering, that cause psychological and physical harm and that, in too many cases, kill.

Up to the last financial year, according to a recent report by Welsh Women's Aid, the waiting list for people who needed support services as a result of sexual violence was over 300, and nearly 700 people were unable to gain access to refuge. The difficulties in terms of accessing support were compounded during the pandemic as survivors were left feeling alone due to the limited means available of accessing support and accessing services. And it was a particularly difficult time for survivors who are members of groups of already disadvantaged people in our society, for example people with disabilities. The quote contained in the report by Welsh Women's Aid is worth recounting, I think, so that we can all hear what it is like to find yourself in that situation:

'I couldn't phone services, friends or families and certainly couldn't risk accessing any help because everything was being monitored. Being deaf had its own issues but I am aware that accessing services wouldn't have been able to meet my needs if I had managed to make a call, I wouldn't have been able to hear the response.'

Such experiences are a symptom, I think, of the current deficiencies in the strategy and the way in which services are funded.

Only this morning on Radio Cymru I heard Rhian Bowen-Davies, who was appointed first national adviser for violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence back in September 2015, confirm that the voices of survivors are not being adequately listened to, especially those from marginalised and disadvantaged groups. 

I am therefore encouraged to see the Government's commitment to a more holistic approach to this issue, and particularly welcome the steps mentioned in the strategy around listening better to those with lived experience. Welcome too is the commitment to a national framework to try and improve on the too often current postcode lottery that exists for survivors.

However, Minister, the specialist sector has noticed a change in language in the strategy as published, from 'sustainable funding' to 'appropriate funding'. So, can the Minister confirm it will be upholding its commitment to developing a strategic, sustaining funding model for the specialist sector that will ensure every survivor has access to the support they need?

The last time I spoke to the Minister regarding funding in this Chamber she noted that the revenue budget this year would increase by over £1.5 million on the previous year, and that allocation to third sector organisations had also increased by 4 per cent, and that this would help the increasing demand on support services. Does the Minister think these increases in funding will be adequate to deliver the ambitions of this strategy, and how were these figures decided upon? As there is no budget commitment to accompany the strategy, will there be an accompanying implementation plan to ensure the objectives of this strategy are met?

I was wondering if the Minister could provide details also on the stated objective of making early intervention and prevention a priority, as, of course, sustainable funding also protects women and girls from trauma, but also helps funding issues for support services when they do experience gendered violence. Part of this, of course, would involve ensuring that perpetrators of violence against women and girls are caught in the very first instance of this behaviour and that their behaviour is not allowed to escalate, so being able to tackle misogyny for what it is, a hate crime, would assist in this goal. I know the Minister noted before, when we spoke, that she was waiting for input from the policing partnership board and also the Law Commission. The findings of the Law Commission review have been published today, findings that a coalition of 20 women's rights campaign groups have termed a failure to address the widespread concerns about a lack of action by the criminal justice system. Could the Minister therefore give me her response to these recommendations?

And finally, could the Minister please outline how the national framework outlined in the strategy would be enforced so as to ensure that specialist service delivery and support are consistent across Wales? What steps can be taken to ensure the standards of delivery meet the required level? Diolch.

16:50

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned Williams. I'm really pleased to have those questions this afternoon. And to perhaps start on that final point about how we're going to ensure that this is different and that this is implemented, I think this is why proposing a blueprint approach, strengthening the governance, the multi-agency co-operation, particularly with the police—. Because it is quite clear that, in terms of the criminal justice system, we have to strengthen not only just the fact that women can have confidence in it, and that we also see that confidence is translated into actions, convictions, and also to see this as part of the way in which—and I think the First Minister referred to it—the police themselves have set up their own taskforce, involving all the police forces in Wales. And it think it's important that I'm co-chairing the national partnership board with the lead police and crime commissioner. So, it is quite clear that they have got to deliver on the—. It's going to be jointly owned, and committed to putting in place this structure for shared decision making. Actually, the blueprint approach is working well in terms of the development of our youth justice and female offending blueprints in Wales.

Early intervention and prevention are a priority, as you say. And I just want to focus on your concerns about funding, the sustainable commissioning. I've already mentioned the sums of money that have gone in and the increase in funding, but our national adviser Yasmin Khan has done pioneering work chairing a sustainable commissioning review with all the specialist providers—difficult during the pandemic, but we recognise we need effective commissioning approaches to ensure there's a national delivery in terms of funding, better pooling of resources, aligning of the procurement approaches that we have, so we gain more for the public investment that goes into VAWDASV. So, we've got the existing commissioning guidance, which is being reviewed, based on the national adviser's commissioning group, to implement that, but it also is in terms of the investment that has to come from across Government, not just Welsh Government, but local government, so it's actually funding from health, housing, education and safeguarding departments as well. Because this is all about improving the quality of services. So, commissioning guidance does advocate commissioning services that are needs led, and this is to make sure that we've got funding for services to reach diverse needs and landscapes.

I'm very pleased that you also mentioned the particular needs and issues of diversity—I mentioned it in my statement—for example, the experience of disabled women, disabled people, who then felt very trapped, particularly during the lockdown. So, I do want to draw attention to our Live Fear Free helpline, the 24/7 service for victims and survivors of domestic abuse, but, clearly, there are issues around accessibility even to that, but also to say that we do need to publicise the 999 and pressing 55 when operators answer, so the police are geared up to responding. But engaging with the disability equality forum as well, in terms of the consultation, I will be seeking their views, as well as, of course, from our race equality forum as well. You also make some very important points in terms of the delivery of this strategy, in terms of early intervention and also prevention. This is where it has to be a multi-agency approach.

And I'll finally say that the voices of survivors must be at the centre of everything we do. I always recall one of the very first women who came into the refuge in Cardiff that I was involved in. She won't mind me mentioning her—Monica Walsh. She was such a strong person. She eventually, not long ago, became the Lord Mayor of Cardiff. We saw then that survivors had to guide us in how we developed those specialist services, and we've got to do that in this new strategy. They should be at the centre of everything we do. We heard survivors, didn't we, at the vigil a few weeks ago. I've actually insisted that they are there at every level of this new strategy. But we do also have to engage with perpetrators of VAWDASV, continuing to challenge their actions, seeking to understand what works in preventing perpetration so that we can protect those who would otherwise be abused. But our national survivor engagement framework will be strengthened by this strategy. 

16:55

I had a meeting yesterday with South Wales Police, and they reported a massive increase in domestic violence as well as a significant number in the increase of murders. Obviously, the numbers, numerically, for murders are very small, but still it's symptomatic of some of the stresses that have been caused by the lockdown and everything that's gone with it, particularly the economic consequences of it all. And I was just reflecting on what we need to do to respond—all of us. Because the police can't be everywhere all of the time. If we see it, we say it and it's sorted, as they say endlessly on the trains in relation to terrorism. But we all have an obligation. If we see something we don't think is right, where somebody is being abused, particularly if it's a child, we surely need to tell somebody—not try and sort it ourselves, but tell people who are authorised to sort these things out. Because otherwise we will always go on to this vicious cycle of violence, because the children who witness domestic violence, I'm sure you would agree, Minister, after your longstanding—

—encouragement in all this, are the ones who either go on to being victims themselves or being perpetrators. And we have to put a stop to this revolving door. So, I hope—. I look forward to the report on Everyone's Invited by Estyn, because I'm sure that will give us some important markers for what we need to do to change. 

Thank you very much, Jenny Rathbone. Well, I will just focus on that point about children. We're actually seeking the voices of children and young people in the consultation on the draft strategy. We're working with our partners to ensure their voices are heard. We've got an online survey planned, specifically targeted at children and young people, and the Children's Commissioner for Wales, NSPCC, Children in Wales, Welsh Women's Aid, New Pathways, Bawso, they're all engaging with us to ensure that they can be part of that. And they, of course, benefit from the work that's being done by Hafan Cymru's Spectrum project. We're also very keen—I'm meeting with the Minister for Education and Welsh Language—. We've got some time to go to get the curriculum actually embedded, the relationships and sexuality education curriculum, and what he's saying is, 'What are we doing now?' because all education settings in Wales actually have a legal duty to ensure that children have access to a safe learning environment but that they can also report on their lived experiences.

I just want to finally say that all four police forces in Wales are taking this issue incredibly seriously—more seriously than I've ever known—recording incidents, providing more training, ensuring a robust response to hold perpetrators to account, working in partnership with local authorities and health to provide that joined-up and coherent response. And I hope that you will, perhaps even through the committee, be able to ask the police to show how they're engaging with this. I know that this is going to be a step change, and 'don't be a bystander' is the message—'ask and act', be brave—and this has been said across this Chamber on a number of occasions, which is very welcome.

17:00

Thank you, Minister. Your statement is once again, as always on these subjects, very, very welcome. Any violence against women and girls cannot and should not be tolerated within today's society. The fact that domestic abuse is the biggest killer of women aged 19 to 44—as you say in your statement, Minister, even more than breast cancer—is a sobering reminder of the urgent need to tackle domestic abuse and the misogynistic behaviours in our society.

Education, I feel, could be a very useful tool in helping to tackle domestic abuse, and this is why I'd like to focus on this. Instilling what healthy relationships are in the minds of our children and young people, I think, will be a key step forward in rooting out these behaviours, so I'm pleased that discussion and education on this will be incorporated in the new curriculum; in fact, it was one of the major key turning points for me from not supporting the education Bill last term to then supporting it, because I was so enthralled and pleased to see that this would form part of the new curriculum, because these conversations need to be had. And I truly believe incorporating it will go a long way to helping to tackle it.

Minister, I'd be grateful if you could outline the impact of teaching this to young people and how it will be monitored and measured to ensure that it is having the desired effect, and the quality and content of delivery being important, obviously, and I'm sure you'll agree, its age appropriateness as well as the consistency, of course, of the approach across all schools. And what discussions have you had with the education Minister on who is going to be best placed to teach and educate on these matters—teachers themselves or outside bodies with expertise in talking about this to young people? Because—