Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

07/05/2024

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 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

1. Questions to the First Minister

Good afternoon and welcome to this Plenary meeting. The first item will be questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Delyth Jewell. 

Support for New and Expectant Mothers

1. What support is available to new and expectant mothers in Wales? OQ61074

Thank you for the qusetion. 

All expectant mothers in Wales have a named midwife to provide support during pregnancy and the postnatal period. Together, they should develop an individualised care package, encompassing both mother and baby. Referrals to specialist services will be made to address any additional physical and psychological needs.

Thank you for that. 

First Minister, baby loss affects far more mothers and fathers than we realise. Families lose their babies at different stages of pregnancy, and not everyone feels able to talk about their grief. If a baby is lost before 24 weeks, they don't even have to be registered officially, and that can hinder parents from grieving. The UK Government has recently begun a baby loss certificate scheme for parents whose babies leave them before 24 weeks. It's a voluntary certificate—nobody is forced to have it—but it can help parents come to terms with their loss, because support is desperately needed for women who were mothers to babies that were never born. What plans does the Welsh Government have, please, to offer similar certificates to those available across the border, as a memory for parents that their babies existed and that they were loved?

I think it's a really important point that the Member raises about early loss and how it is, then, that we can better support people. We've had many debates in this Chamber over the years about baby loss, about recognising that it's a reality, and then what more we can do to support parents to be able to cope with their loss. I haven't had a specific conversation on this with either the Cabinet Secretary for health, or the Minister for early years, but I'm very happy to, to understand what we might be able to do. If it helps people to be able to acknowledge, and, then, to try and move on with the loss at an early stage, then I'd be very happy for us to think seriously about how we could do that in a consistent way across the country.

Can I thank Delyth for raising this issue? Some years ago, I delivered a baby of 24 weeks, and it was a baby. Yet, I went in and came back with nothing, and I do feel that when you've carried a baby for 24 weeks, it's a long time; it's not far. But the good news today is that, as a result of medical advancements, the chances for premature babies to survive have increased dramatically in the last 10 years. With this, though, comes additional pressure on the neonatal staffing ratios for the wraparound care that premature babies require. England has wraparound teams for families that include speech and language therapists, who can, very importantly, help with breastfeeding, bottle feeding and, importantly, swallowing function. Four out of our seven health boards are failing to meet the British Association of Perinatal Medicine standards for speech and language therapy provisions. Early communication with mothers is essential, so the need for adequate numbers of speech and language therapists in the workforce is vital. So, what steps are you taking, First Minister, to ensure that Wales is keeping up with the recruitment of these very specialist healthcare professionals, so that our babies and, indeed, their mothers, have the very best start in life together? Diolch.

Giving our children the best start in life is one of the key aspects that I want our Government to focus on. It's why I've reiterated the focus on the first 1,000 days in a child's life, whether that is a premature baby that is born and survives, and how they're supported, or not. And, actually, we know there are not just challenges, but real opportunities in how we better support parents through that phase. 

There's the point you make about specialist staff, and the way we commission that is an open process where we do look for advice from individual groups, but also from health boards as well to try to understand what we need to do. And I'm glad you recognised the additional physical resources it often takes to support families in the position that you've set out. It's a real medical success story, but, actually, we then need to make sure that the social and emotional health of that child and their family is looked at. And I think one of the things we really can get right is not just from the staff point of view, but about how we support parents, because, actually, as a parent, you are the most important influence on your child's life. And, sometimes, that can be seen as a responsibility—which of course it is—but it's also a real opportunity to support that parent to be the best parent they can be, to look at all the strengths that they provide, and to see what they can do for their child. And something as simple as talking to or singing to your baby is such a huge, important part of their development on a number of fronts. That's something that we can support people to do, and it's why, following my time in a number of ministerial roles—from tackling poverty to being the health Minister, and beyond—I do take seriously what we can do to invest in midwifery and in health visitors, to make sure that we carry on on that journey. I do thank the Member for her well-put question and the points that I do want to take seriously that she's raised.

13:35

Parenting doesn't come with instructions, I agree, but I just want to focus on the support that we give women before the birth, because it is shocking that 40 per cent of all births now end in caesarean sections because women are not getting enough support and because people are almost automatically being offered induction at 39 weeks, which is a potentially disastrous way to have a cascade of intervention. What action is the Welsh Government planning to take to tackle this really significant increase in caesarean births, not just in Wales, but across the UK. so that people are supported to give birth normally? Obviously, a caesarean is the thing that they have to have if the baby's life is at risk, but, in other respects, women need to be supported to have a normal birth, which is the best start in that trajectory of life. So, I wondered if you could tell us how the Welsh Government's going to change these really damaging statistics.

There are a number of factors within that. In some health boards in Wales, rates of caesarean birth are up to 40 per cent; in others, not so. When I looked at the figures in preparation for this question, I think that our understanding is that there are 35 per cent of C-section births in Wales. That has risen, materially, over the last decade and more. I do recognise that the challenge here is how we reflect the reality that the change in the number of C-sections is driven by a number of different factors. Part of it is driven by the fact that people choose to have families later in life, there's more complexity in how you support people through a successful pregnancy, and some people make an active choice around C-sections, and then there are, of course, the emergency caesarean sections that the Member referenced as well. To want to safely reduce caesarean sections is about how you support people to make choices—choices, ideally, before they become pregnant, choices during their pregnancy, and at the point of giving birth.

Now, my son is a little older, but I vividly remember lots of the conversations that we had as expectant parents, and about the fact that our views changed through that period of time, but we were supported to make choices by our midwife and, indeed, afterwards in the very early days of, for all of the joy you have, that actually—. A child doesn't come with a manual. So, we are looking at what we can do to support parents. That's part of the work that we're doing in the maternity and neonatal framework that is being developed, about how you positively support women to make choices, to understand the health impact of the choices that they make for themselves and for their baby, but to do that in a way that is, again, based on the strengths of what parents can and will want to provide for their baby, as opposed to trying to direct people down one path or another. We find that that actually has adverse consequences, but an informed choice is where we want to help people to get to, and I think that that will be good for mothers and, indeed, for their children.

The Llannerch Bridge Project

2. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Llannerch bridge project between Trefnant and Tremeirchion? OQ61053

Thank you for the question. We have awarded Denbighshire County Council £750,000 this year to continue work towards a new bridge connecting the communities of Trefnant and Tremeirchion.

Thank you very much. Llannerch bridge was destroyed during storm Christoph in 2021, and, more than three years later, we are no closer to having the bridge replaced, unfortunately. The communities of Trefnant and Tremeirchion are still disconnected, with drivers sent on lengthy diversions just to drive to the next village. This means bigger fuel bills for drivers, more pollution, I may add, too, and decreasing trade for local businesses, with the now closed road being an important artery for drivers leaving the A55 and travelling southwards to Denbigh. Denbighshire County Council have responsibility for the road, but your Government hold the purse strings, and we've consistently seen reluctance from the Welsh Government to approve funding for a replacement bridge. Now, I'm not asking you to build the Severn crossing here, First Minister; I'm asking for a small, rural, humpback bridge that is essential for businesses and residents. Many residents will also be angered by the fact that the Labour-run Denbighshire County Council have just taken out a loan of £10 million to build a new archive facility for council documents, money that could have been spent replacing the Llannerch bridge, with some change left over, I might add. So, can the First Minister confirm to me that he will review the plans for the Llannerch bridge and work with Denbighshire County Council to find the money to finally get these communities reconnected after three years? And it's just worth mentioning, First Minister—

13:40

No, it's not worth mentioning now. It's 20 seconds over the time. So, you've asked your question. Thank you. 

Thank you for the question. The Welsh Government has now awarded Denbighshire council over £1.1 million to help towards the project to understand the design that needs to be taken forward to replace the bridge. And I recognise it's a real issue of concern and inconvenience for communities, and the interruption in private and public transport, and school transport, and, indeed, active travel routes between communities. This is a complex project. The new bridge will need to be resilient to future storms—of course, it collapsed following a previous named storm—and also that the construction doesn't affect local water supplies. My understanding is that the council are aiming to complete the detailed design work by spring 2025, and we will then have a position about understanding not just what the design work looks like, but then the future funding for it. It's part of the reason why our ability to support councils with capital projects is such a major issue for us, and the initial understanding was that this project could cost somewhere in the region of £8 million. By the time we get to that, costs may have risen. So, there is a real and significant capital cost. And to be fair to the leadership of Denbighshire council, this issue is one they have inherited, and they could not possibly deal with it through the route that you're suggesting could have been taken, with an alternative capital project, for which they're undertaking loan finance. We will be honest with the Chamber and, indeed, with the council about our ability to support them on this important capital project, once that detailed design work has been done.

Llannerch bridge, which Denbighshire council are responsible for under the local network, provides a vital link for the communities it serves. And I'm pleased that, through the resilient roads fund, the Welsh Government have provided over £1 million to date towards the development of a scheme to replace the bridge. It's a reminder of the impact climate change is having across the strategic road network, including the local network, actually, in Wales, and that we will need to prioritise the renewal and maintenance of our existing highways to meet that challenge, going forward. But, do you agree with me, First Minister, that this is made much more difficult thanks to Tory austerity and the long-term impact that's had on capital and revenue funding in Wales, for the Welsh Government and local authorities that have been really struggling over the last 14 years of austerity? Thank you.

Thank you for the question, and for the practical and factual reminder about the reality that our budgets are significantly reduced, compared to 14 years ago, but also the important point around we would much rather preserve our transport infrastructure by maintaining and managing it well. That was what the Lugg review looked to help us to do, to understand what we could do to improve its resilience. The Member mentioned climate change, and it's a real issue for the roads and the infrastructure we already have, to make sure they are resilient to current and future changes within the climate.

We do have a resilient roads fund that helps to provide funding to local authorities. But we know that part of our challenge is that the ability of that fund to meet the challenges we face is significantly harmed by the reality that our capital budgets have been so significantly reduced. We've actually done even worse on capital funding in the last few budget rounds from the UK Government than revenue, and that's the big challenge we face. And that is a factual matter that Conservatives in this Chamber and outside can't escape. I would like a better deal on capital, as well as revenue, for all the things we could do in meeting our climate change challenge and, at the same time, maintaining the vital infrastructure that connects communities in Wales.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.  

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, in the press today, there is speculation about an iMessage that you put out. For those who haven't seen this message, it says,

'I’m deleting the messages in this group. They can be captured in an FOI and I think we are all in the right place on the choice being made.'

That was the message. It was a ministerial iMessage group. Did you author that message and send it?

13:45

The message that has been published today is a message from me without the context of the discussion. I have asked for the screenshot in its full form to be shared with the inquiry so the context can be seen. I note that the Member has written to the public inquiry on this matter.

Would you agree with me, First Minister, that if this message is correct, and it indicates that the author of the message was trying to circumnavigate the Freedom of Information Act 2000, because it refers to the information in the wider context being potentially captured by the FOI Act, they would be in breach of that law and any commitments that they had been making to public inquiries, or indeed to Parliament, about the ability to access messages?

No, I think that's a misreading of the requirements of the Act. In my witness statement to the public inquiry—I think it's paragraph 24 onwards—I set out in some detail, honestly and fully, how messages have been retained and stored to ensure that a proper record of all choices made by me and other Ministers have been captured and provided to the inquiry. The screenshot that you refer to is actually from a conversation between Ministers that relates to a Labour group meeting in August 2020. It does not relate to decisions captured. It's actually about the way in which we describe what we are doing. But, as I say, I've set out in detail in my witness statement to the inquiry, in paragraph 24 onwards, how those messages have been stored and the efforts that I have undertaken to ensure that a full list of all the messages that are available are provided to the inquiry.

So, just so that I'm clear in my mind, this was talking about a Labour group meeting, and the choices that are referred to in that specific message are about internal choices within the Labour group or the Labour Party and do not relate to Welsh Government policy, even though it is in a ministerial iMessage—not WhatsApp group, iMessage—and that you, I think, have confirmed today that you authored the message that has come out. Could you just clarify that you did send the particular message that I'm talking about and, whilst you've asked for a wider understanding of the series of messages before and after, you don't dispute that you were the author of this particular message?

I'm very clear that I sent the message that you refer to. I'm also very clear that the context of the conversation is entirely about a Labour Party group meeting and it is not about decision making to do with the pandemic. It's about comments that colleagues make to and about each other. It's about ensuring that we don't provide things that are potentially embarrassing, but not those things that affect any information about decision making during the pandemic.

We keep returning here to that we want our First Ministers to be truthful, transparent and of good judgment, and those pre-requisites are being undermined currently. First, there was the £200,000 donation from a convicted polluter, now it's deleted messages during the pandemic. COVID bereaved families' campaigners say they are outraged. In his evidence to the COVID inquiry, the First Minister said:

'I understood that we'd kept and maintained all the information that we should do, and it would be made available to this Inquiry.'

But we now know that he told Ministers that he was deleting messages because they could be captured under the Freedom of Information Act. Perhaps the First Minister can say whether that was on a Senedd device or on a Welsh Government device. I'm not sure which offence under the Inquiries Act 2005 he thinks he may be guilty of here—the offence of distorting or altering evidence produced or provided to the COVID inquiry, or preventing evidence being produced or provided to the panel. But taken as a whole, does the First Minister understand why people are asking today whether he committed perjury in giving that evidence under oath?

Well, that is an extraordinary accusation to make, absent of context or facts of what was happening at the time. The individual message relates to a discussion within the Labour group about how people do and don't talk to each other. It's essentially an appeal for people to consider what they have to say. As you'll recall, I had a difficult experience during some of it, during the pandemic. This is actually about how we talk to each other and about each other, not about the information that has been provided, and I reject completely the suggestion that I have not been honest with the COVID inquiry. It matters to me that that inquiry has a full record of what we did and why. I've given evidence at length on this, in writing and in person, and I expect to do so again. And I'd ask the Member to think again about his accusation that I have committed perjury. That is a serious matter and not one that I think he should lightly make.

13:50

It is, indeed, a very serious matter. We're limping from one scandal to the next, and it's no way to govern. And

'the more you dig, the less you find'—

that was Hefin David's defence of the First Minister last week. All avenues to correct the Record are open, I am sure. The hole just keeps on getting deeper. The donations were bad enough, but this is on a whole new level. 'No decisions during the COVID pandemic were being taken through informal messaging channels'—that's what we were told. But what are we to think here? Informal messages between Ministers referring to a choice being made, attempts to dodge FOIs. Reading between the lines, around that time were the decisions around allowing teachers to estimate grades. 

Lee Waters said in his eloquent speech last week that doing the right thing is the hardest thing, but you rarely regret it in the end. I have written to the UK COVID inquiry chair, asking for the First Minister to be recalled. They're considering whether to do so, but will the First Minister himself do the right thing and ask, himself, to be recalled?

I think you're taking several steps over issues to come up with an answer that you'd like, rather than where the evidence leads. I'm entirely relaxed about the screenshot and its context being seen by the inquiry. I have already asked that the full, unredacted screenshot is shared with the COVID inquiry. If they want to question me about it, I will have no difficulty at all in appearing before them and having the conversation. I think it's important that we focus on what we did and why, and the full information that has been shared with the inquiry about why we made decisions during that extraordinary time. August 2020 is nearly four years ago, but I am still affected on a regular basis by the choices that we had to make and the pressure that we were under. I have been, and will continue to be, entirely honest and transparent with the inquiry about what I did and why and the choices that I helped to make to try to keep our country safe. 

On this day of all days, 25 years on from the first devolved elections, we want the people of Wales to have faith in political leaders. Sadly, the Senedd, on all benches, I should say, is losing faith in this First Minister's ability to lead without distractions. Seven weeks in and his leadership is about survival. But people aren't buying the 'nothing to see here' approach to the eye-watering donation. We still don't know if the Labour Party will keep any money left over from that. And now we have the deleted COVID messages and an attempt to avoid an FOI request. 

Now, on this twenty-fifth anniversary, let me ask this: does the First Minister think his actions on the donation, on the deleted messages and goodness knows what comes next as people keep on digging, have served to enhance or diminish the reputation of this Senedd, the Welsh Government and the role of First Minister?

I'm very proud to be the First Minister of Wales. I'm very proud to be here in this Senedd, directly elected by my constituents to serve them and to serve my country. I'm very proud of the difficult choices we made through the pandemic to try to keep our country safe. I say again: I have provided all of the information available to me. I have not deleted information by text or WhatsApp to try to avoid scrutiny. And I hope that, when the Member has a fuller picture of events, he will withdraw the obnoxious accusation he has made. It does not actually do the Member much credit.

When it comes to my leadership of the Government, I am fully focused on what we have done in the last 25 years, what we could, and I believe should do in the years ahead of us. It's why the Government I lead is focused on the first 1,000 days in a child's life; it's why there is going to be a renewed focus on what we can do to improve educational outcomes for our children and young people; it's why we're working on green prosperity for the country, which should lead not just to us meeting our climate obligations, but actually how we generate good jobs to be housed here in Wales in the future, and the challenges we are tackling: the challenges that we know that we have, for example, in making sure that we have the health service we deserve with staff who are well paid and in work; the challenges we have on having a sustainable farming scheme that meets our climate obligations and supports farmers to deliver high-quality sustainable food and drink. That is what my Government will continue to focus on. The Member will make his own choices.

13:55
Protecting Politicians

3. How is the Welsh Government helping to protect politicians in Wales from potential physical and verbal attack? OQ61073

I thank the Member for the question. Abusive behaviour is a real threat to our democracy and is unacceptable. We must call out all unacceptable behaviour and set a zero tolerance for bullying and harassment in all of its forms. We are working with partners to tackle abuse and to encourage more people into our politics, to better reflect the country we are today.

Thank you, First Minister. As you will know, there have been several recent examples of politicians in Wales experiencing verbal abuse from the public, in ever-increasing voracity. As we all witnessed on the news, the Rt Hon Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, whilst attending a Cardiff University students' event, was set upon by protesters and had to be escorted into a security vehicle by no less than eight security guards. Our very own Natasha Asghar experienced similar threats and intimidation when she attended another Cardiff University event, and I am sure we have all seen the video of students hammering the door during her speech.

Although I have cited two examples involving Conservative politicians, this abuse is experienced cross-party and impacts us all. Sadly, it can have terrifying consequences, as we have seen with the tragic murders of Jo Cox and David Amess. I have spoken here in the Chamber in the past about how we need to be mindful of the language we use, and though we all agree that lawful protest is a fundamental right, we cannot and should not ever accept harassment and intimidation. With this in mind, and given the events I have just mentioned, what specific steps are the Welsh Government taking to ensure that politicians have adequate support and security when attending events and public engagements? Thank you.

So, I think this question crosses over from what the Government is responsible for, and also challenges for the Senedd and the Commission as an institution, and our relationships, indeed, with other partners when it comes to our security—of course, policing is not currently devolved. It's worth, though, reflecting back on the two instances that the Member referred to. I know Natasha Asghar was upset at the manner in which some people chose to behave when she went to Cardiff University. I do understand that. I have been in positions myself where the noise created by people and some of the things that are said do make it deeply uncomfortable for you. The challenge—[Interruption.] I'm not trying to underplay the incident. The challenge, with the noise and the abuse that comes with it, is that it does affect what you are able to do in putting forward your perspective on the future of the country or the community. Jacob Rees-Mogg actually said he didn't have a problem with what happened in Cardiff University. Of course, we've got Members in the Government more recently where this has happened here. Julie James and Huw Irranca-Davies were held in the Pierhead building whilst an active protest, that could have been—. There could have been physical harm if the two Ministers had gone out and been confronted by the crowd. Mark Drakeford, of course, at a further education college—gates were breached with some damage done previously. There is a point about legitimate protest and where it crosses over.

I think that we can and should have robust debate and disagreement between parties, about the future of our communities and country. It is entirely possible to do that without crossing over into abusive behaviour. That is a standard that I expect people in my party to meet. That is what I would like to see within the wider country in the debates we have. I'm afraid that social media drives real unpleasantness in real life on this front as well, and that happens for politicians in all parties. It is worse for women, worse still for black or brown women, and worse for black people as well. We know that other minority groups find themselves being targeted in a way that I think has got worse not better in the last few years. So, I think social media organisations have a responsibility. Mainstream media organisations have a responsibility in how they report. And we all have a responsibility about how we are prepared to behave and what we are prepared to promote, and the nature of the debate that we have. I hope that the Member will see the way that I conduct myself is robust, but it's something that does not cross over into fields of abuse that I do not believe are a legitimate part of democratic politics.

The Republic of Ireland Parliament, the Oireachtas, has been holding an inquiry into this area of the safety of elected Members and the online harassment and abuse and so on, and the taskforce is about to publish its report, and one of the main recommendations will be to establish a monitoring unit to monitor social media particularly, identifying individual cases of unacceptable harassment and referring those to the police and also to the social media networks and providing support and advice to the elected Members affected, who on average—as you say, First Minister—are more likely to be women, members of ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ people and so on. So shouldn't we in Wales emulate the Irish example in this regard?

14:00

I'll be very interested in the work of the group the Member reports—the report and any recommendations they do provide. It's worth pointing out that we are undertaking some work that does look at tackling abuse in politics, especially in what we do with local government. As regional or constituency Members, we have a direct link with a number of our communities. Local councillors of any and every party have an even more direct route, where their constituents almost always live within a fairly short distance of where they are and they're visible, and I am concerned that some people are being driven out of local politics because of a rise in abuse. The work that Rebecca Evans started is being carried on by Julie James as the Cabinet Secretary for Housing, Local Government and Planning. She'll be meeting with the Jo Cox Foundation to explore where there is more that we can do together, because I'm deeply concerned about the survey work undertaken in this area. 

So, I’m keen that there is not an idea that there is a monopoly on good ideas to deal with a societal-wide challenge. We will all be better off if our politics can be more civil in the way that we disagree with each other. It’s an important part of democratic debate that we are capable of disagreeing without being disagreeable and I think that has been progressively lost, and my fear is good, decent people will not take a step forward to want to represent their community because they’ll see the price that other people have paid, and that will leave us all the poorer.

Green Energy

4. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's commitment to green energy production? OQ61066

Yes. We have a commitment to meet the equivalent of 100 per cent of our annual electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2035. We're working with stakeholders on streamlining consenting, leading on energy plans and grid, and taking action to ensure our economy and communities benefit from these opportunities.

Diolch, First Minister. The decision by the UK Government to reject the port of Milford Haven’s new green energy terminal in Pembroke Dock last month was a huge disappointment. The port of Milford Haven is a critical part of the UK’s infrastructure, bringing in 20 per cent of the UK’s energy, and investment in the floating offshore wind project at the port of Milford Haven was a fantastic opportunity to bring jobs and social benefits to west Wales and beyond. The Welsh Government made £1 million available to support the emerging sector of floating offshore wind when the port submitted its bid for a share of the £160 million UK fund. First Minister, is the Welsh Government still committed to investing in this technology, despite the Tory Government in Westminster’s inability to support such a fantastic project?

Well, I was genuinely surprised—as well as being disappointed to the point of being angry—at the fact that the port of Milford Haven did not receive support from the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme port investment fund, and the challenge in this is that if you can’t deliver some of that investment in ports you won’t see the economic development opportunities that come alongside it. It is possible to deliver a new generation of floating offshore platforms without seeing those built and delivered here in Wales. That might be great news for ports in France and in the Netherlands; terrible news for the Welsh economy and UK economy. It also goes back to the conversations that myself and the economy and energy Secretary are having around the future of steel making as well, because at present you’d expect there to be a big market for steel in generating and delivering on that opportunity. It’s why we want to see a joined-up investment profile, investing in the future of steel as a sovereign asset, investing in the economic development opportunities around our ports. It's why I'm proud that an incoming UK Labour Government already has a clear pledge on a £1.6 billion investment into ports. That's 10 times more than the UK Government fund. I hope that people from all parties will continue to make the case for investment in our ports and what that can do to unlock the economic benefits of the change in how we generate power that is inevitable. We will either win that race and win the jobs, the good jobs on a long-term basis, that come with it, or other parts of the world will benefit from our failure to take action across the UK.

14:05

I don't share the pessimism of your Labour backbencher, First Minister, and we saw this last week when I visited the RWE consultation on their new green hydrogen project, which they're looking to construct on their land in Pembroke. Now, as the name suggests, they're looking to produce hydrogen using renewable energy from the grid, a great opportunity to not only decarbonise a neighbouring industry, but to also bring good-quality jobs to the Haven in Pembrokeshire as well. I've long said that the south Wales industrial cluster area needs to be looked at not just as an industrial cluster, but as an area for economic and skills and educational growth as well. So, what further thought have you given and your Government given to the development of a wider skills analysis of the future skills required, not just in Pembrokeshire, but along the whole south Wales industrial cluster area as well? Diolch, Llywydd.

Well, I'll start with some of the points of agreement. We see a real opportunity for renewable energy generation and the economic opportunities that come with that. Green hydrogen is part of that, and we are proud of the work that has been done by a range of stakeholders, including the Welsh Government, with RWE and others, to make a reality of that. It was part of the conversations I had as the economy Minister when I visited Germany. It's a key part of what we're looking to do by deliberately bringing together the economy and energy in the portfolio led by the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Miles. This is a major opportunity for Wales, and one I'm determined that we will take up.

The challenge, though, is that whilst, of course, we ought to invest in the skills of the future, we need some certainty about that, both in terms of the plan for what can happen, and, indeed, the plan for what will happen with skills competence, and not having aggressive competition on who actually understands the nature of the skills need, and then the responsibilities that have been plainly devolved for a quarter of the century not being overtaken by a UK Government that is hostile to what we want to do, and the money that comes alongside those powers. But the certainty of the investment is why Joyce Watson's question is so important, and I'm surprised the Member hasn't expressed some disappointment at the failure of the port of Milford Haven to secure investment. It is a major exception from what the Member has had to say. The port of Milford Haven could and should have had investment. In fact, the free-port opportunity that exists around the Celtic sea sees twin ports: the port of Milford Haven and, indeed, Port Talbot itself. Not investing in both those ports is a serious strategic error, and, if the Member disagrees with me, he should have another conversation with stakeholders in this area, as I did recently at Pembrokeshire College at a round-table that I had, where there was clear disappointment at the failure to recognise the strategic asset that the port of Milford Haven represents and the opportunity for the future of our economy. I hope that even this Government will reconsider its position and not wait for an incoming alternative Government to put right what they have got wrong. I hope that Members across the Chamber will get behind the case of the port of Milford Haven and make that case to the current Government to undo the mistake they have made by failing to invest in this port.

Asylum Seekers and Refugees

5. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the potential impact of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 on asylum seekers and refugees in Wales? OQ61062

Thank you for the question. Although migration policy is not devolved, the safety of Rwanda Act will have a detrimental impact on people seeking sanctuary here in Wales. The Act undermines our nation of sanctuary policy, it will drive illegal working and exploitation, no doubt leading to more modern slavery, and deny our economy much needed skills.

Thank you for the reply.

'Desperate.' It's a word, I'm afraid, that applies to the cold, callous, calculating Conservative Government. They are desperate to find votes to ensure that they appeal to people by stopping the small boats, and yet the people in those small boats are really desperate. They are really desperate people, who we should be protecting. They are our most vulnerable people; many of those are children. And we're hearing already sad stories of people here in Wales being picked up and put in detention. And other people are fearful; we've heard, sadly, talk of suicide, that people don't want to face that. Children, even, are being considered for this move to Rwanda. It is absolutely unacceptable and I'm sure—. I have to say that I would hope that even my colleagues over on the Conservative benches would not want this to happen to our most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers here in Wales. So, I would like to ask you, First Minister, what—[Interruption.] I would like to ask you, First Minister, what conversations have you had with the UK Government to illustrate the compassionate and caring approach—[Interruption.]—to illustrate that compassionate and caring approach to our most vulnerable people using this particular Act and challenging the UK Government. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

14:10

Thank you for the question and the calm way in which it was put, despite some of the, I think, poorly natured heckling from other parts of the Chamber. When it comes to the Rwanda scheme, it is not something that even the UK Government's own assessment says will work in resolving the issue. It will cost lots of money; it will provide a very public point of division and disagreement. We go back to some of the points that Joel James mentioned in his question about how we take some of the heat out of our politics. I think this is a scheme that is designed to create more division, I'm afraid. Detention centres do not exist in Wales. However, we are aware that removals are taking place. The challenge with that goes to, I think, two points. The first is whether you agree that this is a humane scheme, to send people to Rwanda, if the flights ever take off, a part of the world they have never been to, with all of the well-understood challenges about the Government of Rwanda and its country. The second, though, is whether this is going to be an effective approach, because, if you know that your regular meeting in a Home Office facility could result in you not leaving that building and being taken to a detention centre, there will be people who will make the choice to go underground—those are people who are already vulnerable and are much more likely to be exploited.

I think a humane approach that looks at where there are safe routes, that looks at how we meet our obligations and does not undermine the approach that we have taken to want to be a nation of sanctuary is the right approach. I am hopeful that a future UK Government will repeal the Rwanda Act, as I believe that it is hugely expensive and unworkable, and we will stick to the values that we have here in trying to support people and wanting to have an effective immigration and asylum system here in Wales and the wider UK.

First Minister, the UK Government's Rwanda plan targets deterring illegal migration, putting in place a deterrent to stop people entering the United Kingdom illegally and protect the most vulnerable people fleeing persecution from disgusting criminal gangs. The Welsh Government has supported unaccompanied asylum-seeking children by allocating £2.57 million for 67 children through the universal basic income care leavers pilot. In light of this, First Minister, could you please—[Interruption.]

I want to hear the question being put by the Member, please.

I think you should listen to your First Minister about respecting people.

In light of this, could you please elaborate on the specific measures that the Welsh Government has put in place to safeguard those children from all forms of exploitation, including those from criminal gangs? Because what we could see from this scheme is a way for those criminal gangs to access money and exploit the most vulnerable people in our society. That's not something I want to see; it's not something that my group wants to see. But the Welsh Government needs to take this issue seriously, because this is something that could really happen to vulnerable children.

The Member draws a link between illegal migrants and the Rwanda scheme and the care leavers pilot on universal basic income, and I think the attempt to do that is genuinely disgraceful—genuinely disgraceful. I don't believe that the Rwanda scheme will be effective. Even the Home Office acknowledge that they can only remove around 1 per cent of people seeking asylum in the UK through the Rwanda scheme. That's an entirely separate issue, though, from the universal basic income pilot for care leavers. These are asylum-seeker children, some of the most vulnerable people in our entire country. The UBI pilot is about how you can better support people to make choices, to make sure they are not left vulnerable, to make sure they are not demonised by voices in our politics who are not interested in the facts.

Actually, the fact that the scheme has had significant take-up—. There was a very useful and, I thought, constructive First Minister's scrutiny session on care leavers and what we are doing, and the national challenge we still have in making sure that people who leave our care system have a better future as a result of it. We don't do enough yet to provide that future that those children and young people deserve. That's why we have committed to a reform programme and it's why the care leavers pilot is part of it. I'm genuinely proud that, as a Government, we have chosen to do that.

This is about improving outcomes for our most vulnerable children, and I would ask James Evans, who I do believe actually does want to see better outcomes for vulnerable care leavers in our society, to think again about the link he drew and to reflect on that, and to think, when he next meets care leavers, when he next talks about the basic income pilot, whether he is prepared to look to the better part of who he is and wants to be, and not to draw such a disgraceful link again, and to think about how we better support people who are part of our country to be a successful part of our future.

14:15

I’d like to thank Jane Dodds for raising this important question. The reality is that Wales's aspiration to be a nation of sanctuary is being entirely undermined by the fact that we do not have the power to fully realise it. Wales is now part of the implementation of a scheme that breaks international law and undermines human rights. The Welsh Refugee Council says that the scheme will lead to an increased risk of trauma and exploitation among people seeking sanctuary.

I was pleased to hear you say that a future Labour Government in Westminster would repeal the Act, but what conversations are happening between your Government and the prospective Labour Government on the ability of Wales to extend a welcome to our brothers and sisters, when they are talking about creating a returns and enforcement unit of 1,000 officials? That's going to be central to their plans. And according to what I heard in the House of Commons last week, they will ensure more flights to other countries.

First Minister, is it the case that, as the Labour Member of Parliament for Aberavon said, it is only on the basis of a lack of affordability and practicality that Labour is opposed to the Rwanda scheme, or do you believe that we need to create safe and legal routes to Wales, and provide welcome and support here for all who seek sanctuary?

With respect, I don't agree with the Member's characterisation of what the Member of Parliament for Aberavon has said, and our position on setting out that the scheme is hugely expensive and unworkable. You will also be aware that he's had much to say about smashing the economic model of the people smugglers—how we do that and, indeed, how we have safe and legal routes. Because the UN Refugee Agency—not the Welsh Government, but the UN Refugee Agency—has described the current approach of the UK Government as amounting to an effective asylum ban. That is not where we should be, as a civilised nation. I am confident that we can do what we need to do in having an effective asylum system that will include making assessments on whether people's asylum claims are well founded, and if they're not, then you have to have the ability to return people to different countries.

You also, though, have to have compassion and decency within that. I am confident that a new Government at a UK level will repeal the current legislation that I find obnoxious on a personal level, but also is unworkable and will not deliver against the claims that are being made for it. I want a rational and a decent policy approach on this, and I believe that that is what we will get after the next UK general election.

Town-centre Regeneration

6. How is the Welsh Government supporting town-centre regeneration in the Caerphilly constituency? OQ61047

Thank you for the question. Since January 2020, the Welsh Government has invested £36 million of Transforming Towns funding in projects to support the regeneration of Caerphilly town centre. This investment has been driven by the development of the Caerphilly vision 2035 placemaking plan, which was funded by the Welsh Government.

14:20

It's really good to see the First Minister so up on what's happening in Caerphilly. We've seen the leadership of particularly the deputy leader, Councillor James Pritchard, and we've seen events across the Caerphilly borough. Bargoed had a hugely successful event last year, and people from all over south-east Wales actually seemed to be coming to see it. Our town centres have a great deal still to offer. We've also got the Ffos Caerffili market, which has been opened following, I think it was £2.69 million of Welsh Government support. Oddly, it was talked down by Plaid Cymru councillors; I don't know why. Hopefully they will change their mind now that they've seen it's such a roaring success. This partnership between Welsh Government, local government and businesses is clearly the way forward to develop the foundational economy and transport links. Will he commit to the same approach that's happened in Caerphilly happening in other towns in my constituency and across Wales?

It's a really good example, Ffos Caerffili, of what we want to do more of; to think about how our ability to regenerate town centres will draw people into them in a way that is sustainable and actually people value as well. So, the work in Caerphilly town itself is part of the approach that I want to take, not just in other towns in his constituency, but on a much broader basis. I see the Member for Blaenau Gwent next to him who may want a similar approach to be taken within his constituency. I think it's important to look at what's worked and why, and it is about the partnership between local authorities and the Government on understanding their role in setting out a strategic vision and how we get to support them. A more rational approach on funding sources will help us to do that, and I hope that people will see that there are many good things to draw you to Caerphilly county and the town itself. I'm also proud, on that front, of the investment we're making in the castle as well—a major magnet to draw people into the town. Although, of course, some people leave Caerphilly, but never forget where they have originally come from. It's great to see some of my constituents in the gallery today as well.

The Performance of Transport for Wales

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the performance of Transport for Wales? OQ61077

Yes. Transport for Wales's performance has improved dramatically in recent months. Our £800 million investment in new trains across Wales means our services are more reliable, and TfW's performance results have been better than all other rail operators in Wales during 2024—a fact that I'm sure the Member will want to welcome.

Thank you so much, First Minister. I must say that that was some fantastic spin, if I ever heard it. Your comments clearly do not line up with the damning verdict of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee. These aren't my words that are going to come out of my mouth, these are from the committee. Its report into rail services and Transport for Wales performance actually does paint a very, very different picture. Transport for Wales's performance has been characterised by high service cancellation rates and low passenger satisfaction scores. Just painting the picture for one month isn't going to cut the mustard, First Minister. These aren't my words, again it's the view of the committee. The committee also came to the same conclusion that many across the country have, and that is that TfW's performance is simply not good enough. There's a lot in the report to unpack, but it also highlighted incidents of constituents being abandoned on empty platforms, sometimes even in the dead of night, and left to find their own way home. Unsurprisingly, the report also identified inadequate rail provision when major events are taking place.

In light of what I've just said, First Minister, do you agree with me that, as things stand, residents aren't getting the rail service they truly deserve? And what steps will your Government now be taking to ensure that improvements are made, and made sincerely? Thank you.

I agree that far too many passengers for rail services in Wales do not get the service that they deserve. People who struggle on Great Western Railway services do not get the service that they deserve—a much higher proportion of cancellations and, indeed, late running than Transport for Wales services. Avanti West Coast passengers do not get the service that they deserve—a much, much higher proportion of cancellations and late-running services than Transport for Wales.

I am proud of the improvement journey that is borne out in figures for March and, indeed, for April, which show an upward trajectory of improving services for TfW in Wales, with almost 84 per cent of trains arriving within three minutes of their scheduled time. I just wish the Member would get up to date on what is happening and not look for reports that describe the past, which we recognise needed to improve, in direct contrast to those franchises that are the responsibility of the UK Government. Transport for Wales is, as a matter of fact, not opinion, the best-performing franchise here in Wales, and I am proud to say that.

14:25
Avanti West Coast's Performance

8. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with Avanti West Coast about their performance in north Wales? OQ61045

Avanti West Coast services provide vital connections across north Wales into north-west England, the midlands and London. I am very concerned about their poor reliability. Welsh Government officials regularly meet Avanti, and the Cabinet Secretary for North Wales and Transport has requested an urgent meeting with their managing director.

I'm grateful to the First Minister for his answer. The poor performance of Avanti trains in north Wales is extremely concerning, as the First Minister says. In March this year, 21 per cent of services were cancelled. Myself, the local MP Mark Tami, and train users in north Wales are absolutely fed up with an operator that seems incapable of turning things around. First Minister, will you use your office, as well as the office of the Cabinet Secretary for North Wales and Transport, to stress to Avanti how unacceptable this situation is for residents in north Wales? And do you agree that the Avanti example further underscores UK Labour’s points that change is needed on a UK level? Diolch.

Yes, I'm happy to set out that I will, of course, fully support the Cabinet Secretary for North Wales and Transport in looking to see urgent improvement made within the performance of Avanti West Coast. More than one in five of their services are cancelled. In contrast, just 2.4 per cent of Transport for Wales services were cancelled in the same time period.

Now, that’s a fact that can’t be ignored, and the Member and his constituents will, I’m afraid, be subject to that very poor performance from Avanti West Coast. It seems that Avanti are more concerned about improving their services to Manchester and to Liverpool than they are to Llandudno, Bangor and Holyhead, and in fact the UK Government Department for Transport hardly ever mentions the Welsh side of the franchise.

I want to see real improvement made, real investment made. I want to see real investment made by Network Rail as well as the franchise itself. I believe change is desirable as well as inevitable. I hope that people can look at the significant investment that we have made in TfW and recognise that it is a real success story now for passengers in every part of Wales. It requires a long-term plan and long-term investment to deliver real improvement, as we already see in Transport for Wales services right across Wales.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item will be the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement. Jane Hutt.

Thank you, Llywydd. The only change to this week's business is a motion to suspend Standing Orders, which is needed to allow us to debate the legislative consent motions on the Victims and Prisoners Bill. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which is available to Members electronically. 

Trefnydd, can I call for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for health to give us an update on the Veterans’ NHS Wales service? We know that veterans are very appreciative of this service, and at the cross-party group on the armed forces, just last week, we received an update on the service from Neil Kitchener, who of course is the lead clinician. One of the challenges that that service appears to have is that there’s a lack of peer mentoring support available now in Wales, and it’s something of a postcode lottery in terms of whether those peer mentors are embedded within Veterans’ NHS Wales. I feel, and the cross-party group felt, that it was very important to have those peer mentors embedded within the NHS in Wales, in every single health board. That would cost around £0.5 million per year. I know money is tight, but this is a worthwhile investment because, of course, we know that veterans who do suffer from things like post-traumatic stress disorder have a significant impact on public services and can be a significant user of public services in other ways.

And secondly, can I also call for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on the significant cost of placing people with mental health problems outside of Wales? We know that the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, just in the first three months of this year, has spent over £3.5 million sending people out of north Wales for care in other parts of the country. I had a constituent, who contacted me back in February, whose family member had been placed in Durham for a mental health bed because there wasn't the capacity in north Wales. Clearly, that's unacceptable. We need to make sure that people are treated as closely to home as possible. I accept that there are specialist services, sometimes, that people might need to access, but this was a general mental health in-patient bed, and that should have been available in north Wales. I'm very concerned that there isn't the capacity in our NHS, particularly in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, to be able to care for people in the region. So, can we also have a statement on that? Thank you. 

14:30

Diolch yn fawr, Darren Millar. Those are two really important questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, but Ministers as well. In terms of your update on services for veterans, I think we can all be very proud of the service that's rolled out—you heard that report—and the health board's commitment to it, often in partnership with local government. Because we know there's a cross-over in terms of health and well-being. That's where, in fact, there's a clear link to the next question as well, because the support for peer mentors is important. We know that it is available, but, of course, this has to be about how this can be best received. I would just comment—and I'm sure you'll be aware—on the many voluntary organisations that are playing their part in this, not just the Royal British Legion. In my constituency there's Woody's Lodge, for example, and that's also in north Wales as well. But clearly, the Cabinet Secretary and Ministers will be looking at this.

I do think—and I'm sure you will acknowledge and recognise—that, in terms of our Minister for Mental Health and Early Years, mental health is at the forefront of our priorities. Yes, there are pressures on services, but it's being recognised that this is an issue that is being addressed, indeed, for all generations, and for health boards to take this as a priority. It is important to recognise mental health measures of performance. I'm just looking at the percentage for local primary mental health support services, and it's important to see that therapeutic interventions are starting to take place a percentage higher than previous months in terms of numbers of days to wait for that. And, also, the percentage of patients who receive secondary mental health care and have a valid care and treatment plan—in terms of the percentage, we are recognising that that's a priority. But, clearly, this is something that the Minister for Mental Health and Early Years will be reporting on.

Trefnydd, I'd like to ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice on the future of Welsh National Opera. This follows the publication of a letter written by the singer Elizabeth Atherton, and signed by over 170 people, that claims that the reduction of 35 per cent in the funding from Arts Council England and the 11.8 per cent cut from the Arts Council of Wales will be damaging to the nation. The letter asks the Welsh Government to meet with representatives of the WNO and the culture Secretary in England to discuss how the cross-border funding agreement can be maintained to provide urgent support to both organisations. Can I ask for a statement responding to this? What steps will the Government take to respond?

Diolch yn fawr. I think, Heledd Fychan, we all recognise the pressures and the difficulties. Indeed, we know where those pressures and difficulties come from, in terms of our appalling financial settlement from the UK Government after 14 years of austerity. I also recognise the fantastic work undertaken by the WNO. I think some of us, perhaps, have been to see some of the more recent inspiring performances, such as Death in Venice, which was also something where there were packed auditoriums—not just here in Wales, but elsewhere. This is an important question and I know that the culture Secretary is meeting with them. Because they perform outside of Wales as well, in England, it's really important that there is a recognition of where arts council funding—not just here, but in England—is coming from.

Trefnydd, it's been reported that the Welsh Government has been subject to a significant hack by a so-called rogue actor in the last few weeks. Are you able to confirm or publish what information has been compromised and what steps the Welsh Government is undertaking to ensure that an incident like this does not occur again?

Secondly, it's been reported that, overnight, two more prisoners have died at Parc prison in my constituency of Bridgend. The men were 19 and 73, and this brings it to a total of nine sudden deaths at Parc prison in the last three months. Each of the prisoners is, technically, my constituent, and I am scheduled to meet with the prison governor shortly to discuss the previous seven deaths, but it really does feel like something is very wrong. So, I'm asking if the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice can please give an update on any discussions that she has had with the Ministry of Justice, who have consistently refused to comment on the crisis and step in on the G4S management. This really does feel like it's getting out of control. Diolch.

14:35

Diolch, Sarah Murphy. Thank you for drawing attention to that serious cyber security incident. In fact, it was 22 April, I think, that that took place. So, just to reassure the Member and colleagues and Members of the Senedd that the Welsh Government worked at pace with the UK's National Cyber Security Centre. Of course, this is very much cross-Government engagement, with forensic teams investigating the incident. Those investigations have been completed, and, independently, they've confirmed that there's no evidence that information held on our network was compromised. But there is, clearly, a global vulnerability exposed here. We take this very seriously and we are reviewing our cyber security controls to determine whether additional defensive measures are required.

On the deaths at Parc prison, it's sad, isn't it, to hear, again, about the deaths—very sad—at Parc prison. It's tragic for their families and for those adults—they are young adult men, in this situation. Of course, you recognise that the operational running of the prisons is the responsibility of the UK Government and is not devolved to Wales, but we work very closely with HM Prison and Probation Service and interface with prisons in devolved areas such as health and social care, where we do have responsibilities. I would like to reassure Sarah Murphy that the Welsh Government, Public Health Wales and HM Prison and Probation Service in Wales have met to discuss the tragic deaths, and an agreed set of actions is being taken forward to help mitigate the risk of future harm. But of course, this is something where, in my former role, I visited Parc prison, and I'm sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice will be herself undertaking such a visit, to ensure that there's that interface, and that we can also hold those to account who are running those services such as the one at Parc prison.

I call for a Welsh Government statement on support for autistic and ADHD women and girls. The National Federation of Women's Institutes report 'Understanding the Experiences of Autistic and ADHD Women', published in March, which features the lived experiences of neurodiverse women, found, for example, that 90 per cent of survey respondents expressed a lack of awareness of autistic women and girls within healthcare settings, and that 75 per cent felt there is insufficient support available for autistic individuals and their families. North Wales-based charity KIM Inspire has also published the findings of their six-month research project in 2023, 'Supporting neurodivergent girls and young women across north-east Wales'. These included that presentations of autism and ADHD in girls and young women continue to be overlooked by statutory services, that parental blame is frequent, and that the lack of recognition and appropriate support is leading to high levels of distress, low self-esteem and self-harming behaviours. Both reports want to see action from decision makers to improve the diagnosis process for women and girls, make more support available post diagnosis, and help break down the stigma and prejudice that too many autistic and ADHD women still continue to experience. I call for an oral statement in Welsh Government time on this vitally important matter accordingly.

14:40

Diolch yn fawr. Thank you for drawing attention to this, and also for recognising the role of the National Federation of Women's Institutes and the campaigning work that they do on behalf of women and drawing attention in this report to the needs of autistic women and women who have a diganosis of ADHD and the needs that they have as neurodiverse women in our community. It's also very helpful to hear that feedback from your north Wales charity. I know that the Minister will be taking this on board. I will draw this to her attention in terms of the response, which has to be a consistent response across Wales. But it is, obviously, in the context of the ways in which we are supporting and responding to the needs of neurodiverse people of all generations and genders in Wales. 

May I ask for a statement in the Chamber from the Cabinet Secretary for health about Government plans to tackle the huge pressures on accident and emergency departments in hospitals? Today, we've heard that the Betsi Cadwaladr health board has issued a red warning. I've just read now that Cwm Taf Bro Morgannwg also put out a warning about pressures on emergency services there. A month ago, Morriston Hospital issued a black warning. We've heard about these warnings regularly during the winter, when the pressures were greatest, but they are becoming far more common at times other than the winter now. I want to put on record, by the way, my thanks to the Glan Clwyd emergency department, following their recent care for my son. They do excellent work, but they are under huge pressure. So, can we have an update, please, from the Cabinet Secretary on the steps being taken to tackle these crises? 

Diolch yn fawr, Mabon ap Gwynfor. I do think it's really important that you did finish by giving those thanks to those people who are on the front line in terms of providing that emergency care. Just looking at March's figures, obviously, our system is under huge strain. The NHS are dealing with around 2 million contacts every month. None of that includes all the contacts through 111 or all those carried out by mental health, maternity and diagnostic staff every week. But in terms of emergency departments, it is important to note that in March 2024, there were an average of 2,962 daily attendances, up by 74, but 67.5 per cent of people were seen, treated and discharged in four hours, and the median time in the department was two hours and 47 minutes. So, obviously we're making sure that we're monitoring this, but seeing that increase in pressure on our emergency departments has to be acknowledged in terms of the ways in which we respond to it. But, of course, this is something the Cabinet Secretary will be taking into account in looking at these figures. 

I'd like to ask for a statement on what the Welsh Government is able to do to promote voting in UK-wide elections, particularly amongst younger people here in Wales. As we all know, the police and crime commissioner elections, last week, were the first time in Wales where voters had to show a form of ID in order to vote. There was a list of things that older people could bring forward to show their identity: the bus pass, the 60+ Oyster card, the Senior SmartPass—all acceptable forms of ID. But younger people did come to me in my constituency to say that they felt disenfranchised and not seen as a priority, because there weren't any particular forms of identification that they could show, such as a young person's railcard or maybe student ID. So, I wondered if we could have a statement about what thoughts the Welsh Government had in order to improve and make younger people feel that they are wanted at the ballot box, which, of course, we have shown in our legislation here in bringing in votes for 16 and 17-year-olds in local and Senedd elections. 

Thank you very much, Julie Morgan, for that really important question and the feedback that you were getting, and I'm sure many of us across the Chamber were getting, particularly on the day of voting. I'm glad the Counsel General is here to hear about this issue, because the PCC elections last Thursday were the first in Wales to require voter ID. We believe, as we have said as a Welsh Government, and I think this is shared with our colleagues across the Chamber—we don't know on that side—voter ID is harmful to democracy. Voter ID is harmful to democracy. It creates more barriers, it creates confusion, complexity, and as to the kind of identifications that were coming forward, people were asking all the time. It doesn't strengthen Welsh democracy; it makes it harder for people to vote. This was in stark contrast to our extension of voting to 16 and 17-year-olds and qualifying foreign citizens, and our clear framework for electoral reform. Actually, this is gaining a reputation across the UK, I believe, Counsel General, on our agenda of modernising and encouraging participation. So, let's look to the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill before the Senedd. It's the next step in our commitment to modernise and reform Welsh elections, improving accessibility, ensuring that people can engage with an electoral system that's fit for the twenty-first century, and particularly looking, as I know the Minister in charge of the Bill has been doing, at under-represented communities to encourage their active participation, including through a democratic engagement grant.

14:45

Trefnydd, I'd like to request a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care regarding access to GP services. As has already been reported, the GP partner at St. David's Surgery in my consistency has handed back the contract for the surgery to the health board, and that of course is a huge worry to patients. In my view, the health board should have planned for this and learnt lessons from what has happened in other places like Solva, for example. So, it's important now that the health board ensures that there is a long-term solution in place so that local people can access a GP in their community. Of course, the Welsh Government has a duty to ensure that people can access primary care services in their local communities. So, I'd be grateful if we could have a statement on access to primary care services that tells us what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure that people can access a GP in their local area.

Thank you for that important question, Paul Davies. Particularly looking at some of the issues in your Hywel Dda UHB area in terms of general medical services, I think it's really important to see—. Over the past year, I know there's been some press attention on a small number of practices that actually moved to close some of the practices. But, in February, the health board successfully appointed a new GP partnership to take over the contract to provide those primary care services for patients in Cross Hands and Tumble. You must welcome, and it's a wider area, the Amman Tawe partnership, an experienced multidisciplinary team with a strong track record. 

Can I just take the opportunity, Llywydd, at this point, to say we are celebrating today 25 years of devolution? One of the first things we did—and I think the class of 1999 colleagues might remember—and which was actually a cross-party initiative, was develop the Wales eye care initiative, where we were able to establish that optometrists could refer people directly to secondary care. I know the former First Minister will remember this as well. It's been transformational. This is what we need to do when we talk about primary care services. We need to talk about prevention, we need to see the roles of all these other health professionals. Actually, it's now in the new contract for optometrists, so that this is less of a pressure on primary care. It's optometrists in our high streets actually being able to refer people directly for secondary care. That's just one example that I'm sure will relieve pressure on primary care services in rural areas.

Could I ask the Trefnydd for a written statement or an oral statement on the community scheme in Ely in Cardiff West?

Llywydd, it's a year to this month since two young men lost their lives on the Ely estate in circumstances that caused such grave concern to the local community. One of the positive things that happened was the sponsorship by the Welsh Government of a community-led plan to improve services, particularly for young people on the estate. That plan is now in the very final stages of being drawn together and is due for publication. I think it would help the local population, Llywydd, if the Welsh Government were able to draw together in a single statement the support that has been offered in the production of that plan by the Welsh Government and could look forward to the implementation of those community-generated ideas and priorities.

14:50

Diolch yn fawr, Mark Drakeford. It has been a privilege to co-chair an external community ministerial reference group. I co-chaired the group, which was set up following the tragic incident last year. I co-chaired it with Huw Thomas, the leader of Cardiff Council. But, the most important thing about the forthcoming Ely and Caerau community plan is that it has been developed by the community. As you said, Action in Caerau and Ely was appointed last year to co-ordinate the development of the plan, and it has worked closely with local organisations, the local steering group, engaging widely with residents of all ages. And I look forward to attending an event next week and welcoming the launch of the plan.

But, I think what's crucially important—and obviously, you, as the Senedd Member for Cardiff West have influenced this, and as the former First Minister—is that the community plan is deeply rooted in the needs and aspirations of the people of Ely and Caerau. It's not our plan; it's their plan, and jointly funded by the Welsh Government, Cardiff Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales. And, of course, the community, with Cardiff Council, will now be taking forward the implementation of the plan, with support from a wide range of partners, including the Welsh Government. But, I think it would be very appropriate, then, for a statement to be made—for a Welsh Government statement to be made on the plan and the way forward. Diolch.

I'd like to ask for a statement, please, from the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs on pollution in the River Wye. We've had quite significant developments in the last week or so from a group who have applied for bathing status for a portion of the River Wye, which has been refused by the Welsh Government. There is a significant degree of irony in that the reason it has been refused is in order to protect biodiversity and the area from significant, perhaps, overcrowding, and yet the water remains significantly polluted, and people like me are still swimming in it. So, I just wonder if there's an opportunity to bring people together in order to discuss the issues in the River Wye and the application for bathing status, and to see whether we can move forward to make the waters cleaner for not just me but other bathers who venture into the river. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Diolch yn fawr, Jane Dodds. I think that you probably are referring to the part of the River Wye that is named the Warren, where, of course, as you said, it's a difficult challenge, isn't it, as a site of special scientific interest, a special area of conservation, and the impacts of swimming, canoeing, walking have to be assessed, and granted consent, by Natural Resources Wales. So, my understanding is that it has not been designated as bathing water in this bathing season, but it will be considered for designation in the future. But, I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs will want to respond to your suggestion, your proposal that people could be brought together to look at these interacting needs of that particularly wonderful part of Wales, which you cherish and we cherish, of course, as a site of special scientific interest but also a site where swimming, particularly, is cherished and valued.

I'm calling for a statement from the Welsh Government on the expected timescales for a response to freedom of information requests that are put forward to the Welsh Government. I've had a number of pieces of casework recently where the 20-day timescale set out in legislation to respond to FOIs by members of the public doesn't seem to have been adhered to. One such example is from a constituent of mine who submitted a freedom of information request nearly two months ago in relation to windfarm infrastructure, and the Minister's action on the consultation with the public. The FOI asked to share what the Minister or anyone else from the Welsh Government had done since 2020 to understand what people have in their minds as an impact of windfarm infrastructure that is or is not acceptable. And this is just one example that doesn't seem to have been responded to, but it's part of a wider theme of delays in relation to FOIs that can start to question the transparency. So, I'd appreciate a statement that sets out the expectations on these timescales that we and members of the public should expect.

14:55

We abide by the freedom of information legislation timescales. Of course, this is something where we get many requests in terms of freedom of information, but in terms of our responses, they are timely, and if there is anything I can report back on on particular areas, then please raise that with the Cabinet Secretary concerned.

Trefnydd, excellence is a key skills-based arts pursuit, whether dance, music or visual art. Will the Cabinet Secretary bring a statement to the Senedd on the roll-out of the Wales cultural strategy and the timescale for evaluation or review? And finally, I wish to call, as the chair of the Senedd cross-party group for music, for a full statement to be made to this place regarding the critical position that Wales's largest arts employer, Welsh National Opera, one of its finest exports, finds itself in after the withdrawal of national funding and the overarching plan for its survival.

Can we just thank Rhianon Passmore for her championing of the arts—the championing of the arts in schools, championing of the arts in the community, championing of the wonderful arts we've also been recognising earlier on this afternoon in terms of our opera, our orchestras, and everything that you have engaged with? Certainly, I know the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice is here in the Chamber. I've already said that meetings are ongoing in these particularly difficult and challenging times, particularly for some of those institutions that are beloved institutions of Wales. So, thank you very much.

Thank you very much, Rhianon, once again. 

Leader of the house, is it possible to have a statement from the health Minister in relation to the six red alerts that have been declared by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board around A&E pressures? I appreciate that pressures are intense across the United Kingdom in A&E departments, but to have two major health boards declare red alerts across all their A&E sites is quite unprecedented—from my own personal memory, anyway. So, could we have a statement from the health Minister as to what the Government is doing to support those health boards deal with these pressures that we normally associate with the winter months, but now clearly run through the summer months as well, as, obviously, we don't want people deterred from going to A&E, but it is right that people go to the right location to seek the help that they require. But, by putting these alerts out, whilst providing information to the public that the A&E departments serve, they mustn't deter people from turning up if they require the assistance of that department.

Thank you for asking those questions. Obviously, I responded to a question earlier on from Mabon ap Gwynfor, and I spoke then about the increased pressures that you've acknowledged. Now, just to say what we expect in terms of the response of patients in emergency departments, we expect all patients that attend emergency departments in Wales to be triaged by a clinician at the earliest opportunity—many of us have probably had that experience of that really swift triage that takes place—to assess the condition of the patient, ensure they're prioritised, treated in the order of their clinical priority, for optimal patient experience to be delivered insofar as is possible. That triage is critical in terms of what happens next in terms of a diagnosis and support.

But we also expect—and this is from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care—health boards to renew the focus on driving down long stays in departments, particularly for frail and older people, and we've provided nearly £3 million to each health board to help them deliver their local six goals for urgent and emergency care programmes.

Diolch, Llywydd. I would like to ask for two statements. We've had a very wet winter, which everyone is aware of. There have been many football matches called off or abandoned due to the weather. Some teams in Swansea, between the beginning of November and the end of February, played four league games, which equates to one a month. As the weather in future years is unlikely to be better, what progress is being made in installing 3G and 4G artificial pitches?

I would also like a statement on the SA1 development, which is an excellent example of mixed use, including housing, anchored by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. It was initially a joint venture between Swansea Council and the Welsh Development Agency. I would like the statement to include an update on the transfer of responsibility for roads and public spaces to Swansea Council, and a further update on ensuring the safety of Altamar and South Quay.

15:00

Diolch yn fawr, Mike Hedges. And, yes, it has been a very wet winter, and the impact it's had on football matches on fields, pitches—abandoned, as you say, because of the weather. But just to report, for the record, there are around 350 artificial pitches in Wales, at the latest count, and, of course, they're very much varying in size, from full 3G pitches to much smaller sized pitches, and those are funded from a variety of sources: we've got Sport Wales's £8 million capital budget, an education budget for investment in school facilities, the community facilities programme. And just to update, over the last three years, Sport Wales have invested in 28 artificial pitches, of which 12 are new and 16 have been upgraded across Wales. So, I think, now, Sport Wales are undertaking an audit of all artificial pitches across Wales and are looking to work with the Welsh Government on mapping every artificial pitch. But in Swansea, the new 3G Underhill Park in Mumbles—Sport Wales, £250,000, via the pitch collaboration fund—but also the resurface of an existing hockey artificial turf pitch, at Elba sports complex in Gowerton, also receiving funding.

Your second question is also important, because there's good progress, as you said, continuing in SA1: high levels of developer and occupier interest. But I can reassure the Member that the University of Wales Trinity Saint David's Innovation  Matrix quarter is due to complete this June. Coastal Housing and Pobl homes are starting construction on three new affordable housing development schemes. But the crucial point you raise is about adoption. So, part 1 highway adoption certificates have been received from the city and county of Swansea, and our officials are working with the council to progress the information they require to issue the part 2 certificates, which will allow the adoption of the roads to progress.

3. Statement by the First Minister: Senedd at 25

The next item, therefore, will be the statement by the First Minister on the Senedd at 25. The First Minister to make the statement—Vaughan Gething.

Diolch, Llywydd. For the past quarter of a century, our nation has been on a historic devolution journey.

Our nation has been on a historic devolution journey.

It’s one that we’re proud of, but it's not something that we could ever take for granted. From 1997 to today, we've seen a further referendum bringing law-making powers to Wales and sustained public support for our Senedd. Far from the talking shop that many feared, devolution has delivered progressive politics and helped to nurture a confident, modern and outward-looking Wales. Whatever side people were on in the referendum, and whatever your views on the policies of the Welsh Government, today devolution belongs to all the parties in this Chamber and to all the people of Wales.

The path to a full law-making Parliament hasn’t been smooth, but in times of crisis, the people of Wales have looked to us here in this Chamber to lead and to serve. The choices we make—and still have to make—haven’t been easy, but devolution has ensured that they have been choices rooted in the values of social justice, solidarity and fairness and subject to regular elections for our employers, the people of Wales.

I know too that all of us stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. As First Minister I know the debt that I owe to those who have held the office before me. I always value the counsel of varying lengths and support of Alun, Carwyn and Mark, but I do want to pay a special tribute to Rhodri Morgan for his leadership of our nation in the first crucial decade. His thoughtful, calm and considered leadership was crucial in those early years. It changed how people felt about devolution and about Wales. On a personal level, it meant a great deal to me that Rhodri took the time to call me immediately after my selection in 2009 for the seat of Cardiff South and Penarth. For those of you who are not students of Labour politics in Cardiff, Cardiff West and Cardiff South have not always been bosom buddies. The fact that Rhodri took the time to call me was a mark of the man himself: a small act that reflected his style of leadership and a commitment to lifting up others and his optimism for the future of devolution. This institution owes him an unpayable debt of gratitude, and I know that many people, not just in this Chamber, are thinking of him today. 

There are of course still some in this Chamber who were there right from the start in 1999. You, of course, have seen devolution mature and evolve first-hand, not just in this Chamber but in the previous debating Chamber that I remember well. I'm personally glad, I have to say, that I never got to experience a legislative competence Order first-hand from start to finish, or that I had to peer from behind a pillar in the former debating Chamber in Tŷ Hywel, as some Members had to do.

The success of Welsh devolution was not inevitable. It's been a process of growth and change, gradually shaping the Senedd into the body that we are today. It has been held up by sustained public service from elected politicians on all sides and the hard work of our civil servants and indeed the staff of the Commission.

We have, of course, been shaped by the challenges that we have faced. We faced the 2008 financial crash and the long years of recession and austerity that followed. We faced Brexit, the pandemic and the growing climate and nature emergencies that we still have to take action on. But that, of course, is government: we're not here to take the easy way; it often isn't available to us. We're here to make Wales a better place in the face of every challenge that we face.

I was first elected to the then Assembly in 2011, but I joined the devolution journey a lot earlier than that. I led the Students Say Yes campaign in 1997, when, I have to remind my son, I was genuinely young and had hardly any silver on the roof. He doesn't always believe that. I was there in the Park Hotel on that night of the referendum result, when many of us had thought that we had lost before Carmarthenshire came through to deliver for the country. It has been my privilege—

it's a privilege—

—to serve as an AM, now as an MS, as a Deputy Minister, a Cabinet Minister, and now as First Minister.

And look at what we have achieved together in the first 25 years of devolution. The Senedd has led the way on sustainability. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 was a world first, as was the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, and we led the UK in charging for carrier bags. Significantly, Wales is a world leader in recycling thanks to legislation made here, funding to improve recycling services, encouraging greater recycling, and a range of other measures, including the promotion of a circular economy. It's a fact that people in Wales now expect to see recycling when they move to other parts of the world, and even simply across Offa's Dyke, and are regularly surprised at the fact that we are further ahead on a range of simple measures.

As a Government, we have prioritised our children and their future. We have incorporated the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, abolished the right to hurt children to discipline them, made roads safer for children by lowering speeds in built-up areas, and enhanced the safety of learner travel. We established and are delivering a new Curriculum for Wales, and have the biggest school-building investment in Welsh schools since the 1960s. By this year, all primary school children in Wales will be able to receive free school meals, finally eliminating the stigma around claiming. And our Flying Start scheme, in contrast to reductions in Sure Start in England, continues to grow; it provides additional support in our most deprived areas and provides fully funded, quality childcare to more two-year-olds every year.

Our heritage of heavy industry is reflected in the health of our citizens. Devolution has meant we could take radical steps to help, including universal free prescriptions, the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013, and legislation to secure minimum staffing levels for nurses—legislation that was developed with a backbencher and a Minister who was committed to delivering change.

Devolution meant that we were able to take public health measures during the pandemic that were tailored to the needs of the people of Wales, whilst working with the other nations of the UK on other measures, such as the vaccination programme. It is a mark of pride for all of us, I believe, that Wales's vaccination programme was the quickest across the UK. Devolution has meant that we have been able to resist the market forces approach to public services that the UK Government has favoured, particularly in our NHS and education.

On jobs, we've invested with ambition and in partnership with businesses. Now, new and exciting strengths are firmly part of the Welsh brand. From the explosion of the tv and film industry, to becoming a world leader in semiconductors and renewables, there are exciting opportunities that we have helped to create, and we will continue to back. And we will go on backing Welsh steel and the brilliant workers who make it. I look forward to talks with unions and Tata, both here in Wales and in Mumbai later this week.

It is an under-reported fact that, in the devolution era, we have reversed the unemployment gap between Wales and the UK average. Wales was once stubbornly above the UK rate, whereas now unemployment in Wales is far more likely to be found below that average—a significant change thanks to sustained policy and investment based on decisions taken here.

Working with businesses, we've also established a bespoke service, funding and advice based on the needs of our economy. Business Wales and the Development Bank of Wales are highly regarded economic institutions that support the growth of Welsh jobs and businesses. They were also crucial to the pandemic response, and only exist because of devolution.

We as a Senedd have taken significant action to advance the interests of the people of Wales and bring greater justice and equality to our communities. We have made laws on housing to promote better quality accommodation and more secure tenancies. The Agriculture (Wales) Act 2023 and the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017 were shaped by the impact that work has on an individual's well-being.

We have promoted the proud history and heritage of Wales, our culture and our language. We are a proudly bilingual nation; we've seen an increase in Welsh-medium education, along with free Welsh lessons for 16-to-25-year-olds. Our Senedd has also resurrected Welsh as a language of law and Government.

Recognising our new fiscal responsibilities, we made the first Welsh tax legislation for 800 years with the land transaction tax and the landfill disposals tax. Devolution permitted the creation of the Welsh Revenue Authority, which was Wales's first non-ministerial Government department. They have developed a distinctive approach to collecting and managing our devolved taxes that is highly regarded within and outside Wales.

While we've been doing all of these things, and so much more, we have a uniquely Welsh way of doing politics. What distinguishes this place, more often than not, is how we seek to resolve political differences. We seek to find a consensus and are willing to compromise in the interests of the people that we serve, the citizens of Wales.

It has been 25 years and, of course, we are still here. But the question for me now is: beth nesa? The report of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales is a wake-up call of the fragility of devolution as we know it. It highlights the opportunity costs of doing nothing to actively improve democracy and civic engagement in Wales. We have real challenges before us, and we cannot ever be complacent about our ability to achieve more for Wales. A better future for Wales needs us to take action and continue the devolution journey.

Back in 1997 I did not believe that I could become the First Minister in the body that I campaigned to establish. I have no idea who may be standing in this place as First Minister in another 25 years, but I know for certain that someone will be, and that is thanks to the efforts of many in this Chamber, our predecessors, and of course thanks to the deeper and stronger support of the people of Wales for our democracy. That, ultimately, is testament to the success of devolution here in Wales.

That is the success of devolution in Wales.

15:15

I thank the First Minister for his statement his afternoon. His comments about Rhodri Morgan, in fairness, always remind me of when I was here as a Member first in 2007, and the ability of Rhodri Morgan to turn the argument and win over the Chamber, but also to give the sporting analogies that he was so renowned for. I well remember one analogy, which wasn't sporting but about the previous Chamber, of how he had Helen Mary in his vision with the pillar in the middle of it, and he wasn't sure whether it was 'Helen' or 'Mary' he was speaking to, he referred to then. That was the infrastructure that the first Assembly was dealing with in the day back in 1999 when it came into being.

As someone who wasn't involved in politics at that time, I can remember coming in on a rural affairs issue with the National Farmers Union and sitting in one of the committee rooms, and in those days people actually used to turn up and view the committee proceedings and there was an audience there to take part in that meeting. It baffled me how Ministers were sitting on those committees, and ultimately the way the consensus could be arrived at, having been someone who had looked at the way Westminster undertook its politics. And I appreciate that this institution, over the last 25 years, has deliberately tried to distance itself over the way it does its business, and rightly so, because it is a distinct institution. But, that said, from 2007, when the changes came into place and the real politics came into being of the distinction between the Government and the legislature, that really moved the argument on about the permanency, I would suggest, of this Parliament, because we are a Parliament now, with, as we all understand, full legislative, tax-raising and executive authorities, and, in particular, the way that the Silk commission drafted out two Welsh Acts that actually transferred a huge amount of new responsibilities to the Senedd and, by extension, to the Welsh Government, and the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister at that time coming and making the St David's Day declaration upstairs about that transfer of responsibility. In my small way, I was very pleased to play an active part in that, with the discussions of all the other party leaders at the time, in reaching the consensus. Some of it, we couldn't reach a consensus on, but it really did transform the ability of this Parliament to function for the benefit of the people of Wales.

And I take aim at some people in my own party and on the right of Welsh politics when they argue that the Welsh Parliament should be done away with. Are people seriously saying that Wales is a country, in the twenty-first century, in a United Kingdom where you have a Scottish Parliament, a Northern Ireland Assembly and mayoral elections across the whole of England—that Wales should do away with its Parliament? I don't agree with that, and I will argue every time with anyone who says that Wales should put its Parliament to one side and go back to a 1950s, 1960s model of Government. That's not the modern Wales we want to see. But I also disagree with the trajectory that people say that this is an inevitable route to independence for Wales from the United Kingdom. Actually, the Parliament and the Government should focus relentlessly on the powers it has and the way that it can improve people's lives. The First Minister's statement was notable by the absence about the three big beasts in the room—the economy, health and education—in particular when you look at the aspirations of previous Labour Governments and Senedd Governments about improving the Programme for International Student Assessment rankings, for example, that benchmark us internationally. Now, there are no targets to aim for by this current Government. The gross value added figures that Rhodri Morgan, when he was First Minister, set on meeting the UK average in a time frame—there are now no targets for that to happen, and regrettably over the 25 years we have not managed to close that gap. And when it comes to health, regrettably, we have some of the longest waiting lists of any part of the United Kingdom, with so many people on a waiting list—600,000 people—and 752,000 procedures waited for in the Welsh NHS. And I noticed that that wasn't in the Government's social media output this morning.

The First Minister is right to point to where, on recycling rates, for example, the Government have been successful, and on trying to make improvements in the fabric of Wales that we are so proud of. But it is a fact that, regrettably, when it comes to poverty—deep-seated poverty, child poverty—the Welsh Government has failed by its own targets, and actually dropped those targets to hit the elimination of child poverty by 2020. And I know what the response will come back as: it was all the UK Government's fault. But the reality is you have had the powers, the levers and the ability to make some real improvements in those deep-seated problems, and, as a Government, you have failed to do that.

But I am optimistic about the future, about what this Parliament can achieve in the next 25 years. I am someone, as I said, who was disengaged from the process back in 1997, and really did not show much interest in that referendum or the formation of the Welsh Assembly as was. I have to say it's one of the proudest moments of my life when I walked into this Chamber to swear my oath of allegiance. I didn't see the 'Heart of Wales' glass thing in the middle there at the time. And Claire Clancy, the clerk of the Senedd, was on the other side of it, and I came in that door and I walked straight across it. And every day I look at it and I wonder whether some of those cracks in the mosaic were caused by a bit of Welsh beef walking across it. [Laughter.] I don't think I did; I think it's just time has done that. But I can remember Claire Clancy's face on the other side there, just in complete horror.

I thought I'd end on that sort of aside, but there is a lot of work to do and the big job of work is to get the people of Wales really engaged as to what we can do as a Parliament and what you can do as a Government, and if I can end on this, First Minister, the turnout at Welsh Senedd and parliamentary elections is not where any of us want to see it at. We need to make sure that we engage fully with the electorate of Wales so that they know that this Welsh Parliament is the Parliament that can make that difference, and I hope that, irrespective of our politics, whether it's the nationalist benches, whether it's the Labour benches or the Conservative benches, we can agree on one thing: that the legitimacy of this Parliament will grow in the years to come if we can get a greater proportion of the electorate to come and vote at Senedd elections.

15:20

I thank the Member for his comments. There might have been some questions in there. What I'll try to do is I'll deal with the points of disagreement first, and try to finish on points of agreement.

On disagreement, I mentioned a whole range of areas, including the economy, health and education, and a range of the steps that we had taken, steps we've only been able to take because of devolution. There is more to say about the reality of what has happened to our budgets and outcomes in key public services like health and education. There's an undeniable and indivisible link between our resources and what we can then achieve, together with rising demand. You're going to hear, for example, from the Cabinet Secretary for Education about her priorities, and you can expect to hear a relentless focus on how we raise standards and the key importance of education in the life of the nation, as well as a child or young person, and that goes hand in hand with the focus that I want us to have on the first 1,000 days in a child's life. So, you can expect to hear more of that in the future. You can't go through a telephone directory of every area in a statement, and I think I tried everyone's patience with the length of the statement as it was.

When it comes to the economy, the undeniable truth is not just the fact that I mentioned DBW and Business Wales—specific Welsh creations that have helped to support businesses of all shapes and sizes across our economy—but we do have challenges in our economic performance. We want to see further progress made on productivity. That means investing in the skills of the workforce. We want to see further progress made in getting people into work and not being economically inactive. Those are often deep-rooted problems. I believe part of the future journey for devolution could be how we can take more control over the administration of benefits, to properly join up what we are able to do with the way that currently that DWP and Jobcentre Plus work. I think that is a reform that would have real practical, positive changes that we could make to better support people into the world of work, to have the dignity of earning an income, and, crucially, an income that people can live on.

That brings me to your point around child poverty: there are more children now growing up in poverty with a working adult in their household than ever before. That is both because our economy has not kept pace right across the UK, and we see yet another report in the last few days about the fact that the UK economy is likely to have the slowest rate of growth of any of the most developed nations in the world; that is huge challenge for us, as well as the rest of the UK—. On top of that, there have been deliberate choices made on benefits for families with children. Every independent assessment has shown that those choices drive more children into poverty. That's not an argument; it's a fact. It's a reality of the choices that have been made by a UK Government. We will of course disagree over whether those were the right things to do, whether they achieved their purpose or not, what, in fact, their ultimate purpose was at the outset. That is part of the business of politics, and, in this place, we have got used to arguing about choices made in other parts of the UK that directly affect our responsibility, as well as how we conduct our own.

And that, if you like, brings me back to what, I hope, are more points of some disagreement, but I hope some agreement as well. I know the Member is saying that he doesn't want to see further powers for this place. That is a comment, I believe, on the fact that he doesn't support the current Government elected by the people of Wales. He's entitled to that. That's what democracy is all about. I believe our journey is unfinished. As I said on the administration of benefits, I think there's more to go. I want to see more powers on the Crown Estate. I want to see a different deal on the future of rail. But that has to come with funding. I am not at all interested in having responsibilities transferred without the resource to do so, and we saw that in the council tax scheme, where council tax benefits were devolved to Wales with a 10 per cent budget cut. That is exactly what should not happen with devolution. I believe, on the powers we exercise here, Members should be able to hold us properly to account. I look forward to the devolution journey recovering some of the ground we've lost with the return of the former European funding and powers that have been consistently exercised in this place for nearly a quarter of a century until a UK Government chose to remove them from us.

On the points of agreement, though, we will continue to disagree, as we should do—different parties and different traditions. There may be times we find agreement, but, when it comes to this institution, you should not take the position that if you disagree with the Government of the day, if you don't like the fact that Welsh Labour has been part of the administration of the Government through all those 25 years, never with a majority, always having to work with people in other parties to pass budgets and legislation—. You don't call for the abolition of the institution, not if you're a democrat. Two referenda have created this place as it is today and more. You wouldn't abolish the House of Commons and the House of Lords if you simply didn't agree with the way Liz Truss ran the country. The call, for people that disagreed with what she wanted to do, or the current Prime Minister, or the one before them, was to have an election, to ask the people to decide in an election. That is what I believe we should do where we disagree: to hold each other to account, not to undermine the institution, but to have our differences determined by the people that it is our privilege to serve.

On that, I do agree with the Member that we need to do more when it comes to turnout. I would like to see many more people making choices about who sits in this place and, in particular, as I hope tomorrow we'll agree that we'll have more people sitting in this place, making choices for the people of Wales. I believe it strengthens our democracy, as, indeed, does the leader of the Welsh Conservatives group, when more people take part in our elections. I want to think about how we do that and how we find agreement on how we do that. I hope that, on the future reforms that the Counsel General will bring to this place, where we'll look at how we register people, how we make it easier to vote, that we'll actually find a way to do just that. It's our job to persuade people which party they should support, but I'd like more people to take part, otherwise someone else is making your choice for you, and don't be surprised if it doesn't mean that those choices actually meet your own interests or how you view the country.

Finally, I really do welcome what the Member had to say about the permanency of our Parliament. In his own party there are a number of people first elected to this place who had actively campaigned against its creation and who were very, very upfront about the fact that they wanted it to disappear. I think it's been a positive change for the whole institution that the Welsh Conservatives have actually reached a very different position now. It's about the continuing democratic struggle for whether you are in this place or whether someone else is, and that is all about the permanency of our Parliament and our Government, and who the people choose to undertake the privilege of leading and representing the country.

15:30

Thank you to the First Minister for this afternoon's statement. I wanted to start by saying that each and every one of us in this place have our memories about the birth of the National Assembly, until I remembered that Luke Fletcher was just three years of age when this Senedd opened its doors for the very first time. But the fact that someone who was a very young child—almost a baby at that time—is now a Member of our national Parliament speaks volumes about how far we've come and how many years have passed, and I'm sure it makes the Llywydd feel very old sitting in her chair there. [Laughter.] But I do have my own memories, certainly. I was here on that very first day in 1999, not as a Member of the Senedd—and it's the great privilege of my life to be here as a Member of the Senedd—but as a journalist and a news correspondent. As a Welshman, I was so proud that we had taken that first step, but, professionally speaking, it was a time when we had a blank page before us, and that's what the institution itself had too: a blank page or a blank canvas, where we could build the future of the nation. 

Llywydd, things don't always fit conveniently into place in politics, but there is something very symbolic and very powerful in the fact that we are celebrating a quarter of a century in the same week as we vote on plans to strengthen this Senedd for the next quarter of a century and beyond. So, yes, we do celebrate, but perhaps it's more accurate to say that we are reflecting and weighing up the past 25 years. What devolution did was to provide a new pathway for us. It created new potential, if you like, new opportunities for Wales to do things differently, and to do things better in so many different ways. And we have done things better. A great deal has been achieved through co-operation, and that was a large part of that politics and what the politics offered us. And I include everyone in the Chamber—every party—in that co-operation and collaboration in various ways, and I very much welcome the comments made by the leader of the Conservatives—those positive comments—on the future of devolution, and the importance of having our own national Parliament. 

But if we are to create a stronger, more accountable and more effective democracy for the future, then we do have to recognise the opportunities missed too, and we've seen those in those areas where we hold the Labour Government to account on a weekly basis: the crisis in the health service; the lack of imagination in trying to regenerate our post-industrial areas; the fall in standards in our schools; and the child poverty, which is still so prominent in all corners of our nation. 

We should celebrate, I think, this twenty-fifth anniversary with a gear shift, a shift in scrutiny that is enabled through the reform legislation that we'll be voting on tomorrow, but a governmental gear shift too. We need a Government that, instead of reacting to crises, shifts to more innovation in the delivery of public services, to creating a distinct and resilient economy, where devolution is a real buffer against the headwinds of Westminster and beyond, and on strengthening our own hand as an institution.

Plaid Cymru's been clear on how we see the way forward: a standing national commission should take responsibility for implementing and building on the work of the recent independent commission's recommendations, encouraging public involvement as much as possible in furthering the processes of constitutional change. The Welsh Government itself has a duty to prepare for and lead on further processes of constitutional change, not to step in line with the Gordon Brown convention, or any other Westminster body concocted with a view to keeping the Celtic nations quiet, I should say, but rather to carve a distinct path for Wales. And I encourage the current Government to do so. 

Twenty-five years on from when our Senedd was created, it's being reimagined now. And the onus is now on the First Minister to ensure that his Government's ambitions meet those of the people of Wales for the next quarter of a century and beyond. As the Wales Governance Centre pointed out this week, all available data shows a majority shift towards wanting more powers, with support for independence almost tripling since 1999.

Now, although understanding of this place and its work has increased, and, with that, the support for further powers to Wales, we must guard against thinking that we don't need to continue to withstand those forces that would want to see our Parliament disappearing entirely. And I'm pleased to hear unity in this Chamber on that issue this afternoon. Rather, let us ensure that the next 25 years focus on proving the true value of devolution, by tackling those challenges—the economic challenges, health, education, child poverty—and on strengthening our democracy in a way that works for all the people of Wales.

15:35

I couldn't detect many questions in the contribution, but I will respond to two points that I think are worth considering. The first goes back to one of the points that was made by the leader of the Welsh Conservative group, and that was, where there are disagreements on the performance of public services and the economy. And you should, of course, expect those to be debated in the Chamber of our national Parliament, and for there to be disagreement on how well the Government is doing with the tools we have, whether we should have different tools at our disposal or not. I think it's important though to reflect that, previously, there would have been a Secretary of State for Wales and two or three Ministers undertaking all of those functions. And the opportunity for debate, discussion and difference, or indeed proposals for alternatives, whether we agree with them or not from a Government side, that simply didn't have the focus that I think we do now have. It's part of the reason why I was proud to campaign for devolution as a student, to want more opportunity for that to happen.

And it goes into the second point around—. I belive that devolution really has given a real platform for greater confidence and a greater profile for Wales on a much wider platform. In his contribution, the leader of Plaid Cymru suggested that there would be something that could be concocted in devolution to try to keep the Celtic nations quiet. Devolution was about giving Celtic nations a bigger platform, to be confident about the democracy that we were creating, and the ability to do better for our people and our country. That's why I supported devolution, why I campaigned for it, why I'm proud to be here in this Chamber. Far from keeping Celtic nations quiet, devolution has given us a bigger platform within Wales, within the UK, and the wider world.

You see that in the way that Wales is viewed and covered. Every time now there is a change in this Government, you expect to see coverage, not just in Wales, but in other parts of the world too. That is a strength that is recognised in other parts of the world. And that shouldn't surprise us, because, actually, other nations in the world, nation states, recognise the sharing of power on different levels. In some, there are national bodies that exercise that power—the Basque nation in Spain is different to other parts of Spain. But they recognise there are different responsibilities for different levels of Government. Whether it's Germany, the states in America or Canada, there are different levels at which different choices are made.

I believe our journey is not complete. I believe devolution has more to go. And I'll be proud to carry on making the argument for that, and prouder still to see the voice of Wales continue to strengthen, within Wales, within the UK, and the wider world, where we are already noticed. And I believe there is much more for us to do to gain respect, investment and partnership for our future.

It's a great privilege, on behalf of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, to be able to make a very brief statement on this very auspicious occasion. Throughout the 25 years of the Senedd, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have had representation here, and it is important that we mention those that we've lost: two very loyal and committed public servants from the Welsh Liberal Democrats, in Mick Bates and Aled Roberts. And I'm sure we all remember those with thanks.

I also was in touch with Kirsty Williams, who was in the class of 1999, in order to get her reflections on what I should say. She said that it was a time of great excitement and hope, that she was proud to be the first female leader of a party in the Senedd, and that she enjoyed First Minister's questions, 'Although, when the shoe was on the other foot, I wish I'd been a bit nicer.' We also remember that Kirsty was the only MS who has been successful, so far, in taking a private Members' Bill through the Senedd, in the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016. Another great Senedd achievement. I've only been here three years, but I'm proud to be part of this Senedd, part of a Senedd that has passed the clean air Act, a new agricultural Act, and we're about to pass the Senedd reform Bill, which will revolutionise our democracy (although not as well as it could).

I just wanted to finish, if I may, with a very personal note. My mam—many of you, perhaps, have heard before—was part of the stakeholder group that helped in the development of the Cynulliad, the Assembly, as it was. She wasn't a politician at all; she was a community agitator. And that's where, I think, we should be going back to: listening to those community agitators, making sure that we involve everybody across Wales, whether we are from a rural or an urban area, whether we are from the north, mid or south of this country, whatever our background, whatever our faith, whatever our belief. We have an awesome opportunity to continue to change Wales, to make it more radical, progressive, surprising and inspiring, but we do need to get back to listening to our community members. Let's not hold back for the next 25 years. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd.  

15:40

Well, thank you very much for the contribution from Jane Dodds, and, indeed, the National Assembly advisory group, back in the days, in creating a democracy and understanding what we could do with a blank canvas, which was a point that Rhun ap Iorwerth made. And I do believe that we have created many things that we can say are an improvement on other democracies within the UK. People often talk about the tradition of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. I have to say, whilst that's great, I think some of them don't make any sense and shouldn't exist anymore. I hope that in our first 25 years, we have not just been able to learn where we think there is more to do to improve on what we do, but in our next 25 years, we won't simply appeal to, 'This is the way things have always been done', if, actually, we could do better in the way we run our business and serve our communities. 

I should say, I knew Mick Bates as a researcher. I knew Aled Roberts. I should confess that myself and the Counsel General, when Aled Roberts was elected, we tried to make the case that he shouldn't be here. The disqualification Order was an interesting debate at the time, and yet, actually, when I got to know Aled, as a Member here, I had great respect for him. I didn't always agree with him, but I thought he was highly capable, and he was someone who you could not just have a conversation with, but, actually, you could share a confidence with, confident that it would not be broken, and I hope that is something for all of us to reflect on in how we do our business. We do need to be able to trust each other, to share confidences, and then to make better choices. And I hope that would also be part of your point around not wanting to set different parts of the country against each other. There is far too much division in our world as we see it, and I believe we can still be an example of what better politics looks like.

I want us to set out to be a listening Government. Not everyone will agree with all the choices we make, but that comes from being in Government, which is something that Kirsty learnt by direct experience, and she said the same thing herself. I remember her saying, 'I just wish I hadn't been so awful to everyone else when I was sat there.' But I thought Kirsty was a very good colleague in the Government, and I hope that she is well. I should just gently point out, that whilst I was proud to mention the nurse staffing legislation in my opening contribution, I will have significant problems for the rest of my days if I don't point out that someone called Ann Jones also helped to pass legislation on sprinklers for house safety. And again, that is part of our journey: a small piece of legislation that I believe has made a big difference. 

Thank you, Prif Weinidog, for this important statement today. As we look back over the past 25 years, it should be a matter of pride to all of us that our Senedd has not only endured, but has matured during that time. It's not always been an easy journey, but we all owe a debt of gratitude to those Members who came before us and worked so hard to establish the confident, outward-looking Parliament that we sit in today.

I am honoured to chair the Welsh Labour group and to be able to note that successive Welsh Labour groups have sought to make good on our early commitments to give Wales a voice and to work hard for Wales. Whether it's being the first Parliament to declare a climate emergency and legislate for future generations or our opt-out organ donation system and the UK's first children's commissioner, the actions we've taken in this Siambr have led the way in the UK and the wider world. Do you agree with me, First Minister, that, as we look to the Senedd's next 25 years, we should take confidence from that journey as we set out our plans to build a positive future for Wales?

15:45

Thank you. I think, given the list of all the things that we have done, it's a pleasure to reflect that those are things that we have all done. As I said, my party has never had a majority. We've never been in a position on our own to make choices on a single basis; we've always had to work with other people.

Take, for example, the organ donation legislation, introducing a soft opt-out system. It started when Lesley Griffiths was the health Minister. Work was done between parties, and it was a challenging time, actually. There were different stakeholders who were concerned about the legislation—that it would take away the gift of life that donation represented. Actually, we worked together on winning round, working on arguments, and then having a system that could be workable as well. I chaired some of the end of the committee when that came through. Mark Drakeford was the health Minister when it was finally passed. Then, as the health Minister, I was overseeing the implementation of that system. We can be confident that, with that legislation, more people's lives have been saved as a result. It's also helped us with the conversation about the end of someone's life and about the fact that they can still help the living in a different way. I certainly remember in my house it led to a conversation about what we wanted to do, to make sure that we knew each other's wishes and that they were recorded, and to support people in making that choice.

It is part of, as Vikki Howells has said, not just that this institution has endured, but matured. There's a personal reflection here, of course, because I am 25 plus 25 myself, and I do know that, in your first 25 years of life, you acquire a great deal of knowledge about who you are and the world around you. But I can certainly say, looking back on my current perspective, that I learnt even more in the next 25 years about the choices that I could make and why. I hope this place, in another 25 years, will reflect on not just what we did in our first 25 years but about the fact that we've done even more to make Wales a better place. The debates will be lively and at times difficult, but still taking place here in our national Parliament, for a future that we can all be proud of.

I knew I shouldn't have answered that question this morning about how old I was when the first Senedd elections happened. He's stolen my grand reveal. [Laughter.]

An important point has been made. For my generation, there's nothing radical about this place—we've grown up with it. We've never known a world before the Senedd. School trips to the Senedd and not Westminster were the norm, and it's still the norm today for a number of children in Wales.

The fact that this is the case, the fact that this is the reality, means that the dreams of so many have been realised, to an extent. I would pay tribute to all those who came before us, those who campaigned in 1979 and 1999 to get this place here. But, of course, 25 years on, where are we at? There's no denying that we have a massively underpowered Senedd. While Senedd reform is a step to empowering this place, we need to go further. We've had achievements listed, we've seen those achievements listed—I'd also add, by the way, the retention of the education maintenance allowance to that list, something that I benefited from when I grew up—but we still have issues with poverty, we still have issues with the economy. The promise to my generation was a Government that would deliver on improving things. So, that has to be the next 25 years, doesn't it, First Minister? Delivering on things for not just my generation, but generations afterwards. So, yes, of course, let's celebrate today, but also let's look ahead to where we go from here. After all, it is a process, one that I hope will lead one day to a brave Wales that makes decisions independently.

Thank you for the comments. I think it's really helpful to be reminded that there is an expanding group of citizens in our country who've only ever known the Senedd to be part of the way choices are made. I've made a comment about this before: we don't have to unlearn the way things were done previously, but only know how we make choices now. I hope that leads to a greater engagement and greater voice and choice in what this Parliament does. I think that is a strength. I note the Counsel General isn't here, and that's probably a good thing, because Mick Antoniw was the president of NUS Wales in 1979 and there are times that I think bore other people, when Mick and I swap stories about what happened when we were student presidents. I was the president of NUS Wales in 1997, when we won the referendum to create this place. But it is the point about history moving on. And on your point around future generations, that is about all of us in those future generations: people who have seen the creation of the Senedd during their adult lifetime, people who are here and looking to retire in Wales, coming to the end of their working life or are already retired and thinking about what will the Senedd do for them, for their families and their futures, as well as those people yet to be born who we are making choices for today. 

I know that there will always be, as I said, legitimate criticism of what the Government has done, but I believe that we have much to be proud of, not just in the legislation but in the choices that successive Governments have made to make Wales a better place. I will never take a backward step in defending and promoting what we have chosen to do. I want us to be able to do more. In Government, you hardly ever make a perfect choice, because the money and the time you spend on one area of life in Government you can't spend somewhere else. It is always about the priorities we have, but they're priorities that we have to return to people in Wales to renew our mandate and to renew trust. And that, I think, is a really precious thing that we have managed to create in devolution and to safeguard for our future. I look forward to whether people want to take that step on the devolution journey, or indeed the end point that I understand Plaid Cymru Members want to see, and that is a debate that people will ultimately decide here in Wales. 

15:50

I am privileged to be one of the four current Members who were Members of the then Assembly back in 1999, along with you, of course, Llywydd, Jane Hutt and Lynne Neagle. I can certainly testify to the limitations of the original debating Chamber, where we did indeed have pillars in the way, and we had Members trying to intervene on other Members in a debate but not being seen and not being able to see those other Members. And, yes, we did only deal with some, at times fairly tedious, secondary legislation. 

Llywydd, a few years after devolution, a few years after 1999, I was in Edinburgh, travelling to the Scottish Parliament in a taxi, and I took the opportunity to ask the taxi driver what he made of devolution up to that point in Scotland. At the time, the media there was full of stories about the ever-escalating cost of the new Scottish Parliament building, so I really expected a sort of Rab C. Nesbitt-type rant, if I'm honest. But what he actually told me was, 'Oh, it's far too early for me to give a considered opinion. Come back and ask me in about 20 years' time', which slightly surprised me. But here we are now, over 20 years on from that point, and here in Wales, if we face up to that question, there is always room for considerable improvement, but we can say that we've set up, we've established, we've built devolution over that period of time, and we're now a Senedd, a Parliament for Wales. I do think of all those generations in that campaign for a parliament for Wales, who campaigned so passionately and strongly, and just reflect on what they would make of it, many of them not still with us, to see just how far we have come. And we're here today, in this building, able to deal with a great width and depth of responsibility in our country for our own people. And that really is quite something, isn't it?

I also think we ought to mention Ron Davies. He's always referred to, isn't he, as one of the architects of devolution, and indeed he is. Luke was talking about it being a process, and we always remember that famous phrase about it being a process, not an event. In that light, First Minister, I think we just look forward now to new constitutional arrangements, perhaps, which we might arrive at before too long—taking forward the Senedd reform legislation to further build our democracy, our precious still quite new and young democracy here in Wales. But also, at a UK level, how we might look at new constitutional arrangements, recognising the new devolved reality, which we've also referred to here today, right across the UK. As part of that, we need to entrench and further develop our lovely, wonderful new democracy here in Wales to make sure that future generations will enjoy the fruits of these developments and all the hard work that has delivered them. I'm sure, First Minister, that you would want to play a part in that debate about those new, I think, badly needed constitutional arrangements, recognising the new reality of the devolved UK.

15:55

I thank the Member for his comments and recognise one of the four originals who are still with us and have spoken in the debate. I think, when you consider where we were and how slim the margin was, lots of people were not confident that we would be here in 25 years' time, never mind in a new building, in an institution that, I believe, we will vote for an expansion of tomorrow. That in itself is a success story. The challenge is not just that we have deepened and strengthened the attachment of people in Wales to devolution, but where we see a process with an end point, the different events along the way and what that should look like.

As I said, I believe that there is more to go on the journey of devolution and I've already set out a number of areas where I think we should have a different sharing of power. We should take confidence from the fact that in other parts of the world, they have successful states with a clear understanding of a sharing of power between different levels of government. Here in Britain, we have nations within the state. So, having devolution in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland I believe was natural. I actually think that the debate on mayoralties in England is good for us as well; I think it makes it logically incoherent to argue that mayors can have powers that a successful national parliament and national government cannot. I think that strengthens our hand in the debate that we should have. 

And for me, I disagree with Plaid Cymru Members on where the end point should be. I think devolution has been good for Wales and also good for Britain. I think we will have a modernised system of governance that will strengthen who we are within Wales, all the things we are proud of, and the strength I want us to carry on drawing from the wider family of nations that we have. And I think this place is where we will carry on making that case for the future.

First Minister, you mentioned some of the important achievements that we have had in the last 25 years, and for me, a personal favourite is certainly universal free school meals. But you and other speakers also referenced areas where you could say we have so far underachieved. Particularly in thinking about the future and the health of our democracy, I think the failure to achieve more than 50 per cent turnout in any of the elections since the creation of the institution is a problem that we have to solve, isn't it? Because the longer that continues, the more it will erode the legitimacy but also the effectiveness of this institution.

One of the, I think, best evidenced solutions to this—and, indeed, I'm not alone in that, as your predecessor made this very point this morning—when we look around the world would be for Wales to join those large number of countries that have a system based around the universal civic duty to vote—mandatory voting. Imagine going from a sub-50 per cent participation democracy to a 90-plus per cent participation democracy and the effect that that would have. You've supported this before. Is that still your view, First Minister? Now that you are First Minister, what practical steps can we take in turning this from an idea, a proposal, into a practical implementation plan for the 2030 election—leading a debate first of all, commissioning the objective research and starting the path towards becoming a more universal democracy?

I thank the Member for the comment and the question. I do have a disagreement with the way he framed the start. I don't think that the voter turnout here undermines the legitimacy of the institution. I think if you look, for example, at local authorities, with often very low turnouts, no-one then says that the council can't undertake its functions in making quite significant choices for the population that they serve. And when we look at newer institutions like the mayor of London, despite all of the UK-wide media attention on the London mayoralty, actually, turnout was just a bit over 40 per cent in the last election. So, I don't think that you have a direct link between legitimacy and turnout, but I do believe it would strengthen our cause and the choices we make if more of our people made an active choice at an election. 

The Member kindly referred to the fact that I have gone on record in the past saying that I, personally, am a supporter of compulsory voting. I believe it is a civic duty that all of us should undertake, as long as the caveat is that any voter can have a box where they choose to vote for 'none of the above candidates'. I am speaking personally, as opposed to as the head of the Government—I know I'm answering this as the First Minister—but that's because other people have different views. We don't have a fixed position within the Welsh Government. But I've recently met a delegation from the Australian Labor Party. I don't believe Australians feel any less free, or any less capable of having a view on any aspect of life in their country, because they have a required civic obligation to vote in elections.

The challenge is, if you want to get to them, how you shift the culture, winning a debate that isn't, somehow, the government controlling aspects of your life where it's not entitled to be there, and how you persuade people, 'I think there are people worth voting for', as individuals or as political parties. I think the road to getting there is, actually, about the reforms that we will take within the powers that we have, with the legislation that I referred to earlier that the Counsel General is bringing forward. There'll be reforms in that about automatic voter registration. I believe that that will be a significant strength; it'll mean that people's ability to vote is there and is protected. It'll also, I think, shift some of our understanding of populations in different parts of the country—give us more accuracy in where people are. It may even help us with the size of the constituencies in Wales and beyond. And if that is successful, as with so much of what we have already done in the first 25 years of devolution, I believe that other parts of the UK will look on and copy what we have done.

The experiment in democracy is not just the creation of the institution—it's looking at the innovation that we have piloted and shown can be successful. And other parts of the UK aren't always entirely clear that they're following a model created in Wales when they do so, but they do often end up following what we have done here. I think it's part of that journey to think about the pilots we have and about how we increase turnout and engagement, not just at election time.

I would want to give more thought as to whether our powers allow us to pilot compulsory voting or not, and then, of course, the political question that comes back to why we have this place: is compulsory voting within the top 20 priorities of any Welsh Government to take action on and to legislate for, with the number of Bills we have, or are there other things there is a much greater imperative for us to spend our limited political capital and time on achieving?

We have a huge legislative programme within this Senedd term. We won't pass 20 individual Acts of the Senedd. So, thinking about where and how this would be a priority is important for us, and for the future, but I look forward to the reforms we are going to take, I believe, in this place, and I hope on a cross-party basis, to expand the Senedd, change the way that people are able to register and, within the powers we currently have, how they can vote, and then we may well return to the point on compulsory voting in the future.

16:00

Twenty-five years is certainly something that we should mark, and I'm sure we would all reflect on the policies that we believe have made a difference. For me, one of the things that I haven't heard mentioned yet is free access to museums. Wales was the first nation on these islands to introduce that, eight months before England, thanks to Jenny Randerson, who was the then Minister. It was a huge success; within a year, we saw an increase of 88 per cent in those accessing our national collections, going from 764,599 to 1.4 million, which is incredible, and that figure has continued to increase.

So, can I ask you, First Minister, for your reflections on that policy and its importance since 2001? Also, are you committed to the continuation of this policy, as long as there is a Labour Government with you as its First Minister? I'd also like to ask a question that I'm often asked by young people who come to this Senedd: why do we always blame Westminster for things, saying that we don't have the powers? Why don't we insist on more powers for Wales? So, can I also have your reflections in terms of what further powers you would like to see devolved to this Senedd over the next 25 years?

16:05

On the path of free access to museums, I well remember 1997 and 2001, when I was genuinely young—I'm thinking about Chris Smith, who was the UK Secretary of State at that time, and the introduction of the policy and the funding for it that came, and I'm proud that Wales chose to take that step as well. It a was a choice that we made—that's one of the points here. Just because there is a policy objective in a different part of the UK, it does not mean that we have to follow. The choice is made here by this Government and by Members that hold us to account. And I believe that it has been a broadly successful policy. The challenge, though, I think has always been not just about whether you make access to museums free, but about whether practical access is undertaken on a basis that is genuinely equitable. I think about not just my constituency, but other communities that are close to here, close to where there are significant assets within our framework of national museums, and whether people are actually using that access; whether communities that could not have afforded to pay for access previously are practically taking up the opportunity—that's a wider question about what we do. It's about transport, it's also about the proactive reaching out that the national museums have done in the recent past. But when the policy was first introduced, I think we reflect that they didn't do as much as we would expect them now to do on making sure the doors are genuinely open and accessible. That is about working with schools; it is about their mission to explain what they are creating and retaining for the nation, about our history, but also about who we are today as well. I think they've been much more innovative in the last half of this past 25 years than in the first half, and that is all about a learning exercise. Because you have got a national institution here that is scrutinised—that, I believe, positively affected the way that they do their job, and I simply don't believe that would have happened without devolution and the creation of this place. I'm certainly committed to the policy, as long as we have the resources to carry on doing so. There is a cost that we invest in that policy every year, and every year our choices have got harder and harder over these last 14 years.

I note that a range of stars of the musical world have written—well, more broadly, the arts, not just music—expressing concern about the future of the Welsh National Opera, for example. I should say that I like opera—I enjoy seeing it, I listen to it when I'm working at home. But we have made choices about how to balance our budget. And if we want to put more money into that, or any other institution in the cultural sphere, Lesley Griffiths will make an argument for that, and she will know that we have to find that money from somewhere else. So, our challenge is always how we protect the point about bread and roses. The essentials of what we have, along with those things that we think will make life worth living and the experience to enjoy that you want other people to have access to and share as well, and that is the choice we are constantly making here in the Government. I hope we'll have a different settlement on powers and money in the future, to allow us to make different choices about reopening up more access and investing in our cultural institutions and a whole range of other areas of public life.

On the future of devolution and the powers we have, I believe I have already set out a number of areas. The return of the former European powers that we exercise that we use to fund a whole range of skills programmes, investment in our tourism sector and a whole range of other areas and beyond—I want those to return to where they always should have been, and were for nearly a quarter of a century. I'd like to see more powers on the Crown Estate. I'd like to see the devolution of the administration of benefits. There's a much wider conversation for us to have about what that looks like. There'll be a debate about part of that in a UK general election. We will continue to debate that here in this institution, and to put our differing views to the people of Wales in each of the Senedd elections that I believe people will take part in, and I hope in greater numbers in the future.

Diolch, Llywydd. I appreciate you giving me a minute in this statement this afternoon. While I'm not as young as Luke Fletcher, I was seven in 1999, so I remember vaguely the grainy images on BBC News and S4C of the first Assembly—not quite in black and white. [Laughter.] Not quite in black and white, but I do remember those images, and it was something that I grew up with and it was a sense of immense pride for me. Thanks to Jack Sargeant, actually—that he gave me an allocation.

My parents—both my mother and father—were in the public gallery for the royal opening of the Senedd following our election, and there was an immense sense of pride. While coming into this from the outside there are things that I would change, inevitably—I would get rid of these computers from this Chamber, I would change the timings that we sit for in this Chamber. There are things that I would do differently, but to those that criticise this place because of the Government policies, those who rightly criticise the Government, those that criticise us as opposition parties, and the way that we hold Government to account—they rightly criticise us. But don’t criticise the institution. And I will use every breath in my body to defend the right for Wales to have a Parliament here in Cardiff. I think it's of the utmost importance that we have the opportunity to look at each other eye to eye from across the Chamber to debate for those policies that we see for the future of Wales. I think that’s immensely important.

But what I would say as well, the only way that we can go about changing, and enacting the right change that we believe in, is to go out and vote. So, I really would urge those critics who are critics of this Government, or critics of us as opponents—go out and vote. It’s your democratic right to go out and vote, and it’s so very important, and I would plead with them: don’t criticise—vote.

16:10

Well, there isn't much to disagree with there. I should gently point out to the Member that he sounds a lot like the Member for Blaenau Gwent when he talks about some of the changes in this place. That may not be what his association members would like to hear when he returns to his Conservative colleagues in west Wales.

I thought it was a touch harsh to talk about grainy images from 1999. [Laughter.] There might not have been high definition television then, but it was post the black-and-white era, so there was modern colour and everything at the time. [Laughter.] 

But on your point about the future of the institution, and engagement with people, I think it’s a real positive that the point has been made by people across the political spectrum. I want people to vote, to take part, to understand the choices we are making on their behalf—to take part, including if that means disagreeing with me and supporting different people. The stronger the turnout, the stronger the democracy, and I do believe that we can build a future where we can persuade more people to take part in how these decisions are made. Whoever they choose to support, I would much rather people made a choice about who that should be, and on that at least we can certainly agree. I certainly welcome the positive contributions from both Conservative speakers today about the creation of this place and about its future. That is a definite step forward in 25 years, and one that all of us should recognise and celebrate.

I thank the First Minister.

On this statement I'm giving myself the last word. Twenty-five years ago today I was elected to that first Assembly—one of the remaining four of the much-mentioned class of '99, and all four of us are painfully reminded of our ages by the Luke Fletchers and Samuel Kurtzes of this world today. I remember parking my car that first day, 25 years ago, on this piece of land—a wasteland at that time—that now sites our Senedd. I remember it well because I was so excited I reversed into another Member's car. [Laughter.] It was a Lib Dem car. And on that car park we built a twenty-first century Senedd, a more modern and flexible Senedd than most other Parliaments, with a fairer balance of men and women politicians than most Parliaments. The first Parliament in the world, in 2003, to be perfectly gender balanced. We work in the two official languages of Wales and, like all Parliaments, we get some things right and some things wrong, and when we get things wrong, the people of Wales don’t shy away from telling us so, in protest, in petition and in person. 

And since 1999, the politicians have come and gone, each making their own personal contribution, and each leaving in turn. However, this isn't a politicians' Parliament, it's not Samuel Kurtz's Senedd or Delyth Jewell's Senedd, it's not even Jane Hutt's Senedd. It's the people's Senedd, not the 60 Members here today or the 96 Members that may be here tomorrow. It's the people of Wales who own this Senedd, and like all Parliaments in the world, some support what the Parliament does, some ignore, some protest and some participate.

It is good that we are still here, yes, but the political consensus in this Chamber here today is that we are here to stay. It's less than an hour since we started to discuss this item marking the past twenty-five years of this Senedd. An hour is more than enough to look back. We were elected to look forward, and to plan for the future, and that's what we're doing here, for the next twenty-five years, and, indeed, the next century.

16:15
4. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs: Priorities for climate change and rural affairs

We'll move on to the next item of business, and that is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary on priorities for climate change and rural affairs—Huw Irranca-Davies. 

Thank you, Llywydd. Today, I'm very pleased to outline some key priorities in my portfolio. I will be making a further oral statement on 14 May focusing on the future of farming in Wales. I will also provide timely updates on other important matters that are not in today’s statement in the future.

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

This portfolio is about shared challenges and about issues that matter to people now and which are also crucial to future generations. This means responding to the climate and nature emergencies, ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources and ensuring a sustainable future for Welsh agriculture, for forestry and fisheries and the rural communities these sectors support. We can only make progress on these issues by working together—a Welsh way of doing things, where we listen, we consider evidence and then each step forward to play our part. There are also opportunities for developing skills, for green jobs and creating an economically sustainable and a just future for Wales.

Now, there are many areas where there is agreement. I want to build from where we have consensus and to work through the knottier challenges together. We will make progress where everyone plays their part. An obvious example is in our approach to tackling climate change. Our commitment to net zero is unwavering and we are developing a refreshed approach to climate change adaptation. The response to both is embedded right across the whole Cabinet. In every major emissions sector, the relevant Cabinet Secretary is driving the actions needed to deliver the current carbon budget and to determine the actions needed to deliver carbon budget 3, towards net zero by 2050. And, crucially— crucially—delivering these in a way that is fair.

Within my own portfolio, reducing emissions from the waste sector has seen strong progress. This is the product of a clear vision, sustained investment, coupled with a robust regulatory framework and strong partnership. Our workplace recycling regulations will drive further progress and create high-quality recyclate to underpin our circular economy ambitions. With the other three UK nations, I announced the next stage of extended producer responsibility scheme and progress on a deposit-return scheme. These are important initiatives for the economy and the environment, being developed in partnership. I am committed to working positively with other Governments, as was also reflected in my recent announcement about bans on single-use vapes and wet wipes containing plastic, but we will go further and faster where we can.

Managing our natural resources sustainably is key to enhancing the resilience of our ecosystems. I am encouraged that our national peatland action programme has restored 3,000 hectares since 2020. Restoring these precious ecosystems helps to create rich habitat, stores water and secures vital carbon stores, and it creates highly skilled jobs.

Our Nature Networks programme has invested over £30 million over the last two years, with a further round planned. Trees have a vital role to play in locking up carbon from the atmosphere, producing renewable timber resources, providing habitat and shelter for crops and livestock. Of course, our ambitions for tree planting and carbon sequestration is an area where the development of shared goals with farmers and land managers is crucial.

I am grateful to everyone who responded to the consultation on the environmental governance and biodiversity targets White Paper. Ensuring environmental principles are embedded in Wales and that we have a clear framework for environmental governance and biodiversity is a key priority.

There is also important work to do in implementing legislation we have already made—for example, in tackling air pollution. Working across Government, I will be prioritising the implementation of our clean air plan and the clean air Act. I'm looking forward to chairing the next river quality summit in July. Improving water quality and water ecosystems is a longstanding interest of mine. I joined the chairs of Ofwat and Natural Resources Wales at the start of May and I saw work under way to improve the River Teifi, including work to tackle metal mine pollution. Across Wales, we have now invested £15 million since 2020, and with another £5 million planned for 2024-25.

Farming, of course, has an important role to play in improving water quality. The agricultural pollution regulations were designed to tackle the causes of agricultural pollution in Wales, to contribute to outcomes for climate change, biodiversity and human health and well-being. So, the four-year review of the regulations is now under way. I want to hear from farmers and other stakeholders about the practicality of the regulations and how they can be improved. These regulations are just one example of the way strands of this portfolio come together.

Farming is at the heart of rural communities in Wales. I want to see a successful future for Welsh farming: producing food sustainably, looking after our environment and underpinning our rural communities. Future generations will be farming in much more challenging conditions, not least because of the impacts of climate change. The sustainable farming scheme will provide support for farmers to deliver these objectives. It’s vital that we get this right by working in partnership with our farmers and our stakeholders. I will be saying more about the next steps on the scheme next week, following an analysis of the consultation.

I wanted to acknowledge the important role animals play in Welsh life. Ensuring good animal welfare and animal health are win-wins and a priority for me. The risks from infectious diseases have possibly never been greater, so adopting a one-health approach aims to secure the well-being and health of people, animals and the environment that they share. Of course, not all animal diseases are easy to control, and bovine tuberculosis is a challenge we all face. We will redouble efforts to eliminate the disease from Welsh herds, to alleviate the suffering it causes to farmers and their families, and the significant costs that it incurs.

In relation to fisheries and aquaculture, our focus remains on sustainable management, focusing on and delivery of fisheries management plans and adaptive management measures, underpinned by science and evidence and developed with stakeholders. I will make a further statement outlining my priorities for the sector in the coming months. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd.

16:20

I'd like to thank the Cabinet Secretary for an advance copy of your statement this afternoon. I'd like to welcome you to your post formally; I don't think I've had the opportunity to do that yet.

Your statement today focused a lot on collaboration and consensus and, while collaboration is emphasised, how will the Welsh Government address potential conflicts of interests between stakeholders in the sector? You and I have talked about this grand coalition of bringing people together, but how is that going to translate into concrete actions that will actually feed into the decision-making process, and how do you intend actually bringing those people together, because they are talking from completely polar opposite views of what they expect Government policy to look like?

You also mentioned, throughout the statement, effectiveness and measurement. You highlighted progress in certain areas, like the peatland restoration projects. But how is the success of those initiatives, and others like the Nature Networks programme, going to be measured in the long term? Because they are having vast amounts of public money invested into them, so I think it's vitally important for us, as a Senedd here, that we actually know how you're going to measure that and what the outcomes of those projects are going to be.

You quite rightly mentioned the sustainable farming scheme and farming in general, and all the controversy around that at the moment, and I know you're due to make a broader statement on World Farming Week, which is next week, on the fourteenth, around this. You did emphasise in that statement that you want a successful Welsh farming industry, and that's what I want, that's what you want, and I'm sure everybody around this Chamber wants that to happen, but that can only happen when you collaborate with farmers and actually work with them. Because, at the minute, farmers feel like Government are doing things to them and actually not encouraging them to change, so I think something from you, Cabinet Secretary—I think the round-tables that you've mentioned, as well, in a previous statement—is going to be welcome. But all these initiatives have to have some teeth and they have to have measurable outcomes coming out of them, that they're not just talking shops that the Government set up.

Bovine TB, which you talked about—what I'd like to know is: what progress has the Government made on that about allowing in-calf cows to stay alive on farm if they've been diagnosed with TB? Because I think that's a really important point that we need to address and flesh out, because I don't think anybody here wants to see in-calf cows being shot on farms and then cows drowning in their mothers. I don't think that's something we want to see, it's not something the industry likes to see, so I think that's something that the Government need to update us on.

You talked about fisheries and aquaculture. I'm interested to know how the Welsh Government will address potential challenges related to climate change in this sector and its impact on the fishing stocks across Welsh waters, because everybody, like I say, wants to see a thriving fishing industry here in Wales, but environmental challenges are making that more and more difficult. But you've also got plans, which you outlined. I wonder if you can elaborate on those plans to see how stakeholders from the fishing industry are involved in that and how you're monitoring progress and adapting the fisheries management plans to all the changes that are happening across that sector.

You moved on to something that I've talked to you quite a lot about recently, about the workplace recycling regulations. No-one can deny that businesses across Wales want to recycle; everybody wants to do that. I enjoy recycling; I want to make sure that everybody recycles. But it has to be done in a way that supports business, and these regulations were rolled out too quickly, without consultation of the industry. I know you'll probably say in response, 'This has been a 25-year conversation', but I've talked to waste operators across Wales who don't know what to do. You've got companies out there, pubs, hospitality, who do not have the bins yet to actually comply with these regulations. So, I think it'd be interesting to know what more work you're doing around that, because I don't think it's actually where it needs to be to enable businesses to do the recycling that they need to do.

You talked about river quality, and, as I said, that again is a huge issue facing a lot of people, especially my constituents. I must get about 40 or 50 e-mails a day in my inbox about the River Wye and the River Usk, and I'm sure regional Members who cover my part of the world get those as well. So, I want to know about the river quality summit and how is that actually going to address some of the problems that we've had, because we've had summit after summit after summit but nothing seems to be happening, Minister. We've talked about sums of money that are going to go in to help them, but I'm not actually seeing what that is delivering on the ground, so it would be very interesting to hear from you what are your plans for how this can be adapted. How can we actually improve river quality here in Wales so that this summit actually has some teeth to it and actually shows how we can improve river quality in Wales? And on the nitrate vulnerable zones and the agricultural pollution regulations, how are you actually measuring those, and how are we actually making sure that it is actually improving water quality across Wales? Because it's very good putting these things in, but, if it's not making a difference, how are Government going to adapt and change these things to make sure it actually is working?

On animal welfare, the statement highlighted that animal welfare is a win-win for both animals and humans. I'm an animal lover myself; I've got dogs and all sorts of pets and everything I've had over the years, so you won't find a greater animal lover than me, but what I'm interested in is: can you elaborate on any specific initiatives or policies that are planned by the Welsh Government to further improve animal welfare standards in Wales beyond the existing measures that are currently in place?

Finally—moving on, because I'm testing the Deputy Presiding Officer's patience—finally, with regard to net-zero targets, you're saying there are new sets of plans coming forward, but can you just explain how these are going to differ from previous strategies that the Government has had? Because I believe that the only way that you can deliver on net-zero and climate change commitments is working in collaboration with others. That's a collaboration with land managers, a collaboration with farmers and the industry to bring everybody together to deliver what Government want, because, if you're splitting everybody apart, nobody is pulling together in the right direction, so I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on that. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.

16:25

I might have missed one or two, but I'm sure James will tell me. I wrote quite a few down there.

I will be very succinct. James, first of all, thank you very much for the welcome to this post. It's an exciting portfolio, a lot of challenges, but genuinely it makes me smile getting up in the morning. It's a great portfolio, covering everything we do here. 

One of the themes that you raised in your issues was how do you manage stakeholder differences of opinion. Well, you actually meet with them and you discuss with them and you go with the evidence, and then you recognise that there will be times, James, when there will still be a different point right at the end of those discussions where we then have to make a decision, but that's what I'm here for. But what my commitment is—. And even though we have a statement coming forward next week specifically on farming, I've already announced with that that there will be a ministerial-led round-table where things can be escalated up for those hard decisions. But I think it's a lot of genuine listening, engaging and looking at the evidence, and that includes all the areas of the portfolio. You mentioned polar opposite views. I'm not convinced there are. That's one signal point. We actually have an immense amount of agreement. We can't keep painting people into corners of different views. Actually, the commonality of what we agree on is the important thing. Then, it's working out how do we work around those areas where there is disagreement in different areas.

Let me just touch on the peat restoration. Publicly available is some very good work already on the success of the peat restoration project, and we are motoring on that in Wales. We are putting a lot of money into it, but it's delivering success. I would strongly suggest to James and to anybody, if you haven't had the chance, go out and visit them. I've been out in the last couple of weeks to two of those. I'm planning to go to more. It's an immense success, and it creates jobs, as I mentioned in my opening statement.

You mentioned TB and on-farm slaughter. The technical advisory group group, which I met with when they had their first meeting, a couple of weeks ago, very shortly into my portfolio, one of the first things they're looking at is, indeed, on-farm slaughter. I haven't seen the feedback yet from that. That expert-led panel will escalate it up to the partnership board and, inevitably, it’ll come to me as well. But I'm looking forward to that. I'm also looking forward, James, to where else they go with looking at, in the round, issues on TB.

On climate change and fisheries, you mentioned, just very briefly. We've already produced the proposals around bass and king scallop. We have a different type of fisheries in Wales than we do around the rest of the UK. I say that as a former UK fisheries Minister. It's quite different. But there are some real opportunities. So, on bass and king scallop, we've already produced a plan. Shortly coming forward are those on whelks, cockles, crabs and lobsters and so on there. And again, I was glad to meet those involved in fisheries in Swansea and west Wales in the last couple of weeks.

Workplace recycling. Well, the argument there is, actually, it's 10 years in fruition. We've already done it on domestic recycling. Workplace recycling was the next logical one. We put in place an immense amount of support, advice, best practice. Yes, there will be some glitches in it, but once again, what Wales is doing is not for the sake of it; we are saying that if we are serious about tackling litter and also we're serious about zero carbon, this is what we do. We go ahead when we're ready, we go that little bit further and faster, but we work with people to support them.

Crikey, you covered a lot of ground. River quality summits, the next one is in July. I will be chairing it. Looking forward to it. And the nature of those river quality summits is you do actually bring everybody together to say, 'How can you all raise your game and reach what we want to do, which is having pristine rivers?' And that's the approach we shall take.

Net zero. We've said, 'This is the decade of delivery, getting to where we need to be by 2025, by 2030.' Those are big steps, and that does mean we have to push on. We cannot walk back from it in any sector whatsoever. Dirprwy Lywydd, you're looking really—.

You've covered aspects of animal welfare as well. Simply to say that we launched a 12-week consultation on licensing of animal welfare. This falls alongside our idea of developing a national model to improve the regulation of animal welfare. The consultation closed on 1 March. We had over 11,000 responses, but I'm looking forward to bringing forward some news on that, on the back of that when we've analysed it.

I think I may have missed something, but there was a heck of a lot you covered, James. I'll pick it up with you again if there is.

16:30

Thank you for your statement. I look forward to working with you in this important area.

First of all, would you agree that we must emphasise the urgency of the situation and set firm timelines in terms of when the upcoming legislation in your portfolio will be coming in? I'm looking forward greatly to seeing the coal tip safety Bill and the Bill on environmental governance and biodiversity. Do you agree that these Bills are not just administrative matters? They're also essential tools that will help us protect our environment and ensure sustainable development. Therefore, their introduction must be treated as a matter of urgency. What would you do to ensure that urgency?

Furthermore, I'd like to understand more about the structural changes in the ministerial portfolios. Although the previous Minister for Climate Change oversaw a wide spectrum of responsibilities, including housing, planning, transport and energy, these responsibilities have been redistributed. That may raise questions about how you, as the new Cabinet Secretary, will perceive your role. I take it that cross-departmental collaboration will be critical in terms of tackling climate change effectively and all the other issues under that. So, how will you work with other departments to ensure a coherent approach?

Something that we have agreed on in the past is how essential it is to obtain buy-in from the public about the need for us to reach net zero. Some recent initiatives—as we've already heard—such as the sustainable farming scheme, have proved contentious, and there are tensions there. And more generally, away from that area, there are some actors, perhaps from Westminster in particular, who are trying to agitate people against the idea of net zero anyway. How do you intend to address the tensions that exist, those that are understandable, for example, in farming, but also the doubts or suspicions that people have more generally, to ensure that the people of Wales feel that decisions are being made jointly with them, instead of being forced upon them? Because that's something where, if we don't get buy-in, it's going to make things much more difficult. How would you work to persuade those who are more sceptical about not only the gravity of the situation, but also about how possible it is that we can make a difference, that there is a purpose and urgency to what's happening in terms of those plans?

In addition, we can't ignore the issue of devolution and control over essential resources. The full devolution of the Crown Estate to Wales and powers over the Welsh grid are vital to allow us to achieve net zero. Similarly, having powers over energy without a maximum limit of 350 MW will also be vital. How will you work with the Cabinet Secretary for energy to ensure that those powers are devolved?

So, I wish you well in your role. Wales and its people—. They need you to succeed, so in whatever ways it is possible for us to work together in this vital area, I would hope that we could do so, and I would welcome the opportunity to do so. Thank you.

16:35

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Delyth. I've enjoyed working with you already, and am looking forward to continuing to work with you and other colleagues around the Chamber as we go forward, because when I talk about partnership, I mean that genuinely right across everybody in this Chamber, including right across Wales as well.

You mentioned the urgency of some of the tasks ahead of us, and particularly some of the legislation that we're keenly awaiting. The coal tip safety Bill is not in my portfolio, but it is a priority. My colleague will be bringing that forward. And certainly, the environmental governance and biodiversity—yes. I mean, the First Minister stated only last week, I think it was, on the floor of the Senedd, how hotly he is anticipating bringing that forward and getting that done. We have still, in bringing that forward, got to get it right as well, but I'm really taken by the amount of support there is out there in civic society for this. One of the advantages of being slightly behind the others in bringing forward is that we can learn from where there have been glitches elsewhere, and we can get in place a Bill that really delivers an environmental governance body that has real teeth and real effectiveness, but also where the biodiversity targets now are aligned with those UN targets that my predecessor, Julie James, went out to the COP to look at, and that we can really embed, post departure from the EU, those environmental principles very strongly. And we've been working on this for some time, so we are looking forward to that.

You mentioned the changes, structurally, within Government, and for a lot of people outside, they'll think, 'Well, what's all that about?' but it is critical. Previously, we had that big climate change Ministry, which was right of its time, I have to say, as well, and it was something that very much the UK Youth Parliament strongly supported—let's have a Ministry that really pushes this hard, because facing the nature and the climate emergencies that we had, and we continue to have as well. But the approach we have taken now is that we embed that within every single portfolio. So, the carbon budgets are there; whether it's transport, whether it's local government, whether it's housing, all aspects will need to deliver on this. And the urgency of this is exactly what we see in that very stretching second carbon budget, and the need to go even further and harder on the third carbon budget.

But it does come back to this point again. It's asking everybody to do their fair share of lifting—not one or the other, but everybody—and that's going to be challenging. So, you rightly say, 'Well how do we get the buy-in from the public?' First of all, we have to be honest about the challenges ahead of us and say to everybody, 'How can we do this together?' We do have to argue it in terms of not only climate justice and the climate emergency, but actually social justice as well, because we can see the upsides and the downsides: the upsides of taking action, although it sometimes necessitates some difficult decisions, but the downsides of not taking action. So, whether that is, for example, in the way that we take forward the future of agricultural production in Wales, to make sure that that has more resilience to the future challenges, the challenges we're now seeing of increasingly wet weather more often, more prolonged and the impact that has, or whether it's things like, for example, next year, we understand, in England where they have the landfill tax, there is an increase in that in England of 20 per cent. Well, that's exactly why we are trying to do what we're doing in the workplace regulations and other recycling schemes, to avoid those pressures coming on our businesses as well. So, I think it's looking at that just transition for everybody, and that's why we're so adamant, whether it's on steel, and having a just transition and arguing for a different future for that, or whether it's on farming and everything in between.

And just finally, you mentioned there further devolution of powers on energy, on Crown estates; aspects like this, critical ones for the future. We've got very clear positions that we have here, and we're looking forward, I have to say, to arguing those positions cogently with a future UK Government as well, to actually say that part of this partnership approach is having a maturity of Governments that says, 'These are your powers. Go ahead, make use of them. Do what you can', not only to lift up Wales, but actually to lift up the UK as well.

16:40

I have a number of speakers on this statement, therefore, I urge you to stick to your time of one minute. Carolyn Thomas.

Cabinet Secretary, without biodiversity there is no food, there is no economy. The UK's one of the most nature depleted countries, due a lot to land management, and climate change is further exacerbating it. I recently attended a presentation that showed a field sodden with rain, and unable to plant, but the depth was dry, so it would also be impacted by drought in a few months' time. This is because of intensive land management. The field margins were fine.

Cabinet Secretary, would you look to rebuild resilience to climate change in the SFS with a choice or a suite of climate change and nature benefits, such as the harvesting of rainwater from farm buildings, maintaining ditches under riparian ownership, as well as maintaining hedges and edges for biodiversity, and perhaps even looking at less intensive ways of managing that land? Thank you.

Carolyn, thank you very much for that question. Can I just commend you as well on hosting the biodiversity stalls and event that we had there, with what I described as an army of people there, working right across Wales on some of these important issues? It was really exhilarating to see them all gathered there, and I wish them well in going back to all their local projects and delivering there.

But you're right in what you're saying: everything we do from here on, everything we have been doing, has to be geared towards building resilience into our land management as well as our agriculture. When, only within the last couple of weeks, working with the farming unions and with the supply chain, we hosted an extreme wet weather summit, it was a recognition that what we saw at the very start of that summit was projections from the Met Office showing that this is not a one-off; it's not even a five-year pattern; this is now a long-term trend. With the increased moisture in the environment, we are going to get deluges for prolonged periods. We'll have odd years that don't fit the pattern, but the trend is very clear, and then we'll have droughts in the summer. So, actually building into everything we do, whether it's the future of sustainable farming, or whether it's those wider nature recovery and biodiversity initiatives, that resilience of land management in every single thing we do.

So, I absolutely agree with that, and again, it's working with people out there; the wide expertise that we have, not just in academia, not just in the farming community, not just in wildlife and environmental organisations, but a lot of good practical first-hand experience as well as good data to say which way do we do this. Because if we don't succeed in this, future generations will not thank us for just carrying on with business as usual. We've got to build resilience into our future land management.

Welcome into your new role. Of almost 3,900 animals, plants and fungi studied, one in six are at risk of extinction here in Wales. We've long declared a nature crisis, yet we have no legally binding nature recovery target. We only have a temporary environmental governance officer. An overemphasis on planting trees that is really worrying our farmers, yet a square metre of seagrass captures triple the amount of the equivalent from a rainforest. We have Project Seagrass in Wales, but we should be investing more in making such projects bigger.

Progress could also be made in the marine area by doing more in relation to planning salt marshes, shellfish and ceasing bottom trawling. Conwy Mussels and the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University have amazing examples of what they're doing, and I would like to invite you, Minister, to come with me and see them first-hand. The statement only has one sentence about marine policy, and in the Climate Change Committee report we had in the committee meeting that you were present at with me, even Lord Deben said we really need to hold the feet of the Welsh Government to the fire regarding marine policy. We cannot overlook flooding, either—

16:45

So, all of these are key examples: closure of the blast furnaces, closure of high-quality agricultural land to farming and closure of Ffos-y-fran. Our First Minister has called transferring Welsh jobs and emissions to other parts of the world the way to go. Would you agree with me, Minister, that we have to take responsibility for our own aspirations for net zero and we shouldn't be offloading our responsibilities to other countries that then see us importing things back into Wales? That just makes a mockery of net zero. Diolch.

Janet, thank you for your welcome to my post. On that last point in particular, yes, entirely, and this is why the EU is now looking at carbon budgeting. We're slightly behind the curve in the UK, but we would support the UK Government in getting on with this, because we're at a slight economic, as well as climate, disadvantage in not being right there right now. We're going to be a couple of years behind, but we're very supportive of moving on with that. But the point is absolutely right: whether it's importing food products—. I'm going to try and avoid—. It's not my style to make big, heavy-hitting political points, but some of the trade deals that we've now come through with are opening up the markets to food that is being transported right across the world, not being produced to the same animal welfare standards, let alone wider environmental standards, that we have here in Wales. There's something wrong about that, fundamentally, so maybe we can look at fixing that.

The same applies, I say, even though it's outside my direct portfolio with having the responsibility for net zero and carbon budgets, to the issue of steel. This is why we are so fixed on saying that electric arc is part of the future, absolutely, let's invest in that, but we also need primary steel making, because when we get to that point where we're actually building the offshore floating rigs and we're looking for good primary steel to do it, we need that production here. So, your point is well made: let's keep the jobs here, but that needs to apply across all these policies where we are dealing with carbon emissions. Keep them here, keep the expertise here and keep the opportunities here for the economy and jobs.

Cabinet Secretary, I'm sure, as you reflect on the sustainable farming scheme consultation responses, that you will be increasingly aware of how the costs incurred and income forgone basis of payment is seen by many as being an insufficient incentive to attract participants into the scheme, especially, of course, when you set that against the very long list of universal actions that participants will be mandated to deliver as part of the scheme. So, as you consider changes to the scheme—and I'm asking you this now and not next week so that you can maybe mull over this before next week—do you accept that the Government needs to strike a better balance between the actions required and the incentives offered in order to attract sufficient participants into the scheme? Of course, if there's nobody to deliver the SFS, then the SFS will deliver for nobody.

Yes, entirely, I accept that. We have to actually not just bring farmers with us, because that suggests a slightly paternalist, 'If we can package things, then everybody is with us.' But it's actually doing this with farmers, genuinely producing the out