Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

15/12/2021

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

The Senedd met by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I need to set out a few points. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting and those are set out on your agenda.

1. Questions to the Minister for Finance and Local Government

The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Finance and Local Government, and the first question is from Huw Irranca-Davies.

Energy Generation and Energy Efficiency

1. What consideration does the Minister give to enabling the Welsh Government and local authorities to actively invest in energy generation and energy efficiency when allocating funding to the climate change portfolio? OQ57354

Our recently published Net Zero Wales plan sets out our targets relating to energy and energy efficiency. This plan was supported by an initial allocation of £200 million, and further measures will be set out in the draft budget, which will be published later this month.

Minister, I really welcome that initial response. There's no doubting the Welsh Government's ambitions on behalf of the people of Wales. But one of the interesting things, when we look at this aspect of taking a stake in energy generation and energy efficiency, is that very often you will see—and I would support this as a co-operative member—the idea of share models, where you could involve members of the public, but it tends to go to a certain type of member of the public, if you know what I mean. One of the biggest ways we can get involvement is by either Welsh Government or local authorities actually being that stakeholder on behalf of local people. Are there particular barriers that we can break down or are there ways in which we can make it easier and encourage local authorities to be an active party in energy-generation schemes particularly?

Yes, this is a really important issue and a particular area of interest, I know, for the local government decarbonisation strategy panel. That panel was set up in November 2020, and even with everything that was going on with the pandemic, they've still met more than 13 times now to explore ways in which to best support local government to undertake those decarbonisation initiatives that are so necessary. 

Welsh Government has given £0.5 million funding to the Welsh Local Government Association to develop a support programme for local authorities to enable them to maximise resources and avoid duplication and that's been an important part of ensuring that local authorities are working together on this important agenda.

Our policy on ownership of energy generation sets out how every effort should be made to maximise the benefit for the people of Wales when developing energy projects here in Wales, with opportunities for local ownership to be promoted. And I'm really pleased to say that we have initiated, funded and supported four regional energy strategies that will start to identify the scale of the change needed in order to reach a low-carbon energy system and those have absolutely been co-developed by regional partners, and local authorities are really important as part of that. 

At a local level, we are piloting local area energy planning in Conwy and Newport at the moment to identify the actions needed to decarbonise the local energy system, and I think all of this speaks to the important role that local authorities can and do play in this agenda.

Because of the target you set yourself, Minister, which you outlined at the beginning of your contribution, how are you working with the UK Government and local authorities to increase the take-up and educate on heat pumps in Wales, please? Thank you.

Well, I'm not sure that that's an issue for finance or local government questions, I'm afraid, Llywydd. But I will ask my colleague the Minister for Climate Change, perhaps, to write to Laura Anne Jones with those details, because those aren't conversations that I'm party to myself.

The Invest-to-Save Scheme

2. Will the Minister provide an update on the effectiveness of the invest-to-save scheme? OQ57348

13:35

The invest-to-save scheme programme continues to provide support for a range of change initiatives that are being undertaken across the Welsh public and third sectors. Since 2009, the fund has made investments approaching £200 million in value.

Can I thank the Minister for that response? I fully support the use of invest-to-save—it is a sensible way forward, especially when it reduces fixed costs. Can the Minister give an example of a successful invest-to-save scheme that has been extended to other areas, and how they expect it to achieve, and what has been learnt from that extension?

I have to say, Llywydd, that Mike Hedges has always been a really, really strong proponent of invest-to-save, recognising the value that it brings. And I think we do have some really good examples of projects that are doing exactly what Mike Hedges has outlined—for example, the electronic patient records. That was a project that removes the need for storage space, and also enables a much more efficient way to access patient information, and it saves the need then for those files to be transported across geographic locations—a great project that, of course, is having an impact elsewhere now in the NHS. And I would also include our theatre stock control system project as an example. It creates efficiencies through maintaining economic stock levels and increasing the security around the storage of items. And then, also, our nurse recruitment programmes, which are also saving on the cost of recruitment of agency staff. But I am always aware that good practice doesn't always travel well. So, we've been working with Cardiff University to identify the barriers and enablers to ensuring that the good practice does spread in the way that Mike Hedges has outlined.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Peter Fox.

Diolch, Llywydd, and good afternoon, Minister. Minister, the recent emergence of the omicron variant has unfortunately created more uncertainty for all of us. And whilst I sincerely hope that this isn't the case, potentially there are a difficult few months ahead. Understandably, governments and scientists are trying to understand the implications of the variant on public health, but talk of looming restrictions is creating a lot of anxiety amongst businesses at a time when many were hoping to use the Christmas period to make up for some of their lost income over the past two years. This period is particularly important for our hospitality sector and the jobs that this additional demand supports. We have already seen that this uncertainty and anxiety is already starting to have an adverse effect—bars and restaurants have been hit by a wave of cancellations in recent weeks, whilst our vital tourism businesses are also fearing the impact of restrictions.

The First Minister said yesterday that if—. Oh, excuse me—iPad. The First Minister said yesterday that if further restrictions are required over the coming weeks, the Welsh Government would consider providing additional business support over and above what might be provided by the UK Government Minister. Could you outline what this support may look like, to help ease any concerns that businesses may currently have about the future? Also, businesses urgently need priority on the future of non-domestic rate relief, with many facing a cliff-edge return to 100 per cent liability in April 2022. Minister, I'm sure you're considering extending the NDR holiday to help businesses through the latter part of the pandemic. Will this be included in your upcoming budget? Could you also provide assurances to businesses that a transitional approach will be taken when any future support scheme eventually comes to an end?

I thank Peter Fox for those questions, and I particularly would recognise everything that he said about the importance of this time of the year to those businesses, particularly in the retail and hospitality sectors. I just want to reassure Peter Fox that I have been having discussions with the First Minister and with my colleague the Minister for Economy in terms of what support may be necessary to provide to business in recognition of the impact that the coronavirus pandemic continues to have on businesses here in Wales. I'm not in a position, unfortunately, to outline the specific package of funding that we might be looking at at this point; I just want to reassure you that those discussions are actively ongoing at the moment with colleagues. I have had the opportunity to hear directly from the Federation of Small Businesses, at one of our recent partnership meetings, and they were very clear in the need to support business. I also had the opportunity to meet the Welsh Retail Consortium when I was preparing for the budget. So, I've had really good opportunities to hear directly the concerns of business.

And, of course, non-domestic rates were very much a part of those conversations, and, again, just to provide reassurance to Peter Fox and those in the business sector, I will have more to say in this regard in the budget, which we'll be publishing on Monday. So, there's not too much longer to wait for that, but I am really proud of what we've been able to achieve through our support via business rates here in Wales, because, of course, across the border, those businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure were starting to pay their rates in the summer of this year, whereas our businesses here have had a whole year's relief, which I think has been really excellent and, of course, helps us in this particularly challenging time of the year. 

13:40

I thank you for those responses, and it sounds like there might be some positive news. I'm sure I'm not going to get too much out of you in regard to the budget, but I will try. So, thank you for that response. 

Of course, it's not just the economy that is facing an uncertain time, but our health and social care sectors too. There are already huge amounts of pressure as we all know. We only have to look at the current waiting times for treatment, which have increased substantially during the pandemic. And whilst services are doing their very best to respond to the challenges, and I don't doubt the scale of the task ahead, the new variant is only going to add to their workload. One way of helping to free up capacity in health services is to ensure that people needing social care can access the support that they need within the community or specialist services. However, as we've all heard over the past few months, there is a significant backlog within the sector, with an unacceptable number of people waiting to be moved out of the hospital to home or into a community care facility. Whilst councils and their staff have done a fantastic job in dealing with the impact of the pandemic, it's clear that they will need more support over the coming months. Many are already facing huge overspends in adult and children's services, and this will only add to the financial pressures facing our vital front-line services. Minister, will you provide councils with the sufficient uplift they need in the local government settlement so that they can respond to current and future pressures, and how will the budget allocate the substantial consequential funding that is flowing to Wales as a result of recent announcements about social care elsewhere in the UK? 

Furthermore, we also need a long-term, ambitious plan to ensure parity between health and social care so we don't find ourselves in this situation again and to improve recruitment and retention rates. To steer us in the right direction, the Welsh Conservatives have called for all social care workers to be paid a minimum of £10 an hour, and I hope that Plaid's position remains the same in that regard. Minister, how will your budget start addressing the mismatch between social care and health in Wales?

Thank you for raising this important issue. I'll begin by referring to our in-year position in terms of the additional support that we've provided to local authorities in respect of the coronavirus pandemic and the huge pressures it's placing on social care in particular. You'll be familiar with the £42 million social care pressures funding that we've provided, in addition to the social care recovery fund of a further £40 million allocated to local authorities, to help the sector meet the ongoing pressures. However, Peter Fox did refer to the ongoing issues in regard to children's services and adult social care, and also the need to add to that to support carers. I just want to reassure Peter Fox that my officials are in discussion with the treasurers of local government to understand the sum of that pressure, but I intend to write imminently to the leader of the WLGA to set out the envelope of further funding to support local authorities in that regard in this financial year.

Looking ahead to the budget, which will be published on Monday, and not wanting to say too much more in detail, I would just set out what we've set out all along, which is that social care and health will be priorities alongside the wider local government pressures in terms of the budget, which we will be publishing on Monday—so, not too much longer now before we get to share the detail of those plans with you.

Thanks for that, again, Minister. I think the overspend that local authorities are facing with children and adult care is around £50 million at the moment.

Moving on to my last point, Minister, the uncertain times that we again face will only exacerbate the issues that families across Wales are already facing. Now, I know this is an issue that spans across Government, but I would like to focus on what additional support will be in next week's budget that will help to ease the burdens facing families. There were some broadly welcome things in the co-operation agreement, for example, the commitment to expand childcare to two-year-olds, which was also in the Welsh Conservative manifesto. However, the time for words is over, and now we need to see immediate action. Will your budget provide the funding necessary to kick start the expansion of this free childcare to help families over the coming months? However, the agreement was, unfortunately, a little light on detail in places, so we need to see a wider package of support for people and families.

A way to help people's finances is to deliver a council tax freeze, for at least the next two years, putting more money into people's pockets. Will the Welsh Government use some of the substantial expected additional funding to provide local authorities with the capacity to meet cost pressures and to freeze council tax? In addition, house prices in Wales have risen faster than in any other part of the UK. We need to do more to help people onto the housing ladder, as well as building the high-quality social homes we desperately need in Wales, enabling aspiration and providing people with the security that they need. Will you work to cut land transaction tax rates, scrapping it for first-time buyers and raising the threshold to £250,000? And will you provide a longer term funding settlement to the housing support grant to kick start social home building? Finally, can you also commit to ensuring that there will be no rise in Welsh rates of income tax for the duration of the Senedd term, as part of your spending plans? Thank you, Minister.

13:45

Thank you to Peter Fox for that series of questions, all of which will become clear when the budget is published on Monday. But I do want to respond to some of those issues, particularly around the co-operation agreement. We've worked very carefully and closely with Plaid Cymru to ensure that those items within the co-operation agreement are funded, and that they are deliverable. So, we've been very careful in that kind of forensic work to ensure that the co-operation agreement is deliverable and is seamless, really, with our overall budget.

And, then, I think, I need to put the budget for next year within some kind of context, because, yes, we have had a significant uplift in the first year of the three-year spending review, but then the next two years are very, very tight after that. And, I think that we need to see that initial first-year uplift within context, because it's only a large increase if you actually split out all of the COVID funding that we've had for this financial year. If you take away all the additional COVID funding we've had this year, our budget next year is actually lower than this year, and I think that we need to bear that in mind, given the fact that COVID isn't going away and we're seeing that very much reflected in the challenges now that we're facing with the new strain, the new variant. I do think that context is everything, really, for the budget. But I hope that colleagues will be pleased with what they see that I'm able to provide when it is laid on Monday. Thank you.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. Yes, omicron is casting a long shadow over Wales this Christmas, and although we can't predict exactly what the implications of the variant will be for the NHS and for public health, we are already seeing its impact, for example, on the hospitality sector, as you recognised earlier. So, to expand on your previous response, can you explain why you, as finance Minister, don't intend to release more funding to support the hospitality sector now? Because the impact on those businesses is being felt now, as we speak. Saying, 'Well, wait until I publish my budget on Monday' doesn't solve the problem, because those are expenditure commitments from April onwards.

Absolutely. Apologies if I wasn't clear. We are currently thinking, today, about what additional funding might be necessary for businesses to support them through this immediate period ahead. So, prior to coming to this session, my most recent meeting was with the First Minister, talking about what support businesses might need, and then we've got further discussions planned with the Minister for Economy. So, these are really live discussions and I recognise the urgency of it. That's separate, I think, to the budget, which will be published next Monday, which then looks ahead from April onwards. But just to provide that reassurance that these discussions in respect of business support are very much live at the moment.

13:50

Well, thank you for that reassurance. I think each and every one of us hopes that we can provide the necessary support as soon as possible.

But we all, of course, remember how the Westminster Government ignored Wales's request to extend furlough payments when we entered the firebreak last year, and it was only after England went into a firebreak that they actually provided that support to us here in Wales as a result of that. Now, we could, of course, be facing a similar situation over the next few months. So, can I ask you what discussions you as Minister have had with the UK Government in order to ensure that the residents of Wales aren't punished and don't miss out on support from the Treasury in London if we were to take steps here that are different to those that the Conservative Government in England may take?

Yes, absolutely. So, I think it would be absolutely unacceptable if we found ourselves in a position, as we were when we introduced the firebreak previously in the pandemic, where the UK Government didn’t provide additional financial support, but as soon as it needed to take similar measures, all of a sudden furlough was there and available. That situation is absolutely unacceptable. We don’t know where this pandemic will take us and what measures might be necessary over the months ahead, so I think that having a clear framework with the UK Government as to when funding should be available and under what circumstances is vital.

You’ll be aware that the First Minister wrote, alongside the First Minister of Scotland, to the UK Government on precisely this issue. My understanding is they haven’t yet had a response, so I’ve written this morning, again, to the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, outlining that particular issue and the need for assurances there. But then, also, raising the issue of a COVID guarantee again, because in the last financial year, we negotiated a COVID guarantee, which gave us a global sum for COVID expenditure, which allowed us to plan, allowed us to make the most of opportunities, and allowed us to understand the risks that we were facing, because we knew that overall sum that we would receive. Even though it kept changing throughout the year, it was at least a good start. So, we’re asking for that to be reinstated in light of the current situation, and I hope it’s something that the UK Government will agree to, because it seems just a reasonable flexibility that they would be able to provide us with.

But it's not just rejecting furlough when Wales really needed it that worries me, Minister; the arbitrary way in which the Conservatives treat Wales in other areas of funding is also apparent. The HS2 scandal and the rejection of billions of pounds that should come to Wales—money that Scotland and Northern Ireland are receiving, of course—is another example, as is the way they've broken their word on European funding, with the loss of hundreds of millions of pounds that would have come to Wales, but is now being pocketed by Westminster. There is no strategic focus to the shared prosperity fund—again, something that operates according to the whim of the Chancellor in Downing Street. And there's a pattern here, isn't there? A pattern that is being reflected across the Westminster Government.

Now, I know that you're as frustrated as I am because of the transformational impact that this funding would have if we were to receive it, but can I ask, therefore: what more can you as a Government do and can we as a Senedd do in order to ensure that Wales receives the money owed to us, and that we are treated more fairly by the Westminster Government?

I think that the Senedd is always at its best when we find areas where we can all agree on and, previously, we have been able to find some cross-party and cross-Senedd support for various issues when we’ve needed to press the Treasury, and certainly within the context Brexit. So, I think there’s a lot we can do together to press these points about fairness, about ensuring that the statement of funding policy is more than just a document, that it actually is brought to life and is stuck to. So, we’re trying to work through that with Treasury.

I think that any efforts that UK Government can make to ensure that the new inter-governmental relations structure works would be important. And the finest place that they can do that, and the most important, would be through the finance structures. So, all of those points that you’ve described—HS2, European funding and so on—will be important. We can go on and talk about coal tips funding, for example. Even though we made really strong arguments, supported by Welsh society more widely, about the fact that coal tip funding should come from the UK Government as it predates devolution—all of those arguments were well made—that wasn’t the case and, of course, now you’ll have to see how we reflect funding for coal tips in the budget next week. But when we look at that, remember that that’s funding that we can’t be spending on infrastructure in areas for which we believe we are genuinely responsible. So, I couldn't really disagree with anything that Llyr Gruffydd has set out in his question there. And, if we can find ways to work together to put that pressure on the UK Government to do the right thing, then I'm always happy to look for ways to do that.

13:55
Local Authorities

3. What financial support will the Minister provide to local authorities to enable them to deliver services over the coming winter months? OQ57372

Funding is provided through the unhypothecated local government settlement to support the delivery of services all year. This increased by 3.8 per cent this financial year. The Welsh Government is also providing funding through the local government hardship fund and has announced social care pressures funding of £42 million.

Thank you, Minister, for your response, and I also listened carefully to your responses to Peter Fox's questions in relation to social care a moment ago and, as you mentioned then, noting some of the in-year additional funding that you've already provided to councils in Wales. But I'd like to just push this a little further, if I may, this afternoon. As we've noted, one of the best ways our councils can best support our health service at this time is to ensure that we have sufficient capacity in care homes and domiciliary care to release space in hospital beds. And, of course, we've seen in previous years that you've provided funding to support this extra pressure during the winter, and that is really welcomed. But, from my own experience, the sooner a council knows what additional funding they may be receiving to help manage those winter pressures, the better. And, of course, it's not a case of winter is coming; winter is here, and we're right in the middle of it. So, in light of this, Minister, what assurances can you give to councils that they'll receive this adequate winter pressures funding soon, so that they can plan to support our health service in a timely manner over the coming months? Thank you.

Yes. I just want to reiterate the points, really, that I made in response to Peter Fox, that our officials are working really, really closely with treasurers to understand the precise sum of money that local government will need in order to undertake all of the social care work that they need to—in adult social care and children's services. And, whilst that work is going on, I'm seeking, really, to provide local government with a letter of comfort so that they can get on and spend to a certain point without having to worry about the work progressing between treasurers and officials, really. So, I'm hoping that letter can be sent more or less imminently, or certainly very soon, so that they have that level of reassurance. Because I know it is a matter of stress for local government and local government leaders, which is something I can help with, and I want to do so quickly.

Minister, I'm really pleased to see that the winter fuel support scheme is now in place, enabling Welsh councils to help those in their communities who are vulnerable to meet the cost of keeping their homes warm this winter. How else is the Welsh Government working with local authorities to support their communities over the coming period, especially in light of the Bevan Foundation's findings that nearly two in five Welsh households are unable to afford more than the basics?

Thank you for raising that, and, of course, the Bevan Foundation report was a difficult read, really, in terms of ensuring that we do understand the level of pressures that many families are facing, and these pressures are only getting more difficult with the cost of living increases, the cost of fuel and so forth, and all of the challenges that surround families during the pandemic. So, we've worked really closely with local government and I'm so grateful to them for being able to deliver our winter fuel support scheme when they're doing so much else at the same time. So, hats off to them for creating the capacity to do that.

We're looking to support families in a whole range of ways, including the additional funding we've provided through our discretionary assistance fund. So, that's a £25.4 million fund, which includes an extra £10.5 million this year, and that's there to support people who are facing financial hardship, and we've increased the number of times that people can access that fund over the course of the year. And that will be really, really important in supporting those families and individuals who have been affected by the withdrawal of the universal credit £20 uplift. So, I would just commend that fund to colleagues and invite you to find out more about that fund so that you can direct your constituents, who might be struggling, to that fund, because it's certainly there to help everybody who finds themselves in a situation of need. It's a relatively light-touch kind of fund to try and get that money to people who need it as quickly as possible.

14:00

Minister, during 10 years of Tory austerity cutting public services funding, local authorities have reorganised, restructured and made all efficiencies they could possibly make. They've become so lean that any new pressures, for example because of adverse weather, pay awards or new legislation, put them at risk of not being able to provide front-line services. Some legislation, such as taking on the responsibly of establishing advisory bodies for sustainable urban drainage or the additional learning needs legislation, was deemed cost neutral, but some councils no longer have the in-house resources or reserves following years of cuts. Would the Minister conduct a financial risk assessment and full consultation with local authorities before passing any new legislation or responsibilities? Diolch.

Thank you for the question and for setting out the challenging circumstances that local government has found itself in in Wales. Despite the good last couple of years of settlements, it doesn't really take away 10 years of austerity by any sense of the imagination. We will ensure that changes that are made through laws in Senedd Bills or secondary legislation include an assessment of the cost and savings through the explanatory memorandum and the regulatory impact assessment. In doing so, although these are the responsibilities of portfolio Ministers, they would normally be engaging with stakeholders in producing those, and of course we'll make sure that we do engage properly with local government in legislation that will impact upon them. And then, also, we're considering the costs of any new legislation that we might want to introduce as part of our budget round, and obviously that will be included in the considerations now for the next three years ahead. But, your point about ensuring that we engage with local government and equip them with the tools that they need to do the job is absolutely one that I would endorse. 

Public Sector Procurement

4. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's public sector procurement policy? OQ57351

Following consultation, the Wales procurement policy statement was updated and published in March 2021, setting out high-level principles to support the delivery of our economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being goals through procurement. On 25 November, we published an action plan setting out how we will observe the statement.

I'm grateful to you, Minister, for that response. Two weeks ago, during a Welsh Conservative debate on small businesses, I encouraged the economy Minister to look at ways to strengthen our procurement practices to help small local businesses bid for public sector contracts. You'll be aware of the research that shows that for every £1 a small business receives, 63p is reinvested in the local economy, compared to 40p for larger firms. That's why it's crucial that the procurement system is as accessible as possible to small businesses and that they have every opportunity to win contracts in the first place. What discussions have you had with your colleague the economy Minister on this issue? And in light of the social partnership and public procurement Wales Bill, how will you ensure that small businesses are able to fairly compete for contracts in the future?

This is something of particular interest in ensuring that the money we spend through procurement in Wales has that social value, which is partly achieved through supporting the foundational economy and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises here in Wales. We have, over the course of this year, published a number of Wales procurement policy notes, which are there to support the procurement process. One in particular was regarding small and medium-sized enterprises and how to undertake SME-friendly procurement. That highlights and builds on the principles within the 'Opening Doors' charter for SME-friendly procurement, and it provided organisations with updated information and additional resources to support SMEs. It also reiterates the commitments and principles agreed between the Welsh public sector and SMEs to set a minimum level of good practice and encourage SME-friendly procurement.

The second WPPN that I would highlight would be the guidance on reserving below-threshold procurements for Welsh public sector contracting authorities, which was published, again, this year. That encourages in-scope organisations to streamline and to simplify procurement in relation to contract spend on goods, services and works contracts with a value below the applicable thresholds. And again, that's there to try and ensure that small businesses in particular are able to compete for those contracts. But where there's more to do in this area, obviously we'd be keen to do so. I think that this is also going to be an important part of the work we're doing to identify and map out supply chain voids that we have here in Wales. Where we do find voids, if we can find small businesses that we're able to grow or adapt to meet those voids and become successful, then we'd want to do that.

14:05

Gweinidog, I was very pleased to see, as part of the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government, that you will explore how to set meaningful targets to increase public sector procurement from the current 52 per cent. As Paul Davies has highlighted, there are huge economic benefits for local businesses to have this public sector procurement because of the huge contribution they make to their local area. Last month, the Prif Weinidog praised Carmarthenshire council's challenge fund project. He mentioned that all the milk used in schools in Carmarthenshire is Welsh milk, but incredibly, some of that milk has to be taken not just outside Carmarthenshire county, but outside the country, outside of Wales, in order to be processed and bottled, and that the local authority in Carmarthenshire is committed to doing some work to see whether processing capacity, co-operatively based, could be recreated in the county. How can we make sure that this type of best practice on procurement can flow across the whole of Wales, including in my region, so more local products and services can be purchased and promoted in Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan and Rhondda Cynon Taf? Diolch yn fawr.

Diolch. I'm really pleased that this is an area that is within the co-operation agreement, exploring how we can keep this value here in Wales. I think it really does build on some good work that was undertaken over the summer, which was a discovery exercise creating a digital road map for e-procurement. It means that we will be looking at much more transparency throughout the supply chain, so that we do understand those issues that Rhys ab Owen has just described in terms of milk being removed from the country to be processed, only to be returned for the children in schools. That's a really good example of the kind of void that I was talking about earlier, but more so in the area of processing capacity. I know this is an area of particular interest for my colleague the Minister for rural affairs, and, of course, she's looked over many years to support the increase of processing capacity here in Wales. But I'll certainly look at what Carmarthenshire council are trying to achieve and what we can learn from that.

Spreading best practice will be really important in the work that we're doing to increase the capacity and the capability of the procurement profession here in Wales. We've invested in supporting people through graduate qualifications and so on, in the hope that they will stay in the Welsh public sector and become procurement professionals who are working in a different way. It's not all about the bottom line anymore, and understanding things is much more about what social value, economic value and cultural value you can get from your spend, rather than just what's the cheapest thing that you can possibly buy. So, I think we are in a really exciting place with procurement, and if we can look at good examples, such as that described in Carmarthenshire, then I'm very, very, keen to do so.

Community Council Clerks

5. Will the Minister make a statement on the role of community council clerks? OQ57366

Every community council must have a clerk; they are essential to the good governance of community and town councils. The Welsh Government values their contribution and we work with external partners to provide support to encourage them to develop their professional skills.

Thank you, Minister, for your response. For transparency purposes, I'd like to highlight that I am a community and county borough councillor. As you know and as you've said, community and town councils play such an important role in the sustainability of the communities that they represent, and they are the very definition of local democracy. I understand the role of community and town council clerks as being one that provides independent, objective and professional advice and support. I also see them as individuals who should be above party politics, even independent party politics, and should be both politically inactive and impartial. Because, ultimately, anything other than this casts doubt on the role that they do and will undeniably influence the advice and support that they provide. I bring this question forward because I believe that there are possible conflicts of interest for a person holding the position of clerk and also being an elected representative, either at a community, town or local authority, or any council. With this in mind, does the Minister agree that community and town council clerks should not be able to hold office as an elected councillor, and will the Minister look into making the relevant legislative changes? Thank you.

14:10

I thank Joel James for raising this this afternoon. This is something that I'll go away and give some further consideration to in the light of his comments this afternoon. But just while I have it, I'll take this chance to thank everybody who gives up their time to be town and community councillors, because through the course of the pandemic, we have really seen the value of those in terms of supporting some of the most vulnerable people in communities. So, in response to the direct question, I will give that some further thought, but thank you for the opportunity to express my thanks to the sector.FootnoteLink

Personal Protective Equipment

6. What consideration did the Minister give to the provision of personal protective equipment when allocating funding to the health and social services portfolio? OQ57381

In 2021-22, the HSS main expenditure group received an additional £1.1 billion of revenue COVID funding. Of this, over £820 million has been allocated to support the NHS and test and trace. To date, we've allocated over £38 million to the NHS and are currently forecasting a spend of around £58 million on PPE.

Thank you very much, Minister. Minister, the reason why I'm asking this question is because, according to infection protection and control guidance, staff on general wards do not have access to FFP3 masks. Given the evolution of the COVID variants, including what we've all heard of recently more so than ever, the omicron variant, it may be necessary to review IPC guidance as a precaution. This could include introducing FFP3 masks in general clinic areas, based on risk assessment. I'd like to know what discussions have you had with the Minister for health with regard to providing the necessary funding required to extend the availability of FFP3 masks should they be required by NHS staff in Wales. Thank you.

Thank you. I have regular discussions with the Minister for Health and Social Services to ensure that NHS organisations do have the funding that they need to respond to the pandemic. My belief is, at the moment, that the NHS does have the funding it needs, both in terms of providing the correct kit, but also in terms of all the other work that it needs to do to respond to the pandemic and to try and undertake some of the recovery work that has been going on recently. I haven't had any further requests for funding from the NHS, but, obviously, I would be open to those discussions should additional funding be required.

This isn't my area of expertise, but I understand that chief medical officers and chief nursing officers requested that the evidence be reconsidered last weekend in the light of the new variant in relation to face masks, and the advice is that FFP3 masks are still not considered routinely appropriate, but should be provided if a local risk assessment suggests a continuing transmission risk after all other IPC measures have been put in place. If it is the case that funding is preventing any of this from happening, I would want to know that, but I don't think it would be the case, because there is sufficient funding there.

Domestic Abuse Services

7. What consideration does the Minister give to the provision of domestic abuse services when allocating funding to the social justice portfolio? OQ57378

The Welsh Government is clear about its ambition to end violence against women and girls. The pandemic has created exceptional challenges for victims and survivors of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence and the services supporting them. Over £4 million of additional funding was subsequently made available to the sector to deal with the impact.

Minister, in Newport, and indeed also Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire, Barnardo's Cymru run an Opening Closed Doors service, which is a service for the whole family when domestic abuse is occurring and a family are suffering as a result. Indeed, since March 2019, over 450 families have benefited from this service. It provides tailored support to adult and child survivors of domestic abuse, as well as services to perpetrators. General research shows that more than one in 10 children under the age of 11 experience domestic abuse. The pandemic, with associated lockdowns, has worsened these problems, and as a result, there is increased and ongoing demand. An independent evaluation of this Barnardo's service, Minister, has been very positive and shows the value of the work, but Home Office funding, which enables this project, currently runs out in March of next year and the future beyond that is uncertain. Minister, along with other MSs for the area benefiting from this service, I have written to you and included the evaluation and an explanation of the work that's involved with this service, and I wonder if you would carefully consider necessary financial support to ensure that this important and worthwhile work continues beyond March of next year. 

14:15

I thank John Griffiths for raising this issue this afternoon and recognising, really, the important work that organisations such as Barnardo's do, and I'm very interested to hear about the project that you've described. We have provided additional funding through the course of the pandemic, recognising, as John Griffiths said, the fact that staying at home more makes it more difficult for people who are experiencing domestic abuse. I haven't yet received the letter; I expect it will be my colleague, the Minister for Social Justice, who will ultimately reply to the letter, but I'll make sure that I also have a copy of that. This does sit within her portfolio, but I'll be sure to look at that as well. Thank you. 

Minister, some third sector organisations received additional financial support during the pandemic to respond to the increasing rates of domestic abuse during the lockdown and to support various helplines in responding to more challenging cases. The pandemic is not over, but many organisations fear that the funding is. Can the Minister offer a personal commitment to all those still facing a life of abuse that resources will be targeted to helping identify it and respond with an even stronger partnership with our police forces? Thank you. 

Thank you, and Altaf Hussain is correct that we have provided significant additional funding to this sector over the course of the pandemic, recognising the points that he and John Griffiths have described. We've provided over £1.2 million in dispersed community-based accommodation for those for whom refuge provision isn't suitable, and for move-on accommodation. I think this has been really important in terms of freeing up space within refuges so that people could still leave if they needed to during what has been such a difficult time. And about £0.25 million extra funding was initially made available at the start of the financial year, which was topped up with further funding in that respect. And that's also enabled some of our domestic violence services to reconfigure what they do, and to do so in a COVID-secure way, such as equipping refuges and supporting victims, providing PPE and so on. So, there has been lots of important work that has had to take place this year that has been specifically in response to the pandemic. But, as I said, my colleague, the Minister for Social Justice, will be listening very carefully to this question and, I'm sure, taking on board what colleagues have been saying. 

Public Services Boards

8. What assessment has the Minister made of how well local authorities have embraced public services boards as a way of making service delivery more efficient? OQ57376

Local authorities, along with their other statutory partners, are seeing benefits from working through public services boards. Their annual reports provide evidence that local authorities are committed to working with their public services board partners to improve well-being in their area.

Obviously, it's a key plank of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 to ensure that all public services named in the Act are collaborating together in order to eliminate duplication. And I've just heard you tell Peter Fox that, once we disregard the additional money we've got for COVID, which is obviously a very special set of challenges, the UK Government is actually planning to reduce the budget for Wales, not next year but the following year, which is pretty frightening. So, all the more reason why public services boards have a huge role to play in their collaborative innovative approaches. Are you able to tell us which public services boards you regard as pathbreaking in leading the way in showing how well they can work together?

14:20

Yes. I think we have some excellent examples of work taking place, so Cwm Taf PSB, for example, that undertook a live lab exercise with the office of the future generations commissioner, and it focused specifically on addressing adverse childhood experiences, to try and work out how those partners could best respond to children and young people experiencing adverse childhood experiences.

And also Flintshire and Wrexham PSBs; they formed a joint PSB specifically to have a joint response to COVID and to develop a shared recovery plan from COVID. Again, I think that's been a really useful innovation. And then, Monmouthshire PSB has managed the resourcing of volunteer networks during the early stages of the pandemic, and they were engaging and supporting people at a very micro level and again, that was really, really positive. But I think all PSBs have some good examples of good practice that can and should be shared across public services.

And I'm keen that we do enable that sharing of good practice, so my officials and those of the future generations commissioner's office are bringing together PSBs officers quarterly in order to make sure that there is that forum to share experience and share good practice.

2. Questions to the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

The next item is questions to the Minister for rural affairs and north Wales, and the first question is from Russell George.

TB

1. How does the Welsh Government communicate with farmers regarding potential TB breakdown situations? OQ57349

Thank you. The Government communicates with farming businesses through regular correspondence and information releases, including updates on disease incidence and trend by area. Farmers are offered Cymorth TB veterinary advice visits and are encouraged to use online services such as the TB dashboard and ibTB to better understand the risk to their businesses.

Thank you, Minister, for your answer. I'm sure, like me, Minister, you can understand the huge concern and anxiety that a farming business and family face when they receive a letter from the Animal and Plant Health Agency concerning TB testing and restrictions on their herd and farm. My specific question is concerning farming families wrongly receiving letters from APHA informing them that they've not completed TB testing, when in fact, the appropriate testing has been carried out. Often, letters are sent wrongly due to miscommunication between veterinary practices and APHA. So, can I ask, Minister, that you and officials have a look at this process? I would suggest that APHA communicate with veterinary practices for confirmation and clarification before letters are sent out, in that way causing unnecessary stress and anxiety for farmers, and that being avoided in the first place. I wonder if the Minister could comment on whether she's aware of this particular issue and whether she'd be happy to re-look at that process.

Thank you, and I absolutely understand the stress and distress that that would cause a farmer and his or her family. I don't believe it's a widespread issue that you refer to, but of course, I'd be very happy to ask the chief veterinary officer and her team of officials to have a look into it.

Food and Drink from North Wales

2. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to promote food and drink from North Wales? OQ57373

Welsh Government continues to support our food and drink producers in north Wales to promote food and drink using a wide range of business programmes. North Wales producers were at our recent BlasCymru signature event, and I recently launched the new vision for the food and drink industry setting out how sustainable growth can be achieved.

Thank you, Minister, for your answer. As I'm sure all Members from across Zoom will agree, this is an excellent time of year to be promoting and taste-testing the fantastic food and drink from across Wales, the best of which, of course, comes from my region in the north. And Minister, I'm sure you know, in north Wales, we have a hub of world-renowned food and drink, whether it's the award-winning sausages from Edwards of Conwy or the organic meat from the Rhug estate in Corwen, and of course to swill it all down there's the Aber Falls gin near Llanfairfechan and, of course, I'm sure you're well aware, the Wrexham Lager, amongst many other excellent food and drinks. Also, Minister, I'm sure you'll be aware the North Wales Economic Ambition Board has a specific strand of work focusing on the agri-food sector, and has received a significant boost recently with the approval of an outline business case for a new rural economy hub at Glynllifon. The Glynllifon rural economy hub is expected to deliver over 100 full-time jobs in local food businesses and a GVA increase of around £50 million in a really important area of Wales. So, Minister, what action will you and the Welsh Government take to help make these plans at Glynllifon come to fruition, to make the food and drink sector in north Wales thrive even more? Thank you.

14:25

Thank you, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to agree with you about what a good time of year it is to buy our wonderful Welsh food and drink. It's always good, and it was great to be at the winter fair last month, and see the food hall, and see people literally queuing up outside for a long time to be able to buy Welsh food and drink once again at the Royal Welsh showground.

I agree with you about the work that's continuing now to be done at Glynllifon. I visited there just last month to have a look at their plans for it, and will continue to do all I can. You'll be aware of the Food Technology Centre, and project HELIX, which is undertaken in Llangefni. I think the two will link in together very well.

I'm very grateful to my colleague, Sam Rowlands, for raising this important question today. Can I agree with him and the Minister, for what she has said also? Minister, you'll be very aware that I am extremely passionate about the positive contribution that brewers and local pubs can bring to our local economy, and excellent breweries like those in Flintshire, Hafod and Polly's, or the excellent Wrexham Lager in your own constituency, as Sam Rowlands referred to, who again have won another award—another gold award—for their world-famous Bootlegger pilsner.

Now, Minister, in the last Senedd I successfully chaired the cross-party group on beer and pubs in the Senedd, and we're about to reconvene in the new year this very important group. Will you commit today to come and engage with the group in the new year, and show how the Welsh Government can support this very important sector right across Wales?

Thank you to Jack Sargeant. I'm very pleased you are reconvening the group in the new year, and of course I'll be very happy to come along and to support you in whatever way I can. As you say, in our part of north-east Wales we have several microbreweries, breweries and, obviously, many local pubs that sell those beers and ales, so it is really very good to be able to say once again to people, particularly in this difficult phase of COVID that we're entering now, 'It's really good to support those local brewers.'

Can I just say to my colleague Jack Sargeant I'd be very interested in joining that cross-party group? Minister, going back about 10 years I recall Cadwyn Clwyd, a regional development agency, secured £14 million of EU funding to boost the rural economy in Flintshire and Denbighshire. Other funding came in to agencies across north Wales such as Northern Marches Cymru, Menter a Busnes and Menter Môn. This funding helped many food promotion schemes, such as the Mold food festival, and funding of a local produce centre at the National Eisteddfod, with 16 food and drink suppliers from across north Wales. It's helped establish the Clwydian range food trail, and helped fund the Denbigh plum project, to name but a few. But Minister, I am concerned about the loss of European funding to the food sector via Welsh Government. Will there be replacement funding from the UK Government as promised, do you know? Diolch.

So, the food and drink industry will continue to receive significant funding through the RDP until that programme ends in 2023. Unfortunately, 'no' is the short answer to your question. Wales will lose out over £106 million of replacement EU funding for rural development over the spending review period. That's on top of the £137 million that I didn't receive from the UK Government during this financial year, so that 'not a penny less' mantra I'm afraid sounds very hollow. You will be aware that myself and my ministerial colleagues, particularly the Minister for Finance and Local Government, have continued to lobby the UK Government, particularly around the methodology that they've used to do their sums. We've now got, obviously, to take that into consideration as we bring forward the draft budget next week. I would just say, though, that food festivals, I think, are an excellent way of promoting our wonderful Welsh food and drink and I've done all I can to continue to promote them, obviously, and support them. We haven't been able to hold as many virtually this year as we would want to—sorry, in person—but we have managed to do some virtual work over the past year also.

14:30

I feel I need to say, in the interests of balance, given the long list of food and drink from the north that was just promoted by its Members, that other food and drink is available from other parts of Wales, and available to all before Christmas, hopefully.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Diolch, Llywydd, and firstly, can I start by wishing the Minister a very merry Christmas and by thanking her for the honest and open dialogue that she and I have had in respect of this portfolio? 

Minister, I've raised the issue of unspent and misspent rural development plan money in the Chamber on several occasions already, and I would like to focus on the 'free tree for every household' scheme announced to great fanfare on 6 December by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change. Given that funding for tree planting lies within your portfolio, you hold the purse strings, as it were. So, can you provide details about the cost of this scheme, whether this is new money or reallocated money, and, finally, can you provide reassurances that, if this is reallocated money, that it is not being taken away from supporting the agricultural industry?

Thank you, and I would like to wish Sam Kurtz and all Members a very peaceful and happy Christmas and best wishes for next year.

This actually sits, as you say, within the portfolio of the Minister for Climate Change and was announced by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change. I hold the purse strings for some, but not all, and the policy that you just referred to that was announced by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change sits within—the funding sits within his portfolio.

Thank you, Minister—thank you for that clarification.

I'm sure that you were as horrified as I was, Minister, when, earlier this week, BBC Wales, in a documentary of theirs, highlighted the cropping of bulldog puppy ears to increase the dogs' value to breeders and desirability to new owners. The documentary heard how puppies with cropped ears can sell for an additional £1,500, making this cruel practice a valuable enterprise to criminals. Whilst ear cropping is illegal in the UK, there is no law surrounding the right to import these animals into the UK. But, whilst accepting that importing animals is a reserved matter, you do have enforcement powers if these puppies are sold or owned by Welsh residents. Therefore, what actions are you taking, in partnership with the UK Government, to address this distressing form of animal abuse, and will you provide greater powers to the RSPCA to deal with animal cruelty?

Thank you. Yes, I was absolutely appalled to see the programme that you referred to. Ear cropping of dogs is illegal, it's unnecessary and I'm sure it's incredibly painful and there are no welfare or health benefits for the dog. It's carried out only, really, for cosmetic reasons, to make the dogs look tougher, and I just think it is absolutely abhorrent. 

The forthcoming Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill does seek to restrict the import of dogs. As you say, obviously, it's a UK Government Bill, but it does seek to restrict the import of dogs and puppies that have been subject to mutilations, and obviously that includes ear cropping. And I think restricting the importation of them will significantly then strengthen the ability of our enforcement officers to be able to identify such dogs more easily and prosecute those involved in illegal ear cropping in Wales and across the UK. So, we will continue to work with the UK Government, bringing forward a legislative consent motion in relation to this.

Thank you. And finally, Minister, I was pleased to lead the Welsh Conservatives' animal welfare debate last month, which saw the Government defeated and the motion pass unamended in the Senedd. The balanced and open-minded approach taken by all during the debate was welcome, and I hope that this can continue. 

I am aware of a letter that you have received from the Companion Animals Welfare Group Wales, which, whilst welcoming some aspects of your Government's animal welfare action plan, expressed concern over some of what was omitted. One such issue was the lack of any reference to the introduction of regulations on cat breeding. Can I seek your commitment today for the Welsh Government to put cat and dog breeding regulations on an equal footing and to ensure that kittens bred in Wales will be able to enjoy the same high levels of welfare and protection that is afforded to their canine counterparts?

14:35

Yes, absolutely. I'm looking at what we can do in relation to that, just as I'm looking at microchipping cats as well. And once I respond to the correspondence that Sam Kurtz refers to, I'll be very happy to share that.

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

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, you'll be aware, of course, that a shortage of vets in Wales is still a problem for us here, and that's been exacerbated by Brexit and the pandemic as well, of course. Now, the British Veterinary Association says that more vet school places are part of the answer, and the official opening last week of Aberystwyth University school of veterinary science is certainly to be welcomed. The veterinary students there, of course, will be spending just the first two years at Aberystwyth University, followed then by three years studying at the Royal Veterinary College's Hawkshead campus in Hertfordshire. Now, meanwhile, Scotland of course has two veterinary schools and England nine, all of them offering the full five-year courses leading to a full degree. So, do you agree with me, Minister, that if the shortage of vets in Wales is ever to be properly resolved, then Wales needs a full vet school, offering its own five-year degree courses? And if you do agree, and I trust that you do, will you therefore open discussions with Aberystwyth University, and the agricultural sector more widely, to consider how the Aberystwyth course can be rapidly developed into a full five-year course, with the necessary facilities, to help resolve the vet shortage that we have here in Wales?

Thank you. I think Llyr Huws Gruffydd makes a really important point about a shortage of vets. And I would add to the list that you've mentioned, in relation to leaving the European Union and Brexit, the avian influenza outbreak that, unfortunately, we have across the UK. We've now got 52 cases, and you can imagine the veterinary capacity that the AI outbreaks are taking also. I was very pleased to see Aberystwyth University—the veterinary school there—opened last week. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the opening, but I did visit there—I think it was in October—to have a look at it myself, and was very impressed. And I know Christianne Glossop, who I think has worked on ensuring that that happened over the last 18 years, was very pleased. And I do think it is a first step. I was due to meet with the Minister for education on Monday to see what more we could do to support Aber University in relation to this, but, unfortunately, I think the meeting is now next week. But I think it's something that should be explored, and I'll be very happy to update Members following the meeting I have with the Minister for education.

Thank you, Minister. I think it's important that we don't presume that it's 'job done', because, clearly, it's the beginning of a journey, and we'd like to see it pursued as swiftly as possible. Diolch.

Now, mental health support, of course, is also a crucial aspect of support for young people in the agricultural sector. In October, in response to a question from my Plaid Cymru colleague Cefin Campbell, you said that support for mental health charities within the farming sector is, and I'll quote,

'something I keep a very close eye on, and, if there's anything further I can do to help, I will certainly be happy to do so.'

Now, recently, at the winter fair, the DPJ Foundation raised concerns that, whilst they currently do get some support, of course, from the Welsh Government, there isn't that longer-term certainty of funding. And I know other rural mental health organisations would share the same concern. So, given your previous commitments on the floor of the Senedd, and of course ahead of the budget publication next week, could you maybe tell us whether you intend to introduce a long-term funding plan for mental health charities such as the DPJ Foundation?

Thank you. I met with the mental health charities in the agricultural sector at the winter fair myself, and it was representatives of, I think, about six of them, where we did discuss, obviously, the challenges they are—. You'll appreciate it's very hard to give long-term commitments—I'm not sure what you mean by 'long term'—but certainly I intend to continue to support them, both financially and also with officials' time as well, because my officials work very closely with them. And I attend—certainly, over the duration of the pandemic, I've attended many meetings of the group that came together under an umbrella to support our agriculture sector. So, I will continue, certainly, to do that. As I say, I'm unclear what you mean by 'long term', but I will certainly, in the course of our budget, commit to funding.

That's very welcome. I think 'longer term', I suppose, is a better description, maybe.

Again, developing on a theme of younger farmers, really, concerns have been raised with me recently by tenant farmers, particularly, and the Tenant Farmers Association, that younger farmers are facing difficulty in acquiring land under succession rules. Now, I'm aware, through casework, of situations where families have been unable to transfer the tenancy to their son or daughter because the son or daughter aren't able to make their living purely from the holding. You'll be very aware that more and more farms depend now on off-farm income to get by these days, and, in fact, many of those tenant holdings are of a size where making your living from it is probably near impossible in any case. So, it's clear to me that tenancy legislation in Wales isn't keeping up with changes in farming.

Now, I'm aware that the Welsh Government is yet to bring forward regulations to implement certain provisions of Schedule 3 to the UK Agriculture Act 2020 relating to tenant farms as they apply to Wales. Regulations were brought into effect in England, by the way, back in May of this year. So, can I ask: when do you intend to introduce regulations similar to those seen in England, so that we can change the current outdated suitability and commercial tests, making the law more fit for purpose, and, of course, ultimately making it easier to enable tenant succession?

14:40

Thank you. I'm not able to give you a specific time, because this is an ongoing piece of work. I did meet with the Tenant Farmers Association at the winter fair, again—I took the opportunity to meet with quite a few people face to face last month—and I agree with you; I think there are lots of issues with tenant farmers that you don't get with, obviously, farmers that own the land themselves, and I think it's really important that we get it right. So, it's not just looking at one piece of the legislation; it's looking at all of it in a holistic way. So, I know officials continue to meet. I'm expecting further advice, probably—well, it will be in the new year, but I don't know how quickly in the new year. But, again, once we have some further information, I'll be very happy to share it with you.

Trail Hunting

3. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on animal welfare of Natural Resources Wales's decision to ban trail hunting on its land? OQ57362

Thank you. Natural Resources Wales falls under the Minister for Climate Change's remit. However, its decision to ban trail hunting on the Welsh Government woodland estate was a matter for them, and the Welsh Government has made no assessment of the impact on animal welfare of such a ban.

Thank you, Minister. The Hankinson case highlighted how trail hunting had become a smokescreen for the illegal hunting of live quarry, and, just four days ago, the master of the Western Hunt was successfully prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 for an incident that again occurred on the pretence of trail hunting. I'd like to echo the request made to you by my colleague Joyce Watson in the business statement last week: will Welsh Government commit to a ban on trail hunting on all public land, which is clearly necessary if we are to uphold the highest animal welfare standards in Wales?

Well, that would be a matter for the Minister for Climate Change, but I know—I've had discussions with her and, certainly, in light of the recent court judgment, this is something that she will consider carefully, but I believe the Welsh Government would support the consideration of a permanent ban on trail hunting by those responsible for publicly owned land in Wales.

Minister, judging by your response, then, it is widely known and accepted that the Labour Party running the Welsh Government has little understanding of the rural way of life or the countryside, and I believe that the recent Natural Resources Wales decision to ban trail hunting on its land is the wrong one. Trail hunting is not hunting, which was banned in the Hunting Act 2004. Trail hunting is a perfectly lawful activity; it does not involve the pursuit of mammals. So, this ban will have no impact on animal welfare, as has been referred to by yourself and the other Member. The scaremongering on this topic has been rife. This NRW ruling is another attack on the rural way of life by Government organisations and woke individuals trying to end rural traditions by spreading falsehoods. Will the Minister now meet with myself, Natural Resources Wales and relevant stakeholders to have an informed discussion and to look at the evidence and resolve this poor decision? Diolch, Deputy Llywydd.

I disagree with the majority of what the Member said, and no, I won't meet with him, because, as I say, this is a matter for the Minister for Climate Change.

I know the RSPCA is also concerned that trail hunting is acting like a smokescreen, allowing fox hunting to continue. For Members who aren't aware of how this works, trail hunting involves using the urine, body parts or carcasses of foxes, deer or hares being laid on a trail for dogs to follow, and, although traditional hunts, as we've heard, have been banned, training hounds to follow these scents can lead to animals like foxes being disturbed and killed if the dogs pick up the scent of a live animal. Trail hunting isn't meant to involve foxes being killed, but, again, as we've heard, a high-profile conviction has recently highlighted that trail hunting has been used to hide illegal hunting for years. And, besides, the use of a scent of dead animals is surely utterly unnecessary when alternatives like drag hunting exists, which allows hounds to follow an artificial scent not derived from carcasses or body parts. Minister, it's surely beneath the dignity of human beings to take pleasure from the death of another creature. Will you, please, look at ways, with your colleagues—hearing what you've just said—to persuade other landowners in the immediate weeks to outlaw trail hunting, particularly ahead of Boxing Day, when these parades happen? 

14:45

As I said in my earlier answer to Vikki Howells, this is a matter for the Minister for Climate Change, but I think, in light of the recent court judgment, that is something she will consider carefully, ensuring that there is a permanent ban on trail hunting by those responsible for publicly owned land in Wales. 

Farm Diversification

4. Will the Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for farm diversification? OQ57387

Thank you. The Welsh Government is committed to supporting all businesses in Wales. Business Wales and Farming Connect support farm businesses to become more efficient, profitable and resilient. Support is tailored according to customer need and the different regions of Wales, dependent on requirements.

So, with regard to my supplementary that I'm about to raise, the Minister has been very helpful in dealing with this issue in the past, and, unfortunately, we're now in a position where it's got worse recently. There's an ongoing issue at Gelliargwellt Uchaf Farm in my constituency, where a large dairy farm has diversified into both food recycling, for which it's got a contract with several nearby local authorities, including Caerphilly, and mineral extraction from a quarry on site. The process has caused concern to residents in the nearby villages of Gelligaer, Penybryn and Nelson over the years, and it's mainly due to noise, dust and odour pollution, and the related HGV traffic problems. I meet regularly with residents, with key stakeholders, such as Caerphilly council, Natural Resources Wales, Public Health Wales and the operators, Bryn Group, in a formal committee managed setting to try and manage the situation. But what would be helpful is if I could have a meeting with the Minister to talk about some of the key issues that are associated with this very diverse farm and look at what may be done on some of the specific issues that I've mentioned to try and alleviate the problems for residents in the new year.  

Thank you. You've clearly met with the correct stakeholders. Obviously, Natural Resources Wales and local authorities have got a range of powers and enforcement tools to address the environmental impacts you referred to and, clearly, you've raised your concerns with them. I'm very happy to meet with the Member. It would be good also, I think, to have a joint meeting with the Minister for Climate Change, because obviously some of the issues you raised lie within her portfolio. Certainly, I'd be very happy to do that. 

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Weinidog, similar to Hefin David, I've raised this case with you before, the case of the Jenkins family in Model Farm in Rhoose. This beef and arable farm has diversified into growing wild flowers and selling the seeds, and it's also led to an increase in bees, pollinators and other insects in their fields. All of this will be decimated as the landlords, Legal and General, kick them off the land to build an industrial estate. I was very pleased to hear in your response to my colleague Llyr Huws Gruffydd that you met recently with the Tenant Farmers Association. What support can you give to tenant farmers, like the Jenkins family, to help them continue to diversify? Diolch yn fawr. 

As I mentioned in my earlier answer to Hefin David—in my tabled answer—we provide a range of support. The majority of our support—I'm just trying to think if any of it isn't—is available to tenant farmers just as much as landowners. So, I'm sure if they perhaps contact Farming Connect in the first instance, to make sure they are addressing all the business support that is available to them, that might be a good place to start. 

Animal Welfare

5. What measures is the Welsh Government taking to improve animal welfare? OQ57364

Thank you. The recently published animal welfare plan sets out improvements to animal welfare in Wales. It focuses on high standards, the adoption and sharing of best practice, engagement with key stakeholders, the development of effective, supportive and sustainable mechanisms for enforcement, and through its dynamic promotion of responsible ownership.

14:50

Diolch, Minister. At the start of November, the whole of Wales was declared an avian influenza prevention zone, which means that it's a legal requirement for keepers of captive birds to follow strict biosecurity measures to protect their birds. This applies to everyone, even if you only own a single bird, and this is a worrying time for bird keepers. Minister, how best can the people of Wales protect their birds from this disease, and how will the Welsh Government assess the scale of the outbreak as we move into 2022? 

Thank you very much. I can hear a dog joining in the oral answered questions today. You're quite right; we have had a significant outbreak of avian influenza across Great Britain. I mentioned in an earlier answer that we're now up to 52 incidents; we have three in Wales. We did bring in mandatory housing of birds at the end of last month. We are consistently assessing the impact. I know the chief veterinary officers right across the UK meet—I think every evening they're meeting at the moment. It's having a significant impact on veterinary capacity. So, I would urge all people in Wales who keep birds to register. At the moment, you only have to register if you have a certain number of birds, but I think it's very important; even if you only have one, please register, because then you will be assured of receiving up-to-date information as we get it. It happened very early this winter. We have avian influenza most winters unfortunately. It's brought on often by wild birds, but, unfortunately, it started much earlier and it is really significant at the current time. I've just brought in what we call a 'lite emergency control centre' in Cathays Park. It's just a virtual one at the moment to support the office of the chief veterinary officer because, clearly, it is having a massive impact on our workforce resources here in Wales. 

Minister, I've raised this with you a number of times now—certainly, during the fifth term—but I remain increasingly concerned about the number of videos and photos that are being posted on Facebook and other social media sites adorned with marketing prose such as 'one puppy left'. Indeed, I'm actually on Facebook now reading, 'Can anyone help me find a home for this little puppy? Oh, beautiful, how much? No cost'. 'Why are they getting rid of him?', and they say, 'Oh, work commitments'. So, my concerns have been reflected in a recent report from the Blue Cross, which found that there remains a high number of puppies available to buy online, with over 400 adverts placed daily, and this actual wild west approach, to me, undermines the regulations that you've tried bringing in on the sale of third party puppies and kittens. As my colleague Sam Kurtz has mentioned, the BBC Wales investigation found that it's helping to create—

—a brutal trade in designer dog looks. What steps can you commit to undertaking, working with your counterparts in the UK Government, to ensure that social media networks are playing their role in enforcing lawful sales and that this isn't a route to see puppies rehomed in not the most appropriate manner? 

I think Janet Finch-Saunders raises a very important point, and we've seen an increase in pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, over the COVID-19 pandemic, which I think has fuelled the rise that we are seeing on social media. It's very hard, isn't it, when social media isn't regulated in the way that other parts of the sector are. On the issue around dog ear cropping, which I referred to before, again we are seeing an increase on social media in relation to that. I think it's really important we continue to work with trading standards because, obviously, they work collaboratively both regionally and nationally so that they can share intelligence, for instance, to see where this is happening, and they can work much more closely, I think, local authorities, right across the UK, to avoid this. But it is a massive issue, I'm afraid. But I think buyers have a responsibility, too. And even if you're rescuing a puppy or if you're having one with no cost, I still think, as an individual, you have a responsibility where you do source your puppy, dog, cat or kitten from.  

The Welfare of Animals in Abattoirs

6. What plans does the Government have to improve the welfare of animals in abattoirs? OQ57357

14:55

Thank you. The Welsh Government is committed to ensuring high standards of welfare for all animals kept in Wales at all stages of their life, including at the point of slaughter. Our programme for government includes the commitment to require CCTV in all slaughterhouses during this Government term.

Minister, I have heard many calls from people in our rural communities who believe that it is now time to make CCTV compulsory in our abattoirs, as it is in England. Whilst I understand the reasons for the introduction of a voluntary scheme, can the Minister confirm how many abattoirs in Wales now have CCTV, and how many are without it? And, in doing so, what assessment has she made of the impact of the current scheme? Thank you.

Thank you. On the possibility of compulsory CCTV, I've never ruled it out. I always thought it was something that we would bring in if the voluntary scheme didn't work in the way that we wanted it to. But I really wanted to work, and I want to continue to work, with slaughterhouse operators to ensure that we do get CCTV in all of the slaughterhouses. There are 24 slaughterhouses in Wales. Fourteen have CCTV installed, and 10 have no CCTV. All of the large slaughterhouses have it, so the smaller ones—. I visited a couple of the smaller ones and, I have to say, they're not very keen on having compulsory CCTV. I think they think because they're small you can see everything that's going on from one position, and obviously vets are there throughout the killing of animals. So, it is about working, I think, in a supportive relationship with our slaughterhouses to ensure that we do bring it in. As I said in my tabled answer to you, our programme for government does commit to requiring CCTV in all slaughterhouses during this five-year term of government.

The Rehoming of Dogs

Thank you. Our collaboration with the Animal Welfare Network for Wales led to the publication of a voluntary code of best practice for animal welfare establishments in 2020. Building on this, our animal welfare plan commits to bringing forward regulatory requirements for animal welfare establishments, including rescue and rehoming centres, by 2023.

Diolch, Trefnydd. Before I ask my question, I'd like to thank those Members who joined Luke Fletcher and me on the steps of the Senedd last week to meet and hear from owners of former racing greyhounds, and we met quite a few greyhounds as well, and to listen to their concerns about greyhound racing in Wales.

The greyhound racing track, the Valley, at Ystrad Mynach, has recently been sold with the intention to become a licensed Greyhound Board of Great Britain track. It is anticipated that the increase in the number of races will lead to a fourfold increase in the number of dogs racing and, therefore, needing homes when they are no longer needed by the industry. We know that welfare organisations are struggling at the moment to cope with the 100 or so greyhounds leaving the track each year at present, on top of those dogs that need rehoming. Minister, I wonder if you would consider halting the expansion of the Valley track until you have had a chance to consider our request to ban greyhound racing in Wales. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Thank you, and I'm sorry I was unable to join you on the steps of the Senedd last week, but thank you for arranging that event. As Jane Dodds and other Members know, the Petitions Committee currently has a live call to ban greyhound racing in Wales, and it's currently the intention of the Welsh Government to consider greyhound racing in Wales as part of a future licensing scheme, as set out in our five-year animal welfare plan for Wales. I was aware there was talk of change of ownership in the racetrack that you've just referred to, and obviously any future expansion of the track and its facilities would be subject to planning rules, which obviously I wouldn't be able to bring a halt to. But, in light of what Jane Dodds has just told me, I will certainly look at what we can do in relation to looking at greyhound racing as part of the future licensing scheme while I'm awaiting the Petitions Committee outcome as well.

15:00

Could I echo what Jane Dodds has said in thanking Members for their engagement on the issue of greyhound welfare, including the Minister as well on her engagement? It truly has been cross-party. Following on from Jane's question, if plans go ahead at the Valley track in Ystrad Mynach, the intensification of racing will lead to more greyhounds being injured or fatally injured. Whilst I welcome the annual welfare plan, I have also voiced my concerns around how thin on the ground the animal welfare plan is in relation to greyhound welfare. So, in light of the potential intensification—and I welcome what the Minister said just now in terms of the considerations Welsh Government will be taking—what other considerations on top of what the Government's considering at the moment are going to be made in relation to the animal welfare plan if intensification does happen in Wales? And finally, could I extend an invitation to the Minister and to any other Member who's interested to meet with Hope Rescue in the new year? As the Minister has already highlighted, there's currently a petition to ban greyhound racing before the Petitions Committee, and Hope Rescue are responsible for that petition.

Thank you. Yes, I'd be very happy to meet with them, probably after the Petitions Committee has heard and viewed their petition and it's come forward, if it does indeed come forward, to the Welsh Government for consideration. I think it would be more appropriate to meet them after that. You will have heard my answer to Jane Dodds; obviously, I heard further information that I was unaware of, from Jane, and I'd be very happy to look at what we can do.

Animal Cages

8. Will the Minister provide an update on the implementation of the Welsh Government's pledge to restrict the use of cages for farmed animals? OQ57365

Thank you. The Welsh Government is committed to restricting the use of cages for farmed animals. We are working with other administrations to look at how and where they are used, and to what extent. We are also considering the welfare impacts of existing and alternative systems.

In June this year, the European Commission announced that they would phase out cage systems for a number of different farm animals, and that came about as a result of a European citizens initiative, End the Cage Age, which was supported by 1.4 million citizens, and 54,000 of them were from the UK. In Wales, many farmed animals are still confined to cages, including sows in farrowing crates, laying hens, game birds and rabbits. End the Cage Age say that over 16 million animals in the UK live in a cage system. The European Commission have committed to bringing forward a legislative proposal by the end of 2023 to phase out and finally prohibit the use of cages for hens, mother pigs, calves, rabbits, ducks and geese, and other animals as well. They've committed to phasing out the use of cages for farmed animals by 2027. Minister, is this something that the Welsh Government might consider doing in order to improve the welfare of all farmed animals in Wales?

Thank you, and I think Joyce raises a very important point. We've got a really strong track record for raising the bar when it comes to farm animal welfare. You referred to sow stalls for pigs and veal crates for calves—they're banned—and battery cages for laying hens. We really want to continue to build on this, and that's why our programme for government includes a commitment to restrict the use of cages for farmed animals. The regulations that we have at the moment are from 2007, but they do set down detailed conditions under which farmed animals must be kept. So, as I mentioned in my earlier answer, we are working very closely with other administrations to consider how we can further improve our already very high standards of farmed animal welfare by examining, for instance, the use of enriched cages for laying hens and farrowing crates for pigs. We're really going to consider the impact on the welfare of the animals, the industry, the commercial availability of alternative systems, as well as the impact on consumers, trade and, importantly, the environment.

Agricultural Supply Chains

9. What measures has the Government put into place to ensure that agricultural supply chains are eco-friendly and sustainable? OQ57369

The Welsh Government is working towards a net-zero agricultural supply chain that will benefit the rural and circular economy. Through both existing agricultural support schemes and the planned sustainable farming scheme, we are supporting the change to more eco-friendly and sustainable farming.

15:05

Thank you, Minister. As you'll be aware, agricultural greenhouse gases that emanate from soil, manure and fertiliser, along with methane produced by cattle, have added considerably to climate change and are considered as bad, if not worse, than carbon dioxide. There is an urgent need to encourage everyone within land management, in particular those who grow food and manage livestock, to develop eco-friendly and sustainable farming practices to mitigate these effects and to increase the potential for carbon sequestration, or at the very least to retain existing soil carbon.

There are, of course, going to be huge costs to the farming industry for them to adapt to this and to adapt at the speed we need, and this will require significant funding and robust legal regulations that can aid them in maintaining the highest environmental standards that can eventually lead to sustainable farming practices. What assessments has this Government made of the climate finances needed to help farmers in Wales to meet an acceptable level of eco-friendly and sustainable farming? And in your mind, Minister, what additional legislation is needed to ensure that farmers and other industrial food producers in Wales can adopt eco-friendly and sustainable farming practices? Thank you.

Thank you. You're quite right, agriculture and food production will always produce some greenhouse gases as a result of relying on natural processes, but we are continuing to meet the challenge of reducing those greenhouse gases from farming whilst maintaining high-quality food production. 

There's been a significant amount of Government support already for the sector in relation to this; that's including the Glastir schemes, for instance, for improving the biodiversity of land in Wales. We've also had the co-operation and supply chain development scheme. And those schemes have really allowed our farmers to invest in new equipment and new technology, and they've improved the resilience and sustainability of the agricultural supply chains. Joel James mentioned the sustainable farming scheme that we're proposing, and that certainly will help our farmers in relation to that, so this is obviously a scheme that we're just about to enter. I'm looking for farmers to sign up for the second part now of engagement, which will take place in the summer, because it's really important that the farmers co-design the scheme with us.

Illegal Mutilations

10. What action is the Welsh Government taking to address illegal mutilations such as ear cropping in dogs in domestic settings? OQ57367

Thank you. In collaboration with the police, the Government-funded local authority enforcement project collates intelligence of anyone suspected of ear cropping for action by the relevant local authority. Additionally, the forthcoming Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill seeks to restrict the import of dogs and puppies that have been subject to mutilations, such as ear cropping.

Diolch, Weinidog. You stated in your answer to Samuel Kurtz's question about this horrible trend for dogs with cropped ears, despite being an illegal mutilation in the UK, that you would work closely with the UK Government to try and prevent this illegal and barbaric practice. 

The number of reports that the RSPCA have received in relation to ear cropping increased by 621 per cent over a six-year period leading up to 2020, and the BBC report on this subject revealed that animal welfare officers at a local level don't have the resources to deal with this growing problem. So, could the Minister state how the Government will address this question of resource? And also, will the Government look at launching a public awareness campaign on the issue, as called for by the RSPCA, to send a clear message that the illegal mutilation of dogs for cosmetic purposes isn't acceptable in Wales? Diolch.

Thank you. I mentioned the local authority enforcement project—that's a three-year funding project that I have supported to make sure that local authorities are supported to respond to concerns in their areas. The animal welfare plan that I've brought forward for this five-year term of Government has been done in partnership, and we've listened to the concerns of local authorities and third sector organisations.

I'd certainly be very happy to look at what we can do to promote awareness and also education, because I think that's really important; if we are going to have a campaign, I think, obviously, focus on awareness, but I think that there needs to be an equal focus on educating people to realise the cruelty of this practice.

3. Topical Questions
4. 90-second Statements

The University of Wales Dictionary was established by the University of Wales exactly 100 years ago. It contains almost 90,000 entries and around 9 million words—some of which have now fallen out of daily use, some newly minted.

Welsh, like every language, is continually evolving, and the dictionary that records it evolves too. This task is undertaken by a small team of experts in Aberystwyth, who research the earliest use of any word, its meaning and the various ways in which it is understood in different dialects. This work would not be possible without the support of the Welsh Government and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

In 2002, the dictionary’s four volumes were completed and published, and 'Zwinglîaidd', or 'Zwinglian' in English, was the last word at that time. Then, the task had to begin again, of constantly updating the dictionary. And, of course, the entire dictionary is available to everyone online, free of charge, and, since 2016, on the University of Wales Dictionary app too. It may be the first full historical dictionary available free of charge in this way.

I don’t know what the oldest word is in the Welsh language, but I’d wager that the youngest word may be 'hwblyn', which is a new word for 'booster' that was coined on Twitter in recent weeks by Dr Eilir Hughes—and it's a word that will appear in the dictionary at some point in the near future, I'm sure.

Thank you to all those who had the vision to create the dictionary 100 years ago and to those who maintain it today. Every language in the world needs a dictionary.

15:10

First, let me speak about Elin and what she said. Language is the heart of the nation. Now, let me speak about Professor Robert Owen.

Bob Owen was a farmer’s son, born in Chwilog in the Llŷn peninsula in north Wales in 1921, and would have been 100 this year. He grew up on the family farm. From local primary and grammar schools, he studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London, followed by three years in the Royal Air Force.

Following orthopaedic training in Liverpool, in which he was outstanding and that included an ABC fellowship, he was appointed consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry, and north Wales hospitals at Rhyl and Abergele. He gave sterling service to these institutions, including the introduction of the Charnley arthroplasty, complete with greenhouse enclosure, to the first centre, Abergele, in the world, outside Wrightington.

Later, he was also a professor of orthopaedic surgery at Liverpool University, and had been a consultant and professor at Royal Liverpool University Hospital and Alder Hey Children's Hospital, where I worked with him from 1979 to 1983. He was the author and co-author of 140 scientific papers, co-editor of two notable textbooks and a proud member of the Royal College of Surgeons, the British Orthopaedic Association, the British Scoliosis Society and the British Cervical Spine Society.

In Wales, he was a trustee or adviser to several charitable organisations helping disabled or ill children, a deputy lieutenant for Clwyd, and the medical ombudsman for Wales. He was a staunch supporter and past president of the History of Medicine Society of Wales.

He was awarded an OBE for services to medicine in 1990, with his achievements including co-founding the Ronald McDonald House at Alder Hey hospital, and helping to establish Robert Owen House, named in his honour, at Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool, to accommodate the relatives of patients.

And, I finish with his quote: 'And so, at the end of the day, Mag'—that was his wife—'and my epitaph, as nurse and doctor, will read:'—and I will say it in English—'our aim was to give comfort to others. So, ends my story.' Thank you very much.

Built at the end of the fifteenth century, St Giles parish church in Wrexham is one of the wonders of Wales. Currently, it is home to the poignant Festival of Angels. The festival commemorates those who have lost their lives to coronavirus across Wales. Each of the 6,000 angels on display are handmade from various materials—paper, polystyrene, fabric, cardboard—some new, some recycled. The angels fill the church. Some are suspended from the interior of the tower, attached to a net and dropped into the nave. The aisles are full of angels, as is the vestry, where they welcome members and visitors alike. When I visited the festival for the first time, it took my breath away—that each one of the angels represented someone’s husband, wife, partner, dad, mum, brother, sister, friend or neighbour whose life had been lost to this cruel virus was so emotional. Sitting in a pew surrounded by the angels, I reflected on the past 21 months, and the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, angels symbolise hope and light, and I thought back to this time last year when we first heard that our scientists had produced a vaccine, and how much hope that brought us. As we enter another difficult phase of the pandemic, it is important we continue to have hope and light. I want to pay tribute to the congregation of St Giles parish church in Wrexham for creating such a beautiful and poignant exhibition, which is on display until the end of January. So many families in Wales will be facing Christmas without a loved one due to the coronavirus, and I hope the Festival of Angels will provide some comfort and strength at such a difficult time.

15:15

On behalf of the communities of Portskewett and Sudbrook in southern Monmouthshire, I want to pay tribute to an outstanding public servant. Anthony Griffiths has dedicated a huge part of his life to his communities. He has served as a community councillor for over 51 years prior to retiring from community work last month. Tony has been so much more than just a community councillor—he is a friend, a supporter, an advocate, and a go-to man for so many in our villages. Behind every event, every occasion and every improvement in our villages for the last 50 years, you will find Tony, a kingpin at the heart of things. His wealth of experience and his historic knowledge of the community has been priceless. He has added unmeasurable value to the community and, for year after year, has gone above and beyond what could be expected by a local public servant. He is always ready to help those who are struggling or those who need a hand—basically always looking out for people. He arranges the village Christmas lighting and manages the technical elements behind the many events that are staged year after year. Although now in his 80s, his service to our communities has not waned, and he is always right at the front of local life. Tony Griffiths is simply Mr Portskewett—a totally dedicated and reliable individual who gives all he has to offer for the good of others, but asks for nothing back. It’s a pleasure to celebrate his efforts in this small way today. Thank you.

5. Motion to amend Standing Orders: Petitions signature threshold

We move to item 5, a motion to amend Standing Orders on the petition signature threshold. I call on a member of the Business Committee to formally move the motion. Lesley Griffiths.

Motion NDM7868 Elin Jones

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:

1. Considers the report of the Business Committee ‘Amending Standing Orders: Petitions signature threshold’ laid in the Table Office on 7 December 2021; and

2. Approves the proposal to amend Standing Order 23, as set out in Annex A of the Business Committee’s report.

Motion moved.

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

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. Member Debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv): The legislative consent process

We move now to item 6, a Member debate under Standing Order 11.21 on the legislative consent process. I call on Rhys ab Owen to move the motion.

Rhys ab Owen has disappeared. Bear with us a second, everyone, please. We're waiting for the Member to return. There he is. Rhys, over to you to move the motion.

Motion NDM7843 Rhys ab Owen, Alun Davies, Jane Dodds, Heledd Fychan

Supported by Luke Fletcher

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes the increase in the number of legislative consent motions being presented to the Senedd.

2. Recognises that this is both a consequence of Welsh Ministers seeking to use UK Parliament legislation to enact Welsh Government legislation and the UK Government seeking to override our democracy, erode the devolution settlement and diminish the powers of the Senedd.

3. Believes that all substantial and significant primary legislation should be enacted by the Senedd rather than through the LCM process.

4. Calls on the Welsh Government to:

a) work with the Senedd's Business Committee to review the LCM process to ensure it is fit for purpose;

b) clarify the principles of when LCMs are used;

c) work with the Llywydd to seek an urgent review of the impact on the devolution settlement and the powers of the Senedd as a consequence of UK legislation.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and sorry for not being here on time. I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to bring this important debate forward. The past two years have seen a huge increase in the number of legislative consent motions brought forward to this Chamber. Last year the number was highest, with 18, and this year the second highest, with 16. This reflects the contempt of the Tory Government, which is seeking to undermine the devolution settlement. Essentially, these LCMs are only for show. The Sewel convention is something that's a thing of the past. The Westminster Government will continue to ignore this Parliament and continue with its own agenda, whatever the result of the votes on LCMs in this Senedd. This shows how voiceless and inconsequential our nation's Senedd is in Westminster.

The increase in LCMs should be of real concern for supporters of democracy here in Wales. They are a real threat to this institution, yet they pass through this Chamber like a mere footnote. Even the most ardent of political commentators don't pick up on them, but they are a Trojan horse that slowly, stealthily and steadily erodes the very foundation of the political system here in Wales. We need to wake up to the threat or we will see a far weakened Senedd by the next election. No matter what the committee on Senedd reform does, we could see a far weakened Senedd here by the next election.

We should work together within the Senedd and with both houses at Westminster to clarify the principles of when LCMs are used. Yes, I admit I can see that there is a place for LCMs, but they should only be used at the periphery of our devolution settlement. However, time and time again, we are seeing LCMs that go to the very heart of the devolution settlement here in Wales. Let's be clear: laws that affect Wales and sit within the Senedd's competency should be made here in Wales, in this place. We are the Parliament of Wales, we are the national legislature, not some symbolic shell that bends to the whims of whoever is in Government in Westminster. This is especially poignant, isn't it, at the moment, as we see just how callous this current Tory UK Government has been in recent weeks—a UK Government that shamefully wants powers to strip British citizens of their citizenship, rendering them stateless without any reason given, a UK Government that wants to imprison people for protesting, a UK Government that wants to disenfranchise vast swathes of the population through their Elections Bill.

This Tory Government is hostile to devolution—that is a fact. The Prime Minister himself labelled devolution as a mistake, and this is shown not only in his words but in his actions. Time and time again, we have seen a breakdown in inter-governmental relations. The Prif Weinidog himself has described Boris Johnson as 'bottom of the barrel'. Why, then—why on earth—would we give this UK Government the power to erode, undermine and dismantle this Senedd piece by piece? We need to be honest with ourselves. The devolution process in Wales has come to a swift halt and we are now in reverse.

We need a more systematic approach in noting where and when this Parliament gives its consent to the UK Government on primary legislation. We need an urgent review to understand exactly what kind of impact these LCMs will have on the devolution settlement now and for the future. We were all elected to this place by the people of Wales; we are accountable to them. I don't want Bills and laws within the competence of this Senedd to be passed by Tory Ministers in London—Ministers who simply don't care about the people of Wales. The Westminster Government refused to extend furlough to workers in Wales during the firebreak last year, the Westminster Government is ensuring that Wales doesn't receive a penny of consequential money as a result of HS2, and the Westminster Government secured an ideological Brexit that has left Wales a poorer nation.

We also live in a bilingual nation where Welsh and English exist side by side and are prosperous languages, and this Parliament is a good reflection of that. On a personal level, Deputy Llywydd, I can say that I've spoken far more Welsh professionally during my seven months in this Senedd than I have done in the 12 years prior to this. From the outset, legislation in this Senedd has been bilingual, with both languages treated equally. Clearly, that is not the case in Westminster. The leader of the house even described Welsh as a foreign language. There is more respect to a dead language such as Latin there than there is to a living language such as the Welsh language.

Lord Thomas, the former Lord Chief Justice, in a recent evidence session to the legislation committee, described the devolution settlement in Wales as complicated—complicated even for lawyers—and the use of LCMs complicates matters even further. It will make no sense to the vast majority of people that a law within a devolved area, a matter that has been devolved for over 20 years, is being passed by Westminster. The Welsh Government are adding to the complexity. They are breaching their own duty under the Legislation (Wales) Act 2019 by consenting—but not only consenting; at times, encouraging—the Westminster Government to pass legislation within devolved areas. Imagine a lawyer, let alone a layperson, looking for law relating to the environment in Wales. That person would rightly believe that any recent law within a devolved area will have been passed here by the Senedd, but that is not the case. The devolution settlement in Wales is complicated enough without the Welsh Government adding to that confusion.

LCM Bills will not be bilingual. They cannot form part of the codification plans of the Welsh Government, and they will not be scrutinised properly by the Senedd. We saw that only yesterday in the two committees' response to the leasehold reform Bill. Both committees complained about the lack of time for scrutiny. The LCMs will also hinder future Senedds from passing legislation within these areas. Members, are we really happy to hand back powers to a Tory Government in Westminster that moves from one scandal to the next, from one mismanagement to the next?

The people of Wales voted twice in favour of this Senedd, and there was a significant pro-devolution majority elected to this place in May. We must not undermine this clear democratic mandate by passing over our powers to Tory Ministers without any real scrutiny here at all. Welsh laws should be scrutinised properly by us as Members. That's our job. I want to see a Senedd that is strong and democratic, an empowered Senedd that uses its powers fully to effect positive change to the lives of the people of Wales.

The Welsh Government cannot always pass the buck to Tory Ministers in London. We need to see an urgent review into the LCM process, one where we ask ourselves if they are even relevant, should they exist at all, where we forensically analyse the impact they have on the legislative process in Wales and make sure that Members in this place can effectively scrutinise legislation. Members, we must stand up for our Senedd, for its powers and for Wales—a Senedd that delivers radical, thoughtful and scrutinised legislation. That isn't happening with the LCM process. That's not how good law is drafted and enacted. It's our role and our duty, as Senedd Members, to scrutinise law and to make sure that the people of Wales have the laws that they deserve passed by their Parliament. Diolch yn fawr.

15:25

I am speaking today as Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. I'm contributing to this debate because of the responsibilities my committee has in reporting on legislative consent memoranda referred to us by the Business Committee. 

Let me recognise at the outset that not all memoranda, or LCMs, are the same. Some will relate to areas where there may indeed be sufficient and appropriate reasons for the UK Government to be permitted to legislate in devolved areas. For others, we recognise that the current UK Government is and has been seeking to legislate in devolved areas against the wishes of the Welsh Government, and indeed against the wishes of this Senedd. However, other memoranda—a third category—reflect the Welsh Government's approach to allow and sometimes request that the UK Government takes forward legislation on its behalf. And it's these memoranda that have caused the committee the most concern.

Now, at times, we've felt it necessary to criticise the Welsh Government’s approach and to do so quite strongly and starkly, and we genuinely take no satisfaction from doing so. We'd much prefer to contribute to the steady improvement of legislation in this place—in the Senedd—and to delivering the best possible outcomes for communities across Wales. But instead, we find ourselves, particularly in this sixth Senedd, spending a significant amount of time reporting on legislation being made in another place, in Westminster, which we have no real scope to influence or to shape. It is disconcerting and, sometimes, uncomfortable.

Now, our role as a committee is to report on constitutional matters relevant to the memorandum in question, and, in so doing, we draw relevant matters to the attention of the Senedd so Members can take account of them when voting on a consent motion. We seek to ensure the integrity of devolution is preserved. This is a vital role, and it's one that we take very, very seriously, and not least because, as the Counsel General, in fact, has highlighted—a former Chair of the committee that I now chair—there is no second, revising Chamber here in the Senedd. Our committee does that role, in effect.

Now, we'll always aim to be constructive in our reporting as a committee, but—and Ministers will understand this position—we have to speak out loudly and clearly when there are important questions to be asked, if we believe that Welsh or UK Governments are taking decisions that could potentially damage or undermine devolution. And in making these observations, I should add that only on rare occasions will the committee recommend that consent be granted or denied for a UK Bill. Ultimately, that has got to be a matter that is for the Senedd as a whole.

But as I alluded to, our work programme since July has been dominated by the scrutiny of legislative consent memoranda. Last Friday, we laid our seventeenth report on LCMs since the establishment of our committee—17. These 17 reports have covered 14 memoranda and eight supplementary memoranda. New memoranda have been laid in the last week or so, and there is the promise of yet more to come; we are busy. The 17 reports represent about half the number of reports published by our predecessor committee in the entirety of the fifth Senedd. This is quite stark when you bear in mind that many of the fifth Senedd reports concerned Brexit-related UK Bills.

Now, the number of reports we publish does not of course represent the entire story, as the excellent Senedd Research article published recently highlights. So far in the sixth Senedd, up until today, Welsh Government has laid those memoranda for 17 UK Bills, covering 360 clauses and schedules. And that contrasts starkly with the fifth Senedd: from May 2016 to May 2017, the Welsh Government laid consent memoranda for 10 Bills, covering only around 80 clauses and schedules.

Now clearly, this is a significant increase already this year in legislation in devolved areas being made at Westminster rather than the Senedd. We've made no secret about our concern about the extent to which the UK Government is now legislating in devolved areas and, not surprisingly—and picking up the comments made earlier by the person introducing this, by Rhys—it's a matter we'll return to in the new year.

But in closing, there is one improvement I would recommend, as committee Chair, that the Welsh Government make in its approach, and that is bringing forward consistently high-quality memoranda. They need to articulate why a memorandum is being brought forward: is it being laid because the Welsh Government has requested provisions; is it as a result of collaboration; or is legislation being imposed on Wales, reluctantly, by the UK Government, or against the wishes of the Welsh Government? The rationale for the approach needs to be explained fully, covering not only the provisions for which consent is being sought, but also matters of legislative competence and progress on all relevant inter-governmental relations. Too often, important matters of detail are contained in correspondence when they should form an integral part of the case for seeking consent within a memorandum.

Finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, we will continue to hold the Welsh Government to account firmly on its use of legislative consent memoranda, and we'll do so in the interests not only of good constitutional practice, but also, Welsh democracy. Thank you very much. 

15:35

I'm pleased to contribute to this debate as Chair of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee, and you'll be aware that the committee wrote to the Business Committee back in September outlining what we considered to be the key challenges for the Senedd in scrutinising LCMs. We asked the Business Committee to undertake a review into the LCM process to ensure that it is fit for purpose. Now, the letter was prompted by our experience of scrutinising on the LCM for the environment Bill during the early part of this Senedd term, but it's safe to say that the challenges we face were not unique to that LCM, and they are not unique to this Senedd. Before the fifth Senedd, LCMs, in the main, had related to narrowly focused provisions; they didn't attract much argument or controversy. The fifth Senedd was perhaps a turning point in scrutinising LCMs as LCMs for large, complex Brexit-related Bills that made substantive provisions for Wales were brought forward.

It became apparent very quickly that the LCM process was not designed to support scrutiny of Bills such as these. Take our scrutiny work for the environment Bill as an example. Like other Brexit-related Bills, the environment Bill contained substantive provisions for Wales in key areas of devolved policy, provisions that would undoubtedly be better suited to a Bill in this Senedd. Had it been a Senedd Bill, the scrutiny timetable would have spanned many months. Instead, we had four weeks, just two meetings, to consider and report on the LCM. Had this been a Senedd Bill, the Welsh Government would have been required to provide detailed information on its policy objectives, the purpose and intended effect of the provisions, and cost estimates among other things. But the LCM, of course, contained limited information on some of these aspects and no information at all on others. Had this been a Senedd Bill, there would have been an opportunity for the committee's concerns about specific provisions to be addressed by amendments, but the environment Bill had already reached its final scrutiny stages in the UK Parliament, so negotiating amendments wasn't an option. 

Deputy Llywydd, the challenges I've outlined are probably, by now, familiar to most, if not all policy committees, given the significant number of LCMs brought forward since the start of the sixth Senedd. We find ourselves in a position where the Welsh Government is using LCMs as a replacement for Senedd Bill scrutiny processes. The UK Government is increasingly using UK Bills to legislate in devolved areas without the Welsh Government's agreement. The process set out in our Standing Orders simply wasn't designed for this, and we must ask whether it is still fit for purpose. 

As was outlined in my letter to the Business Committee, now is the time to review the LCM process. If the Welsh Government intends to continue to use UK Bills to legislate for Wales on matters of significance, then we must be confident that the LCM process facilitates and supports meaningful Senedd scrutiny, and that the Welsh public and stakeholders are consulted on matters that will affect them. 

I very much hope, therefore, that today's debate will mean that we do now see progress made towards a review, and that, as a result, we will see significant and early improvement to the current process. Thank you. 

May I thank Rhys and others who have brought this important debate forward today?

As we've heard, this is a crucial process for the Senedd, and it is falling far short of the rigour that we should expect. The volume, the timescales, the information, and the scope of the LCMs are all putting pressure on the process. There was nearly an equal number of LCMs in the year 2020-21 as there were in the four years previously. Memoranda such as the elections Bill, health and care Bill and building safety stray into areas that have long been matters devolved to Wales. We should be mindful of the principal importance of the Senedd in enacting significant primary legislation on devolved matters itself. And there is a principle in asserting the power of this place as the primary law-making body, especially when the Conservatives in Westminster appear to be actively looking for any way to undermine devolution and our Senedd.

I want to echo the concerns about the volume of LCMs, their timescales and the quality of the information available. As a new Member, that leaves me, as I'm sure it does others, on the back foot. Not only is the Senedd not given sufficient opportunity to scrutinise what are significant pieces of legislation, but not all Members are able to engage equally. This is, of course, another reason why there should be an increase in the number of Senedd Members to ensure that the Senedd is properly able to scrutinise legislation. So, in summary, I support the concerns about the use of LCMs and the impact on the devolution settlement, especially with such significant pieces of legislation, including legislation that could be brought forward here being triggered through the LCM process. But, more importantly, we should only progress legislation that does not impact the devolution settlement or our Senedd. Diolch. 

15:40

I'd like to thank Rhys ab Owen for bringing this debate forward this afternoon, giving us an opportunity, at last, to have a proper discussion on the LCM process, not that the words 'legislative consent motion' have been foreign to this Chamber. As other speakers have mentioned, the Welsh Government has tabled LCMs for 17 UK Bills within the first seven months of the sixth Senedd, which is more than any other year, with the exception of 2020. And, if we believe in devolution, and the idea that decisions about Wales should be made in Wales, and believe in this Parliament, then this should be a cause of concern for us, because it limits our powers, as a Senedd, and is, therefore, an attack on democracy. 

As we're all aware, committees, as we've heard from Huw Irranca-Davies and Llyr Gruffydd, have raised numerous and broad-ranging concerns about all of these issues, including the lack of background and the development of the legislation, the lack of clarity in drafting, that the proof on the requirements for LCMs are unclear, and reasons provided by Welsh Government are unclear as to provide consent or not, the views of the Welsh Government on particular clauses, the extent to which the Welsh Government has sought to amend UK Bills, and the nature of amendments sought, as well as the impact of the Bill on legislation or other key frameworks. This clearly shows, therefore, that there are a number of unresolved issues in terms of these LCMs. 

However, although these concerns have been raised, the Senedd hasn't had an opportunity to meaningfully scrutinise the process until today. And I would like to take the opportunity therefore to clearly express that I'm very dissatisfied with the way in which the Welsh Government has dealt with the LCM process to date. After all, we must ask why the Welsh Government chooses, time and again, to make amendments within a UK Bill, rather than bringing forward its own legislation. Is it because of lack of time, a shortage of Members or a lack of desire on the Government's part? Or are there other reasons? And what impact does this then have on scrutiny, as Members and stakeholders can't contribute and add to this legislation under this process? Where is the voice of this Senedd and the people of Wales in that process? 

Every time an LCM is brought forward it strengthens the dangerous precedent of providing powers to the Secretary of State, rather than to Welsh Ministers, and this isn't why people from across parties campaigned for an expansion in the powers of this Senedd. LCMs confuse a system that is already complex, and make it difficult for the people of Wales to influence the legislative process, here in Wales. I would, therefore, like to encourage my fellow Members to vote in favour of the motion today, and to take a stand against this clear threat to our democracy. The people of Wales have placed their trust in us to pass legislation in devolved areas for over 20 years, rather than the UK Government. We should therefore ensure that we deliver on their behalf, rather than handing powers back to the UK Government, which, time and time again, has shown that it cares nothing for the interests of the people of Wales.

15:45

I'll keep my remarks brief in this debate, but needless to say that I will be voting against the motion on the order paper today. And that's not because I don't believe that devolution should exist; I campaigned vigorously for the further powers for the Senedd in the referendum back in 2011. But, having lived through an experience where we had the dreadful legislative competence Order system, which was around in my first term in the Senedd, I can tell you this, Mr ab Owen and everybody else who has contributed to the debate: the reality is the LCM system is much fairer and much more respectful of devolution than ever the LCO system was, which preceded it.

Now, we must look at LCMs as tools that can be used effectively by the Welsh Government to expedite the implementation of its policies. That is one of the reasons why LCMs sometimes come forward, and, as Huw Irranca-Davies has quite rightly said, they can be used entirely appropriately in that way in order to achieve a Government's policy objectives. In addition to that, of course, the UK Government is entitled sometimes to legislate on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom, and it did so on behalf of the people of Wales in spite of the fact that the majority of politicians in the Senedd at the time wanted to stop Brexit, and that, I think, is what has clouded the views of many people who are taking part in this debate today on the LCM process that exists. Because the reality is that, unfortunately, because of the hostile views and the deliberate attempts to thwart Brexit from many of the political parties represented in the previous Senedd, there were more rows than there would have been about the use of LCMs in order to legislate.

And, of course, it is not true, Heledd Fychan, to suggest that this legislation is not being scrutinised effectively and that it's not being scrutinised by people representing Wales. It is being scrutinised. Any legislation that is undertaken by the UK Parliament is scrutinised by far more people than are scrutinising legislation passing through the Senedd. We have 650 MPs, 800 and odd members of the House of Lords, and don't forget either that there are people representing Wales who are representing people in Parliament in both the Lords and the Commons. So, the people of Wales are having a say on these matters and there are opportunities then for there to be a further discussion and debate here in the Senedd through our processes.

Now, where I would agree is that I do think, as with all legislative processes, that there are things that could and should, quite rightly, be done to improve the LCM processes, especially around the time that is available in order to scrutinise. And as Huw Irranca-Davies quite rightly has pointed out, there are times also when the information accompanying LCMs, the memorandums that accompany LCMs, could be improved. I'm very much with the LJC committee in terms of wanting to see improvements on that front, but it is a mistake to say that the LCM process is one that tramps all over devolution. It does not. It is a tool to respect devolution. That's why it was written into the Government of Wales Act as it was, and it is certainly a darn sight better than its predecessor. 

If I can just say this also, the Senedd legislates on a range of different matters. Sometimes, the majority of people in north Wales and representing seats in north Wales vote against the decisions that are taken by politicians predominantly from the south in the Senedd. I don't baulk too much about that. I don't suggest that we need a process that allows for some respect of the fact that people in north Wales might disagree and their representatives might disagree. I accept that that is democracy. And we must respect the fact that the UK Parliament remains sovereign in the UK, across the whole of the UK. And of course devolution must be respected, but we must not forget the fact that the UK Parliament remains sovereign. So, it is for this reason and the others that I've cited that I'll be voting against this motion on the order paper, and would suggest that others should do likewise. Thank you. 

15:50

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I start by welcoming the debate? The issue of legislative consent is of considerable importance to Welsh and also to inter-parliamentary democratic processes. So, it is important that we all understand the process, when it is applied and why, and the principles that underlie it. Now, this may be a niche issue for some, but I certainly agree with the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee that this is an important part of our constitutional framework. 

Legislative consent memoranda are only tabled when the UK Government introduces legislation that seeks to make provision in relation to Wales, or which seeks to modify the legislative competence of the Senedd, or which makes provision for any purpose within the legislative competence of the Senedd. So, when this happens, the Government must normally lay a legislative consent memorandum no later than two weeks after introduction. That LCM will then be referred by the Business Committee to a committee or committees, with a timetable to report.

Now, that is the process, but it poses a number of challenges. It means that the trigger for the LCM process is a consequence of the tabling of a Bill in Westminster, and similarly in respect of amendments that are made during the passage of the Bill. Frequently, we do not receive details of a Bill until the last minute, and, when this happens, it makes it virtually impossible to comply with our own Standing Order requirements. The same is true in respect of amendments to Bills, which often appear virtually spontaneously, which are significant and which often make significant additions to a Bill. This then requires urgent analysis by lawyers and for supplementary legislative consent memoranda to be tabled. In effect, such actions by the UK Government can make it very difficult to enable adequate committee scrutiny. So, I agree with that point. Welsh Government lawyers are very often in a similar position of having to analyse significant and complex legal issues within a very short space of time, and I agree that this is an issue that needs to be addressed also at inter-governmental level, as in my view it does undermine democratic processes. 

So, when we are considering an LCM, it is because of legislation that has been tabled in Westminster. Our overriding principle, when it comes to legislating for Wales, has been, and will continue to be, that we should legislate in the Senedd in areas within the legislative competence of the Senedd. However, each piece of UK legislation has to be considered on its own merit. Frequently, analysis of such legislation reveals conflicting benefits and disadvantages. Sometimes, the issue is a piece of legislation that would be of benefit to the people of Wales but is not within the current legislative programme. Other times, it relates to issues of cross-border interest, and in other cases it relates to issues of competence, where we will always take a robust and principled position on preserving the integrity of the devolution settlement. 

Now, earlier in the autumn, I wrote to the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee to outline our criteria for determining the circumstances in which we would consider using a UK Government Bill to legislate in respect of Wales. And since we've made them publicly available, I don't want to take the time now to outline them in detail today. However, to summarise them, we would only consider using a UK Government Bill where there is an opportunity to change the law more quickly than we could achieve in our own programme, or where it is appropriate and advantageous for there to be common regulatory regimes across England and Wales, and provided we retain the power to make our own legislative changes, should we wish, at a later time.

So, it is proper for Members to raise the issue of scrutiny, because it is the case that the scrutiny of the Senedd of such legislation will not be as detailed as that for legislation made in the Senedd. And this is one of the judgments that has to be made when legislation is tabled in Westminster by the UK Government. And for this reason, we are committed to ensuring as much scrutiny as possible through the LCM process, but I recognise the importance of the issue raised, so I confirm that we will be working with the Business Committee to consider how the process can be improved and to address those concerns.

Llywydd, the UK Government's record on respecting the devolution settlement has not been a good one—far from it—and legislation in the aftermath of Brexit has betrayed a centralising, controlling attitude towards devolution here, and the rest of the United Kingdom. The increased use of or attempts to create concurrent powers, the establishment of UK-wide structures and funding regimes in devolved areas, and often the flagrant disregard for the views of the Senedd and Scottish Parliament on some legislation, have given us no reason to believe that this UK Government is a friend of devolution. But we haven't shied away from taking a robust approach to defend our interests as Welsh Ministers and the interests of this Senedd. One example is the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, which Members debated yesterday, in which we successfully negotiated the removal of a proposed new reservation. However, negotiation will sometimes require compromise, and, where a compromise is considered, the test is always whether it is, in all the circumstances, more in the interests of the people of Wales to make the compromise than not to do so. But I can assure Members that we continue as a priority to seek to defend the devolution settlement against attempts to undermine it.

I'd just like to refer to a couple of the comments that have been made. Rhys ab Owen Jones—certainly, when I listen to you speak on these matters, it reminds me a little bit of times I've been in a Welsh chapel, where the issues are ones of good and bad and fire and brimstone. So, I partly agree with you on the constitutional point, but not necessarily with the fundamentalist approach that's been adopted.

Huw, you made a point with regard to the legislation and justice committee, and I recognise the fundamental importance of that committee and certainly take on board the issue of how we might articulate more clearly the rationale behind and underpinning legislative consent memoranda.

Llyr, you made a number of similar points, but, again, just to confirm that I do agree with, I think, some of the comments and the concerns with regard to the issue of scrutiny.

And Jane, with regard to, I think, a number of the points you made, I think, for example, the elections Bill, which you referred to, is an example of where we have in fact fully resisted, I believe, the endeavours to incorporate certain principles that we do not want to see applying to Welsh elections.

And to Heledd, the number of LCMs is actually not something that is a choice of Welsh Government in terms of the recommendations we make; it is a consequence in terms of having to respond to UK Government legislation, which Standing Orders require us to do.

And Darren, I was getting very worried, because right at the beginning I was beginning to agree with you and I wondered whether I would have to admit it or not, but I have to say, unfortunately, I think you began to fall short—you didn't recognise what I think is a concerted assault on devolution. But you are certainly right on the issue about the old LCO system, which was something I think we've all gladly seen the back of.

Ideally, in all legislation falling within the Senedd's competence, I think the view is we should make it here, in this institution. We do have a legislative programme that is increasingly seeking to challenge devolution and the responsibilities of the Senedd in the UK Government, so we will seek to do our legislation, our legislative consent memoranda, in a way that protects and enhances our constitutional settlement, and, most importantly, we will work closely with the Business Committee and with the Senedd and with the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee and other committees to look at how the LCM process can be improved. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.

15:55

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I'm grateful to everybody who took part in the debate this afternoon, with the potential exception of that somewhat bizarre contribution from Darren Millar. Deputy Presiding Officer, it's the role of oppositions to oppose Governments, usually, and to seek as many different parliamentary techniques as possible to frustrate the Government from getting its business. This must be the first occasion that I can ever remember where an opposition has not simply waved through Government business but said they don't want the option of scrutinising Government legislation as well. It is quite a bizarre situation to find ourselves in. I welcome the—. Darren wants to make an intervention.

16:00

I haven't suggested at all for one moment that we shouldn't be able to scrutinise legislation. In fact, if you listened more carefully to what I said, I said that there were things that needed to be done to improve the current processes and the opportunities for scrutiny in terms of the policy and the memorandums that are produced. So, it's absolutely not the case. What I was saying was that LCOs are a darn sight better than where we were, and that there are useful opportunities sometimes for the Welsh Government to be able to expedite the implementation of its policies—policies that I sometimes don't agree with, in fact very often don't agree with, but sometimes it's a useful tool.

I can understand that you want to make another speech rescuing your situation, but this isn't the opportunity to do that, I'm afraid.

In terms of where we are, what you do of course when you scrutinise an LCM is that you scrutinise the LCM, the memorandum; you don't scrutinise the legislation, and that is the key failure of this system. It's not in any way—. I don't think you can easily compare it to the old LCO system at all, where you were debating the principle of legislation and the legislative competence; you're here discussing legislation itself, a Bill.

The examples I will give to Darren are the examples that we debated yesterday in terms of leasehold reform, and another LCM that we will discuss in a few weeks' time around building safety. We haven't had the opportunity to scrutinise any of the provisions that are in those pieces of legislation. What we've done is to scrutinise the memorandum where the Welsh Government have said they want to give the power to a Westminster Parliament to legislate. We know, and you've got to be a very, very overly kind individual, I would suggest, if you believe there will be any scrutiny of Welsh Government legislation in Westminster. They barely scrutinise their own legislation across there, let alone the legislation that is being suggested by the Welsh Government. You've got to be a very, very kind individual—I know Christmas is coming, but you take things to an extreme at certain times. So, this is about proper parliamentary scrutiny of legislation, and I would have anticipated that every Member of the opposition would want and expect the highest levels of scrutiny of any sort of Government legislation.

I welcome very much what the Counsel General has said this afternoon, but, you know, you mention Rhys speaking like a preacher in a chapel, but I must say to you, Counsel General, what I learnt from my chapel upbringing was that you've got to live your beliefs. It's not enough to bend the knee on a Sunday evening or a Sunday morning, you've got to live those beliefs on a Monday morning as well, I'm afraid, Counsel General, and the Government is not doing that at the moment. The Welsh Government is not doing that.

It is not sufficient to say that the Welsh Government has a packed legislative programme when we only have two Government Bills in front of this place. Neither of them are—well, one of them is a significant Bill, the second isn't a significant Bill, and then we have a private Member's Bill. If it is the case that the Government cannot pursue more than two pieces of legislation at any one time, then the Government should say that and should explain why, and the Government should also invest in the resources to enable it to have the resources to pursue more legislation. The Government has control of its own budget and the Government needs to recognise that. We have the right, therefore, to scrutinise that legislation and not simply scrutinise the subcontracting of legislation to another place.

But I'm grateful, Deputy Presiding Officer, to everybody who has taken part in the debate. In his two contributions on this matter this week Huw Irranca-Davies, I think, has showed the power of proper parliamentary scrutiny. The work done by the legislation and justice committee on these matters, that is not work that can be put aside by Government; it's work that must be recognised by Government. The power of the argument that I thought that Huw Irranca-Davies made yesterday in the debate on the LCM is something that the Government, I hope, would reflect very, very seriously on.

I recognise the points that Rhys has made and the points that the Counsel General has made, about the conflict, and I think it is a conflict, between the Governments in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland to a lesser extent, and Westminster. I think there is a serious issue about Westminster not recognising the mandate of Members elected here, and our right to govern, our right to legislate. I think there is a serious issue here.

I also think the Welsh Government's case would be more powerful if the Welsh Government used the legislation and the processes in this place in a way that recognised our rights, as well as exercise those rights in debate with the United Kingdom Government. I'm particularly disappointed that the Welsh Government has not sought to use expedited processes where it believes that expedited legislation is necessary.

16:05

If you look at the building safety LCM, a Bill could have been taken through this place in a similar timescale to that which the LCM has taken, and with scrutiny and with the option of people here voting on it.

So, I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer, for the time this afternoon, and I'm grateful to all Members who have participated in the debate. I hope that as a consequence of this debate we will be able to reach an accommodation and agreement with the Welsh Government on how we legislate in the future, and I hope what that will do will be to recognise the power of a democracy that I know the Counsel General has fought for longer than most Members of this place, and I know he believes in it as much as everybody else who has participated in this debate. Thank you.

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes, we have an objection. I will therefore defer voting on the motion until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

7. Debate on the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee Report on the Inter-Institutional Relations Agreement between Senedd Cymru and the Welsh Government

Item 7 today is the debate on the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee's report, 'Inter-Institutional Relations Agreement between Senedd Cymru and the Welsh Government'. I call on the committee Chair, Huw Irranca-Davies, to move the motion.

Motion NDM7870 Huw Irranca-Davies

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the report of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, 'Inter-Institutional Relations Agreement between Senedd Cymru and the Welsh Government', which was laid in the Table Office on 18 November 2021.

Motion moved.

The inter-institutional relations agreement between the Senedd and the Welsh Government, freshly remade for this sixth Senedd, is not as bland or as niche as its title may suggest. It is an important agreement, relevant to all Senedd committees and applicable to all Welsh Ministers.

While my committee, building on the work of its predecessor, has taken the lead, the agreement represents the settled position on the information that the Welsh Government will provide to the Senedd as a whole with regard to Welsh Ministers' participation in the formal, ministerial-level inter-governmental meetings, the agreements, concordats, and the memorandums of understanding. Such information is becoming more and more vital to us as Senedd Members in monitoring and understanding the work of the Welsh Ministers in a UK context.

Now, as I just briefly mentioned, our predecessor committee in the fifth Senedd recommended to the Welsh Government that it enter into an agreement that would support the Senedd’s scrutiny of the Welsh Government in its inter-governmental dealings. The Welsh Government agreed, and some Members will know that the first iteration of this agreement was put in place and formally noted by the fifth Senedd in March 2019.

One of the first things our committee did, very soon after our formation, was to set about establishing a new agreement with the Welsh Government that was fit for purpose in this, our sixth Senedd. I am very pleased that the First Minister was equally open to the agreement’s continuing existence, and that we have been able to bring this new version to the Senedd before 2021 comes to a close. I would also like to take this opportunity to note for the record that while discussions on a new agreement took place, the Welsh Government nevertheless met the requirement in the original agreement and laid an annual report on 28 September, which is commendable, and is to be welcomed.

The agreement establishes three principles that will govern the relationship between the Senedd and the Welsh Government with regard to inter-governmental relations. These principles are transparency, accountability and respect for the part that confidential discussions must play between governments. The Welsh Government has recognised the Senedd’s primary purpose of scrutinising the activity of the Welsh Government. In return, as we in the Senedd obviously acknowledge, there will be sometimes a need for confidential inter-governmental discussion between the Governments within the UK. So, the agreement seeks to ensure that the principles of the Welsh Government’s accountability to the Senedd, and transparency with regard to these relationships, are now built into inter-governmental relations and mechanisms.

I would also like to draw the Senedd’s attention to a further commitment from the First Minister that has been included in our report on the agreement. This commitment builds upon a protocol that was in place between our predecessor committee and the Welsh Government in the fifth Senedd. The First Minister has now agreed that the Welsh Government will write to my committee and to other relevant Senedd committees to inform us of any intention to consent to the UK Government exercising a delegated legislative power in a devolved Welsh area and, again, this is really commendable. And where time allows, the Welsh Government has also committed to provide an opportunity for the Senedd to express a view before consent is given. Furthermore, the Welsh Government will lay a statement in relation to every exercise of a delegated legislative power by a UK Minister in a devolved area to which the Welsh Ministers have given consent, explaining the rationale for that consent, and this will normally be done within three working days of the laying before or notification to the UK Parliament.

So, while my committee will continue to take the lead on monitoring the implementation of the agreement and the Welsh Government’s compliance with its terms, I would encourage other Senedd committees to become familiar with it, and the potential implications and benefits for their scrutiny work. And can I, in closing, thank my committee members, colleagues on the committee, for their diligence in this matter, and the clerking team as well who've been excellent in this regard, but also my thanks to Welsh Government as well for the way that they've worked with us in bringing forward this agreement? Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

16:10

To confirm, the Welsh Conservative group will be supporting the motion before us today, and I speak in this debate today as someone who sits on the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. In that regard, can I thank the Chair for his opening statement, but also for his leadership of the committee? It's great working with you, Huw. Inter-governmental and inter-institutional relations are often complex and confusing things. The sheer number of the structures  that are in place and the nature of the discussions that are held within them can make things difficult to follow, even for us here in the Chamber, never mind for members of the public. Adding things like Brexit, the pandemic and the sheer amount of agreements and legislation can sometimes leave this place feeling as if it's being bypassed at times, not intentionally, but sometimes it's almost like we are chasing our tail a little bit.

And this is why I believe that this agreement between the Welsh Parliament and the Welsh Government is important. This Parliament has always held scrutiny and accountability in high regard, and this agreement is a step forward in the right direction. Whilst ensuring that the necessary confidentiality arrangements are in place, it ensures that the Welsh Ministers are required to notify this place when devolved competencies are exercised by UK Ministers. This enables us to scrutinise decisions and improves Government transparency.

What I do want to say, however, is that we have to be more mindful of how we approach debates about inter-governmental relations. I know things can be difficult and can get rather fraught, and there are things by all Governments that can be done better. But, too often, we can get caught up in politics and rhetoric, rather than how we can work together to achieve our common goals, and there are more of these goals than what some in this Chamber perhaps believe. Recovering from the pandemic should be at the forefront of everything that Governments of all colours should be focusing on, and it's right that we in Wales look to engage constructively with partners from across the UK, and that this place supports and challenges this working.

Llywydd, I close my contribution by welcoming the opportunity for the debate this afternoon, and I thank once again the Chair for bringing it forward. Thank you.

I welcome this agreement between the Senedd and the Welsh Government. At a time when inter-governmental relations are often very poor, to put it mildly, it is so important that the Senedd is fully aware of what's going on. I hope the Senedd can co-operate with Welsh Government to try and improve inter-governmental relations.

As I mentioned yesterday in the fire safety debate, it is the people of Wales that suffer when there is a breakdown between the Welsh and the UK Governments. We have seen, haven't we, recently, in the English channel, the tragic consequences when two Governments put politics in front of people. I do not want to see a second Grenfell Tower happen in Cardiff Bay or in Swansea whilst politicians are still squabbling about who pays for fire safety work. I don't want to see a second Aberfan happening whilst politicians are politicising coal tips instead of getting on with it and clearing this scar from our landscapes.

Yes, as Huw Irranca-Davies mentioned, inter-governmental relations can appear to be a dry subject. I don't expect Members to show much interest in formal inter-governmental agreements, common frameworks, concordats, memoranda or other resolutions. But they are reflective of the relationship between Governments, whether it is constructive, obstructive or even at times destructive. This makes a huge difference to the lives of the people of Wales. I therefore welcome this agreement, because it provides us in the Senedd with the two cornerstones of our democracy: transparency and accountability. It will create greater transparency and therefore enable further scrutiny—our most important role as non-governing Members of the Senedd, as Alun Davies quite rightly stressed in the last debate.

This agreement covers memoranda of understanding. As Members will know, these are not binding on the current Government, let alone successive Governments. They come into existence without any real scrutiny, and often should be in a piece of legislation rather than in a non-binding agreement between two executives. That's why it is so important that the Government is transparent about their existence and that there is an opportunity to challenge their contents. As part of this agreement, I welcome the Welsh Government's commitment to maintain a dedicated page on its own website providing all relevant formal inter-governmental agreements of all kinds that are in place between them and the UK Government. I don't for one minute imagine that the traffic to that page will be high, but it's important that they are there. It's important that they are accessible.

I'm glad that this agreement provides an opportunity for the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, and the Welsh Government, to suggest amendments to the agreement during this Senedd. Inter-governmental relations can change very quickly, and I sincerely hope that things will improve when the Westminster Government finally realises that their muscular unionism isn't achieving anything. I'm also pleased by the commitment in paragraph 16 of the agreement that when the Welsh Government intends to establish new arrangements to reach inter-governmental agreements, it will provide advance and adequate notice to the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee.

The additional commitment from the First Minister on notifying the Senedd when the Welsh Government will consent and when it has consented to the UK Government exercising a delegated power in a devolved area is so important, to be a real monitoring tool for the Senedd. We've just heard in the debate about the increase of LCMs for primary legislation. It's also important to monitor and scrutinise the extent to which consent is being given to subordinate legislation. This is a matter, of course, that the committee, under Huw Irranca-Davies's chairmanship—. And I'll echo what Peter Fox said about his chairmanship of the committee; we are very fortunate to have him as Chair. We will be taking the lead on it. But as I said in the LCM debate, I hope other Members will take an interest and will become familiar with what's happening, because it does affect our Welsh democracy and therefore impacts the people we serve.

Therefore, Dirprwy Lywydd, so endeth my second sermon—perhaps this time without the fire and brimstone—and I'd be very happy to welcome the Counsel General to my Welsh chapel at any convenient time, perhaps for the carol service this Sunday evening. Diolch yn fawr.

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