Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

02/02/2022

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

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

Statement by the Llywydd

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

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 Luke Fletcher.

Social Justice

1. What priorities does the Minister take into account when allocating funding to the social justice portfolio? OQ57577

Our 2022-23 draft budget has provided over £400 million to the social justice portfolio up to 2024-25, including an additional £16.5 million in a range of targeted interventions to tackle inequality, to advance and strengthen equality and human rights, improve outcomes for people and contribute to a more equal Wales.

Thank you, Minister, and of course, as a member of Plaid Cymru, it's a subject of pride to see a number of policies that Plaid Cymru and others have been campaigning for to tackle poverty being implemented in the Government in the wake of the co-operation agreement. 

Further to the First Minister's answer to me on the topic of tackling poverty and the role the education maintenance allowance can play, on 14 December, I noted that he estimated that the total cost of increasing EMA payments to £45, as well as increasing the threshold to make it easier for people to access, would cost roughly £10 million. Of course, I recognise the constraints on Welsh Government finance, but given the cost-of-living crisis and the fact we know that families with children are generally more likely to experience poverty, could the Minister give me an assurance that, when further funding is available, the Government seriously looks at expanding EMA and increasing the payments, even if it's through a phased approach? It was a great help to me when I was a kid and I know it would be an even greater help to families if it was expanded further.

Thank you very much for raising this issue. We remain really proud in Wales of the work that we've done to retain the EMA, and also very proud of the work that we're doing jointly with Plaid Cymru in respect of many items in the co-operation agreement relating to poverty, not least our free-school-meal pledge, which will invest an additional £90 million up to 2024-25 to deliver this commitment in stages, as local authorities are able to expand their work in this particular area.

With regard to EMA, obviously, we'll have to keep that matter under review. We've taken a different approach to our budget over the next three years, allocating essentially all available funding at this point in order to maximise funding and avoid the risk of underspends emerging in years, and so on. So, we have taken a slightly different approach this year in terms of giving ourselves less flexibility, but I know that Luke Fletcher makes a strong case in support of the EMA, which obviously we would want to keep under review.

As the Minister will be aware, the equality and community cohesion budget will increase from £12.7 million in 2022-23 to £20.8 million in 2024-25. This equates to an increase of 64 per cent. From what I can understand, this represents the main increase in social justice expenditure. I'm in no way criticising the allocation of this money to the equality and community cohesion budget. Certainly, the economic impact of lockdown has exacerbated many of the inequalities that people already face and it is right that the disproportionate hardship that they are facing is recognised. But I'm interested in further understanding how such a large percentage increase can be sustained and how it can be factored into budgets beyond 2024-25, because I could see a real issue develop where organisations are geared up for receiving larger budgets only then to be pushed to the wall later on when they are subsequently starved of funding. With this in mind, could the Minister explain whether or not it is the intention of the Welsh Government to sustain or expand upon this level of funding post 2024-25? Thank you.

Thank you for raising this. In many respects, what we're able to do beyond 2024-25 does depend on the funding the Welsh Government receives from the UK Government through any future comprehensive spending review. And it has been good that, in this spending period, we have had a three-year outlook for spending. We haven't had that since 2017, so it has enabled us and organisations and public services to look ahead and to plan much better for the years ahead. And I think what happens beyond 2024-25 will be subject to further discussions we'll have much closer to that date with the UK Government, but I would certainly hope that we would see favourable settlements beyond the current spending period.

13:35
The Cost-of-living Crisis

2. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on local authority budgets? OQ57575

Local authority and family budgets are feeling the effects of energy bills at an all-time high, mounting food costs and the highest inflation rates in a decade. The UK Government must take urgent action to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. The last UK Government budget was a missed opportunity.

Well, there is a cost-of-living tsunami breaking around us, isn't there, Minister? And once again, local authorities, among others of course, will be in the eye of the storm as they continue to deal on the one hand with the challenges of COVID, whilst also having to step in with additional support as people rely more on their services, because they can't afford to pay their rent, or heat their homes, or buy food. Now, the response to the COVID crisis, of course, was swift and very substantial, and local authorities in Wales were given additional funding from you to respond to those huge pressures. Do you accept that it's entirely possible that the same kind of response will be needed to the cost-of-living crisis, and, if you do, then can you give an assurance that your Government is willing to step into the breach with additional support to local authorities to meet the additional demand placed upon them if that is required during the next financial year?

Thank you for the question. As I responded in my answer to your colleague Luke Fletcher, we have deployed virtually all of the available funding, so there won't be opportunities to reopen budgets in that sense in the next financial year, other than in the event of a UK Government budget, which would provide additional consequential funding to Wales. But, that said, we've been really mindful of the pressures on local authorities and the importance of the services that they deliver. And that's why the 2022-23 settlement, which I announced provisionally in December, is a good settlement for local government, providing a 9.4 per cent increase in funding on a like-for-like basis. And I do think that that puts local authorities on a good footing to be able to serve communities.

That said, I'm really aware of the current pressures facing local authorities, which is why, today, I've written to leaders, confirming discussions that have been had at officer and official level that there will be £70 million of capital to support local authorities with their overall capital programmes, including impacts on highways, for example. And in doing so, I've been very mindful of the increased cost of materials, for example, that local authorities are facing in respect of their capital projects. So, next year, I think local authorities do have a good settlement, which enables them to plan, and we're also seeking to do what we can to support individual families. I don't think that it's possible for us to step into the breach entirely, because it is the UK Government that has the fiscal firepower to deal with the cost-of-living crisis. But, that said, where we can act, we will act, and you've seen us do so recently with the £200 payment to eligible households in respect of their energy bills.

Apologies in advance, as I'll follow the same theme as Llyr, if I may, but I'm conscious of your answer, Minister. As we know, the pandemic has had a substantial economic impact on families and resulted in more people needing access to financial advice and support. Councils are often the first port of call for people, and offer an important source of help and advice, and so increasing demand for support will have cost implications for councils, and pressures will no doubt rise as more help is required for individuals, communities and many other groups across the wider community. As I understand it, the Welsh Government's single advice fund is available to local authorities, but only if the funded services are to be planned and delivered on a regional basis. Therefore, Minister, I wondered what consideration has the Welsh Government given to relaxing the single advice service criteria to allow councils to more easily access funding so that they can expand their local support services in a far quicker and targeted way? And what else is the Welsh Government doing to help councils to provide additional support to those who need it? Thank you.

Thank you for raising the issue of the single advice fund. The policy behind that fund and the operation of it lie in the portfolio of my colleague the Minister for Social Justice, but I will make a point of having a conversation with her about that. And I also have the opportunity regularly to meet with leaders of local government, as you'll recall from not too long ago, and I will take an opportunity in one of those upcoming meetings to explore their thoughts on the single advice fund and what it means for them in terms of their ability to support their local residents. 

13:40
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Sam Rowlands. 

Diolch, Llywydd, and good afternoon, Minister. Minister, how would you define the word 'reform'?

Reform would be to make change, and, in the Welsh Government's context, obviously we don't want to make changes for the sake of changes, and we wouldn't want to make reforms that were regressive. So, within the context of council tax, for example, reform would be to create a more progressive system.  

Lovely, and thank you, Minister—you have well guessed my series of questions in terms of council tax reform; I'd hoped that was fairly obvious. As I'm sure all Members across the Chamber regularly do, I do take great interest in the co-operation agreement document that you are signed up to with Plaid Cymru, and in there, as you noted, when it comes to council tax reform, you have an ambition to reform one of the most regressive forms of taxation that disproportionately impacts poorer areas of Wales, and are looking to make it fairer. So, Minister, as you described this as one of the most regressive forms of taxation, how far will you go to reform it?

Well, I made a statement on 7 December, providing our early thoughts in response to the work that we commissioned over the period of the last Senedd, which was published in our summary of findings. That pulled together various potential models for the future, as investigated by Bangor University, Cardiff University, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others who have been doing work for us. So, our next steps, as set out in that statement, would be to look to a number of streams of work. One would be to ask the Valuation Office Agency to update the valuations here in Wales. That hasn't happened for some time; actually, it's existed in its current form—the council tax system has existed in its current form—since 1993, so we've got a lot of catching up to do in terms of recognising the value of properties. And that's a good start. That will help us then consider future options—for example, changing the number of bands, adding bands at the top and bottom of the system to try and make the system fairer. And, also, it will be the intention to review the council tax reduction scheme. So, at the moment, we're able to support over 200,000 families, households, across Wales in respect of council tax bills. So, we'll be reviewing that to make sure that the new system is coherent with whatever comes next after the valuation. Also, we'll be reviewing the discounts, disregards, exemptions and premiums to ensure that they're also relevant to today's policy ambitions. 

Thank you, Minister. I suppose the risk that I'm pointing toward is that we talk about reform, and talk, to my mind, to a more wholesale change, and some of the things you mentioned there perhaps aren't reform but are merely tweaks or tinkering around the edges. And simply a revaluation, with a couple of extra bands added, potentially, to council tax, isn't real reform. And, of course, it's important to note that the last time the Welsh Government undertook a revaluation in Wales, one in three households saw a hike in the council tax that they were paying. And I suppose it's also a risk that, without a real desire to see reform, we could be talking about this again in another five, 10 years' time, talking about the regressive nature of council tax but no real change being made to it, just merely tweaks here and there. So, Minister, are you able to assure us today that you have a real appetite to see changes in this area and to see true reform, rather than just tweaking things around the edges?

So, there were a few things in that question. I don't think a revaluation is tweaking around the edges. You described that, even in the last revaluation, a third of properties saw an increase in their bills. That's pretty dramatic, and there would probably be a corresponding number who saw a decrease in their bills, and some then who saw the system stay the same for them. So, there'll be lots of questions for us to consider even in that context. What kind of transitional support, if any, do we put in for those households? What is the impact on councils themselves in terms of being able to raise revenue? Will we need to put transitional things in place for them? So, that's another big question. But, overall, all of this doesn't close the door on more fundamental reform in future. So, even a revaluation, the new bands and so on, will take almost the entirety of this Senedd term. That's partly because of the rules that sit behind the VOA, when changes can be made, and when they can be implemented and so on. So, this is a long-term piece of work, but it doesn't shut the door on more fundamental reform in the future, such as a land value tax. We will go on continuing to explore something like that. We could have rolling revaluations. When we think about the data that the Welsh Revenue Authority is constantly getting in terms of house prices, we could have rolling revaluations, which might make things fairer and more up to date in future. So, alongside the revaluation, we are considering additional kinds of reforms for the future. I think that this should be a collaborative piece of work, and I'd be more than happy to have discussions with colleagues across the Senedd in terms of hearing ideas for making council tax fairer. 

13:45

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, the blatant denial of funding to Wales by the Westminster Government has probably gone to another level, hasn't it, this week. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised, because we already know that the UK Government is denying Wales our £5 billion share of HS2 funding—money, by the way, that they've given to Scotland and they've given to Northern Ireland. Westminster is also denying us the ability to utilise our natural resources to create revenue through the devolution of the Crown Estate, something, again, that they've given to another part of the United Kingdom. But we learnt, of course, this week that despite an explicit promise by the Prime Minister that Wales wouldn't be a penny worse off from leaving the EU, Westminster is pocketing £1 billion-worth of money that should be coming to Wales. So, do you agree with me, Minister, that the more the Westminster Government breaks its promises, the more it breaks up the United Kingdom? 

Yes, I do. I agree fully with that. I think that every time the UK Government makes a promise to Wales and to the people of Wales that it doesn't keep, it does risk the break-up of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has to be a group of nations where we have mutual respect, and where we treat each other with equality, and we don't have that at the moment. That's not to say that the UK Government can't today make changes in that respect and change its approach to the United Kingdom. I really don't think that down the end of the M4 the UK Government really hears the mood music in Wales and hears how angry and fed up people are in Wales with the UK Government. But, of course, there'll be opportunities for them to hear that loud and clear in the months ahead. 

And, of course, not only are they denying us the funding that's rightfully ours, but they're also denying us the fiscal levers that would really help make a difference to people's lives here in Wales, from intentionally restricting what fiscal powers we have to denying us powers over other key levers like corporation tax, value added tax and air passenger duty. As you said earlier in a previous answer, we just don't have the fiscal firepower. Again, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, because it's no secret that this Tory Westminster Government is intent not only on undermining devolution, but on actually undoing devolution, and taking back powers to Westminster. So, do you share my concerns that the Westminster Government's intention to review the Wales Act 2014 is an ominous sign that the Tories are coming after devolution, and that it isn't just our money that they'll take off us, but our powers as well?  

There's so much to respond to there. I completely share your concerns about the lack of flexibilities that the Welsh Government has. I know that this has been something that has actually received agreement across the Senedd in the past, in terms of the need for the Welsh Government to have greater flexibility at year end to have a full financial year to spend money that is often presented to us very late on in the financial year. Our ability to borrow more in the aggregate and more on an annual basis would be useful in terms of managing our funding as well. So, there's a whole range of flexibilities that we want to see there. There's a whole range of tax powers that we would want to see come to Wales—you mentioned air passenger duty. The huge trouble that we're having even really getting proper conversation now with the UK Government in respect of the vacant land tax is another example of where things just aren't satisfactory at the moment. And so the recent announcements in terms of the UK Government's approach to the Welsh Government and Welsh powers are of concern, and obviously we will want to be engaging with this fully. Again, this is an area where those of us who share views will want to work collaboratively. 

Road Maintenance

3. What consideration did the Minister give to local authorities' responsibilities for road maintenance when setting the budget for the climate change portfolio? OQ57574

13:50

We recognise the importance of maintaining our road network, which represents a £17 billion asset. Within the climate change portfolio, we are investing £0.5 billion to maintain a safe and reliable network. Alongside this, the local government settlement provides almost £16 billion to support their responsibilities in these and other areas.  

Thank you. Rural areas like my colleague Peter Fox's constituency of Monmouth—and I'd just like to declare an interest as a Monmouthshire county councillor still—tend to have very large road networks that need a lot of upkeep, yet we see the Welsh Government has allocated no additional funds through the resilient roads grant. If the Welsh Government are going to persist with the agenda of building no more roads, then additional funding should be allocated to maintain the current roads and clear the maintenance backlog. We all want a cleaner, greener Wales, but letting our roads fall into disrepair is not the way to achieve it. The Asphalt Industry Alliance annual local authority road maintenance survey found that Welsh highway authorities would need an additional £36.3 million per local authority to repair roads across the counties. It would take 10 years for all roads to be repaired. So, Minister, what steps are being taken to make sure our roads are fit for purpose for a twenty-first century Wales and why hasn't any extra money been allocated to fix our dire roads in Wales?

The Member would have heard me say in response to a previous question that today I have written to leaders of local authorities confirming an additional £70 million of funding for this financial year, and that was in part in response to the discussions that I've had in relation to their concerns about road maintenance. I do recognise the important of road maintenance, and I'm often amazed when I hear UK Government Ministers suggest that Wales is overfunded. I even hear it within this Chamber in respect of the needs-based formula that provides Wales with funding. One of the reasons why we do have additional funding here in Wales is because of our dispersed settlement pattern. I was just reminded when Laura Anne Jones was speaking about the fact that there are 6.7 miles of road for every 1,000 people in Wales and 3.4 miles in England. So, there are almost twice as many roads for us to maintain per head of population here in Wales than in England. And obviously, our dispersed population means higher costs in respect of education and other services. So, I just wanted to give that as an example as to why the funding formula works as it does. I think that communities across Wales benefit as a result of what was agreed by Mark Drakeford when he was in this post. 

Thank you. Sorry, I was hoping to come in as a supplementary on Laura Jones's question, so I'm just trying to find my right place. Thank you very much. I'm very pleased to hear of the extra capital funding that's coming forward this year for highway maintenance— 

Sorry, can I declare that I'm a Flintshire county councillor? Thank you.

Yes, you can declare, and now you can ask the question that you've tabled as question 4, even though you tried to be quick there and get in your supplementary on question 3 as well. We'll carry on and ask question 4, please.

Local Authorities in North Wales

4. How does the Welsh Government ensure fair funding for local authorities across north Wales? OQ57558

I ensure fair funding for all local authorities in Wales by prioritising local government and health services in budget decisions and through a transparent, equitable and jointly produced distribution formula with our local government partners.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. It's often raised with me that the funding formula for local authorities needs addressing. I think it's been raised here quite a few times as well. For the last few years, the debate has gone round and round in circles, with council leaders writing to Welsh Government, Welsh Government then saying the Welsh Local Government Association need to agree as a collective, and then they have different views because there are huge winners and losers. But, councils are still feeling the pain of austerity, and although this year was a good settlement, the variance per capita and per council can be hugely significant, with the gap between the highest and lowest paid council widening year upon year. The cumulative impact can mean the baseline for some remains low each year, so the difference between two neighbouring councils can be £650 per resident and £50 million or more per annum. For example, a £20 million highways maintenance grant through the formula can equate to £1.2 million for one authority and £850,000 for another. If this continues each year then the cumulative impact continues to grow as well, so one will do well while the other one struggles. So, could the distribution committee that sits below the finance committee investigate the funding formula going forward, or having a funding floor?

13:55

I thank Carolyn Thomas for raising that point. I think it's worth reminding ourselves why the funding floor was originally devised. It was always, really, intended to be a temporary measure to mitigate the impact of unmanageable negative changes in authority funding in individual years and not to reduce the range of allocation between authorities. We have worked hard to improve the amount of funding provided directly to local authorities. As I mentioned earlier, we've done so by allocating upfront, at the provisional stage, to give local authorities the potential to plan across the full three years.

Obviously, in preparing the final settlement, I'll have to give very good consideration to the consultation process. At the moment, it is a provisional settlement and the consultation closes on 8 February, so I would have to consider the responses to that. If authorities do collectively request a funding floor this year, then, obviously, it would have to be a redistributed floor, so that's where funding would come from other authorities above the chosen floor. I've got the finance sub-group meeting on 9 February, and I'll certainly have those discussions with council leaders again to explore whether they want to review the funding formula. That's something that we've said that we are open to doing, but it would have to come as a request from local government.

Of course, every local authority will have different ideas as to how things should work and which things should be given greater weight. You know, we've got deprivation and sparsity needing to be taken into account in future, and, obviously, we'd want to keep those very much in there. But I will have that discussion again with colleagues on 9 February to explore their views. And, Llywydd, Carolyn Thomas never misses an opportunity to raise road maintenance with me. 

Ever since the current Welsh local government formula was introduced over 20 years ago, Flintshire has received one of the lowest settlements in Wales. Speaking here two years ago, I pointed out that four of the five bottom local authorities in terms of funding increases were again the same authorities in north Wales, including Flintshire. I pointed out then that council tax payers in Flintshire faced an 8.1 per cent council tax increase, despite Flintshire councillors having launched a campaign, Back the Ask, highlighting cross-party frustration about the funding they received from the Welsh Government, which led to a large delegation of cross-party councillors coming here to lobby Welsh Government Ministers, calling for the funding formula to be reviewed.

Following your announcement of the provisional settlement for 2022-23 in December, Flintshire's Labour leader criticised the formula used to calculate how much money it receives to provide services as it struggled to balance its books. It's receiving a 9.2 per cent increase, but that still places the county third from bottom out of 22 Welsh local authorities in terms of the amount it receives per person in the area, leaving the council's reserves at one of the lowest levels in Wales and without the cushion other local authorities have. So, when will you stop hiding behind the Welsh Local Government Association—a fairer formula will mean losers as well as winners, and turkeys don't vote for Christmas—and recognise that the 22-year-old funding formula has reached its sell-by date and needs independent review desperately?

I would remind Mark Isherwood that the average increase across Wales for the local government settlement next year is 9.4 per cent and Flintshire has a 9.2 per cent increase, so it's not very far off the average.

Spending on Legislation

5. How does the Minister monitor the value for money and effectiveness of Welsh Government spending on legislation? OQ57544

The cost of legislation is met from within the allocations of portfolio budgets, and Ministers take costs into account when prioritising spend for a financial year. When a Minister introduces a Bill, our planned approach for monitoring, reviewing and evaluating the policy is set out in the regulatory impact assessment.

Thank you. As the Minister will be aware, I am totally opposed to bringing in unnecessary legislation—the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017 and the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Act 2020 to name but two. On the latter, the explanatory memorandum stated that the preferred option to legislate to remove the defence of reasonable punishment in Wales would cost a total to our taxpayers of between £6 million and £8 million. So far, the Welsh Government has spent £1,650,098. Section 1 of this Act comes into force in March. Now, since the legislation received Royal Assent, our nation has been hit by COVID-19. The impact alone on children's mental health has been severe, and the Children's Commissioner for Wales has had to speak up loudly about the fact that there are no suitable places for young people in mental health crisis. So, we do have to prioritise support for those children, who, through no fault of their own, are suffering because of the response to the pandemic. Given these concerns that there are no dedicated mental health crisis centres in Wales for young people, and the fact that you've spent £1.6 million up to now—clearly there is more money allocated for the Bill I mentioned—would you be willing to co-operate with the Deputy Minister for Social Services to review the effectiveness of the spend on abolition of defence of reasonable punishment and maybe be quite radical and look to divert some of that funding to front-line mental health services for young people? Diolch.

14:00

Well, I'm not going to make any apology for investing in removing the defence of reasonable punishment and the work that needs to sit alongside that, and I know that—. It seems that Janet Finch-Saunders and I have different views on what is necessary legislation and what isn't, but I will say, in respect of the budget for the period ahead, we have allocated an additional £100 million in respect of mental health, and some of that will be very much looking to bolster our whole-school approach to ensure that children and young people do get the support they need at the earliest point. So, mental health is a major priority for this Government, and you will see it reflected in the budget that we published before Christmas.

Minister, I don't think you need to take any lectures from the Tory party about wasting money; they are experts at doing so. But, Minister, as a young legislature, with around 50 Acts on the statute book, the Senedd is in a prime position to ensure that all its Acts are efficient, fit for purpose, and are achieving their proposed purpose. Can the Minister provide information about any recent post-implementation reviews of legislation, and whether the costs and savings predicted for those Acts were in fact accurate? Diolch yn fawr.

Yes. So, those reviews will be the responsibility of each portfolio Minister, but I have some within my portfolio that will be relevant here. So, for example, I've just announced a review of the landfill disposals tax. That's set out in legislation, that there should be a review within five years of the implementation of the Act, so we are putting together, at the moment, the commission for that piece of work. I've liaised with the Chair of the Finance Committee in terms of the scope of that work, and we would be looking to do that over the period ahead, with a view to publication in the autumn of 2023. So, that is an example of where it's set out in legislation that we must undertake these reviews, and I intend to do so.

The Senedd should be really interested in the matter of the quantum and the effective targeting of Welsh Government resources on legislation, because we note the unprecedented increase in the use of the legislative consent process, where Welsh Government resources are redirected towards Westminster in addition to that here in Wales; the additional resource needed to respond to legislation resulting from leaving the European Union, which continues; and the additional resource needed to respond to emergency legislation in response to the coronavirus; as well as, I have to say, what may be regarded as routine business of 'made in Wales' legislation in the programme for government and the co-operation agreement and routine regulations. So, we wonder, Minister: do you think there's any useful comparative analysis to be made between the resources put to legislation, drafting and policy in Westminster, or indeed Scotland or Northern Ireland, compared to that allocated here in Wales? And could the Minister tell us whether she feels there is a benefit to greater and more granulated analysis of how and where legislative resource is allocated by Welsh Government? And perhaps she, and other Ministers, and the Counsel General, could assist us in that analysis.

That's an interesting question. It's one that I will pursue with colleagues. We have a board of Ministers who have responsibility for legislation within their portfolios who get together very frequently to discuss the progress of legislation, and I think that might be a useful forum in which to have some of those discussions. So, it's an interesting proposition and I'll certainly give it some further thought and discussion with colleagues. 

14:05
A Tourism Levy

6. Will the Minister provide an update on plans to enable local authorities to raise a tourism levy? OQ57569

Yes. Policy development has commenced and discussions are under way with local authorities. A consultation will take place in autumn this year, enabling all views to be considered on the operation of a visitor levy.

Thank you, Minister. I could understand if you were getting a little fed up with being asked about a potential tourism levy, especially as the Welsh Government, as you said, is planning to do a consultation starting this autumn. However, the issue continues to be politicised and used to spread misinformation in my community of Bridgend and Porthcawl. I will support my constituents in whatever they decide when they get to voice their views on a potential levy, but I want the people in my community to be able to make a decision based on facts and fairness. The pandemic has identified an opportunity to strengthen local tourist economies, such as Porthcawl in my constituency, yet we cannot ignore the fact that a decade or more now of Westminster austerity has seen closures of public toilets, museums and local amenities that we need to welcome tourists without putting extra pressure on the residents and businesses. Does the Minister agree with me that a tourist levy could provide an opportunity for the community to invest in tourist attractions and public facilities without the burden falling on the residents to pick up the bill?

Yes, definitely. So, for those authorities that do decide that they would like to raise a visitor levy, it will obviously provide them with additional revenue for their communities to invest in the conditions that make tourism a success, and I think that a proportionate and fair contribution from visitors will support a more sustainable approach to tourism that we have here in Wales. And of course, tourists do use infrastructure, they use services and so on, so I think that making a contribution to the maintenance and the expansion of those is a fair thing to do. And actually, what we're promoting isn't even radical; it's completely normal in many parts of the world, and, actually, in Europe, not having any tourism levies or visitor levies across the United Kingdom actually makes us outliers on this agenda. We're very much, as the UK, behind the curve on this, but Wales is absolutely keen on embracing the opportunities that lie here.

I think the fact that you've referred to consultation is really important. So, we've done some initial engagement with local authorities, but it's the intention to really engage widely now, as we get to the autumn of this year, to ensure that we do hear the voices from the tourism sector, in particular accommodation and so on, so that we can ensure that what we offer local authorities as a tool is one that is useful and proportionate.

Diolch, Llywydd, and I'll want to start by reminding Members of my interest as a sitting councillor at Bridgend County Borough Council. But I have to say it's surprising for me to see both the Minister, who represents the constituency of Gower, and Sarah Murphy, who tabled this question, whose constituency covers Porthcawl, both advocating for a tourism tax today. Being a regional Member for South Wales West, representing both those communities, I'm only too aware of the negative impact that a tax like that would have on visitors to communities like Porthcawl, Mumbles and Gower. Businesses in those areas don't support it and neither do local residents. But one of the main arguments I've heard from Welsh Government Ministers and other proponents of a tourism tax is that any money raised should be then protected to boost tourism spending in their local areas, and I note, from an answer to a written question in December from my colleague Janet Finch-Saunders, you, Minister, said that, quote:

'Funds raised by the levy will be invested back into the local services and provisions which make tourism a success in Wales.'

End quote. But, at present, we haven't seen anything that would prevent councils from reducing existing tourism budgets after introducing a tourism tax either, so what mechanisms are you currently considering to ensure that councils do not replace the income generated by a tourism tax with decreased existing council spending on tourism?

I think the beginning of the question there was set on a premise that the evidence just doesn't support. So, there's no evidence to support that tourism levies are a major barrier to tourism. Why would most of northern Europe be having tourism levies if they were such a detriment? Why would some of the biggest tourist hotspots in the world be having tourism levies if they were not successful in terms of maintaining sustainable tourism in those areas?

So, the very detailed question you ask is, quite rightly, one that will follow from the consultation. So, there's a lot that is yet to be determined in terms of precisely what will happen to the funding that is raised and precisely which types of accommodation are in scope and so on. So, at the moment, we're setting out our broad plans, and the consultation will be an opportunity to drill down a bit deeper into how we design a potential levy in future. So, there will be plenty of opportunities for colleagues across the Senedd to engage with the consultation process, as there will be for tourism businesses in all of the communities that you referred to.

14:10
Supporting Businesses

7. What consideration did the Minister give to supporting businesses to deal with the impact of COVID-19 when allocating funding to the economy portfolio? OQ57550

Since the start of the pandemic, we've used every lever at our disposal to support Welsh businesses, providing more than £2.8 billion and safeguarding over 160,000 Welsh jobs. We will continue to support the sectors most directly impacted, including through our £116 million retail, leisure and hospitality rates relief scheme.

Thank you, Minister. Many businesses in Cynon Valley benefitted from the COVID recovery fund to help them make adaptations to enable social distancing and carry out other interventions in response to coronavirus—businesses like Cheryl's Fruit and Veg in Abercynon, Aberdare market cafe, Temple Bar in Aberaman and Penaluna's Famous Fish and Chips in Hirwaun. I want to thank Welsh Government and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council for funding and administering the scheme respectively. But could you outline how you're building similar support into the budget so that businesses can not only survive, but also thrive as we go forward?

Thank you very much for that, and also for giving me the chance, like you, to echo our thanks to RCT and other councils across Wales who worked so hard to get that funding into the bank accounts of businesses as swiftly and as smoothly as possible. I think that they've done incredible work, especially alongside all the other things that we're asking them to do in terms of self-isolation support payments and all the work we're asking them to do of in respect of the £200 payment to households experiencing fuel poverty and so on. So, they've done an absolutely incredible job and I'm glad that we have this chance this afternoon to say 'thank you' for that.

In terms of the budget, I think that the work that we're doing to ensure that retail, hospitality and leisure businesses will have a 50 per cent rate relief next year is important. It's also worth putting on record that we've invested £20 million more in that than we received in consequential funding from the UK Government. That's because of the nature of our business tax base here in Wales, but we've been pleased to do that to ensure that no-one misses out. And we're also looking to see what we can do to invest in communities through our Transforming Towns programme. So, that will be providing £136 million to further support the economic and social recovery of town centres across Wales, and I think that will be a really important intervention. I know there are some great examples in Vikki Howells's constituency, including funding towards the refurbishment of the Mountain Ash town hall building, which is really important, as is the redevelopment of the former Barclays bank in Mountain Ash as well. So, lots of good examples particularly, I think, in Vikki Howells's constituency, and I know she's a strong advocate for businesses in her area.

Isle of Anglesey County Council

8. Will the Minister make a statement on the local government settlement for Isle of Anglesey County Council for 2022-23? OQ57554

Yes. For 2022-23, the Isle of Anglesey will receive a 9.2 per cent increase in its core settlement allocations. This is the authority's largest increase since the start of devolution. In addition, the authority will receive its share of £1.1 billion from specific revenue grants.

Thank you for that response. The first thing I'll say is how pleased I am that the budgetary situation of the Isle of Anglesey County Council has settled so well under Plaid Cymru leadership in recent years, and the council tax is among the lowest in Wales. One area of risk that is a concern is teachers' salary. Now, in the past, the Government has assisted councils with those costs, but, as I understand it, the Government is now passing that risk on to local authorities, and that's among a whole host of other responsibilities that are being transferred in the settlement—homelessness; the real living wage for carers also. But this risk around teachers' salaries is a very real one. Can we have an assurance that the Government will be willing to step in to provide financial support when the final teachers' settlement is decided, if that is a threat to the other crucial services provided by councils?

14:15

Well, Welsh Government has been pleased, in recent years, to be able to provide additional funding to local government in respect of the pressures relating to teachers' pay, but actually, that way of working hasn't been a satisfactory one. And it does mean that, when you look at—. Well, what I've said a couple of times in the course of questions today is that we've allocated all of the funding available to us. So, it's not going to be possible for us to go back and find additional funding in relation to teachers' pay for next year. And I've been really, really clear on that point and other points in my letter to local government leaders that the good funding settlement of 9.4 per cent across Wales will need, now, to include teachers' pay. So, we won't be able to have the same discussions in this coming year as we've had in the last couple of years, because there won't be the funding available. And I think that the good settlement that we provided has been warmly welcomed, and we've been very upfront, now, with local authorities as to what we expect them to be able to deliver as a result.

Transport Infrastructure

9. What consideration was given to improving transport infrastructure when setting the budget for the climate change portfolio? OQ57548

As part of the significant transport investments we are making, we have provided £1.6 billion of capital to deliver improvements in transport infrastructure over the next three years. Our new Wales infrastructure investment strategy also reflects our approach to transport improvements across Wales, set out in 'Llwybr Newydd'.

Thanks, Minister. In June last year, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change announced a freeze on all new road building projects in Wales. As a result, the Llanbedr bypass project was cancelled after nearly £1.7 million had already been spent on it. I tabled a written question in November, asking how much money had been spent on road projects that had been halted subject to the review. In the reply I received, the Deputy Minister said that he could not answer until the roads review panel, set up in September, made its initial report, which was due within three months of its appointment. Last week, in a reply to a question from my colleague from Plaid Cymru, Rhun ap Iorwerth, the Deputy Minister said, and I quote: 

'We're hoping that the roads review panel's report will come out in the summer'.

So, can I ask, Minister, as you are responsible for managing the resources of the Welsh Government, what discussions have you had with the Deputy Minister on the potential waste of money on road projects that have now been cancelled?

We haven't cancelled projects; we're pausing projects so that they can be reviewed. And I think it's only right that the roads review panel is allowed to do its work. I mean, we clearly still recognise the importance of transport in our budget, because over the next three years, we are investing close to £1.4 billion and that includes £0.75 billion for rail and bus provision, including the delivery of the next stages of the south Wales metro. So, we are seeing a shift towards public transport, and I don't think that that's a bad thing when we recognise the importance of addressing the nature and climate emergencies ahead of us.

But, as you say, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change is responsible for this particular programme, and I know that he'll have more to say on the work of the roads review panel in due course when it does come forward with its report.

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

The next item, therefore, is questions to the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, and the first question is from Gareth Davies.

Bee Health

1. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Climate Change on the impact of pesticides on bee health? OQ57566

The Welsh Government policy is to reduce to the lowest possible level the effect of pesticide use on people, the environment and wildlife, including bees, whilst ensuring that pests, diseases and weeds are effectively controlled.

I appreciate that answer, Minister. The impact that pesticides are having upon our pollinators is a very real concern for many of my constituents. Fruit farming plays a big role for many in the Vale of Clwyd, including the Denbigh plum, which I often mention, and without bees and other pollinators, there would be no fruit orchards. While many, including the local authorities—and can I declare an interest as a current member of Denbighshire County Council—are taking steps to make the area bee friendly, no amount of wild flowers will help if the bees are being killed off by chemicals. So, Minister, it's not just farmers who use pesticides, many home owners do also. In addition to the actions you've already outlined, will you commit your Government to raising awareness of the issue, and will you publicise alternatives to chemical pesticides in order to ensure that bees and orchards flourish in the Vale of Clwyd and across Wales?

14:20

Thank you. I think you raise a very important point and, as a Government, we are committed to driving the uptake of our integrated pest management to reduce the use of chemical pesticides. So, what we are promoting is nature-based, low-toxicity solutions and precision technologies, and they alone will have the potential to enhance biodiversity, and IPM will also be a very important part of the sustainable farming scheme. But, as you say, it's not just farmers, of course, who use chemicals in the way you refer, and we do work with local authorities, and other land managers and individuals, who use pesticides to adopt techniques and technologies that provide alternative means of pest, disease and weed control.

Vascular Services

2. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Health and Social Services about vascular services for patients from Arfon and all parts of north Wales since the reconfiguration of these services? OQ57541

I have discussed vascular services in north Wales with the Minister for Health and Social Services. I am aware of the reorganisation of vascular services, the ongoing concerns and the work Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is doing to address recommendations made by the Royal College of Surgeons.

There is increasing evidence that reconfiguration of the vascular services has led to a significant deterioration in provision for people in north Wales. It would have made sense to locate the new hub in Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor—that's what a sensible reorganisation would have been, namely building on the unit of excellent quality that was there. As you said, there is another review in the pipeline, but this is being undertaken by the same body that had recommended the erroneous reorganisation model in the first place, so that doesn't inspire much confidence. Will you, as the Minister who represents north Wales, ask the health Minister to intervene directly in the situation and undertake a ministerial inquiry that will bring clear recommendations before us in order to ease the increasing concerns of my constituents in Arfon?

Well, we are, of course, awaiting part two of the Royal College of Surgeons' review. I understand it's been recently received in a draft form by the health board, and we are expecting it to be published imminently. I think it's good to wait for that review. I think the Minister for Health and Social Services has made it very clear she expects improvements to be made and for this service, really, to live up to expectations, that it will be a flagship service within Wales. So, I think it would be good to await the report and I know the Minister is obviously monitoring the situation very closely.

Thanks to the Member for submitting this important question today, and, as we know, this issue was also raised with the First Minister yesterday as part of the First Minister's questions, and has some cross-party concern in the Chamber. In his response yesterday, the First Minister outlined that he wouldn't be supporting a public inquiry, because of the length of time that might take, and he would consider that not to be to the best benefit of patients in north Wales, which may be a fair comment. But, in light of this, Minister, and in your role as Minister for north Wales, and hearing what you just mentioned in terms of awaiting the outcomes of further work, would you consider taking some urgent action to see this issue resolved and for patients in north Wales to have the best treatment possible? Is there anything you can do urgently to get this issue sorted?

Well, as I said in my earlier answer to Siân Gwenllian, I think we are expecting the report, the second part of the review, to be published imminently, and by 'imminently', I mean maybe this week even. So, I do think it's right for the Minister for Health and Social Services to wait for that report to come forward, and then, clearly, in my role as Minister for north Wales, I could seek an urgent meeting with her around the recommendations that are coming from the Royal College of Surgeons.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Darren Millar.

In your capacity as Minister for north Wales, can you tell us why north Wales is getting so much less investment in its metro when compared with south Wales?

Well, as you know, I think we're doing very well now with our scoping of the north Wales metro, and I think we are seeing significant funding coming into the metro. I had a meeting with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change around it, and I think it will benefit the region very well. Obviously, the south Wales metro is well ahead of the north Wales metro, but if further funding is required as we go through each stage, I know the Deputy Minister is currently looking at funding options and what needs to be done next to bring the metro forward.

14:25

Minister, many people in north Wales welcomed news that a metro was going to be built. Of course, it was in your 2016 manifesto, it's now 2022, and there's still not a lot of progress been made in north Wales. Seven hundred and fifty million pounds has been earmarked for south Wales, versus just £50 million in the north. Now, as Minister for north Wales, people in the region will be looking to you to be the voice of north Wales around that Cabinet table, making sure that you lever at least proportionate resources into the region versus those that are spent elsewhere in Wales. Can you tell us how that mechanism works and what assurances you have from your Cabinet colleagues that there is proportionate investment in north Wales and that they are tackling the issues and challenges that we have in north Wales across our public services?

So, you're quite right, I make sure that we get our fair proportion of funding in north Wales. I have to be very careful, because obviously I'm the Member of the Senedd for Wrexham, and, obviously, Wrexham is a very important part of the north Wales metro. As I say, the south Wales metro plans are far ahead. You were right, it was in the 2016—. I remember we committed to bringing forward plans for a north Wales metro in the first 100 days of the 2016 Government, which we did.

You will be aware that there's been a pandemic that has taken, obviously, a huge amount of resources, and we're not as far as we would have hoped to have been with the north Wales metro, but it is good to see the plans now and the workings to make sure that the connectivity from north Wales into the north-west of England, which is so important for our region, is there. But, as I say, the Minister is currently looking at funding options and which areas will now need a focus to ensure the metro comes forward.

Six years, sluggish progress and we need to get it back on track, if you'll excuse the pun. One of the other things that has been failing for a long time in north Wales now, of course, is mental health services. Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was put into special measures because of failings in its mental health services back in 2015. Seven years on and mental health services are still subject to special measures, and everybody recognises that they need to be improved significantly. Why is it that it takes the Welsh Government so much longer to get to grips with and to deal with problems in north Wales's public services, such as mental health services, and it takes you less time to resolve problems that are elsewhere in Wales? Isn't this more evidence that north Wales is a secondary issue, a bit of a blind spot for most of the people in your Cabinet? I'm not saying it's necessarily you, because you're a representative for north Wales, but doesn't it suggest to you that there's clear evidence that north Wales just isn't getting sufficient focus from this Welsh Government?

No, I think that's something that you like to get out there that that's the case. It really isn't—

I really don't think north Wales is second for any of my Cabinet colleagues. Obviously, I am there to ensure that doesn't happen, but I sit round the Cabinet table, you don't, and I can assure you it's not a blind spot at all.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. May I take this opportunity to thank Cefin Campbell for his work in this role, and to wish him well in his new role?

I want to ask the Minister, please—. There's been a great deal of coverage of the cost-of-living crisis facing so many people today. It's worth bearing in mind that the increase in energy and fuel costs also has an impact on our agricultural sector, which, in turn, is reflected in the market. In a survey by Farmers Weekly, 57 per cent of farmers noted that they expected to see a substantial increase in their costs over the next 12 months. The Farmers Union of Wales has said that increasing prices are not sustainable for the agricultural sector. For example, the price of red diesel has increased by almost 50 per cent in the past 12 months alone. The cost of ammonium nitrate has increased by almost 200 per cent in the past 12 months. Minister, this isn't a crisis limited to farmers; the additional farm costs are passed on to the processing and then to the supermarket shelves. So, what steps is the Government taking to try and minimise this additional burden on farmers?

14:30

Thank you, and I'd like to welcome Mabon ap Gwynfor to his new role. You're quite right—this cost of living is affecting everybody. We had an inter-ministerial group on Monday with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and my counterparts from Scotland and Northern Ireland, and one of the areas that I focused on, where we've seen a significant rise, is in fertilisers for our farmers, because it's clear that everything has gone up. So, we were pushing the UK Government to make sure they try and do something about further support. But I think one of the areas where I am able to make a difference, because clearly we've seen far more of a call on our mental health services by our farmers, is to ensure that I support our mental health charities. We launched FarmWell Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic, because, again, we saw a significant increase there. But I think it is really vital that all departments across Whitehall recognise that the cost-of-living crisis is affecting everybody.

I thank the Minister, and I'm sure you, like me, enjoyed breakfast with the Farmers Union of Wales, which was collecting funds for the DPJ Foundation recently, which does excellent work in mental health.

This increase in input costs over the last few months is adding to a longer term problem facing our farmers. Here's a picture of how the costs have been increasing: back in 1970, you needed to sell around 163 lambs in order to buy a new tractor. By 2020, you would need to sell 864 lambs in order to purchase a new tractor. This naturally means that a number of farmers, particularly the smaller farms that are so common in rural Wales, have to use older machinery and infrastructure that are often no longer fit for purpose.

In addition to this, of course, they are now expected to develop more slurry stores to respond to the new NVZ requirements you placed on them. When the NVZ regulations were introduced in Northern Ireland, the Government there gave £150 million to fund the necessary capital works. To date, only £11.5 million of Welsh RDP money has been spent on capital works in total, and data from NFU Cymru shows that we would still need to spend up to £272 million of RDP funding by the end of 2023.

Minister, do you agree that one possible solution would be to use the RDP funds that remain in order to help farmers to build and improve farm infrastructure, as well as help businesses and contractors in rural areas? This would, therefore, enable investments in new machinery and infrastructure that would increase efficiency, reduce the environmental impact and improve safety by ensuring the viability of the industry.

So, the Member will be aware that we don't have the NVZs anymore; we have the agricultural pollution regulations and you'll be aware we're awaiting the current court judgment.

I did give significant funding—I think it was about £44 million, off the top of my head—to try and work with the agricultural sector around better slurry provision. I think it is really important that the RDP benefits, obviously, our rural communities—that's what it's there for. And it should be for things like infrastructure to help us with the climate change emergency. So, I'm looking at what funding is left in the RDP. I'm also awaiting advice from officials about a successor programme to the RDP. So, these are absolutely things that I will consider as part of that.

Welsh Lamb and Beef

3. How is the Welsh Government supporting the marketing of Welsh lamb and beef? OQ57579

The Welsh Government works closely with Hybu Cig Cymru, both in Wales and through our international offices, to support the marketing of Welsh lamb and beef. HCC were a partner at BlasCymru/TasteWales in October 2021, supporting a range of businesses showcasing and marketing meat products.

Thank you, Minister, for your answer. I'd be particularly grateful for an update in regard to improvements on food labelling, working with the industry and the sector and supermarkets in particular. I ask this in the context of new markets being opened for Welsh lamb and beef, particularly as we think of new markets in the United States, for example. Now, we know that we've got high quality produce in Wales, of Welsh lamb and beef, and we also know that farmers pay very high attention to animal welfare. So, how can we sell that, sell brand Wales, knowing that many of these new markets demand high quality, and demand evidence of high quality, when it comes to animal welfare? How can we improve our labelling specifically to help sell brand Wales and Welsh lamb and beef in other new markets around the world?

14:35

It is really important that we wave the flag for Wales, and we do that in many guises. I mentioned our international offices. We've got Gulfood coming up in Dubai, I think next week, actually. And HCC will be part of the Welsh Government delegation, or supporting the Welsh Government delegation, in Dubai. We have continued with virtual overseas events, but it will be good to be able to go in person. So, we've got both Anuga and SIAL coming up this year. But we do welcome, obviously, the market being now opened in America. That's something that we've been working on for about six years, so it is very welcome.

And we know that people do look at the labelling, don't they—of course they do. I think one area where we have made huge improvements is marketing Welsh lamb and beef through the Welsh geographical indicators family. We've now got four red meats in that. You'll be aware that we had Gower salt marsh lamb—it was the first, actually, of the UK products in the new UK GI scheme. So, it's very important, and, obviously, that will be on the packaging. In food labelling in general, I think it is really important that, first of all, we don't let trade deals be done by the UK Government that will undermine those very high animal health and welfare standards. So, that is actually something we talked about at the inter-ministerial group that I referred to earlier with DEFRA. So, we are continuing to work on labelling. But I do think it's something that we've done very well, for a long time, and certainly the vision for our Welsh food and drink sector, not just red meat in particular, which I launched back in October, shows that.

Greyhound Racing

4. How is the Government liaising with Caerphilly County Borough Council on inspections of the remaining greyhound racing track in Wales to ensure animal welfare standards? OQ57572

Inspections at Wales's remaining greyhound racing track have been arranged through a partnership delivery programme funded by the Welsh Government, which is managed and co-ordinated by Monmouthshire trading standards and the greyhound working group, a sub-group of the Animal Welfare Network Wales, one of our key partnership networks.

In my region, there exists the last remaining greyhound racing track in Wales. This track is also independent, meaning it is not subject to any regulation or licensing requirements. There is no requirement for a veterinary presence or welfare oversight in place, as it stands. Hope Rescue say that, in the last four years, they have taken in 200 greyhounds from this track—40 of these sustained injuries. They fear this will increase when the track is due to become licensed later this year. There are only eight countries left in the world where greyhound racing is still allowed. Minister, is it not time for us to follow suit and ban this activity on the grounds of animal welfare?

Thank you. This is something that I am looking very closely at. I had a meeting just yesterday with Jane Dodds, who you'll be aware is a very firm believer in what you've just suggested, and it's something that I have asked officials to look at. I am hoping to have a meeting with Hope Rescue; I'd be very interested to hear their views. Obviously, they pulled out of attendance at the race track—they were there, I think, for several years. I'm also going to ask the Greyhound Board of Great Britain for a meeting to see what further we can do then. Clearly, if we looked at a ban of greyhound racing, we would have to look at evidence, consultation. It will all take a little while, and, obviously, legislative capacity would have to be available for me to do that. But it's certainly something—. And you just mentioned something right at the end that I have only recently found out, and that is that there are only eight countries in the world that still allow greyhound racing, and we are one of them.

Minister, in 2018, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain launched its greyhound commitment, containing its expectations on how the sport should be run, with welfare at its heart. The safety of every greyhound racing at, as you mentioned, a GBGB licensed track is absolutely paramount—I 100 per cent believe in it. An independent veterinary surgeon is present at all GBGB tracks to check the health and well-being of every greyhound, both before and after racing. They are also there to provide emergency care in the event that a dog needs it. The board constantly strives to minimise the possibility of an injury occurring by funding research into track improvements, with a view to reducing injuries and helping to extend racing careers for dogs. Additionally, there have been a number of upgrades to racecourse kennels in recent years to ensure greyhounds can rest comfortably before and after their races, and each racecourse is regularly inspected to confirm that their facilities continue to meet the required standard. So, Minister, I know you answered my colleague just a second ago, but I just want to know, from my personal angle, whether you agree that, properly regulated, greyhound racing, with the highest standards of welfare at its core, is a spectator sport that creates jobs and provides much entertainment for its followers.

14:40

So, my interest is obviously in the one track that we have here in Wales, and one of my reasons for wanting to meet Hope Rescue is because I've seen some very concerning figures and statistics. And one of the things, again, I discussed with Jane Dodds yesterday was around the number of animals that have been injured, and fatally—they obviously died there. So, I'm really keen to understand why there is such a high number of injuries. Now, again, only through my own reading, I understand there is a bend where, unfortunately, a lot of dogs get injured, and some have died. So, my interest is in this one track, and I need to reassure myself. We have very high animal health and welfare standards here in Wales. I think we are a nation of animal lovers. Sometimes, I think we are far fonder of our animals than we are of our fellow humans. And I really want to be reassured, and at the moment I'm not being reassured. So, I think it's for me now to meet with other interested people. I have to say, the new intake of Members in this Senedd have really brought this up the political agenda and raised this with me, and it is an area of great concern. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Thank you to Peredur Owen Griffiths for raising this issue, which is important to many of us in the Senedd. As you've heard, the track in Caerphilly boasts as having one of the sharpest bends of any racetrack, and I want to read to you something from their literature. They say about this bend in their racetrack: 

'greyhounds frequently find themselves flying into the first corner far too quickly to make the turn. The better the dog, the faster they approach the first bend and the worse the trouble they find.'

And I finish the quote there. Plans to increase the track will increase racing at Caerphilly fourfold, from one race per week to four. And even in 2020, when racing was significantly reduced because of COVID, across the UK's regulated tracks 3,575 greyhounds suffered serious injuries, and 401 dogs died. This is not a spectator sport that we want in Wales. And these include GBGB tracks, so I do come back to Natasha Asghar and say, 'Really, do we want dogs injured even on regulated tracks, and also dogs dying?' Given we know regulation does not stop greyhounds from dying and being injured—and I'm glad to hear that you're prepared to meet with Hope Rescue—I wonder if you would agree with me that there are serious concerns even about regulated tracks. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

Yes, I would agree with Jane Dodds. And, as I say, some of the figures—and you've just given some statistics now and some information about the track—lead me to be very concerned. I have had two meetings with my officials to discuss this, and I do want to assure Members that it is something I take very seriously, am very concerned about, and we'll see what we can do to look—. As you say, it's not just about regulation, but we'll look obviously within the animal welfare plan for Wales for this term of Government. Whilst it's a five-year programme, looking at greyhound racing is something I want to bring to the early part of the Senedd term. 

Transport Connectivity

5. What discussions has the Minister had with Cabinet colleagues regarding transport connectivity in north Wales? OQ57543

I regularly meet with Cabinet colleagues. Our new multimillion-pound north Wales metro programme will transform rail, bus and active travel services across north Wales. It will make it easier and faster to travel across north Wales and build better connections with the north-west of England.

Diolch. Speaking in last month's Westminster Hall debate on transport connectivity in Merseyside, Vale of Clwyd MP James Davies, who, topically, also chairs the Mersey Dee north Wales all-party parliamentary group, called for hourly rail services between Llandudno and Liverpool, which had been promised from the end of 2023, to be brought forward, stating:

'direct rail services from the north Wales coast ceased in the 1970s. Thanks to the reopening of the Halton curve, hourly services are promised from Llandudno to Liverpool, although not, I think, until December 2023. Will the Minister join me in calling on Transport for Wales to bring that forward if it can?'

Thanks to the £14.5 million Halton curve project, funded through the UK Government's local government funding awarded to the Liverpool city region local enterprise partnership, direct daily services between Wrexham and Liverpool, which you know of, were introduced in 2019, but the promised direct services between Llandudno and Liverpool are not expected until the back end of next year. What discussions are you, therefore, having with your Cabinet colleagues regarding an earlier introduction of the service by Welsh Government-owned Transport for Wales to help build our region back from the pandemic, attract visitors, boost the local economy and encourage more people onto rail for the good of the environment?

14:45

Thank you. You are correct; at the moment, our commitment is to deliver a new hourly service between Liverpool and Llandudno from December 2023. We'll also look to extend the current Llandudno to Manchester Airport service to include Bangor. I think one way the Member could help is that, in the absence of appropriate devolution of rail infrastructure and a fair funding settlement, we do need the UK Government to fulfil their responsibilities for improving the rail network in Wales. 

Building connectivity is about designing and building transport networks that are responsive to the needs of our communities. This means we do need to regulate the bus industry in a way that places community need and networks at the heart of our decision making. But we know, Minister, that the current regulations brought in under Thatcher's Government were based solely on profits. They stop cross-subsidy of routes and they see providers using the competition authorities to close down routes of rivals. Can I ask the Minister, therefore, do you agree with me that reregulating the bus industry should be at the top of our agenda, and, when we do look at that piece of work, that we should look to bus worker representatives, like Unite the Union, in which I declare an interest as a member? They should be involved, and we should listen in particular to them and to their 'get home safely' campaign, which promotes viable transport options for workers in the night-time economy.

Absolutely. We welcome the Unite union's 'get me home safe' campaign, and we'll continue to work with local authorities, Transport for Wales and obviously our bus companies to provide safer, more attractive late evening public transport services. As you know, we are looking to bring forward during this Senedd term a new bus Bill, which will incorporate new powers for local authorities to franchise out bus services across Wales to provide a more stable, accessible, attractive and integrated bus network for passengers. I think we are going to work really hard to transform the quality of bus and rail travel across Wales, and we will continue to provide funding to local authorities to improve the accessibility and safety of bus stops, because that's clearly an area of concern. 

The Sustainable Farming Scheme

6. How will the sustainable farming scheme support habitat conservation projects? OQ57564

To support ecosystem resilience, our farmers will be paid to manage and create on-farm habitat. We will also support farmers to collaborate to deliver against local and national priorities at a landscape scale.

Thank you, Minister, for the statement. Llywydd, I would like to just remind Members of the fact that I am a practising farmer, as stated in my interests. As I'm sure you're aware, Minister, this Friday marks the beginning of the Big Farmland Bird Count, organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. This aims to encourage farmers and land managers to support farmland birds and to highlight the hard work already done by many of them to help reverse biodiversity loss. I'm sure, Minister, you would agree that the work going on is commendable. We know that promoting sustainability and biodiversity is something that the Welsh Government's proposed sustainable land management scheme aims to do. However, Minister, there are still grave concerns amongst farmers that future farming support pivots too much toward paying for public goods, with a lack of recognition about the importance of supporting those producers in Wales who are trying to produce high-quality affordable food for our communities. Minister, how will the proposed new scheme strike a balance between improving environmental outcomes within the agricultural sector and encouraging and supporting high-quality, sustainable food production to increase the resilience of rural economies and our food systems across Wales?

14:50

I've always made it very clear that producing food is absolutely a priority for our farmers, of course it is. You say there are grave concerns. We've been out to consultation three times now. The scheme is still not designed; we want to co-design that scheme. You will have heard me say many times that if it's not the right scheme for our farmers it won't work, so it's really important that they're part of that co-design. We're just asking farmers, and you may be one, to work with us in the summer when we go to the second part of the co-design of the scheme. What's really important, as we've said all along, is public money for public goods. When you say there are grave concerns, I don't hear those grave concerns in the way I did four or five years ago. I do think it's really important that we work together to make sure we get it right. Of course we will continue to support our farmers to produce food that has a low carbon footprint, but they will also be rewarded for the things that they don't get paid for at the moment—so, the clean air, the clean water, the work they do about mitigating flood, the work they do around mitigating drought, the work they do around animal health and welfare. I think it's really important that there is that balance. There has to be that balance, or it just won't work.

The Efficient Use of Food

7. Will the Minister provide an update on efforts to ensure that any food produced in Wales is used efficiently? OQ57576

The Welsh Government works with manufacturers, retailers and community food organisations to minimise waste in all parts of the food supply chain, from farm to fork. This delivers against other key goals, including halving food waste by 2025 and the resultant impact on cutting climate change emissions.

Thank you for that response. FareShare Cymru has celebrated its tenth birthday recently, and they're needed now more than ever, I would say. One aspect of their work is to run the Surplus with Purpose Cymru fund. The fund—which is funded by Government, in fairness—is intended to work with food businesses and farmers to prevent food waste by paying the costs of harvesting, packaging, freezing, transportation, whatever is needed to ensure that any leftover food is diverted to those who need it. The closing date for bids to that fund is at the end of this month, so can I ask you, as the Minister working most closely with food businesses and the agriculture sector, to make a particular effort in these final few weeks to promote that fund among those that you're involved with? Can I also, just as importantly if not more importantly, ask you to work with the Minister for Climate Change in order to ensure that this key fund can continue for next year, because of course, in tackling food waste, it does turn an environmental problem into a social solution?

Yes, I'd be very happy to do that. You referred to FareShare Cymru, and they've saved 819 tonnes of surplus food from waste. That's enough to provide almost 3 million meals just in one year. So, we can see the huge work that's done. Those meals were diverted to homeless shelters, school breakfast clubs and community centres, so it is very important. I'd be very happy to work to promote that over the next few weeks, and I will certainly have a discussion with the Minister for Climate Change, as you ask.

Minister, our fishing industry and indeed the aquaculture sector remain an essential element of the Welsh food strategy. From north Wales crab to Conwy and Menai mussels, sustainable producers are providing high-quality nutritious food that includes essential sources of protein and omega 3. With the consultation on the joint fisheries statement now live, something that I have responded to, the national benefit objective has come into stark focus once again. Of the approximate 660,000 tonnes of fish farmed and caught in the UK in 2014, 75 per cent was exported. I still continue to argue that the aqua-food sector here in Wales does now need to be integrated more fully into a new food and drink strategy, as currently the division from agri-food is preventing us from embarking on what could be described as a 'food in the round' strategy. Minister, in order to ensure efficient use of seafood harvested from our seas, would you clarify what steps the Welsh Government are taking to review and amend public procurement practices so that the use of this beautiful seasonal Welsh seafood and fish increases within our schools, our hospitals, and is integrated onto the dishes of those working in the public sector across Wales? Thank you.

14:55

Thank you. Certainly, I do all I can to promote fish and our aquaculture sector. You mentioned the joint fisheries statement, which is out to consultation now. I'm actually being scrutinised in committee tomorrow on it, and I do think it's a big opportunity. As we look at procurement, you'll be aware that Rebecca Evans, the Minister for Finance and Local Government, is looking at what more we can do to procurement. I think you're right about making sure that schools—. I was quite a latecomer to eating fish. I think, as a child, I certainly wasn't that keen, and maybe it's because it wasn't given to me in my school meals or as much at home—we were really big meat eaters. So, I think you're right that there perhaps is a bit more we can do to promote fish and certainly shellfish with our younger people, and there is an opportunity as we go through this procurement process to do that.

The Sustainable Farming Scheme

8. How will the sustainable farming scheme help tackle the nature emergency? OQ57546

Responding to the nature emergency is a key objective of our proposed sustainable farming scheme. Future farm support will reward farmers who take action to maintain and create resilient ecosystems. 

Thank you, Minister, for that answer. I'm giving at the outset full credit and any royalties that accrue from any mention hereof to Sam Kurtz for a statement of opinion he laid yesterday, fully supported on a cross-party basis by Mabon ap Gwynfor and myself—and there'll be many others, no doubt—on the continuing hedges, edges and tree-planting campaign spearheaded by the Woodland Trust Cymru and Coed Cymru. Does the Minister agree with this campaign that there's a need to increase trees in the right places on farms to urgently mitigate the climate and ecological emergency, and that in particular there are multiple nature, ecosystem and global cooling benefits, and, indeed, flood prevention and mitigation et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, that can come from an agreed quality of maintenance and expansion of hedges and shelterbelts, planted fresh watercourses at edges, and expanded wood pasture? If so, will she support the role of good-quality expanded hedges and edges as a universal part of a sustainable farming scheme, providing direct support for farmers on the basis of multiple public and environmental benefits for cost-effective use of public money?

Thank you. Certainly that will be part of our sustainable farming scheme, which, as I mentioned in my earlier answer to Peter Fox, we are currently co-designing with our farmers and other interested bodies. You'll be aware that my colleague the Deputy Minister for Climate Change did a deep dive into the barriers of planting trees and what we could do to ensure that—. If we are going to react to the climate emergency in the way that we want to and to become a net-zero Wales by 2050, we've got to plant 86 million trees over the next decade. We haven't been planting enough trees—I don't think anybody would say that we had.

It's really important that we help our farmers get involved in these plans. The Deputy Minister has set up a woodland finance working group, which obviously my officials sit on with his, because I hold most of the funding in relation to trees, but, of course, the policy sits within the climate change ministry. It's really important that we work across Government, so it's good to hear of cross-party statements of opinion. We want to work with anybody, our stakeholders, to ensure that we do plant significantly more trees. But what is really important, and you said it at the beginning of your question, is that we plant the right tree in the right place. 

The Sustainable Farming Scheme

9. What are the Welsh Government's priorities for the sustainable farming scheme? OQ57559

Tackling the climate and nature emergencies, alongside the sustainable production of food, are the objectives for our proposed sustainable farming scheme. Our intention is to create a sustainable, resilient agriculture sector in Wales for current and future generations.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. I've been contacted by constituents who raise the fact that, at present, public rights of way are not part of our current cross-compliance for the current Welsh Government agricultural scheme. If the Welsh Government were to make public rights of way part of cross-compliance, it would really give the farming community an incentive to open and maintain their public rights of way to be of much higher standard, to achieve their annual payment from Welsh Government. Would the Minister consider this when making plans for the sustainable farming scheme? I believe it could deliver positive outcomes for the farming community and ramblers and walkers who enjoy our wonderful countryside right across Wales. Thank you.

15:00

We are looking at actions that may improve public rights of way. So, it could mean that there are opportunities for farmers to upgrade footpaths to cycle or bridle ways, for instance, or indeed change the supporting infrastructures, like the types of gates that there are, or stiles. The aim of the scheme will be to increase the proportion of public rights of way that are open, easy to use and well signed, and with over two thirds of public rights of way on farmland, enhancing existing public rights of way beyond the legal requirements will allow farmers to contribute further to our nation's health and prosperity, whilst also providing greater access to our cultural and heritage rural areas. So, to get the most benefits, the scheme will aim to support the priorities of local communities through delivering on the priorities set out by rights of way improvement plans and by our local access forums.

The Decarbonisation and COVID Challenge Fund

10. Will the Minister outline the criteria for receiving funding under the Welsh Government’s decarbonisation and COVID challenge fund? OQ57555

The aim of the decarbonisation and COVID challenge fund is to support the recovery of the Welsh food and drink sector. To qualify, businesses must demonstrate innovative solutions in one or more areas, from energy conservation to carbon capture.

Thank you, Minister. Velfrey Vineyard, a small, independent and family-run vineyard near Whitland in my constituency, produces excellent quality wine, and I was fortunate enough to visit and sample some of their finest last year. Concerns have been raised, however, that applications to the Government's decarbonisation and COVID challenge fund are being seen more favourably if they are from larger businesses rather than smaller businesses. What assurances can you give as the Minister to ensure all applications are looked upon equally?

Well, I can assure you that all applications are looked on equally. We had 39 applications, and funding, as I say, will be provided on the criteria I set out in my original answer to you. My understanding is that it's not the case that larger companies would be looked on more favourably at all. It was a matter around, as I said, energy and carbon capture. There's green growth as well, and looking at logistics decarbonisations. Food and drink is a priority sector and it's really important we help it recover following the pandemic. But if the Member would like to write to me if there is a specific concern, I'd be very happy to look into it for him.

Diolch i'r Gweinidog. And I must say, I love it when a plan comes together. I asked business managers on Tuesday to ask their Members and their Ministers for succinct, concise questions and answers, and I've seen it in action in the previous question session. An excellent duet of Ministers giving concise and to-the-point answers, and great succinct questions from Members as well. And we injected a bit of pace to our questioning, which is good to see.

3. Topical Questions

Right, we've still got one question that remains this afternoon. That's the topical question. Let's see if we can keep up the good work. Mark Isherwood to ask the topical question, to be answered by the Minister, Jane Hutt. Mark Isherwood.

The Winter Fuel Support Scheme

1. Will the Minister make a statement on the winter fuel support scheme payment? TQ594

Thank you very much, Mark Isherwood. The Welsh Government winter fuel support scheme payment is being doubled from £100 to £200 as the cost-of-living crisis intensifies. A written statement has been published to accompany my announcement.

Thank you, and I read that a few moments ago. But after yesterday's Welsh Government announcement that the Welsh Government has doubled the winter fuel support scheme payment to £200 and extended the deadline to apply to 28 February, Fuel Poverty Coalition Cymru representatives contacted me as chair of the cross-party group on fuel poverty and energy efficiency, welcoming the news for those who are eligible. However, they recognise that it won't help or reach everyone in need, including those in fuel poverty not in receipt of means-tested benefits, and stated it is vital that as many eligible households receive it as possible. They therefore asked me to ask: how will the Welsh Government be using the extended deadline to boost promotion of the support available? How many of the approximately 350,000 eligible households have successfully applied to date? What proportion is this of all those estimated to be eligible overall? How does take-up compare across local authority areas in Wales, where we want to avoid any postcode lottery? And of those who've successfully applied thus far, how many and what proportion were in receipt of council tax reduction and therefore contacted directly by the council?

Age Cymru has also called for the eligibility criteria for the scheme to be extended to include older people in receipt of pension credit, where basic household bills are fast becoming unaffordable for many pensioners living on a low fixed income, and a constituent e-mailed yesterday asking me to remind the Welsh Government about the problems especially faced by those with conditions such as post-polio syndrome. How will the Minister therefore respond to these legitimate questions from relevant bodies? Again, I emphasise I'm asking this as chair of the cross-party group, not to score any party political points. 

15:05

Well, thank you very much, Mark Isherwood. We are in the middle of, as the Resolution Foundation calls it, a cost-of-living catastrophe, and this winter fuel support scheme was launched as part of the household support fund to target families and those who are most vulnerable in terms of the questions that are now facing many families about whether to heat or eat. We find that shocking, don't we, in this rich country we live in. So, it will go some way to supporting low-income households with rising energy bills and the increasing cost of everyday essentials. 

As for answering your questions, as of the end of January, data from 22 local authorities shows over 146,000 applications have been received, 105,785 applications have been paid, and local authorities are working hard not just to promote it; they've contacted all those they deem to be eligible. Three hundred and fifty thousand are deemed to be eligible in Wales, so we need to do all we can, and the cross-party group plays its part with its partners to promote this.

As I said, it is about supporting working-age households, and I will say this is also about not just the increasing fuel costs and food costs, but those who suffered an income shock when the UK Government ended their £20 a week uplift for universal credit, and we want it to support those households who receive one of the earnings replacement means-tested benefits that the UK refused to increase by £20 per week. 

But I will say, in terms of the representations, and particularly I've seen that from Age Cymru, I hope you as chair of the cross-party group, Mark Isherwood, and Conservative spokesperson, will be urging the UK Government to do what they should be doing in terms of increasing their winter fuel payment and also extending the eligibility for the Warm Homes discount. We've heard nothing from the UK Government. Those are the payments whereby eligible older people can get help with their energy bills and also—and I'll finish with this point, to be succinct, Llywydd—we are of course delivering a take-up campaign to ensure that older people and pensioners get the entitlements that they need and are right to receive, and that includes pension credit. You know that there is a lower take-up of pension credit than there should be. In fact, two in five people eligible for pension credit in Wales don't claim it, and those in receipt of pension credit could then get access to the Warm Homes discount.

So, we're playing our part. I won't say more now about this, but I'm sure you will be aware that the single advice fund is working across Wales with a welfare benefit take-up group, including older people's representatives. And finally, of course, older people can also apply for our discretionary assistance fund, which has been extended as well. But please can we call on the UK Government to increase their winter fuel payment and their Warm Homes discount, and also, as we face this fuel cap rise, can we get support for the social tariff for energy users?

Thousands of households in Wales, a number corresponding to the whole of Swansea, are already having problems paying for everyday items, and, as we've heard, the increasing energy costs and tax rises are approaching, and therefore those additional costs of over £1,000 will be a step too far for those already facing social and economic disadvantage. I welcome the Government's steps to tackle the poverty and cost-of-living crisis, especially this new payment announced this week. However, problems exist in terms of delivering these measures as a result of the fact that local authorities are responsible for their implementation, and there is evidence that this is creating inconsistencies in terms of the support actually reaching families on the ground in various parts of Wales. So, what is the Government doing to ensure that the level of take-up in terms of these payments is consistent across Wales, as well as promoting the fact that they are available? And, as we face such a crisis, which will be extended, with just a few months before the lifting of the cap on energy prices, will the Government introduce a cost-of-living crisis action plan as a matter of urgency? I agree with the Minister's comments in terms of the powers in the hands of the Tory Government in Westminster, but does the Minister agree that it's up to us in Wales to safeguard our own people from this economic storm?

15:10

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned Williams, and thank you for highlighting the pressures on your constituents, the cost-of-living pressures that are so real and are so vivid and coming through every day in terms of reports from the Resolution Foundation, the Bevan Foundation. Local authorities are playing their role. I think the take-up, given the time we've had—. We've extended the timing for this, extended the deadline, as Mark Isherwood said, to the end of February. Payments will be issued by local authorities. I have to say that I've had some very strong support coming back from constituents with real examples of what this has meant for them. And I'll just quote one from north Wales, who said he would like me to share this with the Senedd:

'Of course, the first £100 alleviated my hard poverty for this month and will also keep me warm for at least a month and a bit. Another £100 will mean I can keep warm in March, April and up to mid May, by which time my heating will be off until at least the start of October, hopefully later.'

He was saying that he has to consume the cheapest, poorest quality food. This £200 is what we are doing as a Welsh Government to try and reach out to our constituents.

Now, as you know, following the debate that you led very recently, we are organising a round-table summit on 17 February, cross-Government, with all our partners, and it will include many of the partners in the cross-party group, in terms of tackling the cost-of-living crisis. But I will say again, not just in terms of the entitlements we've got and our discretionary assistance fund, can I also appeal to people who are off-grid in terms of oil—and I know this affects many Senedd Members here—the discretionary assistance fund is available to help with those costs in terms of access to oil as a key energy source? This is where we have got to address this. But it's not just in terms of support from us, it has to be from the UK Government as well, who are silent on this—silent—when we see these energy price costs rising. But also to say that this is a real opportunity for the UK Government to show that they are actually dealing with the cost-of-living crisis, which is affecting people so adversely and cruelly at this time.

Thank you very much. I appreciate all the work that the Welsh Government is doing to try to ensure that everybody is taking up the benefits they're entitled to. But, as you said earlier, mainly, the levers are with the UK Government. And I appreciate it must be very difficult to get anybody to answer the phone when the UK Government is in the grip of a leadership crisis, but I wondered if you could put to them the point that other European countries are all taking action to use Government taxes to reduce the cost of energy bills. So, the Dutch Cabinet has cut energy taxes and put more money into insulation; in France, they're putting pressure on EDF, which is state owned, to reduce the cost to French households; in Spain, there's a windfall tax on utilities; in Germany, they're cutting the green energy scheme; in Italy, the same; and, in Sweden, nearly £500 million equivalent, as well as Norway. So, is there any possibility that we can get anything out of the UK Government about changing the way in which we collect the green taxes so that they are part of the mainstream income tax collection, or indeed a windfall tax—either way—so that it doesn't fall on those who are most deeply affected by this huge rise in energy prices?

Thank you very much, Jenny Rathbone. You will know from the work that you're doing as Chair of the Equality and Social Justice Committee that the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, and I wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy way back in early January. I shared that letter with Senedd Members. So, many calls, some of which I've mentioned already in terms of winter fuel payments, the Warm Homes discount scheme, but also looking at the ways in which they could—. And saying that they should take those green and social policy costs out of people's household bills and into general taxation. It's great that you've quoted all those other countries that are actually taking action to both support people who are in fuel poverty and facing deeper crisis, but also that they're recognising that they've got to fund this through general taxation. And, of course, in terms of a windfall tax, there are calls for value added tax holidays, et cetera. But, we have made these points.

We've put these points to the UK Government and this is an opportunity now for us to unite, I hope, in this Senedd to make sure that they play their part. They have the levers. You've heard National Energy Action. They make it clear that this is where we expect the UK Government to respond and ensure that they support people who are falling deeper and deeper into poverty in terms of cost of living, and also they do it the right way in terms of a social energy tariff as well.

15:15
4. 90-second Statements

We now move to the 90-second statements. The first of those is from Sioned Williams. 

Diolch, Llywydd. On the last Saturday of January in 1872, Neath Rugby Football Club met with Swansea to compete in the first recorded club fixture in Welsh rugby history. On Friday, this historic match will be commemorated as Neath and Swansea do battle again. Neath RFC, the oldest club in Wales, are celebrating their hundred and fiftieth year. Over that time, the Welsh all blacks have seen and done it all; they’ve competed against some of the giants of the sport, won an impressive number of cup victories, and set records. Many former players not only represented the club with distinction, but also their country; men like Gareth Llewellyn, Dai Morris, Jonathan Davies, Martyn Davies, Brian Thomas, Duncan Jones, Shane Williams and too many to mention today have secured their permanent place in the history of Welsh rugby. 

Those who have played for Neath have both entertained countless people in Wales and around the world, and have inspired many to get into the sport. But, it’s not just the players who should be celebrated; it’s the entire community around the team, from coaching staff to those working at the clubhouse, volunteers to the dedicated and passionate supporters. Today, I wish to reflect upon the rich legacy and significant contribution of Neath RFC. What started on that cold day in January transformed a sport, a town and a nation. Llongyfarchiadau, Castell-nedd. Here’s to the next 150 years.

I wanted to share with the Senedd some information about a new and beautiful short film that breathes new life into one of our nation's legends. Pupils of Ysgol Gynradd Rhosgadfan in my constituency have made the film, and it was shown at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, and it enjoyed an enthusiastic reception. The children and their parents had an opportunity to see the film on a big screen in a special screening at the Galeri in Caernarfon, and it was my pleasure to join them.

Rhosgadfan is one of the most disadvantaged villages in my constituency, and some of the families have never had the chance to attend the theatre previously. The film is called Blot-deuwedd, and it re-imagines one of the most well-known tales of the Mabinogion, the tale of Blodeuwedd, the girl made of flowers. The pupils of Ysgol Gynradd Rhosgadfan have set the tale in a modern context, in responding to the climate emergency. The 'blot' in Blot-deuwedd represents mankind's destructive mark on the world. The acting, the filming, the animation and the locations create an alluring composition, and I do encourage you all to watch Blot-deuwedd, and I congratulate everyone who has been part of the project. But most of all, I thank the children for breathing new life into an old legend in such a relevant way, as we face one of the great challenges of our age.

I was honoured to host the best dart players in the world at our Parliament this afternoon, as they prepare for the first night of the Premier League Darts in Cardiff tomorrow. As a keen darts player myself, it was great to host this alongside my friend, colleague and darts player and darts fan, Jack 'The Beard to be Feared' Sargeant. These players who visited our Parliament included Wales's very own world No.1, Gerwyn Price, and last year's premier league champion, Jonny Clayton.

I'm sure the whole Senedd wishes the Welsh boys well in the premier league this year. Wales is leading the way on the global darts scene, and we should all be extremely proud of the players who inspire millions of people on a daily basis around the world. I look forward to welcoming the Professional Darts Corporation and the players back to the Senedd in the future to showcase their incredible talents here in our home, the Welsh Parliament. Diolch, Lywydd.

15:20

Diolch yn fawr. I'm a bit of a darts fan myself, so I was particularly keen to accept that statement today.

Thank you all for that. We will now suspend proceedings briefly, and we'll take a break to allow changeovers in the Chamber. Thank you.

Plenary was suspended at 15:20.

15:35

The Senedd reconvened at 15:37, with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.

5. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Obesity

The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Lesley Griffiths, and amendment 2 in the name of Siân Gwenllian.

Welcome back. The next item is the Welsh Conservatives debate on obesity. I call on James Evans to move the motion. 

Motion NDM7903 Darren Millar

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Expresses its concern that nearly two thirds of adults in Wales are currently overweight or obese.

2. Notes that COVID-19 has a disproportionate effect on those living with obesity, with more than half of critical care admissions having a BMI of over 30.

3. Further notes that weight-management services were paused or adapted as the Welsh NHS treated COVID patients.

4. Calls on the Welsh Government to:

a) urgently reopen those weight-management services which have been paused during the pandemic;

b) indicate when specialist multidisciplinary weight-management services will be expanded across Wales; and

c) provide extra funding to ensure that weight-management services are able to cope with increased need.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. I move the motion in the name of Darren Millar. Obesity is one of the biggest health crises the world faces. For the first time in history, children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents, and most of this is due to obesity. COVID-19 has exposed the poor physical health of Wales. We have the highest death rate for COVID-19 per 100,000 of any of the UK nations, and currently, two thirds of the population is overweight or obese. It is clear that the physical health of the nation must be a priority for the Welsh Government, and for the Minister. Figures published by the Welsh Government's own StatsWales highlight that nearly two thirds, or 61 per cent, of those over the age of 16 in Wales reported in 2021 a body mass index of over 25. 

Being overweight substantially increases the risk of a number of chronic diseases. In particular, those who are overweight are at specific risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, strokes. It also causes kidney disease, certain types of cancer, sleep apnoea, gout, osteoarthritis and liver disease, just to name a few. So, the case for prioritising obesity is clear. Obesity is projected to cost our Welsh NHS £465 million a year by 2050, but almost £2.4 billion to the Welsh economy and society as a whole. These costs will potentially deny life-saving, life-prolonging treatments to the patients in our Welsh NHS who need them. 

Figures from Cancer Research UK show that being overweight is the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK. More than one in 20 cancer cases are caused by excess weight. Cancer research also highlighted that keeping a healthy weight reduces the risk of 13 different types of cancer. We all need to work together on this. This is an important issue, and I think we should put politics aside. We all need to be rightly concerned that nearly two thirds of adults in Wales are currently overweight or obese. I'm sure everyone agrees that is a worrying statistic. 

In 2021, the Welsh Conservatives stood on pledges to improve the physical health and well-being of the nation by providing free access to local authority gyms and leisure centres for 16 to 24-year-olds. We said we'd invest more money in active transport, walking and cycling and that we would promote healthy lifestyles in schools. We did say we'd create a community sports bounce-back fund, and I'm really keen that Ministers have actually looked and put this in place. We all know the saying 'prevention is better than cure', but, sadly, we don't actually do what we preach. 

Maybe I'm just an overenthusiastic political newbie here, an idealist, someone who believes that things can change. I don't believe we should stick to the status quo. But what is the alternative here? For two decades, politicians and Ministers in this place have talked on this issue. They've created strategies, had public consultations, gone back and forth, back and forth, but we're getting nowhere, because things in Wales are getting worse. The world has changed, and we must understand that. People are living far more static lifestyles than before. In this place, we tend to sit down a lot of the time and don't live that active lifestyle. If you're overweight or obese, you need to do that because you are putting yourself at extremely high risk of becoming unwell. 

Lots of ideas have been tried, including sugar taxes and huge spending on public messaging, so why aren't we seeing the results? I think we need to move away from the current ideas and policies in place, and try and look at this from a strategic, objective standpoint. There's clearly a significant problem with the quality of food being consumed, not just here in Wales but around the world. But people aren't talking about obesity and taking it seriously. Being obese is as dangerous as being a chain smoker or an alcoholic, but it doesn't seem to have the same sort of public image as what those things do, about living a healthy lifestyle. We're all feeling the consequences, not just here in Wales but globally. Diabetes was virtually a non-existent disease in the nineteenth century. In the United States a bit ago, the percentage of diabetics was one in 10,000, and research now shows that's one in 11. That's a startling statistic. 

Diet has changed, though. We've gone from real wholesome foods to processed foods, low-fat processed foods to high-sugar processed foods. This, combined with the fact that people haven't got as active jobs as they used to have, that people are more stagnant, means we're seeing obesity get worse, because too many people in our schools and wider are just simply not educated about food and where it comes from. People do need to start living a healthy, balanced and active lifestyle, and that needs to be promoted by Government. This can be addressed by some of the points that I raised earlier around promoting healthy lifestyles in school, encouraging sport, free gym access for local youngsters and teaching people where their food comes from.

I believe we need to see a full-scale change of approach towards tackling this issue. The policy raised here by the Welsh Conservatives, Plaid Cymru, who unfortunately are not here, the Liberal Democrats—. Everybody in this place has good ideas, and not one party has a monopoly on those. So, I welcome all ideas, and I welcome almost everything the Plaid Cymru amendment said. So, I hope, today, we can back the changes, and the Welsh Government will put the support into place to hold a full-scale review of obesity strategy, because doing nothing simply is not good enough. If we do nothing, this will become the biggest health crisis of a generation. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. 

15:40

Before I move on, just to highlight the fact that there are Plaid Cymru Members online who are taking part in this debate. 

I have selected the two amendments to the motion. I call on the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being, Lynne Neagle, to move formally amendment 1.

Amendment 1—Lesley Griffiths

Delete point 4 and replace with:

Acknowledges:

a) the new 2022-24 delivery plan, due to launch on 1 March, which supports the Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales Strategy and aims to prevent and reduce obesity over the next two years.

b) the £5.8m investment into obesity services accompanying the plan, to enable health boards to deliver a revised All Wales Weight Management Pathway and equitable services, including specialist multidisciplinary weight-management services in Wales.

Amendment 1 moved.

I call on Rhun ap Iorwerth to move amendment 2, tabled in the name of Siân Gwenllian. 

Amendment 2—Siân Gwenllian

Add as new point at end of motion:

Calls on the Welsh Government to prioritise preventative measures to reduce obesity in Wales, such as:

a) investing in resources to promote physical activity in all communities; 

b) improving health education; 

c) increasing the time allocated to physical education lessons in schools;

d) Investigate the use of taxation tools to encourage a better diet.

Amendment 2 moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I thank the Conservatives for bringing forward this motion before us today. I will make some comments and mention our amendment.

I certainly don't disagree with what is in the original motion, and I've certainly tried to do what I can over the years to voice my concerns about the impact of obesity. It broke my heart to see Anglesey, some years ago, at the top of the national table in terms of how many children were obese, and that's why you'll hear me call for investment in physical activity and so forth. And that's what's missing from this motion, I think. You can't talk about the problem of obesity and the need to invest in weight management services without taking that step back and looking at the bigger picture. And I do welcome the clear suggestion there that the Conservatives will support our amendments because of that.

If obesity is a global pandemic, and it is, if being obese does increase the risk of chronic illnesses, diabetes, if it is one of the main causes of cancer, if it imposes great costs on health services, if it decreases people's living standards, if it leads to psychological problems, and it affects two thirds of the people in our country—well, we need to go to the core of that problem, don't we, from birth, and we need to tackle the preventative agenda.

As a paper that I read in the National Library of Medicine in America says:

'The most promising strategies are education and efforts by individuals to make responsible choices several times every day to protect, most effectively by prevention, their most valuable asset.'

There's nothing more valuable than our own health, and somehow we have to ensure that we do invest in all of those things that are going to give the best possible start to people in their lives. Our amendment talks about resources for promoting physical activity, improving health education, more time for physical education. I welcome the pilots that are currently taking place on the school day to create more time for PE. We talk again about the idea of having some kind of levy on the least healthy foods. In Mexico, there was a 10 per cent reduction in the consumption of unhealthy foods after a tax was introduced. Let's look at all of these things in their entirety. We've used the word 'pandemic' a lot in another context over the last two years; this is a genuine pandemic and we need to look under every stone to look for the solutions.

15:45

I very much agree with the sentiments expressed in terms of the importance of obesity and tackling obesity if we are to create the sort of Wales we want to see in terms of health and well-being. It is a major challenge and it has been for some time a growing challenge, and we do need to make sure that the NHS responds effectively when people have health problems connected with obesity. But I very much agree that, beyond that, we need to move much more onto the preventative agenda, and I do believe that schools are absolutely crucial. 

We had Tanni Grey-Thompson's report talking about the importance of making sure that our young people, our children, get into good habits early on that will stay with them for life; the importance of the school curriculum in ensuring that children are active enough in schools, they realise the importance of staying fit, active and healthy, and that there are those extra activities beyond the school day. Because I think we all know that some children get the mum or dad taxi experience where they develop their interests and their abilities through sport and activity and other extra curricular matters. Other children, particularly children in more deprived communities, do not so often get that experience, but they will get it, hopefully, through school if it's provided at the school during or beyond the school day. I really think we need to ensure that we do everything we can with and through our schools. 

Others are helping that effort. In Newport, for example, Newport Live, which is the leisure trust, has a school sports programme and makes its facilities available to schools and works with our schools. They're also very active in the community, dealing with those deprivation factors around inactivity. They have a Positive Futures programme, for example, which reaches out to communities. They also work with the NHS through the Wales national exercise referral scheme, and we have Newport county's County in the Community arm working with schools providing a six-week programme for 900 nine to 10-year-olds every single year, and they are also reaching out into our communities using facilities to deliver sport and activity throughout the year. They do find, though, during the winter months, that half of that community outreach programme has to stop because there isn't lighting at some of those facilities, and they also find that the surfaces aren't everything they should be, and I think that's something we should look at addressing through Welsh Government, local government, Sport Wales and other partners to ensure that the facilities are up to the mark. And similarly for all those grass-roots sports clubs, such as Undy football club, for example, which has over 500 people active on a weekly basis—lots of youngsters, girls, women, getting active, enjoying sport and also enjoying the social aspects. I do believe we need to provide more support to these community players, Dirprwy Lywydd. Diolch yn fawr.

15:50

Thank you, Deputy Llywydd. Can I thank James Evans for bringing forward this important and timely debate? And as everybody in the Chamber I'm sure would agree, obesity is a serious public health issue; James pointed out the issues, as well as Rhun. The Welsh health service—it's costing that millions a year to treat, and things are getting worse. It is an issue that clearly needs to be tackled head on, but, to do so, we need to look more widely at the issue, rather than simply encouraging people to be more active, because, fundamentally, issues like obesity and malnutrition are interlinked with people's diets, which is dependent on the availability and accessibility of food. And so the question is how we improve the accessibility and availability of good quality, nutritious and healthy food to help prevent issues such as obesity in the first place, as well as responding to the various socioeconomic issues that can lead to obesity.

In a recent report, the Food Research Collaboration has argued that a substantial body of evidence has shown that connected integrated policy making is vital for tackling complex cross-cutting issues such as food and obesity, rather than piecemeal policy approaches. This is not necessarily a simple thing to achieve, but the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has previously called on Governments to undertake a stock take of policies relevant to food systems, increasing the evidence base on policy interactions. I think there is also more scope for us to use education as a preventative measure to help improve the health and well-being of future generations. Something that Food Sense Wales has called for is an integrated policy around food in schools, better aligning Government policy to improve food and education, offer more opportunity for local producers to supply more of their products locally and increase the supply of healthy food in schools. This would benefit the environment, improve the well-being of children, and boost local economics. Those overarching aims are something that my proposed food Bill aims to establish. In drafting the Bill, I've heard an increasing body of evidence that points towards the need to rethink how the food system here in Wales is designed and how to integrate issues like malnutrition and obesity into the wider food system to ensure that the various Government policies and plans all pull together in the same direction.

To conclude, Deputy Llywydd, I thank my colleagues for bringing forward this timely debate and urge all Members to support the original motion. This is so important a subject; we can't shy away from it. Thank you.

Thank you very much. James was right to mention that this is a global tragedy. The poorest countries are also the ones who are being absolutely bombarded with advertising of sugary drinks, otherwise known as fizzy drinks, and also processed food, when these countries absolutely cannot afford to treat the diabetes that is the inevitable consequence. So, it is appalling that these multinational companies behave in this way.

The rare countries that do not have the advertising ubiquitous all over the place are the ones that are the healthiest, and we have to remind ourselves that the healthiest that the British population has ever been was during the second world war and afterwards, when we had rationing, and therefore people were unable to eat more than a very small amount of food that was actually poisoning them.

So, obesity is the second biggest cause of early death after smoking, and it will soon overtake it, because we are being very effective in stopping people from smoking. Amongst the many tragic failures of the UK Government is the failure to legislate to have clear, traffic-light labelling on all food products, so people can see just how disastrous particular foodstuffs are for your health. Far too many takeaway food outlets are drowning in fat, sugar and salt, as that is the cheapest way of disguising tasteless food. And it is also how the multinational food processing companies make their billions. So, to counter that is really, really difficult, because people have forgotten how to cook, and we are having to rectify that in everything we're doing, whether it's in our schools or in other community centres. We simply have to revive the idea that you can cook a meal with some very, very simple ingredients, and it's much tastier than anything that's dished up by somebody who's only really wanting to take your money off you. 

So, I do recall a very important move by the then Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services in the last Senedd, which was Eluned Morgan, to ensure that there were weight-management programmes targeted in all local authorities on people were in danger of becoming type 2 diabetic, and I hope that it may it be possible for the current Deputy Minister to be able to tell us how well that roll-out is going, because I think it's an extremely important programme. Prevention is always cheaper than treatment after the event, so this is a way we can definitely try and halt the absolute epidemic in type 2 diabetes. 

15:55

I'm grateful for the opportunity to speak in this Chamber once again on obesity, and I thank James Evans for bringing this to the floor today and shining a spotlight on the absolute need to tackle obesity head on once again. Obesity isn't just a cosmetic problem; it's a complex disease and concerning medical problem that increases the risk of major health complications, including many outlined by my colleague James Evans earlier, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer.

In 2016, 1.9 billion people were classed as overweight, with 650 million people obese, and worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975—worrying figures. Worryingly, we face a stark picture in Wales. Statistics show that nearly two thirds of people aged 16 or over reported in 2021 that they have a BMI of more than 25, making them obese or overweight. Incredibly worrying, this picture is not good for our young people either, with obesity and overweight levels amongst Welsh children now the highest they've ever been, and they will keep rising unless we act now. Although the Labour Welsh Government have launched numerous initiatives since I've been here under the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' programme, three years on and it appears that little progress has been made to engrain healthy habits into the Welsh population. 

There are various factors that play into the obesity crisis, one of the recent contributors, obviously, being the pandemic, as was outlined earlier. Over the past two years, we've seen the closure of gyms, swimming pools and even outdoor exercise limited. We saw millions of people forced into inactivity, and this had a truly devastating impact on our nation's health. It's clear that we need a serious action plan to combat obesity. Any forthcoming plan needs to be all-encompassing, a truly cross-portfolio recognition, and a recognition again that prevention is always better than cure. New sporting facilities in all parts of Wales—not just in cities but in rural areas, to give everyone a chance to get fit—are needed, and improved roads so that it's safe and enticing to take up cycling, running and walking. Yet we seem to be governed by an anti-road Labour Party, who have allocated the roads resilience fund quite literally nothing in the budget.

Being the shadow education Minister, in any part of a plan to combat obesity, I want to see healthy, nutritious school meals implemented, and better education on how important a balanced diet is, and how important an active lifestyle is. Prevention and education are always better than cure, and I hope to see this form part of the new curriculum. Crucially, we need to start thinking outside the box, as what we're currently doing isn't working. Why not look at something simple like adult outdoor gyms placed next to playgrounds so that both children and parents can stay fit simultaneously? These are simple, effective and not costly ideas that we need to look at.

To conclude, we need to see proactivity from the Ministers and fresh ideas on how to tackle obesity. It's not enough to think that banning bad foods or adverts will be enough; the magnitude of the economic impacts presented by obesity are so significant, and help us really understand that now is the time for urgent action. We need to encourage and promote lifestyle changes and make it as easy as possible for everyone in Wales to keep fit and lead an active lifestyle. Now is the time to act. Thank you.

16:00

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'd like to begin by thanking Darren Millar for bringing forward this important topic for debate today. Obesity is a complex condition and it cannot be solved by the Government or by the NHS working in isolation. The evidence suggests that a partnership and whole-system approach is the only way to achieve change.

The Welsh Government's 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy is the first step towards a cross-Government approach to reduce obesity in Wales on a population scale. As a direct result of the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017, passed by the last Senedd, the strategy was launched in October 2019 and is supported by a series of biennial delivery plans. In the development of the strategy, we brought together the best international evidence for change. We're fully committed to utilising all the levers at our disposal, from funding to policy and legislation. Delivery began in earnest in 2019. We set out our ambitious plan to support delivery for 2020-22 and we aimed high. However, the pandemic fundamentally changed the course of our delivery and has more deeply entrenched and worsened pre-existing challenges. Services funding at capacity across Government and key partners were shifted to meet urgent needs caused by COVID-19, meaning that many of the commitments set out in the plan were paused. Our NHS staff were redeployed to areas of urgent need during the midst of the pandemic response, which is where they were needed most.

As we look to be moving past the peak of the omicron wave, health boards are looking to restart existing services whilst continuing with new plans. On 1 March, I will be publishing the 2022-24 delivery plan, which takes this learning from the last two years. This will include a funding commitment of over £13 million over two years. I will be making a statement in Plenary that will highlight the scale and ambition of our plans to achieve tangible and real change. Out of this investment, there is £5.8 million specifically allocated to health boards, which will support the development of equitable person-centred support through the delivery of an all-Wales weight management pathway. This will help to pump prime services alongside wider investment through health boards. The all-Wales weight management pathway is designed to ensure that we achieve parity across Wales. In recognition of the importance of this work, work on it continued in earnest over the course of the pandemic and I was delighted to officially launch it last summer. We know that it will take time to build the required infrastructure as the service evolves, and work is ongoing with local leaders, demonstrating their commitment to progress. A suite of programmes from exercise options to nutrition skills will bring together a life course approach.

Local health boards have planned and developed expansions to access community services at level 2. This will provide a suite of support for individuals to be able to access support at the right time for them. For the first time in Wales, there will be equitable children and families' specialist level 3 services delivered across Wales. We have asked local health boards to prioritise this and advanced plans are in place to enhance service provision. With the support and collaborative working of our primary care professions, there is now a primary care obesity prevention plan to support and drive delivery of the pathway, including making every contact count through person-centred and psychologically informed approaches. And we are building a digital offer at level 1 of the pathway with Public Health Wales. This will be underpinned by a long-term behavioural campaign approach and will provide helpful support and advice for people across Wales. And can I reassure Jenny Rathbone that we are continuing to trial the all-Wales diabetes prevention programme in all health boards across Wales? And I will have more to say about this in my statement on 1 March.

Through our recently published NHS planning frameworks, health boards will be monitored and held accountable to Ministers to ensure that progress continues at pace. Local health boards are also submitting annual monitoring to Welsh Government. We will be supporting Plaid Cymru's amendment today. We're absolutely committed to increasing physical activity opportunities and have allocated £4.5 million funding to invest in community sports facilities, with a further £24 million investment in facilities over the next three years. Health education is essential, and our new Curriculum for Wales includes health and well-being as one of six statutory areas of learning and experience. We are committed to expand physical activity opportunities in schools. We've invested in the winter of well-being and are committed to exploring reform of the school day. Through our 'Healthy Weight' plan, we're also developing a new daily active programme for schools with partners. I'm also keen to explore the use of taxation powers to support a healthy diet, and my officials will scope initial proposals on this matter.

In closing, Dirprwy Lywydd, I look forward to the launch of our 2022-24 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' delivery plan on 1 March, which will ensure that we continue to focus on delivery, recognising the significant efforts that health boards have begun to make. I ask all Members to support our amendment to the motion today. Diolch.

16:05

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to close today's debate, following some very detailed and informative contributions from across the Chamber. And can I say how wonderful it is to be back in the Siambr, doing what our constituents have voted us to do?

What has been made clear this afternoon is that obesity is a chronic disease caused by health inequalities, genetic influences and social factors, and, as the Royal College of Physicians has said, this is a problem that must be owned by every Cabinet Member across the whole of Government. As the Member for Ynys Môn rightly pointed out, obesity is a pandemic.

The Welsh Government strategy, launched in 2019, was worryingly vague, despite being well meaning and, as the Deputy Minister has just said, was very ambitious. But, despite this, as many initiatives have been, it was sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The point has been made that it is vital that we get this back on track with urgency and we'll be keeping a close eye on this.

The Member for Brecon and Radnorshire made it clear in listing the illnesses, ailments and diseases that obesity can exacerbate, and the Member for Newport East highlighted the point of preventative measures to alleviate burden on the NHS. The Member for Cardiff Central made reference to the poor quality of food, and I agree with her, so all I can do is urge her and her constituents to back British, back Welsh, buy locally sourced produce of high quality, including meat and dairy, which is not only high quality, but healthy and environmentally sustainable.

The Member for Newport East also highlighted the fact of lack of facilities of high quality, and the Deputy Minister did make reference to the funding available. But this point was also referenced by Noel Mooney, the Football Association of Wales's chief executive, at the recent cross-party group on sport, which is chaired by my colleague, Laura Anne Jones, who made the correct point in stating that obesity isn't just a cosmetic problem; it's also a health problem as well.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling obesity, and every individual is different, but there have always been common themes. I hope the Welsh Government take note of our debate today and re-energise their efforts to prioritise tackling the problem of obesity in Wales. Therefore, I urge all Members to show their commitment towards the battle of the bulge and support our motion. Diolch yn fawr.

The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes. I will therefore defer voting until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

6. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Adverse childhood experiences

The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 3 and 4 in the name of Siân Gwenllian, and amendment 2 in the name of Lesley Griffiths. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected.

The next item this afternoon is the second Welsh Conservative debate on adverse childhood experiences. I call on Gareth Davies to move the motion.

Motion NDM7905 Darren Millar

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Recognises the impact that adverse childhood experiences have on health, educational attainment and substance abuse later on in life.

2. Believes that greater focus should be given to preventing child abuse and neglect than dealing with the outcomes.

3. Calls on the Welsh Government to set a target of reducing child abuse, neglect and other adverse childhood experiences by 70 per cent by 2030.

Motion moved.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Deputy Llywydd, and I'm honoured to formally move the motion, tabled in the name of Darren Millar, and to open this debate on such an important but difficult topic.

Like many of us here in this Chamber, I pledged my support for the WAVE Trust's target of a 70 per cent reduction in adverse childhood experiences by the end of this decade. During the last Senedd, almost every Member supported the 70/30 pledge. In fact, the only ones who did not support setting targets to tackle child abuse were Welsh Government Ministers, even though the former First Minister, Carwyn Jones, told the Chamber that he supported the work of the WAVE Trust.

We have a real opportunity before us today. We can re-affirm our commitment to the 70/30 target and put Wales on a path to becoming one of the leading nations when it comes to tackling adverse childhood experiences. Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, can have such devastating impacts on individuals. They raise the risk of poor physical and mental health, contribute to poorer educational outcomes and lead to shorter life expectancies. We have all seen the stats and believe we understand the issues, but it's not until you speak to victims to hear their story that you can truly grasp the scale of the problems facing many children, young people and adults. The trauma impacts and drives their lives off their tracks.

One such victim shared their harrowing story with me. They were sexually abused at the age of 12. This horrific experience was compounded as the rape resulted in pregnancy and then a miscarriage. The trauma continued throughout her young life. More sexual assaults followed as did two teenage pregnancies. The individual did not finish their formal education and turned to drink and drugs. She ended up addicted to heroin and said she contemplated taking her life more than once.

Throughout this traumatic ordeal, she cried out for help. The only help she received was anti-depressants. When she became pregnant, again, she asked for help with addiction, only to be prescribed Subutex with little regard for the impact this could have had upon her unborn child. All through this multiple-decade ordeal, she reached out to many agencies for help. Over 150 different departments and people interacted with her, yet none offered support without judgment. One of her older children went on to abuse drugs and alcohol.

It was only when she heard about WAVE Trust and learnt about adverse childhood experiences that she took action to turn her life around. Without help, she kicked the heroin habit all by herself and is proud to be two years sober. She did this for her children, but we continue to let her and them down. She has been prescribed trauma therapy, but told there is more than a two-year wait.

She hopes, by sharing her story, she can help prevent anyone else living with the same hell as she has been through. She fell through the cracks, as did her children. She didn’t get help for her child because she lived in the wrong postcode, as she resided in a perceived affluent area that didn't qualify for Flying Start nor Families First.

How can this happen in a modern Wales? I really don’t know, but what I do know is that we have to take action, and that journey starts with us officially adopting the 70/30 target. It won’t magically fix everything, but it will focus minds. Welsh Government have been reluctant to adopt 70/30 because it's both not ambitious enough nor fully in the Government's ambit. This didn’t stop the Scottish Government, and it shouldn’t stop us. And if we are going to put an end to the abuse and trauma impacting children’s lives, then we have to take the first step.

My party pledges to make a 70 per cent reduction in adverse childhood experiences by 2030. Will you?

16:10

I have selected the four amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected. I call on Heledd Fychan to move amendments 1, 3 and 4, tabled in the name of Siân Gwenllian, and to speak to them.

Amendment 1—Siân Gwenllian

Delete all after point 1, and replace with:

Believes that tackling distress during childhood and early intervention must be prioritised in order to give the best start to all children in Wales.

Notes the evidence that there has been an increase in adverse childhood experiences as a result of COVID-19.

Amendment 3—Siân Gwenllian

Add as new point at end of motion:

Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that there will be clear targets in the adverse childhood experiences plan that will be published this summer to measure its effectiveness.

Amendment 4—Siân Gwenllian

Add as new point at end of motion:

Calls on the Welsh Government to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child fully into Welsh law.

Amendments 1, 3 and 4 moved.