Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd26/06/2019
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members of both Parliaments to order.
If I could have your attention, please, so that I can particularly welcome 39 Members of the Youth Parliament, who are joining us today in the first joint session of its kind, and, perhaps, the first ever session where a national parliament has met jointly with a youth parliament. The Youth Parliament is not yet a year old, but it has already matured and evolved in a way that we can all be very proud of, and the priorities of that Youth Parliament are innovative, thoughtful and bold. We're all looking forward, I'm sure, to hearing more about the Youth Parliament during this afternoon’s session. We will also be discussing and voting on a special motion, which outlines the core principles of the relationship that will develop between the Youth Parliament and this Assembly, as the important work of representing the interests of young people in Wales proceeds.
So, without further ado, I introduce the motion, and call on Maisy Evans, Youth Parliament Member for Torfaen, to tell us more about the significance of that motion. Maisy Evans.
Motion NDM7100 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes that the Welsh Youth Parliament’s work for the duration of its first term will focus on the following issues:
a) mental health and emotional wellbeing;
b) life skills in the curriculum; and
c) littering and plastic waste.
2. Confirms the Assembly’s commitment to support the work undertaken by Welsh Youth Parliament Members to engage young people across Wales.
3. Agrees the joint declaration outlining the Assembly and Welsh Youth Parliament's commitment to work together on behalf of the young people of Wales.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. It’s a great privilege and an honour to be speaking in the Siambr on this momentous day, and it’s wonderful to see Assembly Members and Welsh Youth Parliament Members together on such a historic day in Wales.
The Welsh Youth Parliament met in this Chamber for the first time in February this year, and we were given the opportunity to speak about issues that matter most to us as young people in Wales. The contributions made were passionate, varied and sincere. I chose to speak about life skills in the curriculum, and the issues raised included sex education, finance and, primarily, political education and citizenship, given that the political opinions of Wales’s young people on politics has changed in recent years. In the context of Brexit and fake news, young people are in a more vulnerable position than ever before, as such matters and issues can have a direct effect on our future. Quality education based on the politics of Britain, and more broadly, will ensure that the future generations will be protected.
As has already been mentioned, the issues that we decided to prioritise during our first two-year term are: emotional and mental health; littering and plastic waste; and life skills in the curriculum My colleagues will elaborate on the work taking place within each of these areas in due course. For our work to be effective, and for the Welsh Youth Parliament to represent all the young people of Wales, it is vital that there is a relationship between us and the Assembly. The declaration, which I shall read out shortly, outlines the principles for both organisations to work together and what young people in Wales can expect from us. The Welsh Youth Parliament recently voted to agree the declaration, and we have just held an event at the Pierhead to outline the importance of today, in ensuring that our work is considered by the Assembly. This is the declaration of the Welsh Youth Parliament and the Assembly:
This declaration sets out the principles for the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Youth Parliament, to ensure that young people in Wales have a voice at the highest level. The Welsh Youth Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales will collaborate to: ensure that issues, decisions, and the work of the Welsh Youth Parliament are led by its Members and the young people they represent; ensure that the Welsh Youth Parliament’s work is integral to decision making and democratic structures in Wales; continue to improve the ways in which young people are involved in decision-making processes in Wales, in accordance with article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that young people have the right to express their views freely and have their opinions listened to; commit to the rights of young people to access the support needed to engage with the work of the Welsh Youth Parliament, and encourage them to work, communicate and engage in both of the Assembly’s official languages; ensure that young people can contribute in an accessible, inclusive and safe environment; and to operate under the principles of openness and transparency, providing good-quality, clear and accessible feedback on the contribution of young people to the work of the Welsh Youth Parliament and Assembly business. [Applause.]
Thank you very much.
The next speaker is Jonathon Dawes, a Member for the Vale of Clwyd. Jonathon Dawes.
Diolch, Presiding Officer. To begin, I do have to say that it's a real privilege for me today to be in the Chamber to talk about the really important issue to young people of life skills in the curriculum. And I thank the Welsh Youth Parliament for giving me this fantastic opportunity. As many Welsh Youth Parliament and Assembly Members know, since my election, and, in fact, even thinking about before I was elected, I have been an advocate for life skills in the curriculum, and I am very honoured to talk to you today about the Welsh Youth Parliament's work and my work personally on this real key issue.
After the Welsh Youth Parliament's first Plenary session in February, Members voted life skills as one of our top three issues, and I was very happy that Members supported this key issue after passionate speeches from Members across Wales. Collectively, as a youth parliament, we have taken steps to make real change for young people on this issue. Recently, we have created life skills committees, which have representatives from each region of Wales. In May, we launched our life skills survey for 11 to 25-year-olds during the Urdd Eisteddfod, and have organised two consultation events on life skills—one in north Wales, and the other in south Wales. All of these free actions will help us get a broad range of views from young people on what they want to see in the new curriculum, and then we will debate these in the October Youth Parliament Plenary session. I would like to encourage Assembly Members to share our survey on social media, like many already have, and attend these consultation events, to get the views on what should be in the new curriculum in terms of life skills from people who will be experiencing the new curriculum but who have also experienced the current and past curriculums, because, ultimately, this will help us learn from the mistakes of the old curriculum but also the good points when designing a new one.
In terms of me personally, this is a passion of mine, but it's by far the issue I get contacted about by young people on social media, and young people who live in my constituency. Since my election, I have spoken to hundreds of young people, and they all agree with me—life skills should play a dominant role in the new curriculum. They do feel that, despite spending 13 years in full-time education, they don't have the adequate skills that will help them achieve their potential in later life, including financial and political education. But it must be said, when I do speak to young people about the curriculum—and they are very passionate about this issue—the life skill that's brought up with me the most, that they all want to see, is CPR and basic first aid.
Many AMs across this Chamber have quite rightly championed this issue, but I and other Welsh Youth Parliament Members support the ongoing British Heart Foundation campaign for CPR to be included in the 2022 curriculum, and I do hope that the Government do think about this after the consultation period. It's important we do take a broad range of views from young people and that these views are considered at the highest level, and this is why being here in the Chamber today, in front of all the Assembly Members, is a massive step.
The curriculum does present us with a real opportunity to change it for the better, and some Welsh Youth Parliament Members have met with education Minister, Kirsty Williams, to share their opinions and represent the views of young people in their areas on this real pressing matter. We have all been contributing to sharing the current consultation on the new curriculum, and I believe that, to achieve a curriculum that addresses the improvement of life skills, amongst other things, we must work together, cross-party, with the Welsh Youth Parliament, to ensure Wales's new curriculum is something we can all be proud of. Thank you very much. [Applause.]
Our next speaker is Sandy Ibrahim, partner elected Member for Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales. Sandy Ibrahim.
Thank you, Llywydd. I'm Sandy Ibrahim, and I represent the EYST organisation in the Welsh Youth Parliament. Today, 26 June, as I and many other people know, is an important day not just for a specific person, but for the whole Welsh Youth Parliament. So, today in my speech I'll be going through the work of the emotional and mental health committee and will give an overview of where we are and what our future plans are.
As the majority of us today will know, mental health problems affect one in 10 young people. They include anger, depression, loneliness, panic attacks, stress, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives. But in order to reduce this number and help every single young person, we all need to work together.
I am really proud to say that a massive amount of work has been taking place in Wales to look further into the issue of the emotional and mental health of young people. And mainly that's what we all want to see—positive work, and hopefully positive results. In April 2018, the 'Mind over Matter' report was published. This is basically a report on the step change needed in emotional and mental health support for children and young people in Wales. And exactly last week, the Assembly held an evidence session to follow up on this specific report.
Moving on, working on the mental health committee and also finding ways of improving positively obviously can't be the work of just the Welsh Youth Parliament on its own. Mainly, it will be all of us getting closer to organisations, people or even young people, working together to make this change and reach what we want to reach, and thankfully, until now, we have seen a lot of interest from organisations all across Wales, including Gofal, Mind Cymru and a few others too. Also, we are looking forward to start working closely with them through our theme of work.
Within the emotional and mental health committee, we have started taking actions to look at individual issues within this broad point, and in the future we will work more towards and also analyse which areas we want to specifically focus on. Through our time in here, we will obviously need to work with specific organisations, and we have started to look a bit further into that theme too in order to analyse who will be the key organisations that will work with us.
So, lastly, before I close my speech, I just wanted to say that, as much as I'm interested, I'm sure the whole Welsh Youth Parliament Members are interested in starting to hear from as many young people as possible, and also to make sure that we are focusing and working on the issues positively and, most importantly, effectively. Thank you. [Applause.]
I call now on Anwen Rodaway. Anwen is the partner elected Member for Learning Disability Wales. Anwen Rodaway to speak.
Before I begin, I wish to take a moment to thank the Llywydd for the opportunity to address the full Assembly in the Chamber today.
I am Anwen and I represent Learning Disability Wales on the Welsh Youth Parliament. I am a member of the littering and plastic waste committee and today would like to give you a brief overview of where we are and what our plans are for this first term of the Welsh Youth Parliament.
At our most recent regional meeting, we formed committees to consider each of the three areas we have decided to work on. These brainstorming sessions were very productive and have given us a good starting point for understanding what the issues are, and we have some initial suggestions for moving forward.
Members of the littering and plastic waste committee discussed personal experiences and opinions. We shared information on activities we have personally been involved in to address reducing the amount of littering and plastic waste, as well as other examples of best practice we were aware of.
Some Members have been involved in litter picks both in school and within the communities they live in. Others have been involved in initiatives in their schools. For example, one Member’s school has introduced recycling stations around the school so students can recycle their plastic bottles, paper, cardboard and food containers when they were previously unable to. It is important to share these examples of best practice and encourage our own schools to make positive changes.
It is very important to us that we have a full understanding of the issues young people across Wales would like us to address. We have started to engage with the young people of Wales and are beginning to have conversations around why littering and plastic waste is so important to them and what their top priorities for action in this area are.
As well as these priorities, it is very important to us that our work within the Welsh Youth Parliament and the littering and plastic waste committee takes into consideration research done by other bodies and organisations, including the important work done by the Assembly. We are very encouraged by the decision to declare a climate emergency and the commitment to work to develop a plan for a carbon-zero future for Wales. We hope to work with you to bring the voice of young people in Wales to inform this plan. The community I live in have recently joined you in making their own declaration. I have joined the community working group with other young people in the community to make sure young people’s concerns are heard.
The Youth Parliament are aware of the recent report by the National Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee into the effects of microplastic and plastic pollution. It is vitally important we tackle not just the plastic we can see, but also the vast amount of microparticles and fibres we cannot. We commend the committee for this report and wholeheartedly agree with the conclusion of this report that Wales cannot waste another day in the battle against plastic pollution. The time to act is now. Diolch. [Applause.]
I call on the First Minister, Mark Drakeford.
Llywydd, thank you very much, and thank you very much to all Members of the Youth Parliament. It’s a huge pleasure for me to participate in this important debate today, and I'm grateful to the young people who have contributed. Thank you to each and every one of you for your thoughtful and intelligent comments.
Wales leads the way on children’s rights and young people’s rights, and the Youth Parliament is another important example of how we can strengthen our democracy by including you, as young people, in our discussions. You have a unique viewpoint and we need to hear your comments on the major issues facing Wales today.
Llywydd, in what we've heard already, I think the really heartening thing is to see the way in which the agenda set out by Members of the Youth Parliament chimes so well with the preoccupations of the National Assembly itself: the declaration of a climate emergency—the first national Parliament anywhere in the world to take that step; and the importance of mental health and well-being. It's very important indeed for us to hear today from someone representing young people with learning disabilities here in Wales. It's 100 years this year that we celebrate the foundation of learning disability nursing here in Wales. We've always, as a nation, had a particular interest in the well-being of people who have to make their way through life with a mental health condition that others are fortunate enough not to need to encounter.
As far as life skills in the curriculum are concerned, it's a reminder to us of why we are acting to extend to 16 and 17-year-olds in Wales the right to vote in local and National Assembly elections, because participation in democracy is a life skill by itself—it's something that you have to learn; it's something that you have to get used to. And the case for extending voting rights in Wales has been rooted in the belief that young people in our education system will now be properly prepared for those democratic duties, given the life skills that they need in order to be able to do that. We know that giving young people a voice in our democracy will encourage lifelong voting habits and greater participation in our democratic processes.
The involvement of Members of the Youth Parliament here on the floor with us this afternoon is a concrete example of the way in which we want to see our democracy develop into the future, giving everybody a stake in the future that we create here in this Chamber, and we're very grateful to you all for taking the time and the trouble to be with us this afternoon. Diolch yn fawr. [Applause.]
I now call on representatives of the political groups. Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies.
Thank you, Llywydd, and it’s a pleasure to speak on behalf of the Welsh Conservatives in this important debate. May I say, Llywydd, that the creation of a Welsh Youth Parliament is one of the greatest successes of the National Assembly for Wales? It is so important in terms of strengthening the voice of young people here in Wales.
I would, first of all, like to thank Members of the Youth Parliament who opened this debate for their excellent and intelligent addresses. It is entirely clear that their contributions were well researched and were very considered, and they have certainly given us a great deal to think about as we consider how we, as Assembly Members, tackle some of the most important issues facing our society.
Of course, the first topic that the Youth Parliament has chosen to focus on is mental health and emotional well-being, which is a crucially important issue for everyone in Wales. On this side of the Chamber, we are eager to see more work done to encourage stronger preventative measures and early intervention. For example, we want to see schools the length and breadth of Wales taking steps to develop mindfulness awareness in their school, and we want employers to look at how their businesses can provide greater support to those living and working with mental health conditions.
We already know that agriculture has one of the highest suicide rates, and therefore I do think it’s fair to say that any one of us might find it difficult to cope with mental health issues at some point in our lives. It doesn't matter where you live or where you work, we are all human and we can have difficulty with anxiety and stress at any time in our lives. So, it’s crucially important that the Welsh Government’s approach to dealing with mental health encompasses all policy areas, so that the Welsh Government considers the impact that its strategies could have on the mental well-being of people when they introduce strategies for the economy, the environment and housing.
I'm extremely pleased that the Youth Parliament has chosen life skills in the curriculum as its second priority, because my fellow Members and I have been campaigning for this for some time. My fellow Member Suzy Davies, for example, has been leading the way in calling for defibrillators to be placed in our schools, and to teach important first aid skills, such as CPR, in schools across the country. My fellow Member Mark Isherwood has also been calling for adding British Sign Language to the national curriculum, and for better access to sign language services for children and young people in health and public transport. And Members will be aware that I have called for better support services for children and young people who have difficulties related to autism, including training for the education workforce, so that learners with autism do have access to appropriate support and care through the education system.
Finally, Llywydd, I’m pleased that the third priority of the Youth Parliament is to tackle littering and plastic waste. This topic certainly has come to the top of the political agenda recently because of programmes such as Blue Planet, which have raised awareness of this issue among the public. There are plenty of examples of good practice the length and breadth of Wales in dealing with littering and plastic waste, but clearly we need to do more to encourage those activities. And we all have responsibilities as individuals to be far more responsible in how we tackle this huge problem. We are all extremely fortunate to live in such a beautiful nation, but if we are to retain that beauty for the young people here today and for future generations, then it is crucial that we do everything that we can to safeguard the environment and to keep it clean.
So, in concluding, Llywydd, may I on behalf of the Welsh Conservatives thank Members of the Youth Parliament who have already spoken for their contributions, and also all Members of the Youth Parliament for the good work that they have already done in the brief period that’s passed since their election? I look forward to hearing more from the Youth Parliament on their priorities for the future, and to work closely with them in order to develop ideas and to ensure that those ideas are delivered. And, of course, we on this side of the Chamber will be supporting the motion before us today. Thank you very much. [Applause.]
On behalf of Plaid Cymru, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I know that I speak on behalf of Members of every party in saying how pleasant and wonderful the spirit is in the Senedd today, and it would be good to be able to feel this vibe in your company, as Members of the Youth Parliament, many times again in the future.
There are many topics in politics that can be quite depressing. Whether during my career as a journalist or as a politician myself, apathy has been an issue that has caused me great concern. More recently, intolerance in politics is something that should worry us all. So, having something that we can truly celebrate in politics is very pleasant indeed, and seeing the formation and following the early development of our national Youth Parliament is something that is a topic of great pride for us all. A Youth Parliament that provides an opportunity not only for young people to voice their views, but to raise awareness amongst young people throughout the whole of Wales about the political and parliamentary system that we are all part of, and impacts on all your lives, and of course a Youth Parliament that’s a platform to have real influence on decision making. Your Parliament is a platform to assist and support young people, through you, to take part in those decisions that will shape all of your futures. I look forward to seeing that becoming more and more evident as the voting age is extended to those between 16 and 18 years of age.
So, it’s wonderful to see that you've started work immediately and started by putting a clear focus on three topics that are important to you. Differently to previous generations, your generation has understood the importance and value of talking about mental health. The understanding of mental health conditions is better than ever, and I think that the pressure from the Youth Parliament can ensure that research and support and mental health and well-being services will be a totally integral and core part of the education, health, career and social experience of young people the length and breadth of Wales.
Of course, the focus on life skills in the curriculum is a very important area. Growing from being a young person into adulthood is excellent. You're obviously enjoying this period in your lives—I remember it with great joy myself—but there are many challenges during that period, such as being financially responsible and taking care of your own health or other people’s health through CPR and so on. But, yes, let’s ensure that the support that you want is there for you through the education system.
Then there’s the increasing awareness of our wasteful way of living, which is very encouraging too. You, as young people, are taking the lead in so many ways, particularly on the use of plastic. With your assistance, Wales can get rid of some of our thoughtless and lazy ways of living.
So, good luck to you. Remember that the support and platform of the Assembly will always be here for you, but it’s also important that we don't intervene too much in your work, and allow you to lead the way.
Go for it. The reins are very much in your hands; you are firmly in control. It's been a pleasure to share this Senedd Chamber with you today. Thanks for raising all our spirits today, and we all look forward to seeing your accomplishments through the Youth Parliament of Wales and way, way beyond. [Applause.]
The Brexit Party, Mark Reckless.
I, too, would like to give a warm welcome to our Members of the Welsh Youth Parliament. I strongly suspect that some of you here today will be elected to join us in the Assembly in due course.
Unfortunately, too often, the positive cross-party work that goes on in the committees, in the adjacent rooms to this Chamber, is not widely reported. Headlines are made when cross words are exchanged in this Chamber. On much, including the issues that the Youth Parliament has highlighted, we are, however, agreed.
As we heard earlier—and thank you—the Children, Young People and Education Committee produced a report on the changes we need to see in mental health support provision for young people in Wales. I was on that committee and I was extraordinarily impressed by the work of the Chair of that committee, the Member for Torfaen, Lynne Neagle. Lynne is a Labour Member and we have our differences, most obviously in this Chamber on Brexit, but I've spent at least as much time agreeing with her on the issue of mental health support for young people, and I've nothing but praise for her work in this area, including her role on the task and finish group set up by Welsh Government.
When I was a teenager, and I'm sure other Members of the Assembly would agree, discussing one's emotional well-being was not as commonplace as it is today. We are pleased to see that the Welsh Youth Parliament is contributing to an atmosphere in which young people can get support more easily, because there is still stigma, if less than there was, and there are also still gaps in support. As Lynne said in her foreword to the report 'Mind over matter':
'It is estimated that three children in every average size classroom will have a mental health issue. By the age of 14, half of all mental health problems will have begun.'
We are all concerned about this, and we all must do more as an Assembly, as must Welsh Government, if we are genuinely to treat mental health equally with physical health, which I believe is the ambition of us all.
I would particularly value the input of the Youth Parliament on how much the greater reported incidents of mental health problems reflects greater willingness to be open about this issue, or the degree to which it reflects greater pressures on young people today, with the rise of online bullying and the pressures of social media.
To finish, and I hope she will not mind, I'd like to again quote the Member for Torfaen's words on mental health from the committee report:
'This is a subject that touches us all, and an area in which we all have a responsibility—and an ability—to make change happen.'
Colleagues, let's reflect on the good that we can do when we work with each other, let's come together on the issues in this motion, and let's make those changes happen. [Applause.]
I will now call on Welsh Youth Parliament Members from each of the regions. First of all, Ifan Jones, Member for Ynys Môn. Ifan Jones.
Good afternoon, all. Being a Member of the Welsh Youth Parliament over the past few months has been a privilege, and I've been able to make friends with these amazing young people. In the north Wales region, we have been working together on a number of topics, including life skills in the curriculum, and we will be holding an event with other young people at Glyndŵr University soon, to hear their views on the topic. It’s extremely important that the voices of all young people are heard despite their distance from the capital city, and I'm very proud to be able to represent Ynys Môn and ensure that the voices of the young people of my area can be heard in the Assembly.
We've also been having discussions on mental health and what we as a Youth Parliament can do in order to support young people who have to face a nightmare in trying to access the appropriate support. We've had meetings with a number of Assembly Members, including Rhun ap Iorwerth and Ann Jones, which have been very interesting, as we found out more about their role, and saw their support for the Youth Parliament.
Although we’re here today to celebrate, we must remember that there are 200,000 children in Wales living in poverty, hundreds have to wait months for mental health support, and the world around us is being destroyed by climate change. We, as Welsh representatives, must work together to create a better and more equal country for everybody. We have a duty to ensure that the young people of Wales have the best possible start in life. We shouldn't have to wait months for mental health support. We shouldn't have to suffer in poverty. We shouldn't have to worry about our future. Thank you. [Applause.]
The next speaker is Alys Hall, the Member for the Rhondda.
Thank you, Llywydd. I'm extremely grateful to be here today to celebrate such an important occasion in Welsh history, namely the first joint session between the Youth Parliament and the Assembly—the first session of its kind in the world—and that is during the twentieth anniversary of devolution. I'm here representing my fellow Members from South Wales West today.
Since our first meeting back in February, we as Members of the South Wales West region have undertaken a number of different engagements with young people. Some Members have hosted school assemblies on the work of the Youth Parliament, while others have held smaller sessions with individuals, small groups and local youth groups. Most of us have also met with many of you, the Assembly Members, to discuss problems in our areas or just to chat about the causes and organisations that we support.
About a month ago, I had a meeting with Leanne Wood, where we discussed period poverty and the lack of support for pupils and young people with mental health problems. We take our role of representing the voice of young people in our local areas seriously, and we're grateful for the range of opportunities through the Youth Parliament to ensure that these voices can be heard.
As a region, our committees have met to discuss how we can drive forward the causes selected by the Youth Parliament, namely life skills in the curriculum, littering and plastic waste, and support for mental and emotional health.
Our main focus at the moment is life skills in the curriculum, given that the new curriculum will be introduced next year. In order to gather the views of young people in our region, we as a Youth Parliament have published an online questionnaire. We also look forward to next month’s event, where teachers, pupils and youth groups have been invited to participate in question-and-answer sessions and a variety of workshops. This event, in Swansea, will enable us to gain the perspectives of people from across the whole of south Wales on the issue of life skills in the curriculum, and it will also enable them to speak to us and many other people, such as Lynne Neagle, about the topic.
To conclude, I’d like to thank you again for listening to me today and for all of the support that you, as Members of the National Assembly, have afforded us to date, and will continue to give us during our term as Members of the Welsh Youth Parliament. Thank you. [Applause.]
Our next speaker is Angel Ezeadum. Angel Ezeadum is a partner-elected Member for Race Council Cymru, and speaks on behalf of the south-east region. Angel Ezeadum.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I'm Angel Ezeadum and I'm here to represent the South Wales East region. Firstly, I would like to reiterate what a significant day this truly is as we are all gathered today to celebrate 20 years of devolution in Wales.
Regarding the work of the region, in our regional meetings we shared our hopes and aspirations about our work as Welsh Youth Parliament Members. The main consensus was that we hoped to make an impacting difference to Wales’s youth and empower the voices of young people. In our latest meeting, we formed the three committees based on the three key issues voted in at our session in the Chamber. Research was then undertaken to see what the National Assembly had already done or were doing to tackle the issue, in order to avoid any overlaps. We then discussed our goals and the steps we would have to take to be successful.
The Youth Parliament has used events such as the jamboree in the Senedd and the Urdd Eisteddfod in May to further promote our work and receive comments from a diverse range of children and young people. The use of technology, in particular with the life skills in the curriculum survey, has enabled us to reach a huge sum of young people in Wales, and in doing so, increase the participation, ensuring that we truly do give the youth a voice.
As a resident of Cardiff, I have worked alongside the elected representatives of the Cardiff constituencies and other partner-elected Members from Cardiff on tackling the issues in our city. We have met with many Assembly Members, such as Andrew R.T. Davies, who was the first to reach out to us, and Jenny Rathbone, who helped us with our speeches for the Chamber. Thank you to all of those who took time out of their busy schedule to meet with us.
Whilst this event is about celebrating how far we have come, it is also an opportunity to look forward to the future. This is just the beginning of our work for the Welsh Youth Parliament and I am looking forward to developing over the next 18 months, alongside my fellow Members, to shape a better Wales for our generation.
I am proud to be a Welsh Youth Parliament Member, and, so far, it has been great to be a representative for them. Thank you. [Applause.]
The next speaker is Cai Phillips. And Cai Phillips is the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. Cai Phillips.
Thank you, Llywydd. Good afternoon, and it’s a very good afternoon here in the Senedd. My name is Cai Phillips, and I'm a Youth Parliament Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. Today is an historic and important day as it gives us the opportunity to meet and work with the more 'senior' Members. On one side, we have experience and wisdom, and on the other, enthusiasm and new ideas. We hope that we can work together to solve some of the big problems that face us as a nation. It is also a day to celebrate 20 years of devolution, and, of course, it was Carmarthenshire's ‘yes’ vote that ensured the establishment of a Welsh Assembly.
I am very proud to represent my fellow Members in the Mid and West Wales region. This is a very beautiful area, with beaches, mountains and countryside. There are seven members in the region, namely Arianwen, Lois, Caleb, Emily, Rhys, Ellie and me. We are the magnificent seven of the region, and since being elected we have met twice, and have discussed contentious issues that are important to young people, and in particular the three issues chosen at our first parliamentary meeting.
It is good to report back that we received a positive response from the young people of our region. Members have raised awareness of politics and created an interest in local, national and international issues. We are certain that our presence on social websites has helped to raise the profile of the Youth Parliament’s work. Despite this, there is nothing better than meeting our peers face to face and having conversations about what is important and what concerns them, for example through the excellent work of the youth county councils, such as the one in Carmarthenshire. Also, a number of Members have visited schools and establishments in their constituencies. In addition, Members will also be attending some of the biggest summer events, such as the National Eisteddfod and the Royal Welsh Show, in order to gather the views of young people, and I am personally looking forward to hearing the views of young visitors at the show. These ways of engaging with young people ensure that everyone has the opportunity to have their say.
The event and declaration today will give the Youth Parliament a solid foundation for years to come. It gives Members of the Youth Parliament certainty and confidence to carry out work in their local areas and within their committees. And the work carried out will be purposeful, as the Assembly will listen and act on what the young people have to say. We look forward to the challenge. Thank you. [Applause.]
I now call on the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee to close the debate—Lynne Neagle.
Thank you, Llywydd. It is a genuine honour to close today's momentous debate and to have the opportunity to thank everybody who’s been involved, over many months and years, to help us reach this important point in the history of our democracy here in Wales. It’s impossible to pay tribute to everyone individually, but our gratitude is significant nonetheless. Our particular thanks must go to the Welsh Youth Parliament Members. Having you here today with us is a genuine privilege for the Assembly. And can I say, from one inaugural Member of the Assembly in 1999 to all of you as inaugural Members of your Youth Parliament 20 years later, it’s great to be amongst the first?
Today marks a significant milestone in our work as a National Assembly and a Youth Parliament. Our commitment to working together as representatives of the people of Wales, across their ages, is one I warmly welcome as Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee. It’s clear from today’s discussions that, as two elected bodies, we share the same ambition. Our aim is to enable our people, whether young, old or anything in between, to live happy and healthy lives. I firmly believe that working together will provide us with a better opportunity of realising that ambition for the people of Wales. There is great truth in the old saying that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. It is apt that as we approach the thirtieth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in the year that the office of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales celebrates an eighteenth birthday, our Youth Parliament begins its work.
The three priority areas you have identified have the potential to transform lives for the better. As many people know, the emotional and mental health of children and young people is an area particularly close to my heart, and I thank the Members who have made reference to the committee’s ‘Mind over matter’ work today.
I know I speak for all of us when I say that we are looking forward with great excitement and hope to watching your progress and seeing the outcomes of your hard work. But it is my firm belief that we shouldn’t only sit on the sidelines and watch your progress. Our committee has already benefited greatly from engaging with the Welsh Youth Parliament on proposals to remove the defence of reasonable punishment. Hearing the views of children and young people has been important to us in all elements of our committee’s work, and we look forward to building on this during the Youth Parliament's two-year term and beyond. I would encourage all other committees and the Youth Parliament to continue this mutually beneficial interaction. We have lots to learn from and share with each other.
I’d like to close today’s joint proceedings by re-emphasising article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, already referred to by Maisy Evans, Welsh Youth Parliament Member for Torfaen, so eloquently in her opening address. Article 12 states that young people have the right to express their views freely and have their opinion listened to in all matters affecting them. The establishment of the Welsh Youth Parliament and the signing today of the joint declaration, setting out the principles of how we will work together, is a huge milestone in our journey towards achieving that ambition. So, I will close by wishing all of us well in our joint endeavours.
Good luck to us all, and thank you, all.
In accordance with Standing Order 11.15, the Business Committee has decided that a vote will be taken at the end of this debate. And the Youth Parliament has already agreed the joint declaration, and I call for a vote of the National Assembly on the motion on the joint declaration. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 48, no abstentions, none against. Therefore, the joint declaration on working with the Youth Parliament is unanimously passed by the National Assembly.
NDM7100 - Joint debate with the Welsh Youth Parliament: For: 48, Against: 0, Abstain: 0
Motion has been agreed
Thank you to everyone and we will bring this session to a close and will reconvene at 14:30. Thank you. [Applause.]
Plenary was suspended at 14:15.
The Assembly reconvened at 14:30, with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
We move to questions to the Minister for finance. The first question is from Mandy Jones.
1. Will the Minister provide an update on the effectiveness of the invest-to-save scheme? OAQ54110
Since 2009, the invest-to-save scheme has invested £180 million in over 190 projects across the whole of Wales. It continues to provide financial assistance to Welsh public services and third sector organisations to help them improve their services and provide better outcomes for the people they serve.
Thank you for that answer. I note that the invest-to-save scheme has invested around about £174 million since 2009. I also note that Betsi Cadwaladr is currently in receipt of over £3 million. Given that invest-to-save is an interest-free loan and repayable, and given that our public services are all struggling financially, how do you ensure repayment of the sums owed, and has the scheme hit its target in any way in terms of the savings achieved?
Thank you for asking that question. The portfolio of invest-to-save projects has a really wide range of repayment profiles. For general projects, the longest repayment profile is six years, and there are several being more than that. However, energy efficiency projects, for example, can be repaid within eight to 10 years. But, as I say, it depends on the project. But I can reassure you that the fund does have a 100 per cent recovery rate to date, with no bad debts being incurred since the creation of the fund in 2009.
Invest-to-save has been successful over a period of time, but it mainly involves safe investments, certain, or almost certain, of producing savings. Alongside it, a more ambitious programme of innovate-to-save has been introduced—something I asked for over several years. Will the Minister provide an update on the effectiveness of the innovate-to-save scheme, and on whether any projects have been so successful that they have been taken up by other bodies?
I thank Mike Hedges for raising that; he's long been a champion of both invest-to-save and innovate-to-save. The innovate-to-save initiative between the Welsh Government, Nesta, Cardiff University and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action launched in February 2017 with a budget of £5.8 million. In March of this year, we added an additional £0.5 million to the budget, to take it up to £6.3 million. It does differ from invest-to-save in that the payment is non-repayable grant funding for projects selected to go through the research and development phase. Non-financial support is available in project management from Nesta, and research support available from Cardiff University. There is a real focus there on ideas that are at different stages to invest-to-save. These are projects that need to be researched and tested to assess whether or not the anticipated outcomes are likely to be achieved. Round 1 of the programme saw three projects being approved for loan funding, one of which was Leonard Cheshire, who were awarded £1 million to roll out their new model of care for people in receipt of direct payments. Fabric, in Swansea, has begun purchasing properties for implementing their semi-supported step-down accommodation for young people over the age of 18 who are leaving the care system. Llamau are also in negotiations with public sector partners to put in place a new and more sustainable funding model for the benefit of the people who they serve. Certainly, there are projects there that we could look to be upscaling in due course, and we'll be learning very much from the work that those projects are undertaking at the moment.
No discussion on invest-to-save is complete without a question from Mike Hedges—I think you've asked a question on it every time it's come up. Minister, I think this is one of those issues that is universally accepted across the Chamber as generally a good idea, and invest-to-save and its successor have a huge role to play in contributing to savings in local government and generating more cash. But I think I'm right in saying that, in 2014, five years into the scheme, Ministers commissioned Government social research to undertake an independent evaluation of invest-to-save. And that found that, whilst there were savings across the board, there were some areas where savings hadn't been delivered as expected. I wonder, now that we are 10 years into the project, and looking at successor schemes, do you plan on commissioning any further independent research to discover where the scheme has worked and areas where it can be improved?
Well, as you say, there was some research—an independent study, in fact—in 2014, which concluded that, on average, the fund generates a benefit of £3 for every £1 spent on that scheme. A frequent question, as Nick Ramsay says, is why good practice just doesn't seem to spread very easily, and this is something that we're working on with Cardiff University. We're researching the barriers, and also the enablers, for the spread of the good practice that we've learned through the innovate-to-save scheme. The evidence-gathering stage of that will be completed by 30 June, and then there will be the analysis of the findings throughout the summer. We've secured £4,000 of research funding in Cardiff University, which can be used to support events with academics and practitioners across Wales to discuss our findings and to highlight the benefits that we've been able to accrue through the invest-to-save scheme, and to try and ensure that those benefits are spread more widely.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the disposal of public sector property assets? OAQ54117
The Welsh Government supports the principles of good asset management, including surplus asset disposal processes. Through published guidance such as 'Managing Welsh Public Money' and the continued work on asset collaboration led by Ystadau Cymru, we seek to embed best practice across the Welsh public sector.
Thank you. Best practice is all good in theory. The transformation of public services across Wales has seen the disposal of some property assets. However, considerable estate remains, including the 137 surplus properties owned by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. The cost of maintaining this estate has now been estimated at £838 million over a 15-year period. Now, when considering that this health board sees the biggest deficit out of Wales, and seven NHS health boards at the end of 2018-19 are also seeing deficits, such expenditure does seem unsustainable and inappropriate. Now, there is a theory—you can correct me if I'm wrong—that if they do sell some of their assets no longer required, money comes back to the central pot here. So, one could argue, in businesses terms, with the health board already now into the fifth term of special measures, perhaps it's not on their main list of their priorities, having to deal with this. What steps can you take as a Welsh Government to work with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and maybe, just maybe, look at any revenues that come from the disposal of those surplus assets actually going back in some way—not all of it, maybe, but some of it—so that they can actually use the money that is tied up now in those surplus buildings towards better outcomes for the patients in north Wales?
There is a financial limit at which health boards can retain the funds for any assets they dispose of, but above that limit then, the funds do come back to Welsh Government. And I think that's only right in the sense that the Welsh Government will have the overview across the whole of the Welsh public sector, and the Welsh NHS, in order to understand the pressures that are arising at that particular time. However, we have provided access to an online resource, which brings together guidance and advice for public sector estates work. The Ystadau Cymru group is pan-public sector group, working with health boards on encouraging the different public sector bodies to share and learn from their experience. We've got the asset collaboration programme in Wales, and during the last two financial years, funding has been made available to them in order to help drive their asset management improvements. But that also includes data quality, which can identify assets that those organisations can dispose of. But on the basis of what you've said to me today, I will ask the Chair of Ystadau Cymru to have a conversation with Betsi Cadwaladr health board to see if there is more work that they can do and that Welsh Government can do to support them in identifying assets that could be sold.FootnoteLink
Janet Finch-Saunders raised important issues, but I just want to look at this from a slightly different angle. In the context of the climate emergency that we've declared, we obviously need to reduce our food miles and encourage more people to grow their own or source their food locally. So, I just wondered, when you're considering surplus assets, whether you might consider the provision of new allotment sites for people close to where they live, where there are none available, because that would enable people who don't currently have a garden, don't currently have a place to grow their vegetables, to be able to do that. So, I wondered if you'd let us know whether you'd give that sort of thing any consideration in these things.
The current key criteria for consideration when considering how to manage assets or dispose of assets include creating economic growth, delivering more integrated and customer-focused services, generating capital receipts, reducing running costs and decarbonisation of the public estate. But Julie James, Ken Skates and I have been doing a piece of work that looks across the Welsh public sector, particularly in terms of the land that we own, to see if we can take a much more strategic approach to that in the light of the First Minister's election manifesto, where he did say that he wanted to set up a division for land within Welsh Government, and then look at how we can work in a collaborative way with local authorities, with health boards and others who do have land or assets within their portfolios. And part of that work will be about redefining how we think of value for money. So, it's not about selling off a plot of land or an asset for the best possible price, but actually it's about considering value for money in the round—so, thinking about our responsibilities in terms of climate change, but also what the benefit could be for the local community. Your example is one of those things that certainly will be part of that mix in terms of considering best value.
Cabinet Minister, the saga of land at Lisvane in Cardiff being sold for £1.8 million by the regeneration investment fund for Wales, and subsequently sold for £39 million, has been well documented. But we understand that legal proceedings were issued in December 2017 against the two companies who were advisers to RIFW at the time, namely Amber Fund Management and the Lambert Smith Hampton group. Could the Minister update us on the latest situation with regard to these legal proceedings?
I was the Minister in charge of that portfolio when those legal proceedings were taken forward. Unfortunately, they are still ongoing. So, as such, I am unable to update now, but I know the Minister for housing, who now has this within her portfolio, will obviously be keen to update Members as soon as there is something that we are able to say.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you, Llywydd. Following the cancellation of the black route, will the Minister provide us with an update on the borrowing capacity that was available to the Welsh Government, conditional on it being spent on the M4 relief road? Is that funding still available now that that plan has been scrapped?
Thank you very much for the question. You'll recall that the funding that would have been earmarked for the M4, should the decision have been made to make the Orders, was up to £1 billion. But we have to remember that actually that £1 billion related to £150 million of borrowing that we're able to draw down on an annual basis up to a maximum of £1 billion. You'll have heard the Minister for Economy and Transport's recent statements—and the First Minister's statements—where he said that it will be the task group or the commission that is currently looking at ways in which to alleviate and address the transport and the congestion problems in and around the area of Newport that will have the first call on that funding.
The question I was asking was about the principle, in fact, of the UK Treasury telling Welsh Government how it should be spending its money. There's no justification for the Treasury dictating to the Assembly or Welsh Government what its priorities should be. I think the command paper, 'Financial Empowerment and Accountability', published alongside the Wales Act 2014, said that
'Within the overall and annual limits, the Welsh Government will be able to borrow for any capital purposes without HM Treasury consent. Welsh Ministers will therefore have the autonomy and flexibility'.
The fiscal framework also says that
'There remain no restrictions about how the Welsh Government can use its borrowing powers'.
But we did end up with this conditionality. Now, the First Minister, when he was finance Minister, requested additional powers over borrowing, and there was specific reference in the letter to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to borrowing to help fund the M4. And the result was the UK Government saying, 'Okay, you can have the money, on the condition that you spend it on that'. Does the Government now regret writing the letter in those terms? And if this Minister was in that position, would she have written the letter in the same way?
Well, what I did do was write to the Treasury last year seeking an increase in our borrowing limit, which, as I said, is currently £150 million a year, sequentially up to £1 billion, to help deliver our investment priorities. And when we talk about borrowing, when we talk about our capital fund, we talk about it in the round. So, we don't borrow against a specific project or a specific scheme. We borrow to increase our available capital in order to deliver our portfolio of priorities and projects for that year and years beyond.
In the UK Government budget last autumn, the Chancellor said there'd be a review of the Welsh Government's borrowing powers at the spending review and that they would consider whether the limit should be increased up to £300 million. However, that spending review has been delayed by the UK Government, so it's not clear when that will take place. But certainly, a priority in those discussions, which come around the comprehensive spending review, will be about our borrowing capacity.
I still maintain that mistakes were made in Welsh Government setting a trap for itself, which the UK Government then triggered, and I want assurances that such mistakes can't be made again.
Would the Minister agree with me that now is the time, considering the delay, if you like, and the need to spend money on the M4 now, to have a reaffirmation of the general principles of the fiscal framework and other inter-governmental agreements, which allow and secure full flexibility to Ministers in Welsh Government, and will the Minister agree to pursue that as a matter of urgency with the UK Government so that we don't find ourselves in the same position again?
Well, as I say, I've already started these discussions in terms of our borrowing limit. But I'll be issuing a written statement later this week, which talks about the statement of funding policy, and that's a discussion that I started in my first quadrilateral with other finance Ministers, and with the support of the Scottish and Northern Irish administrations, which looks at a much more fair and much more transparent allocation of funding from the UK Government to the nations. But, as I say, I'll be making a further announcement on that later this week, or a further statement, I should say, on that later this week.
With regard to funding that would have been spent this year, it's only in the region of £20 million, which would have been expended on the M4 project should the decision have been made to go ahead with the black route, but, as I say, in future years now, we will look to see how best to spend that money with the first call being to address the issues around Newport.
The Conservative spokesperson, Nick Ramsay.
Diolch, Llywydd. Can the Minister provide an update on the funding allocations being made available across portfolios to progress the decarbonisation of the Welsh economy?
I thank Nick Ramsay very much for that. We're having the start of our discussions now in terms of the preparation for the 2020-21 budget. Obviously, we don't yet have a budget for that. We're having discussions in terms of the priorities that we would wish to see across Government. In each of the discussions that I've had with my colleagues, I've discussed our response to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the importance of addressing a climate emergency, so this is very much front and centre of the work that we're doing.
The First Minister has asked each member of the Cabinet to lead on addressing a cross-cutting issue within our programme for government, and Vaughan Gething has been asked to lead on the decarbonisation piece of work. So, that is about looking across Government to make sure that we are maximising what we already do and also to see if there are further ways in which we can maximise our contribution to decarbonisation.
I've just come this morning from a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on decarbonisation. That's been meeting for around two years now. It's been very much at the forefront of developing our work in terms of cutting our emissions, and our response to the UK's Committee on Climate Change report and so on.
Thank you, Minister, I'm pleased to hear that progress. Ministers across departments have been making the right noises on decarbonising. Lesley Griffiths has said,
'just as Wales played a leading role in the first industrial revolution, I believe Wales can provide an example to others of what it means to achieve environmental growth.'
And she went on to talk about the importance of tackling climate change. That's all great, but, at the same time, you mentioned the future generations commissioner, who has said in a report that we are,
'lagging...behind other countries...in some key areas such as...public transport, active travel'.
In other words, areas, which, over the longer term, can really assist with reducing our carbon footprint as a country. So, I appreciate that this is a budget-setting exercise, probably, but in terms of a strategy for deciding those allocations in advance of that process so that departments know that they're going to get funding specifically to reduce carbonisation, how are you ensuring that that will happen?
That's part of the discussions that I have with individual Ministers in seeking to understand their priorities within their portfolios as to how they would use the funding that they have and their responsibilities and the areas that they have to respond to in order to take forward our responsibilities in terms of the climate emergency.
I'm familiar with the future generations commissioner's discussion paper. I think it's an interesting and useful starting point for a discussion, but I do think that, at the same time, you have to have those discussions about the fact that, if you're identifying £1 billion of funding that is needed, well, where does it come from? Because, as I say week after week in the Assembly, our funding has been constrained and it's much lower than it was even 10 years ago. So, we have to have those discussions about where funding will come from, what activities will stop or what activities we'll divert funding from. And the second point of research that I think has to come from the commissioner in terms of her paper as well is to identify exactly what the carbon savings would be for each of those projects and each of those spending priorities that she's identified within the paper as well. I look forward to continuing those discussions with her at our next meeting.
Minister, the report that I referred to—and you have as well—also highlights that, while the Welsh Government's low-carbon plan contains 100 policies, only around 1 per cent of the Welsh Government's budget can actually be identified as specifically for decarbonisation. Would you agree that, probably, we need to be a bit more ambitious in the future with trying to get that percentage up? If I could just ask you about a couple of specifics, the First Minister, I think at last week's or the week before last's questions, spoke about plans for a new Welsh forest as part of creating a carbon sink so that we're not just looking to reduce our emissions but also looking to try and take some carbon out of the atmosphere as well. Could you outline funding that's been made available for that forest at this early stage and whether you've had any discussions with the environment Minister, as it would be I assume, in terms of where—. I think that forest isn't going to be in one place, so I think that there are going to be aspects of it across Wales—so, just how that's going to be funded.
Thank you for raising that, and this is a particular area of interest for the First Minister. It's another item that was in his First Minister's manifesto. I haven't had a direct conversation about the national forest with the environment Minister, but I have been in contact with her officials who have been advising me on what the potential cost implications could be for that because, obviously, you need the capital investment but, actually, when you do plant woodland, there's a revenue impact and a revenue consequence for that on an ongoing basis as well. So, I've been seeking to better understand the funding implications with the support of the Minister's officials.
The Brexit Party spokesperson, Mark Reckless.
I welcome the Minister's engagement with Assembly Members but also wider civic society, who are interested in this issue, around tax devolution and, in particular, the really significant issues around the yield from the Welsh rates of income tax. I know she's speaking on Tuesday at the Wales Governance Centre, and also thank you for organising your own conference on 19 July, which I'm looking forward to attending.
The Finance Committee had Robert Chote from the Office for Budget Responsibility come in last week. You're paying, I think, £100,000 a year for work from the OBR in response to what was done by Bangor University. I was quite struck to learn at the Finance Committee the extent to which the primary responsibility for the tax forecast, and the numbers and the model that drove that, rest with Welsh Government but then OBR come in and challenge that and give a measure of quality control. But it's a huge responsibility.
We have this £1 billion so-called 'black hole' with Scottish income tax revenues and, although we haven't changed that—the Welsh rates of income tax is an area where the Government has stuck by its manifesto pledge to keep those the same—that doesn't mean that the tax yield can't change very significantly for matters potentially outside our control. You had Mark Drakeford negotiate the fiscal compact, which I think other parties and Members were complimentary about, but there are still huge uncertainties about how these revenues will develop. I just wonder what lessons the Minister is learning from what's going on in Scotland with this £1 billion so-called 'black hole' and, in particular, whether she thinks there's a case for needing a greater level of contingency and reserve in the spending estimates going forward, given those uncertainties and what we're seeing with Scotland.
Thank you for raising the issue of, as it's called, the '£1 billion black hole' in Scotland as a result of their moving to the Scottish rates of income tax. Obviously, it takes a number of years for that reconciliation in tax to be undertaken. So, it's only now that they're understanding really the impact. I think part of the reason why I can take some heart from the way in which we're doing things differently in Wales is because we do have the OBR scrutinising our figures and advising us there, whereas in Scotland it was the Scottish Fiscal Commission. So, we have the same organisation as the UK Government has scrutinising their figures. So, I think that they use, obviously, the same methodology and are able to consider the same impacts. So, I think that that does give us some protection rather than using two different organisations with two different methodologies to understand and analyse the data.
As I said, I met with the Office for Budget Responsibility. It's something, obviously, we will take a very close interest in. We're less exposed, again, than Scotland because we only have the 10p rate of income tax devolved to us, whereas the situation in Scotland is quite different because they have different powers devolved to them in respect of income tax. But, obviously, reconciliation and the importance of accurate and good data is something that we're, obviously, as you would imagine, holding as a high priority because we don't want to be in a situation in years to come where we find that we are having to pay back money that we had factored into our budgets over a number of years.
I don't suggest that the Minister is complacent and, clearly, the OBR has a reputation that it has developed, but I'm a little cautious of thinking just because we have the OBR rather than our own commission that necessarily its performance will be better, because we're only funding it to the tune of £100,000 a year and they do not have the specific experience of the Welsh economy and thinking carefully about how Welsh revenue might diverge because it hasn't been necessary to think about that to the same degree before because the issue has not been of the significance that it now will be. So, I just caution the Minister to the extent that her department is primarily driving this and the OBR is coming in and giving its view and giving some views, but that must be a relatively limited given the £100,000 budget compared to the £1.6 million to the Scottish Fiscal Commission.
I ask, going forward, as to the sensitivity of this issue in terms of what the forecast is but also if the tax rates were to be changed, what the impact of that would be, and, in particular, the sensitivities along the border as to whether people might move either physically themselves or the reported income on which they would be paying tax. I know that it's an issue of great significance to Welsh Government and I'm sure you have a number of officials who are working very carefully on this, but it's also of huge significance to other parties in the Assembly, and as we get closer to the upcoming Assembly election, a little under two years, parties will want to think very carefully about what their policies are going to be for their manifesto, and a big input into that will be what those sensitivities are, what the risks around them are, and I just wonder what more the Minister and Welsh Government can do to share and open up the expertise they have in-house to the input of others, but also, perhaps, to give some common assessment on which political parties can talk about the impacts of their proposed tax policies.
Well, we have developed a very good relationship, I think, with the OBR, and they've certainly been keen to support us as we develop our new taxes, for example, in terms of modelling what they might be for us when we do get to the point at which we are able to provide them with some parameters for the research work.
But I think that, as the Member says, as we move towards the next Assembly elections, it will be for all of our individual parties to set out what we will seek to do with income tax. So, if we were to raise it, what would we spend the additional funding on, and if we were to reduce it, where would the cuts fall? Because, of course, for every penny that we increase or decrease the rate of income tax by, that would have a £200 million impact on the Welsh budget. So, I think that we all need to be very mindful of that. But I don't have concerns about the service that we are receiving from the OBR. I think that we're working very well with them, but, were there concerns, I would certainly raise them directly.
3. What consideration did the Minister give to facilitating the creation of a community bank for Wales when formulating the Welsh Government's budget? OAQ54102
The Welsh Government supports the principle of establishing a community bank for Wales. The Welsh Government’s budget allocated resources to support new businesses. It will be for the Minister for the Economy and Transport to make any offer of seed funding to a community bank.
Thank you for your answer, Minister. Obviously, in January, you did say to me then that the Welsh Government was at some very early stages in discussions with a number of stakeholders who were keen to explore the feasibility of establishing a community bank. Last week, the First Minister reiterated that the Government was indeed working with partners who were also preparing a full market business plan. I would be grateful if you could give some detail in terms of what sums of money will be allocated from the Government's budget in terms of the creation of a community bank. The First Minister has said that he wants the community bank to be in place before the end of this Assembly term, which, of course, is less than two years away. And I'd also be grateful if you could perhaps provide your own assessment of what public subsidy you think would be required to set up the community bank for Wales, as is being outlined, and also if you are aware of any grant or loan that has been requested of the Government in terms of setting up the community bank for Wales.
Thank you for raising the community bank idea. Of course, we do support the principle of establishing a community bank, and developing this is a priority for us. By means of an update, the Welsh Government officials met, and the Development Bank of Wales met with potential stakeholders in the third sector and the private sector last year, including the Public Bank for Wales Action Group, and they're seeking to establish a community bank for Wales. We've provided advice on the process that would need to be followed in order to access seed funding.
Officials are now reviewing a specific proposal and a request for seed funding from the Public Bank for Wales Action Group, working in collaboration with the UK-wide Community Savings Bank Association. Seed funding would be used by the Public Bank for Wales Action Group to initiate a phase of work that would include stakeholder engagement, market assessment, and feasibility for a community bank for Wales, which will then progress to application for a banking licence. An application for a banking licence can take quite some time—two years or more, sometimes—in order to have the necessary work done with the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority. But I think it is too early to identify just how much capital funding we would be putting towards that and what element of subsidy might be needed on an ongoing basis. But that is all part of the work that is going on, but as I say, it is quite early days in terms of the project being scoped and discussions taking place with stakeholders.
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's property and asset strategy? OAQ54111
Our corporate asset management strategy was published in 2016 to bring greater transparency to our approach to managing Government land and property assets. I'm committed to ensuring that the assets we hold as a Government deliver public value and actively support our objectives across Government.
I'm grateful to the Minister for that. In an earlier answer to the Member for Aberconwy, you said that you wished to invest in best practice in the management of the Welsh Government's asset portfolio, and you also encourage the sharing of experience and knowledge. Can I ask you to be a bit more proactive and ambitious than that, Minister? It appears to me that the Welsh Government, alongside the national health service and local government and other parts of the public sector, have enormous value in the assets and properties available to them, but it also appears to me that there is very little proactive management and proactive ambitious management of the assets in the ownership of the public sector as a whole. I'd be grateful, Minister, if you could outline to the National Assembly how you would seek to ensure that this management of assets takes place on a far more joined-up basis, on a more ambitious basis, and if you could outline to us what the objectives are and the targets for the management strategy that you have in place.
Well, as I say, the corporate asset management strategy has been published, and I'm happy to provide the Member with more information. But it is fully aligned to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 in its ways of working and well-being goals. And, in fact, it's very much designed to support the Act's challenge that Government decision making should be more holistic. It's about taking a broader perspective and recognising the interdependencies that exist and the importance of working together to maximise public value for money and the impact of corporate decision making. And that particular piece of work should ensure that we are maximising the policy outcomes.
I don't think there's a lack of ambition in this area because all of our departments have asset management strategies of their own, and I'm currently going through those at the moment to ensure that I'm satisfied that they meet our objectives across Government rather than just simply meeting individual department objectives.
We're also developing best practice for acquisitions as well, because we know that we do, from time to time, need to acquire land and buildings, and we need to ensure that that is done with the appropriate transparency and due diligence. There's a lot of work going on in this area. I referred to the work that the Minister for the economy and the Minister for local government and I are doing to change our approach to the land that we hold in Welsh Government to ensure that when it's disposed of in those cases, it is done so in a way that meets our cross-Government priorities, rather than simply being about the bottom line.
Will the Minister update the Assembly on the progress of legal action being taken by the Welsh Government against the two firms that give advice on the sale of publicly owned land by the regeneration investment fund for Wales, which resulted in a financial loss for the Welsh taxpayer? Your progress report will be highly appreciated.
Thank you. I was able to advise David Rowlands earlier on during questions this afternoon that I was the Minister who was in the portfolio when that action was instigated, and as yet the legal action is still going on, but the Minister now with responsibility, Julie James, will certainly update Members when there is something to update. Because it's an ongoing process, I'm afraid I can't comment further today, sorry.
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's assessment of the effect of the higher 6 per cent land transaction tax rate in respect of commercial property? OAQ54112
The first annual statistics for land transaction tax, covering 2018-19, will be published tomorrow. However, provisional outturn figures indicate that LTT non-residential revenues, amounting to £72 million, were higher than in four of the previous five years of stamp duty land tax. We will continue to monitor the impact of all Welsh taxes.
Gosh. Well, I shall try and contain my excitement in looking forward to seeing these numbers tomorrow—thank you for letting us know that. What I will ask, though, is: the Minister or her predecessor has increased the rate for properties over £1 million in the commercial sector from 5 per cent to 6 per cent, and that sort of increase of a fifth will not lead to higher revenues if the base of transactions falls by a similar amount or more. And I've been concerned that, at least in the early quarterly data, there is evidence that that has happened. Could I ask, going forward—and there will be interaction with the Office for Budget Responsibility around what the forecasts are going to be, as we discussed earlier—will Welsh Government, in the interests of transparency and accountability, publish what the forecast tax take is for each of the bands for both residential and non-residential LTT?
Well, as I say, we will have the outturn data tomorrow, which we can look at in terms of the first year, and we always seek to publish as much information as we can, as we turn to our budget setting, so that we're able to have that scrutiny in committee as we undertake the budget-setting work.
I will say, though, that I know the Member has been particularly concerned about the higher rate of non-residential property transactions, but a lot of the data that is reported by industry analysts, so property investments, which are often share transactions rather than land transactions, and they're not liable for land transaction tax or stamp duty land tax. And so, the tax will have no effect on those transactions. So, any attempt to compare those two particular items aren't possible.
I will say that there are other reasons why companies will seek to base their businesses in Wales, and it's not all about the level of tax rates that we have. There will be access to a skilled workforce and the price of land, for example, is an important consideration when properties for non-residential purposes are bought. So, there are a wide range of factors in this, but obviously we'll continue to monitor the situation closely.
I urge you, Minister, to look at the situation in Scotland, because companies there making similar sized purchases to the ones in Wales will be paying 4.5 per cent—that's below the English rate and, obviously, 1.5 per cent below ours. The month they made that decision, they saw their revenue increase by an amount that was highest on record, and their yearly rise so far stands at something over £13 million. So, I think there's a real lesson here about the level that is optimum for these taxation rates.
Yes. And we will always seek to achieve the optimum level. I know in Scotland, when land and buildings transaction tax was first introduced in 2015, it had a higher non-residential top rate of 4.5 per cent, as David Melding said, and that was a higher rate than the previous stamp duty land tax at the time, but tax revenues in Scotland then increased. The following year, the UK Government increased the top rate of SDLT to 5 per cent, and tax revenues in Scotland then decreased, despite having a relatively lower rate there. In December, the Scottish Government announced it will be increasing its top rate to 5 per cent, which is forecast to increase tax revenues. So, I think it is important to look at what's happening in our neighbouring nations, but always to take the decisions that are best for us in Wales.
6. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Health and Social Services about financial accounting and audit at Swansea Bay University Health Board? OAQ54131
I have regular discussions with the Minister for Health and Social Services on the financial positions of all NHS Wales organisations, including Swansea Bay University Health Board.
Last week, we heard that Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, which is now called the Swansea Bay University Health Board, has again failed to meet its financial duties. The health board has overspent over a period of three years and as a result of that, the auditor general had to qualify his views on its accounts for the year 2018-19. Although ABM health board had improved its financial situation as compared to last year, what else will the Welsh Government do to ensure that this overspend is dealt with and eradicated for the future, and that services are provided on a sustainable basis?
As Dai Lloyd says, the overspend in Swansea Bay University Health Board reduced from £32.4 million in 2017-18 to just under £10 million in 2018-19, and that's an improvement of £22.4 million. The health board did meet its Welsh Government control total of a maximum deficit of £10 million in 2018-19. Swansea Bay University Health Board is currently forecasting that it will break even in 2019-20.
Based on the figures that you quoted to us just now, I'm not 100 per sure how a brand new board can show a track record of three years, but, on the face of it, the new board is going in the right direction. But do you know how much of that reduction in deficit is due to the removal of any debt attributable to the activities in the Bridgend end of operations—those operations, of course, having been moved now to Cwm Taf? What I'm trying to get to is whether this is a displacement of debt into a new health board from the previous one. Also, perhaps you can give us some indication of, now that this board is much smaller, how much less it will be getting from Welsh Government compared to the previous Abertawe Bro Morgannwg board, bearing in mind that it is no longer responsible for the Bridgend county borough constituents of mine.
Thank you for raising that question. I'm afraid I don't have those exact figures with me this afternoon, but I will be sure that the health Minister writes to you with them.FootnoteLink
7. Will the Minister outline the steps the Welsh Government is taking to reduce council tax bills in South Wales West? OAQ54115
Our council tax reduction scheme supports around 280,000 households with their council tax bills. We've been working with local authorities to develop clear and consistent advice on this scheme, and the other discounts and exemptions available, to ensure all households receive the support that they're entitled to.
Minister, my region has seen an average increase in band D council tax of 60 per cent since 2007. Over that time, inflation has only averaged around 2.5 per cent. Over the same period, people have seen their refuse collections halved, day centres closed, libraries closed and leisure centre services axed. Why are my constituents paying so much more for so much less? Minister, will you commit your Government to cutting council taxes next year, or will my constituents, once again, see rises greater than their increase in wages?
Well, the level of council tax is set by local authorities in Wales, but we have continued to protect local government in Wales from significant cuts against a backdrop of reducing budgets from the UK Government. That said, I'm completely aware of the severe pressures that local authorities are under, but they are receiving over £4.2 billion from the Welsh Government in core revenue funding to spend on delivering those key services to which you refer, and we included additional funding in the final budget, so the settlement saw an increase of 0.2 per cent on a like-for-like basis as compared to last year. So, clearly, these are challenging times.
But, in terms of the average band D council tax rate, it's £159 lower than the average band D council tax rate in England. And we've also allowed local authorities to maintain maximum flexibility in managing their budgets throughout the period of austerity, so we haven't imposed national limits on budget increases, but we do recognise that that's a matter for local determination. Also, we don't require local authorities to conduct costly referenda or to ring-fence funding raised through council tax for specific purposes. So, we do try to give local authorities the maximum flexibility that we can, whilst also trying to make council tax fairer. So, we've got rid of the sanction of imprisonment for the non-payment of council tax. We've legislated to ensure that all care leavers in Wales are exempt from council tax until their twenty-fifth birthday, and we're also continuing with our council tax reduction scheme, which means, as part of the 280,000 households that have help, 220,000 of those pay nothing at all. We're constantly working to find more ways to make council tax fairer, working in partnership with local authorities to do so.
8. What consideration did the Minister give to helping victims of domestic violence when drafting the final budget 2019-20? OAQ54094
In 2019-20, we have provided £15 million to support victims of all forms of violence, including domestic abuse, violence against women, and sexual violence in Wales.
Thank you. Well, as Welsh Women's Aid said last month, access to specialist support, where and when survivors of abuse need it, is critical to enable women and girls to achieve safety and reach their full potential. But although there's a Welsh Government commitment to deliver secure and sustainable funding for specialist services, and we have commissioning guidance, secure funding for specialist services is yet to be delivered in many areas of Wales. And, of course, figures published last November from the Office for National Statistics quoted the crime survey for England and Wales, showing 2 million victims in England and Wales last year: 65 per cent women, 35 per cent men—where men are three times as likely as women to not report abuse because of feelings of shame, embarrassment, denial and stereotypes of masculinity, and men in Wales are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.
How, therefore, will you respond, or are you considering to respond, to the reports by BBC Wales in March that the Welsh charity Calan has seen a significant increase in male victims coming forward, replicating the findings of the work of the wonderful charities, KIM Inspire in Holywell, the domestic abuse safety unit in Deeside, and others, so that the concerns of Welsh Women's Aid for women and girl victims and survivors, but also the growing concerns being expressed regarding male victims, can be addressed through the appropriate support services in the future?
I was grateful to you for raising the joint report on supporting disabled people experiencing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence here in the Chamber during business questions last month, and I know that, since then, the Minister with responsibility for this agenda had the opportunity to look at the report and has written to Welsh Women's Aid in order to set out what the Government might be able to do in terms of responding to that particular report.
The Welsh Government is committed to tackling all forms of gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence, and supporting all victims of domestic abuse. We do recognise that whilst it is a disproportionate experience for women and girls, it doesn't mean that violence and abuse directed to men and boys isn't perpetrated, because anybody can be affected by these issues. Welsh Government funds projects in Wales providing support services for male victims, including the Live Fear Free helpline and project Dyn. The helpline is gender responsive and includes targeted information specifically for male victims, and the Dyn project provides accessible support to all men who experience domestic abuse in Wales, regardless of age, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. And we also have statutory guidance, which sets out core commissioning principles on which regional commissioning strategies should be based, and, again, that's about ensuring that all victims, regardless of their gender or their background, are able to access support.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item, therefore, is questions to the Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language, and the first question is from Mark Isherwood.
1. How is the Welsh Government supporting Welsh international trade? OAQ54093
Diolch. We're actively working with companies across Wales to support them to grow their exports and are leveraging our international connections to link them with opportunities.
Thank you. According to media coverage, as Brussels has signed new trade deals around the world, goods from partner countries can enter the EU at reduced or zero-tariff rates and then flow free into Turkey, which, although not in the EU, is in the customs union for goods. Turkish companies don't benefit from reciprocal tariff cuts when exporting to those countries because Ankara is not part of the EU, and it's reported that Ankara, the Turkish Government, therefore started imposing protective tariffs on a number of imports for the EU last year, and concerns were raised about the implications for the UK and Wales, therefore, if we remained in the customs union, outside the EU, in the future. Similarly, The Guardian economic editor stated in April that those who argue that Britain would be better off negotiating its own trade deals have a point, because the EU is not especially interested in liberalising where it's weak but the UK is strong—in this case, in services. That was an interesting angle coming from The Guardian. So, in considering how the Welsh Government will develop international trade in a post-Brexit environment, how will it take into account these practical considerations, as highlighted by academics and others over recent months?
Well, I think the first thing to say is that you're absolutely right in identifying that Turkey actually is in a customs union with the European Union. But I think what's important for us to note is that the relationship that matters most is our relationship with the European Union—60 per cent of our trade in goods is with the European Union. And therefore, what's important is that we understand that any loss in that market, even for a short period of time, would have a hugely damaging effect on our market here in Wales. What is of interest to me is that, actually, one of the leaders in the Tory party leadership election at the moment is suggesting that there is a possibility that we could have a scenario where we don't pay any tariffs during an implementation period. That has been comprehensibly rubbished by the Bank of England and by the European Union, so I think if the Member wants to ask about trade deals in the future, he has to understand that the most important deal is with the European Union, and at the moment, that deal seems a long way away.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on measures to manage Cadw-owned land? OAQ54120
Thank you for that question. Cadw manages historic properties that are in the ownership or guardianship of Welsh Ministers in accordance with its published conservation principles. Cadw’s management also reflects its statutory duties in areas such as public health and safety and Welsh Government policy agendas, including sustainability.
On Friday last week, Wayne David MP and I met with Cadw, particularly to discuss this issue, and they confirmed on the evening of 16 May they'd approved contractors to shoot a number of birds within the grounds of Caerphilly castle in order to control their numbers. There was a witness to this, and the witness posted pictures on social media, and these were carried by the Caerphilly Observer. As a result, there was something of a public outcry regarding the shooting of birds at the castle. Cadw unilaterally decided to suspend this approach, and they've told us that they've suspended it pending the outcome of a review of how they control bird populations on the castle grounds. It's emerged that Cadw have been able to use this as a means for some considerable time under the terms of a general licence awarded by Natural Resources Wales. In England, these licences are no longer awarded as the result of a legal challenge, and that is ongoing. The powers over these licences are devolved, as I understand it, and therefore in the responsibility of the Welsh Government. Will you give us some clarity on that, on those grounds, but also would you commit Welsh Government to supporting Cadw to find alternative ways to control bird populations at places like Caerphilly castle?
Thank you for the way you've pursued this issue. I can confirm that everything that you say factually is correct. The activity of Cadw in controlling feral pigeons is permitted under a general licence derived from the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which, as you say, is issued by Natural Resources Wales. Cadw have trialled a number of ways to control feral pigeons in the past, including using localised netting, blocking up holes in historic fabric—which, I'm sure you appreciate, is rather difficult—installing anti-perching spikes, using ultrasound, lifelike plastic deterrents and even birds of prey. These have not proven as effective as they would have wished, but I can not only confirm that the activity that Cadw undertook was legal, but in view of the concern that has been expressed by you today, and, indeed, by members of the public, Cadw has agreed to undertake a review. They assure me that this review will take place urgently, and that no further activity of the kind that you describe will take place until that review is completed. The review will include detailed advice about the environmental and the public health aspects of the control of feral pigeons, and I will certainly involve you and any other Members who are particularly concerned about these incidents in the discussions, after the review is completed.
May I put on record my thanks to the Deputy Minister for his prompt response in dealing with the issue of vandalism at the Roman amphitheatre in Caerleon, which is managed by Cadw? I understand that an anti-social behaviour working group, which includes representatives from Cadw, Gwent Police, Newport City Council and the local community, met on 23 May to consider a range of options to tackle the issue. Can the Deputy Minister advise whether any proposals have been forthcoming following that meeting and will he ask Cadw to review security at other sites they manage also suffering from the same anti-social behaviour in Wales?
Thank you for making those remarks. I have not yet seen a detailed report of those discussions, but I can confirm that they have taken place. The issue that we face, and I’ve been to the site, of course—to Caerleon and other historic sites—. The difficulty with these sites is, if you fence them in, then that doesn’t make them attractive for people to visit. It’s a balance, always, between the minimum protection required for sites to ensure that they’re not misused and the deterrent that it would form for people if sites were, as it where, overprotected. So, I still have some faith in the potential of education and, in particular, the involvement of young people in conservation activities themselves—I can see that my colleague the education Minister is nodding—and the various programmes that we have now with young ambassadors and young apprentices within Cadw and in other parts of my responsibilities are ways of introducing young people to the habits of conservation so that they don’t feel the need to cause any damage to what are, after all, very historic sites.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson—Darren Millar.
Thank you, Llywydd. Will the Minister make a statement on discussions she holds with foreign officials and diplomats surrounding human rights?
Thank you. Yes, this is something that is important for us as we are developing a new international strategy. And, of course, that will be a factor that we consider. But, of course, when relevant, we discuss those issues with representatives with whom we think there is an issue where it should be challenged.
Thank you for that response. Of course, one of the cornerstones of our democracy here in Wales and, indeed, the rest of the United Kingdom, is this proud tradition of respect that we have for human rights, and it's good to say that we've been a leader on human rights, in many respects, around the world for many, many years. You recently met with the Chinese vice-premier during his visit to Wales, and I was very pleased to see in media reports that you'd been promoting Welsh produce. Can you tell us: did you discuss human rights abuses in China with the vice-premier? You will have seen there have been many abuses in China historically, and I'm sure it was a welcome opportunity that people would have expected you to have taken.
Of course, we're very aware of the issues surrounding human rights in China, in particular at the moment with the situation in Hong Kong, and also with the ethnic minorities, in terms of the Uighurs Muslims. So, those were live issues, and, indeed, I did raise the issue of human rights with the deputy premier at the dinner in the evening.
I'm extremely pleased to hear that you raised the human rights record of China with the deputy premier. It's extremely important that we ensure that these are issues that are raised at every single opportunity. I notice that you referred to the Uighurs Muslim population in China. We just had a meeting of the cross-party group on faith this afternoon, and we were talking about some of the pressures that that brings in terms of refugees around the world when there's persecution of people taking place as a result of their religious or political beliefs.
One of the other organisations that's raised concerns with Assembly Members in the past, of course, is the charity Open Doors, which has identified that 97 million Christians in China are at risk of arrest and physical harm. Can you assure the Assembly that every opportunity will be used to raise concerns about human rights abuses where they take place, whether that's in China, Turkey or any other country, when you have the opportunity to meet with officials and diplomats in the future?
Well, I can give you an assurance that, when we met with Turkey recently, the issue of human rights was very much at the top of the agenda there. And I agree that the persecution of Christians is something that we should absolutely confront. It's not just an issue in China. It's a big issue in the middle east, in Egypt, and, certainly, these are issues that need to be confronted and need to be discussed with the relevant authorities.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Leanne Wood.
Llywydd, earlier this year the Government published plans to make Wales a nation of sanctuary. I welcome this, of course. On Tuesday, the First Minister said that Wales was a welcoming and inclusive nation. Can the Minister outline what her department is doing to promote this welcoming message on the international stage?
Thank you very much. Of course, it is important that we do underline the fact that we are a country that welcomes people to our midst. Last week, for example, we had an event here in the Senedd where we welcomed people from Bangladesh who were playing cricket. It was an opportunity for us to say once again that we are grateful that the Bangladeshi community has joined us here in Wales.
This week, you have heard that the First Minister has made it clear that we are an open country and that we do welcome people. He’s made a statement to that effect. It is important, because it does align with the visit by the ambassador from Romania. It was important that he heard that message clearly, because we do have a lot of people who have joined us in our country, who do contribute to our country, and it is very important that they understand that they are welcome. One of the things that we are doing now to promote that and ensure that they understand that there is a welcome for them is that we’ve put plans in place, with the ring-fenced funding that we’ve got for Brexit, to ensure that people are aware of their rights. We have put money aside to ensure that people can visit a centre and ask what their rights are. We do hope that that is conveyed clearly in our new international strategy.
Thank you for that response, Minister.
I asked the question because I'm very concerned about the inhumane treatment of migrants, especially migrant children, on the US southern border with Mexico. At least 24 people, including six children, have so far died during the Trump administration in what can only be truthfully described as concentration camps. The US Government is separating thousands of children from their parents and are detaining them in cold cages that have been nicknamed 'dog pounds' and 'freezers' by the detained children. Their valuables, and even their medicines, are taken away from them, and, while the border patrol have a legal requirement to ensure safety and sanitary conditions, a lawyer from the US justice department recently argued in court that detained children don't need soap, toothbrushes or beds to be safe and sanitary while in border patrol custody. Minister, will your Government write to the US Government condemning these awful breaches of human rights?
Well, I certainly condemn those breaches of human rights. And I think one of the most shocking things for me was that, actually, they haven't kept a clear account of when and who was separated from parents and children, and therefore it's been difficult to get these two groups back together, because of the chaos that is occurring on that border. Of course, we're very concerned to see those dreadful pictures; of course we're concerned when people are determined to build walls. And I think that's one of the things that we're concerned with with the Brexit discussion—actually what happens with that border with Ireland. We know that walls and borders create tensions, and that's certainly something that we don't want to see happening in future. The Member will be aware that, of course, in relation to international affairs, it's the United Kingdom Government that has responsibility, but I'm very happy to make our views clear to the UK Government.
I welcome the Minister's response to my question. I think it's vital that we hold the US to account, as it's the most powerful state in the world, and is often considered to be one of the UK's closest allies. I am utterly appalled by the UK Government's complete silence on this. I believe that it might have something to do with the UK Government's attempts to cosy up to Donald Trump in the hope of getting some kind of trade deal—a trade deal that we all know would be detrimental to Wales and to our NHS. So, Minister, will you join me now in condemning the UK Government's unprincipled stance on the appalling actions of the United States Government?
Well, I think, to be fair, we can't hold the United Kingdom responsible for what Donald Trump is doing on that border. But I do think that it would be appropriate for us to make our views known, and we will therefore write to the Foreign Secretary to let him know that this is how we feel in this—as a Welsh Government. But I think we also have to understand that, actually, the United States is also an ally. There are good friends who are part of the United States. You think about all those students who are going over from Wales to study in the United States. We've had inward investment figures today; the United States is one of the greatest inward investors to our country. And so we have to make sure that we make clear the difference between the United States as a nation and the leadership, the political leadership, that perhaps we are not always in agreement with.
3. How is the Welsh Government promoting the Welsh language in Rhondda Cynon Taf? OAQ54125
We are working with a wide range of local and national partners to promote the Welsh language in Rhondda Cynon Taf. And it's a very exciting period, with the National Eisteddfod visiting in 2022, and the menter iaith organising Parti Ponty to promote the language.
I am very grateful, Minister, that you have referred to the National Eisteddfod in 2022 visiting RCT; it's going to be a key opportunity to build on the 28,000 Welsh speakers who are already in Rhondda Cynon Taf. And I think it's a major opportunity for language recovery in a really important part of Wales, because, if we're going to be a bilingual nation, it's in this area, and others like it, that we need to see the maximum gain. It's also an opportunity for economic regeneration, promoting tourism and the culture of the area. And I do hope the Welsh Government will be co-operating with the council, who already have a plan to develop their strategy up to 2022, so maximum benefit could be achieved from this wonderful opportunity.
Thank you very much. Of course, I do hope that people in the Rhondda area are looking forward to that event. I think what’s important to remember with the Eisteddfod is that it’s not just a week-long festival—the preparations are starting now. What’s important about the Eisteddfod is that the legacy does carry on after the Eisteddfod leaves. But it is an opportunity for us to raise levels of excitement in the area about the Welsh language. I'm very pleased that RCT council is taking this seriously, that they have welcomed the Eisteddfod, and that they, as I understand it, have also appointed an officer to ensure that this is something that does develop, not just in 2022, but starting a long time before that event.
One of the ways in which we can promote the Welsh language, of course, is through education, and ensuring that people can learn Welsh and learn through the medium of Welsh. One of the things that I’ve heard over the past few weeks, and I have seen this in my own constituency, is that local councils aren’t willing to pay for transportation for those children who want to attend Welsh-medium schools, thereby enabling them to learn through the medium of Welsh.
I’m very pleased to see that the education Minister is in her seat for this session this afternoon. Could you, Minister, Ministers, work together in order to ensure that every individual and every child can attend Welsh-medium schools if that is their choice, wherever they live in our nation?
Of course, this is something that’s very important for the Government. This is a question for the education Minister, in truth, but this is a subject that we have discussed previously. Of course, we are aware that there are two councils where this is something that they’re discussing at present. It is important that people understand that there is a consultation that’s ongoing on whether there should be a cost paid by people who attend sixth forms in some of these schools. I do think that we should encourage people to respond to that consultation, because that’s the best way to persuade some people who perhaps still have an open mind about what should happen in future.
I'd like to join my colleague, David Melding, in expressing my excitement at the National Eisteddfod coming to Rhondda Cynon Taf in 2022, and bringing important cultural and economic benefits as well, of course, as raising the profile of the Welsh language. I think one of the most important ways that we can actually make sure that we meet our target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050 is to increase the number of pupils who access Welsh-medium education. While RCT has a strong track record in delivering that, I think the role of the meithrin is really important in encouraging young children into that sphere.
I've been working closely with a meithrin in Cynon Valley, Cylch Meithrin Seren Fach, which is totally oversubscribed. They need funds in order to expand. They're turning away children and families week after week and they have to access a plethora of different funding streams as a charity in order to try and meet the target that they require. So, my question to you, Deputy Minister, is: what discussions have you had with Welsh Government colleagues to ensure that meithrins can access the funding that they need?
Well, we have actually increased funding very, very significantly to make sure that there is an opportunity for people to access Welsh language education at the earliest opportunity. That includes meithrin. So, they've had £1 million to expand, and I'm pleased to say that in the past year Rhondda Cynon Taf has actually had £2.7 million specifically to help develop Welsh language meithrin provision in that area. And I think you're absolutely right: if we don't get the basics right, if we can't get people into the system at the beginning, then we're not likely to persuade them when they go into mainstream education. So, this is fundamental. The Welsh Government has recognised it's fundamental, and that is why we are really putting supreme effort into this area, and we are on target in terms of the numbers of ysgolion meithrin that we hoped to open up until this point.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
4. Will the Minister make a statement on recent discussions held between the Welsh Government and a delegation from China? OAQ54128
Vice-Premier Hu's visit to Wales reaffirmed Wales and China’s long-standing relationship. Following the positive news on lifting market access for beef, it showcased Welsh agriculture, produce and innovation. The visit included a productive bilateral meeting with the First Minister to discuss opportunities for further collaboration across business, culture and education.
I thank the Minister for that answer on the range of things that were discussed. I wonder if one of those items was the issue of climate change and how the two nations on a very different scale, with different degrees of complexity, can actually learn from each other and could show leadership. We know that China has been, in the recent decade, investing significantly in renewables, but it's also building itself a fleet of new coal-fired power stations at the same time. Meanwhile, of course, we have declared not only a climate change emergency but set our challenging zero-carbon targets. So, I wonder, was part of the discussions to do with climate change, not only on the challenges but the opportunities and how we may share experience and both show leadership on the world stage?
Indeed I did take the opportunity to speak to the vice-premier about this specific issue, because I do think that China is absolutely instrumental in terms of whether we are going to be able to tackle this issue and keep below the 2 degrees C that is absolutely crucial for all of us. We all know that there was a period where there were two coal-fired power stations being opened in China every single week and it's true that about 69 per cent of their energy is still produced by coal. The Minister was very clear that he understood this to be a very significant issue for his nation. When he was leading a region, he was instrumental, he was telling me, in changing the way that public transport was organised so that there was a shift to renewables. I think it is worth actually dwelling on the fact that, for every dollar that the United States spends on renewable energy, China spends three. So, it is by far the leading investor in renewable energy around the world. The impact on people, particularly in Beijing—he was telling me that the air quality in Beijing is so terrible now that this is something that they are taking extremely seriously.
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the publication of the Welsh Government’s international strategy? OAQ54122
I shall be publishing a draft strategy to go out for full consultation before the end of term.
Can I thank the Minister for the answer? I very much welcome the publication of the strategy before the end of this summer term, because it's crucial that we actually see the direction that the Welsh Government is taking. Can I also congratulate you on the number of meetings you've had with the various ambassadors and other representatives who have come to Wales? But we want to see the strategies, because we want to be able to assess against your targets and your priorities as to whether those meetings are meaningful or not. When I met with the Basque President, he actually identified that they had already identified strategies, and nations and regions that they wanted to work with as a consequence of that. Have you got priorities in your strategy that we can look at and will those priorities be part of that consultation process so that we can have a look at what you're saying, what you're doing and see if they meet the needs of Wales?
Thank you. I think there will be an opportunity. Can I assure the Chair of the committee that we have taken the contributions of his committee very seriously when drafting the strategy? Of course, some of the things we want to do is to raise the profile of Wales internationally. We want to make sure that that international aspect of what we do helps to contribute to the wealth of our country in terms of inward investment and exports, and we've had some very good news in terms of inward investment into Wales today. But also, we want to demonstrate that we're a globally responsible nation. But in relation to are we going to identify—. Because we can't do everything; I think we have to recognise that. So, we will need to focus. There will be a list of areas that we're hoping to focus on and, of course, people will then be able to give their feedback as to whether they think we have identified the correct areas.
It's not just the Deputy Minister for the economy who thinks that this Welsh Government doesn't really know what it's doing on the economy. Last year, you said that while the Labour Party is good at distributing money, it was not—quote—
'so familiar with knowing how to generate wealth which can then be taxed and shared for the benefit of the wider economy.'
Now, strategy or no, you're going to be dealing with some very experienced international wealth generators from whom we could learn a lot or who could contribute directly to the economy. Does your Government know how to get them to Wales without us being ripped off? Because episodes like Pinewood suggest that it may not.
Thank you. I think what's clear is that, actually, we already have a very clear strategy in relation to inward investment. Today, we've heard that we have managed to land 51 new inward investment projects into Wales. That's produced 3,700 jobs. We know that 75 per cent of that amount is because of Welsh Government intervention. These wouldn't have come without us. So, of course, we are anxious to ensure that that success is built upon, and we are of course doing everything we can. It's very difficult to attract attention to your particular place when you're competing with so many other areas, so what we will be trying to do in the international strategy is to demonstrate where we have genuine global leadership, to attract the attention onto ourselves as a nation, to attract attention to ourselves because we are a beautiful country with skills, people—and it's after that that you can start having the conversations that lead on to inward investment.
6. Will the Minister make a statement on what further steps the Welsh Government is taking to achieve the target of one million Welsh speakers by 2050? OAQ54097
Since launching Cymraeg 2050, we've been focusing on laying firm foundations, for example, through planning, education and ICT. We're also ensuring that the Welsh language is an important part of all policy areas across Government, as well as looking at strengthening language planning functions in our institution.
Minister, in order to achieve this ambitious target, I’m sure you would agree that we will need to recruit far more teachers who can speak Welsh and teachers who are able to teach through the medium of Welsh. Unfortunately, the number of students who can teach through the medium of Welsh is at its lowest level for 10 years, and only 10 per cent of applicants are able to do this at the moment. Given these factors, and following some of the comments that have been made in this Chamber this afternoon, what are you and the Welsh Government going to do in order to turn this situation around? What discussions have you had with the education Minister to ensure that more students are encouraged to teach through the medium of Welsh?
Well, we are aware that we need to increase the number of teachers who can teach through the medium of Welsh. Of course, there is a step before that—that is, we have to ensure that enough people have a Welsh A-level so that they can go on to teach through the medium of Welsh, where that’s possible. We’ve seen that there’s a relationship between the people who study Welsh at A-level and those who go into Welsh-medium education, and we’re trying to encourage more of them. We’ve put £150,000 towards trying to encourage children of the right age to choose A-level Welsh as a subject, so we hope that will make a difference. Of course, you’re aware that we’ve already got an incentive of £5,000 in addition to try to get more people to teach Welsh and train through the medium of Welsh. Of course, what’s important is that we are expanding the sabbatical scheme, and that’s something that we’ve been looking at; it’s not something that necessarily lasts a year. But we’re looking at where people can speak a little Welsh, and we then need to just help to build that confidence. A lot of that work is going on at the moment.
On a personal level, I'm trying to increase the number of Welsh-speaking teachers by one. Whilst we will not know the number of Welsh speakers in 2050 because there'll be no means to find that out, we'll know the number after the 2021, 2031, 2041 and 2051 censuses. How many Welsh speakers do you expect in the 2021 census? One thing I do know is we're not going to go from 600,000 to 1 million in a one-year period.
Well, what’s clear is that we have put in place a strategy for the long term. Of course, we have to ensure that we measure our progress along the way. The fact that the annual population survey has demonstrated that now 896,000 people are able to speak Welsh gives us some hope. Of course, we have to be aware that that isn’t the yardstick that we use—we are actually using the census as our yardstick. One of the things that we have to do is to ensure that people who are able to speak Welsh have the confidence to say that they speak Welsh. That is a problem for many people, and I do hope, for example, Mike, that by 2050 you will be one of those people who will have the confidence to tick that box to ensure that you, too, can say that you are one of that million.
Question 7 [OAQ54123] has been withdrawn. Question 8—Russell George.
8. Will the Minister make a statement on what the Welsh Government is doing to promote tourism in mid Wales? OAQ54095
Thank you for the question. Mid Wales—canolbarth Cymru—had a successful Easter period, with 40 per cent of businesses reporting more visitors than the same period last year. The Member will also be aware that we have retained, for the purposes of tourism, mid Wales as a tourism region. And I look forward to my contribution personally: I shall be staying at the Caer Beris hotel in Llanelwedd for the Royal Welsh for at least four days.
Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your answer. You'll be aware of the work on the mid Wales growth deal, which is being supported by both the Welsh and UK Governments, and work being undertaken by both local authorities in Powys and Ceredigion through the Growing Mid Wales partnership. I wonder what conversations you've had with Government colleagues here, or indeed with either of the local authorities, in terms of developing a tourism stream for that growth deal. And also, in terms of supporting the tourism sector and industry in mid Wales, do you agree that, as part of that work, there needs to be a key attraction and pull into the area to support small businesses and local tourism businesses in the mid Wales area?
Tourism businesses of all sizes in mid Wales make a distinctive contribution to the local economy, and it is key that we should be able to support them. In relation to the growth deal, we do expect, clearly, that there will be a strong tourism element within the growth deal. Tourism is a foundational economic activity in the policy of the Government, and the importance of that is that we see the development of tourism as providing an economic stimulus to other aspects that we are supporting strongly, such as the food industry.
9. Will the Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government is promoting south-west Wales as a tourist destination? OAQ54130
Thank you very much for that question. I’m pleased to say that our research shows that south-west Wales had a very strong response too in the period between Easter and Whitsun—over the Easter period, I should say—and therefore we continue to market the south-west robustly as a place to spend holiday time. As I have advertised one hotel in mid Wales, I should mention Twr y Felin in Pembrokeshire, where I stayed relatively recently.
Deputy Minister, I’m sure you’ll agree that ancient monuments could make a big contribution to tourism in any county. However, locally, in Neath Port Talbot in my constituency, there is frustration that a key monument, Neath abbey, isn’t promoted sufficiently as a tourist attraction, and there is concern that it isn’t advertised sufficiently and that there is poor access and signage to it. I’m aware that Cadw has invested in the site to try and rescue the structures, but will you commit to working with local government partners and the south Wales highways agency to ensure that this site is signed and promoted properly in order to make the best of its potential for tourism?
I have visited the Neath abbey site and have seen the work done there to safeguard the building, and I applaud that work, but I do accept that there are some difficulties in terms of accessibility to the abbey. We consider abbeys to be at least as important as our castles in our monuments strategy, and I am more than willing to work with the local authority and, indeed, any other stakeholders in the area who would wish to promote that abbey and who would wish to ensure that the heritage of our abbeys is celebrated the length and breadth of Wales.
10. What were the outcomes of the Minister's recent visit to Ireland which sought to promote links with Wales? OAQ54121
I met the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, and reaffirmed the Welsh Government’s commitment to work closely with Ireland whatever the outcome of the Brexit process. I also met a number of investors and representatives from the business community.
I agree with you, Minister, that trade relations with Ireland are really important to our country. I just wondered if you'd had the opportunity to mention to all the people you met something very significant that happened 25 years ago this month. It's something called the Loughinisland massacre, where six civilians were killed and five wounded in a pub while they were watching the world cup. Nobody's ever been prosecuted, but the ombudsman's report in 2016 confirmed there had been collusion between the police and the informers they were using and that destruction of evidence took place. A film about this issue was released in 2017 and subsequently the producers of that film have been arrested on the grounds that they've used information that was leaked to them. But I think it's a very high-profile issue in Ireland, and it was brought over to Cardiff recently by one of the journalists who exposed this. I just wondered if there was an opportunity to discuss this, because, obviously, criminal justice has to be seen to be done and it clearly hasn't been done in this case, because the names of these individuals are widely known in the community in Loughinisland. And I'm sure that the people of Ireland would like the people of Wales to see justice being done in Northern Ireland, because we will never get peace until that happens.
Thank you. I'm afraid I didn't get an opportunity to bring that up, but I have since looked into that particular instance, which did cause a lot of concern, I'm sure, in Ireland. I think what is important is that, where possible, we really build on the relationships with Ireland. You had the opportunity to meet with the Irish consul that I introduced you to, who's new to Wales. We're very pleased that the consulate has been reopened, because what that does is to give us an opportunity to build on our Welsh export growth, which has been significant. It's 50 per cent higher today than it was in 2017. It's the fourth largest export market that we have, and we've seen a 60 per cent growth in visitor numbers from Ireland. But it's absolutely right, when there are issues relating to justice, and it is important that we look at that, another thing that I've learnt in recent weeks is that, actually, the relationship with the Bala area was significant because a lot of people from the Irish uprisings were actually imprisoned in that area after that event. So, those links are things that, actually, are really important to the people of that country and we need to build on them and build on those relationships, because that shared history is something that I think is very valued.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is questions to the Assembly Commission. The questions this afternoon will be answered by the Llywydd. Question 1, Alun Davies.
1. Will the Commission make a statement on the use of technology in the Chamber? OAQ54114
The Commission continues to employ a range of technologies to support Members in the Siambr. These range from the software used to provide agendas, messaging and voting, to the systems used to deliver audio-visual content, broadcasting and interpretation. Wi-Fi is also available in the Siambr to allow Members to access services via their own personal devices.
I think, all too often, people watching us taking part in debates in this place will see a Member speaking, as I am now, and a sea of heads looking downwards at their screens—[Interruption.] Not that I'm seeing that. Clearly, I can hold the attention of at least half of you at any one time. But, all too often, the impression given to those watching our debates is that more people are intent on communicating on their computers when taking part in those debates. I think it's time now that we review the structure of this Chamber and ensure that we get rid of our computer screens and spend more time debating with each other and less time on our screens.
Just to confirm that Wi-Fi is already available within the Chamber, and Members can use Wi-Fi to access personal devices. As you were making the suggestion to remove the IT equipment on the desks, there were a great many interested people looking up all of a sudden—[Laughter.]—showing me that they may not be of the same opinion as you. Some of you are quite active typists in this Assembly, and I note that when I sit in the Llywydd's Chair.
The last time we asked Assembly Members for their views on whether the IT equipment that was available to them in this Chamber was the right way to carry on for the future was in 2016, and Members were certainly at that point keen to continue with the use of the IT equipment installed here. As you've alluded to yourself, really, Members don't have to use what's in front of them and as any Member is standing on his or her feet it may be useful to remind other Members that they are in shot, in television shot, at that time, and it's probably not a good look for a party leader of any party to have Members of his or her—no, no 'her'—party behind them not paying any attention at all to what the party leader is saying. I know that one group in particular does work as a group in order to ensure that they may be looking as if they are listening to their party leader—[Laughter.]—and I'll let you work out which group that is next week.
I would say that, at the moment, I don't think that there's a majority view, I suspect, in this Chamber, to remove the IT equipment that we have, but what I would say is that you don't need to use it and what I would always urge, as Llywydd as well as responding on behalf of the Commission here, is that you take part in debate, you listen and you involve yourself in what's happening around you because that's why you were elected to this place in the first place.
Thank you. Question 2, Andrew R.T. Davies.
2. Will the Commission outline what action is being taken to end phone scams involving Assembly phone numbers? OAQ54107
The Commission is highly aware of the distress that the issue is causing to members of the public, Assembly Members, their staff and Commission staff. Unfortunately, preventing this from happening is beyond the Commission's ability to control. However, we are working with HMRC, Action Fraud, telephony providers and other agencies in order to attempt to minimise the impact that this is having. The Commission has taken steps to provide the public, Members and staff with information about the scam and the appropriate action to take if their phone numbers are affected.
Thank you for that answer, Presiding Officer, and I'm grateful for the efforts of Commission staff in particular in addressing Members' concerns and staff's concerns, because it's not just Members who are receiving these phone calls—it's across the Assembly estate. I appreciate it's a very difficult one to deal with on the basis that they're coming from across the United Kingdom, as I understand it, the calls, certainly into my office. And if I can selfishly think of the examples in my office, some of them are quite distressing for staff members to have to deal with, because people get very irate when they realise they're talking to, if you like, an official organisation and they link the two together, although they understand by the end of the conversation that it's a scam.
Could I implore the Commission to look at any avenue possible to publicise and make people aware that this is in no way connected to the Assembly in any shape or form? And I don't know whether this is correct or not, but when you look into these things, some people give you alternative views. I have been told that it's easier to scam 0300 numbers, as opposed to the 02920 numbers we historically used to use or our local numbers back in the constituency. I have no knowledge of whether that is correct or not, but I presume that, if you do have a universal code to start with, it does make it easier to tap into, and I'd be grateful if the Commission could give consideration, so that if that evidence is there, we do move back to maybe a more localised coding system that might alleviate some sort of scamming in the future.
Thank you for raising the matter. It is an issue that has caused significant concern, and a significant effort is going in to address the issue, to provide the reassurance to members of the public who ring back and ring into our system that they have been affected by a scam. We're not able as a Commission to deal with this directly. We're dependent on partners and on our telephone system provider in particular and also working with other agencies who can support us in trying to address this issue.
From my understanding at this point, it's not straightforward to move away from the 0300 number, that wouldn't guarantee a solution, and, obviously, would be quite a complex exercise to undertake in itself, but I can give Members the reassurance that this is very much an issue that we are trying to seek a solution to because it is very time-consuming for our members of staff and Members of the Assembly to have the phone calls come through all the time and, obviously, is distressing for those people who have ended up receiving the initial scam messages. So, we're working on every front we possibly can to seek a solution to this problem.
Well, as somebody who's had at least half a dozen a day, including one from Germany, it is a matter of concern. Really, it is, in many ways, beyond the Commission's capacity to stop it. What the Commission can do and I understand what other organisations do, they have an automated message that comes on saying, 'If you think you're contacting HMRC, you're not, this number has been spoofed and you're contacting the wrong number. Please block this number in future so that you will not get another one.' While that isn't a solution that is going to be successful in the short term, it may start cutting down in the medium to long term. We're not unusual, unfortunately, and lots of big organisations have this happening to them. I think it is something that telephone companies really do need to get to the bottom of in terms of the ability to ensure that doesn't happen.
If you indulge me for a few seconds, Deputy Presiding Officer, I would like to say we did have a Member here who did not use their computer at any time in the Chamber and who refused to use it in the Chamber, and that was Steffan. He said he promised members he would not use it in the Chamber when he was standing for election and he never did. And I'll tell you what, contacting him was incredibly difficult, and Siân Gwenllian did tell me, 'I'm not his secretary.' [Laughter.] So, there are difficulties in not using it. Anyway, thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Thank you. Llywydd.
Yes, and you're right, Mike, to refer to the fact that Steffan, of course, made a commitment not to use the computer himself. I'm sure he wouldn't mind me sharing the information with the Assembly, though, that he did use the Wi-Fi system here to send me requests to speak at times, and that was very dependent on whether my phone happened to be on at that particular time.
The suggestion that you make regarding an automated response in order to intercept the messages is one that we are looking into with the telephone provider at the moment. So, just to reiterate my response to Andrew R.T. Davies, we are looking as creatively as possible to see how we can address this issue, both in the short term, but in order to provide a longer term solution as well.
Thank you, Llywydd.