Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

08/03/2022

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

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

And as we begin our work this week, again, I'm sure that we will all have the people of Ukraine in our thoughts at this time, and today, on International Women's Day, that we specifically remember the women and girls who are currently in Ukraine trying to flee the country or hiding from the bombing that they're experiencing. So, we will keep them all at the forefront of our thoughts and in our hearts. 

1. Questions to the First Minister

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

Digital Connectivity

1. Will the First Minister provide an update on Welsh Government plans to improve digital connectivity in north Wales? OQ57754

I thank Carolyn Thomas for that question, Llywydd. Full-fibre broadband connectivity has been provided to 9,200 homes and businesses across north Wales through our current £56 million investment. The Access Broadband Cymru and the local broadband fund schemes are also available to improve broadband connectivity.

Thank you for the answer, First Minister. Digital connectivity has never been more important, and urgent action is needed to ensure no community is left behind. For broadband infrastructure to be cost-effective, it will need to be designed comprehensively with long-term benefits in mind that serve everyone. Communities right across north Wales, including rural Wales, are underserved by corporate providers due to being less profitable. Installing such a network would help mitigate digital exclusion, create skilled jobs and attract high-tech industries. In Liverpool, a joint venture project has been championed by Liverpool city metro mayor, Steve Rotheram, and this partnership means that public investment gives the authority a stake in the organisation, and, in turn, rather than profitability being the only concern, social benefit, and the public can continue to reap the benefits for years to come. Does the First Minister agree with me that such a joint venture project would be in the interests of the Welsh public, and would officials be willing to investigate such an option to dynamically drive forward digital connectivity in north Wales, which is currently happening on a piecemeal, very slow basis? Diolch. 

Llywydd, I thank Carolyn Thomas for that. I'm pleased to be able to say to her that Welsh Government officials have already met with the company who are working with our colleague Steve Rotheram, in the Liverpool city region and developing that very innovative solution for that city. We will continue to work through the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, who have made digital connectivity one of their priority areas. There's £25 million being provided for digital connectivity, and there are, as I know the Member will know, four different components to the plan that the north Wales growth deal has developed: connected campuses to make sure that young people have access to broadband; connected corridors to make sure that businesses are connected; key sites, both public and private; and then reaching the final few per cent of people who are at the hardest, most distant end from digital connectivity. Three of those four purposes could be served by an arrangement of the sort that has been developed in the Liverpool city region, and we will continue to work closely with the economic ambition board to see whether the idea that has been developed in Liverpool and whether there are aspects of that that could be successfully transferred as part of the effort being made in north Wales. 

First Minister, despite BT having been paid approximately £220 million to bring superfast broadband to around 96 per cent of premises between 2014 and 2018, and the organisation currently running a successor scheme to connect 39,000 premises, it still remains the fact that there are premises across Wales with unreliable internet. And in my constituency of Aberconwy, I have people who cannot receive any service. So, according to Business Wales, superfast broadband can have a positive impact on profit margins, staff productivity costs, and much more. Now, given the undeniable benefit there is, an immediate step that I feel you as our First Minister could take to provide a superfast internet hub for businesses in Aberconwy is to repurpose at least part of the underutilised building in Llandudno Junction—the Welsh Government building—to become a flexible digital working hub. Now, you did respond very positively to this idea on 9 November, so an update on that would be great, because, I tell you now, I've actually received enquiries from businesses wanting to actually go into that building. I wrote to you on 21 January, and I'm still yet to receive a reply, so an update would be really appreciated. Diolch, Llywydd.

13:35

Llywydd, I thank the Member. It's good to see her do her bit for International Women's Day on the Tory benches in this Chamber. She will know that digital connectivity and telecommunications are not devolved to the Welsh Government. Every penny that this Government spends in this area is a penny that we spend because of the failure of her Government to invest properly in Wales. And I remember, Llywydd, as others will, that her party went into the last Senedd elections, in May of last year, with a manifesto commitment not to spend in non-devolved areas. So, while she urges me to do more, had she been—[Interruption.]—had she been—[Interruption.]—had she been in power, not likely of course, but had that happened here, there'd be no expenditure at all on this matter by the Welsh Government, because that is the policy that her party put in front of the people of Wales, to be, of course, so comprehensively rejected, which is why we do go on investing in superfast broadband in all parts of Wales, including to the Llandudno Junction office.

I did respond positively to the Member. We are very keen to have remote working hubs, where people can come, don't have to travel the distances they've had to in the past, learn the lessons of the pandemic, and to use buildings for more than a single purpose—whether that is in the Llandudno Junction context, the Welsh Government's use of it, but it may be possible for the building to be used for wider purposes, by other public sector bodies, third sector organisations, private sector partners in a number of the hubs we've developed elsewhere in Wales. So, this is a continuously developing programme. There are, inevitably, as I know the Member will understand, some additional security issues that have to be thought of when you're allowing wider access to a building where there is sensitive information in circulation, and safety of staff and other users. But I can assure her that the basic idea is one we continue to think of positively and want to take forward.

I declare an interest as a member of the 5G EDC project consortium—an unpaid member, Llywydd. We've heard about the societal benefits of a full-fibre spine in north Wales, First Minister, but another advantage to having that network in north Wales is the ability to go on and develop 5G technology for the future, in rural communities that perhaps are hard to reach with traditional methods. I want to see north Wales be a global leader with this. We've heard again where the UK Conservative Government has let north Wales down with regard to full-fibre technology within this space. First Minister, I know officials have had conversations already, but will you instruct them to have further conversations with Bangor University and their partners in developing this type of technology so that we can become the global leader? And how can the Welsh Government support further, in funding these types of projects, where the UK Conservative Government, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, fail to do so?

Llywydd, that's a very good example that Jack Sargeant cites of exactly the point I was making earlier, about the way in which the Welsh Government has had to step in to make good for the lack of investment—not just lack of investment, but lack of interest, Llywydd—in making sure that parts of north Wales have the investment that is needed. Jack Sargeant is right, Llywydd—our officials have already had discussions with the Digital Signal Processing Centre. It's another project where the North Wales Economic Ambition Board has been part of the development of the centre, including some millions of pounds in practical investment. There's an application that the Welsh Government has seen, and will be considering, to fund research into 5G and to deliver 5G broadband projects, particularly on Ynys Môn, and my officials will, indeed, be continuing those discussions with the centre. 

13:40
Racial Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System

2. What discussions is the Welsh Government having with the Ministry of Justice and police and crime commissioners to tackle racial discrimination in the criminal justice system in Wales? OQ57734

Thank you very much to Rhys ab Owen for the question, Llywydd. We continue to work closely with police and crime commissioners and justice partners through the criminal justice in Wales board to ensure our race equality action plans tackle discrimination in the justice system. Next week, I will chair the policing partnership board for Wales, where these issues will be discussed.

Thank you, First Minister, and thank you for the Government's work within the criminal justice system in Wales, which, of course, is not devolved to Wales. 

Now, we have known for decades about the prejudices faced by people of ethnic minority within the justice system globally. What we have not known, until recent years, is that racial prejudice within the justice system in Wales seems to be worse here in Wales than in England. Through the work of the Cardiff University Wales Governance Centre, we now know that black offenders receive the highest average custodial sentence length in Wales, whilst white offenders receive the lowest average custodial sentence length. New stop-and-search data by the governance centre show that matters in Wales are far worse than in England. For every 1,000 white persons living in Wales, eight were stopped and searched, and this compares to 56 per 1,000 people in the black community in Wales. Individuals from black, ethnic backgrounds in Wales were seven times over-represented within police use of restraint, six times over-represented in police use of weapons, such as tasers. Now, these are disgraceful figures, which should worry all of us within this Chamber. I'm pleased that Wales is called a nation of refuge, but it can't really be called genuinely a nation of refuge if people in the black population are far more likely to be dragged into the criminal justice system than their white contemporaries. Now, will the Prif Weinidog set up an inquiry to analyse the extent of the racial prejudice within our justice system so we can understand why it's happening and address that fully? Diolch yn fawr. 

Well, I thank Rhys ab Owen for that, and congratulate the Wales Governance Centre on the continuing work that they do and the very important, if very bleak, insights that they are providing to us through the work that they do. The figures to which the Member referred in terms of stop and search are obviously very concerning indeed, but they come on top of the work that we've seen already from the centre. It is a shocking figure, and I'm sure it will be shocking to people around the whole Chamber when that research reveals the fact that, while 14 white people in Wales are imprisoned for every 100,000 people in the population, 91 black people are imprisoned, and that is a shocking analysis. It's why, in the co-operation between our two parties, we have a specific commitment to ensure that the justice elements of the race equality action plan are robust and address these matters with the police and the courts, and that is the way in which we intend to take forward the practical ways in which we can address the figures that we've discussed this afternoon.

The long-term answer, Llywydd, is surely the devolution of policing and justice. And it is my belief, that that is not a matter of if it will happen, it is a matter of when it will happen. It should and it will happen, and that's because the case for doing so is so clear and reinforced by exactly the information that Rhys ab Owen has highlighted this afternoon. Where we have been able to have a strong influence, Llywydd, then we show the difference that we can make. Our influence has probably been strongest in the field of youth justice. A decade ago, in 2011, there were over 3,000 young people brought into the youth justice system for the first time that year. Ten years later, last year, that figure was under 400. Again, back in 2011, 109 young people in Wales were sentenced to custody that year. Last year, it was 17, the lowest figure ever on record. And that's why I feel confident that we will see the devolution of policing and justice, because we can show that, when we have the opportunity, we are able to deliver those services more efficiently and more effectively. Because when they are delivered locally they can be tailored, prioritised and implemented according to the values and the approach that we would wish to see for that service here in Wales.

13:45

First Minister, the HM Inspectorate of Prisons 'Children in Custody' report found that a disproportionately high number of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children were in the criminal justice system. Typically, 11 per cent of children in secure training centres and 6 per cent of children in youth offending institutions are from a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller background, compared to 0.1 per cent of the whole population. The report also highlighted that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children have a greater difficulty in engaging with youth offending teams and education provision when in custody. The reasons for this are extremely complex, but there seems to be a connection to when children are first taken into custody and their overall experience and outcomes. It has been found that very often family and friends who act as appropriate adults do not always understand the processes involved, and in addition the children in custody can also feel overwhelmed. This then leads on to feelings of mistrust and isolation for children when they're in custody. First Minister, could you explain what actions this Government has taken in terms of working with the Ministry of Justice and police and crime commissioners to identify the specific needs of children from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in Wales when they enter the criminal justice system? What extra support do you believe is needed for children from these communities? Thank you.

All those are very important points that the Member has made. The single biggest way in which we have been able to address that challenge in Wales is, as I said earlier, in reducing year on year the total number of children from Wales who find themselves in custody, down to the lowest ever figure last year. That will mean that we have been able to have a benefit for those young people from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community. But, more does need to be done, we know, because of the discrimination and disadvantage that children from those backgrounds face. We have significant investment from the Welsh Government in providing particular services to help meet the needs of those communities and that expertise is available to people who work in our youth justice system. I don't think it's unfair of me, Llywydd, even with what was a very constructive question, to point to the fact that there is legislation going through the House of Commons at the moment, taken forward by the Conservative Party, that will lead to the criminalisation of more people from that community, legislation to which this Senedd has refused to give its consent.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Thank you, First Minister—Presiding Officer, sorry. [Laughter.] You haven't quite had the promotion yet. First Minister, Russia and Ukraine produce about a third of the world's wheat exports. Ukraine, historically, has been known as the breadbasket of Europe, but because of the awful events that we are seeing unfold in this part of the world, the cost of wheat, for example, has jumped by a third, and forward markets indicate a doubling of the price of wheat. It's not just wheat, but fertilizer and many other fundamental aspects of food production that are going through the roof in their price, and availability is coming short. What work has the Welsh Government undertaken to understand the impact on food production here in Wales, and what actions does the Welsh Government believe it can take to alleviate some of these pressures that we are seeing on a global market?

I agree of course with what the leader of the opposition has said about those wider impacts of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine, between them, provide about 30 per cent of global wheat exports. We're not as exposed directly to that in the United Kingdom as other parts of the world. Indeed, it is the poorer parts of the world that are more directly exposed—90 per cent, for example, of wheat used in Lebanon comes from Russia, whereas we're 88 per cent self-sufficient in wheat. But, global prices will rise in the way that the Member indicated and we will be affected by the impact on production here in the United Kingdom. Forty per cent of the world's supply of potash comes from Belarus and Russia, and significant exports of ammonia, also used in the production of fertiliser, come from the same part of the world.

Welsh Government officials have carried out an analysis of the extent to which Wales will be exposed, not just in terms of food production but other things as well. The price of nickel has doubled this week on the world's market and it's used in industries that are important here in Wales—semiconductor chips, smartphones, electric vehicles and so on, and a range of other things. So, our job, Llywydd, it seems to me, is to carry out the best assessment we can of the impact here in Wales and then to use the opportunities we have to feed that information into the assessment that the UK Government is making. Because the key decisions that can be made in order to try to address some of these consequences will be the responsibility best discharged at a UK level. We continue to have opportunities where we are able to make sure that the best available information and analysis that we can provide from a Welsh perspective is fed into that ongoing process. 

13:50

First Minister, the chief executive of Yara, which is the world's largest fertiliser producer, said it's not a case of if we have food shortages, it's more a case of the scale of those food shortages because of events in Ukraine. We have an agriculture Bill coming before the Senedd, being introduced by the Minister in April. The dynamics changed fundamentally two weeks ago when Putin invaded the breadbasket of Europe. Do you see from your understanding of the situation changes needed to be made in that agriculture Bill? It's an agriculture Bill that will be the first agriculture Bill for 75 years, and will guide the direction of policy and incentives that may be available to the agricultural industry here in Wales to make up the difference, albeit in a limited capacity because of the land mass that Wales forms as part of the wider land mass of the global food supply chain. But it is an important opportunity to consider the new world we live in today, and that Bill will be a fundamental plank to make up some of these differences.

The agriculture Bill will, of course, support the production of food by Welsh farmers, and the changing nature of the marketplace, the Member is right, needs to be taken into account in that. But, the agriculture Bill will also reward active farmers who produce public goods that the public is prepared to pay for. Both of those aspects of the Bill will continue to be important. Where farmers are able to produce food for which there is a market, the Bill will provide the mechanisms by which that can be supported, but there are other very important things that farmers do that we believe there is a public interest in supporting, and the Bill will provide for those aspects as well.

First Minister, the events of two weeks ago have moved food security to the centre stage, I would suggest, and the whole responsibility of agricultural policy does reside on your Government benches. I do hope that you will consider the new elements that we're facing and the new challenges and opportunities we're facing when that Bill is introduced to us here in April. The Irish Government, some years ago, formed a policy document called 'Food Harvest 2020'. In that document, they pulled together the farmers, the processors and the retailers to build a consensus about how to reach the challenge of producing more food in the Republic of Ireland. Will you, in light of what has gone on in Ukraine, call a food summit of farmers, processors and retailers, so that they can inform the policy development work and outcomes of the Welsh Government so that Wales can play its part in growing its food production base, and play our part in the overall food security goals of this country?

13:55

There is to be an inter-ministerial group, bringing together Ministers from across the United Kingdom, on 21 March. The Welsh Government has asked for food security to be placed on the agenda of that inter-ministerial group. I'll ask my colleague Lesley Griffiths to discuss with her contacts in the Welsh agricultural industry, with whom she is in contact all the time, when that meeting has taken place, to explore with them whether a meeting of the sort the leader of the opposition has suggested would be of value to them. Of course, the Welsh Government always has to calibrate our proposals in the light of changing circumstances. The agriculture Bill will have a new context with events in Ukraine, but it's had a new context as a result of trade deals struck with Australia and New Zealand as well—trade deals that are hostile to the interests of Welsh agriculture, and also form part of the context within which that Bill has to come forward.

Diolch, Llywydd. On this International Women's Day, it's impossible not to think about those many Ukrainian women, many with children, tired, traumatised, desperate, having travelled out of a war zone and across the European continent only to be turned away at Calais by UK Government officials and told they have to go to Paris or Brussels to make an application for a visa. Where is the humanity of the British Government when it does something as risibly cold-hearted as that? Contrast that with the red carpets that were rolled out and the golden visas that were handed out to the Prime Minister's Russian oligarch friends. Contrast that to the situation in the Republic of Ireland, which has already welcomed over 1,800 refugees without visas, six times the number that have been issued visas by the UK so far, a state 10 times the size of the Republic of Ireland. Isn't it time the UK Government showed the sense of moral urgency that a situation of this gravity, the largest refugee crisis in Europe since world war two, commands?

Every time I meet with UK Ministers in relation to events in Ukraine, they assure me that the UK Government wants to do everything it can to make provision for people who will want to make their way to this country because of the desperate situation they face there. What we desperately need is to see those intentions translated into services on the ground that those people can use and can use in a way that recognises the circumstances that they now face. The accounts of what has happened in Calais have damaged the reputation of this country around the world. When the Home Secretary said that she was sending a 'surge team' to Calais to help people, it turned out to be three people with a box of KitKats and crisps. How can the UK Government possibly think that people in those circumstances are going to be able to make their way across the continent of Europe to yet further capitals? If they get to Brussels, they've not only got to get there, but they've got to get there on the right day, because the service available is only open for half the week. This is absolutely not what people in this country expect their Government to be doing. The level of generosity shown here in Wales and across the United Kingdom to people who now need our help is absolutely striking, isn't it? They expect their Government to respond in the same way. They do not expect people who live in this country already, who are British citizens already, to be turned away at Calais and told that they don't have the right piece of paper and now have to make their way elsewhere. I really think this is the day where the things that UK Ministers say have to be turned into the effective actions that are needed to make sure that those people who need our help can be confident that they will get it.

14:00

First Minister, in May 1937 hundreds of Basque children fleeing fascism were welcomed in Wales as part of a concerted effort organised voluntarily—again, in the teeth of inaction from the British Government at the time. Is this something that we can seek to emulate now, not in the hundreds, but in the thousands? The UK Government talks about a humanitarian pathway involving sponsorship by local authorities or private individuals or companies—a wholly unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle in our view. But given they have placed that obstacle there, could we help minimise it by creating a nationally co-ordinated Welsh sponsorship scheme, and could you update us on the potentially very positive discussions that are ongoing in relation to the use of our national airport as a receiving entry point for Ukrainian refugees?

I thank Adam Price for that. I have already raised with UK Ministers ways in which we could do things differently here in Wales, using the experience we have of working with our local authorities, with our third sector organisations, so that we have a simple, swift, safe and legal route for people wanting to make their way to this country. There are further discussions to be had this week, and what I've asked the UK Government to do is to give us the flexibility that we would need here in Wales to be able to do things in the most effective way, because we are simply better placed to be able to do that closer to where those decisions need to be made than somebody sitting in Whitehall trying to devise a further bureaucratic solution to the humanitarian crisis.

And if we are able to play a part through the offer that Wizz Air has made, and Members here will know about it—Wizz Air offering to fly, at its own expense, 100,000 people to the United Kingdom, particularly from those countries that have already absorbed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people into their communities while we struggle to get a handful of people into the United Kingdom. So, Wizz Air has made that offer. Cardiff Airport could be an important part of making that happen. We of course are in conversations with the chief executive and others in the team at the airport. They are on standby right round the clock to be part of any further discussions. There will be more meetings later this week to see whether or not playing a part in that way could become part of the way in which the United Kingdom discharges our moral obligation, as the leader of Plaid Cymru said—our moral obligation to do everything we can to help.

Turning, First Minister, to the situation facing women here in Wales on this International Women's Day, Chwarae Teg's annual 'State of the Nation' report showed that in 2021 Wales's gender pay gap, already significant, increased further. Women remain four times more likely to cite looking after the family or home as the reason for not engaging in the formal paid economy, and we see larger gender gaps emerge in terms of pay, employment and average hours for older women who are more likely to have caring responsibilities. Inequality in the economy will only be eradicated when women are able to enter and progress in work in the same way as men. With this in mind, do you agree that free universal childcare for every child, at the very least over the age of 1, should be a policy goal that we should set in Wales as part of our commitment to achieving genuine gender justice?

Well, Llywydd, childcare services clearly are a fundamental part of ensuring that there can be equal participation in the workplace, and equal pay as part of that deal as well. We are committed through our co-operation agreement to extend free childcare to children from the age of 2 onwards. That is a significant financial commitment, but as I know the leader of Plaid Cymru knows as well, it isn't just money—you have to have in place the trained workforce, you have to have in place the premises that you need, and a great deal of work is going on to make sure that we can have all of those components in place to move that further, next and important step on that journey.

Later this afternoon, my colleague Jane Hutt will be making a statement on the floor of the Senedd to mark International Women's Day, and I know that she will have more to say on childcare, on violence against women, on providing the real living wage in social care, and a range of other policy initiatives that this Government is taking and that we are very keen to highlight today. 

14:05
Community Empowerment

3. What is the Welsh Government policy regarding community empowerment? OQ57740

Llywydd, experience of the coronavirus pandemic has powerfully illustrated the continued vitality of local action in Wales. The Welsh Government continues to support such actions through the promotion of best practice and the provision of significant annual funding.

As I've repeatedly stated here since the UK Localism Act 2011, the Welsh Government has proven strangely averse to implementing its community rights agenda. And although the well-being objectives in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 include people contributing to their community, being informed, included and listened to, too often this hasn't happened because it's not been monitored, because people in power don't want to share it or to understand that this would create more efficient and effective services. January's Wales Co-operative Centre discussion paper, 'Communities Creating Homes', states Wales is trailing other nations in the UK when it comes to community ownership rights, adding that the policies in Wales do not offer quite the same empowerment as enjoyed by communities in England or, particularly, Scotland, as they either focus solely on assets and facilities owned by public bodies or necessitate the direct involvement of a public body to implement the power. And the Institute of Welsh Affairs's recent 'Our Land: Communities and Land Use' report found that Welsh communities are the least empowered in Britain, and community groups in Wales told them about an arbitrary, demoralising scenario with little real process for communities to take ownership of public or private assets. How do you therefore respond to calls in both these new reports for the Welsh Government to strengthen community empowerment and ownership rights? 

Llywydd, I simply don't agree with some of the points that are made in some of those reports. There are other parts that are very useful and constructive, and that we will wish to discuss further and to take forward. But the truth of the matter is that in every single part of Wales, there are community groups because of the actions of this Government who today are able to take on the running and management of facilities that otherwise would not have been available to them, who are able to be involved in the provision of those services, and where a partnership approach—. See, this is where he and I differ. His view of community empowerment is simply to hand things over to somebody else. Our view of it is that a partnership arrangement with the help of a public body can continue to be available to groups who, in taking on the running or the management of community assets, need to have—this is one of the conclusions of the report that we instigated into community asset transfer—the continued interest and engagement of a public authority able to help them with what are sometimes onerous things that are taken on.

And where this is done well, as, for example, in Labour-controlled Flintshire County Council in the Member's own area, you have a council that publishes a register of all potential asset transfers, gives information about the current level of expenditure, the usage and the occupancy rates, has an app that provides a potential community group with an up-to-date condition survey—all of this commended by those groups with which it works, and that has resulted in up to 30 transfer of assets from the council to groups that are not then abandoned to get on with it, but continue to be helped and supported. That is the sort of community empowerment that I think we talk about and mean here in Wales.

First Minister, I've heard what you've been saying to Mark Isherwood. I wonder if I could press you more on this sense of not just empowerment, but communities' sense of empowerment, because the IWA report that Mark Isherwood has referred to does make for sobering reading in terms of how unempowered, then, communities feel. The evidence that they have gathered has found that there are nearly universally negative views about the situation in Wales. And, again, I take on board the points that you've been saying, First Minister, but in terms of finding that link with communities, in terms of having this sense of empowerment and what is possible, I'd be really interested to hear your views.

We've heard as well that Scottish communities since 2001 have had funding available to take control of assets; legislation has been available there since 2003. In England the Localism Act does empower community groups. And the statutory rights and the funds aren't available in the same way in Wales. Again, whether a community is empowered or not is only really, truly, in a meaningful sense important if they feel that empowerment. So, could I ask, how do you think that that link could be made more so that communities feel the sense of empowerment in the same way in Wales, please?

14:10

Well, Llywydd, it's a really interesting question and deserves a longer answer than what I can offer this afternoon, because if we were to explore it in the way that Delyth Jewell began there, we'd start by recognising that when we use the word 'community' we are talking about places like any other place, where there are differences of view, where there is no single idea about the best way to take things forward, and where there is very different access, not simply to financial resources, but human capital as well. There are communities who are fortunate to have a call on people with experience, qualifications, knowledge that they can bring to the table and make things happen.

I think, in my own constituency, Llywydd, just recently, of a formidable group of women—I should say, on International Women's Day—who came to see me from the Llandaff part of my constituency, who wanted to buy a disused toilet block that was in the ownership of the local authority and turn it into a centre for services for older people in the community. And they've done it. They've done it in just a short number of years. They persuaded the council to donate the building to them for 1p. The community facilities programme—[Interruption.] Thank you. That was the cost of the building. [Laughter.] The community facilities programme of the Welsh Government provided £225,000 to them. But what they were able to do, because of their own histories and their own connections, was that they were able to mobilise a group of people with accountancy experience, with architecture experience, with running of buildings experience, and it was put to work, and I don't think they felt for a moment that they weren't empowered or that they didn't have the capacity.

But you don't have to go far from Llandaff to find a community where people are equally motivated, equally ambitious, but just can't call on the same resources that were available there, and that's where I think our efforts have to be focused, in making sure that we grow that human capacity in those areas, so that people do feel that the opportunities are there. The community facilities programme, Llywydd—since 2015 over £40 million to 280 projects in every part of Wales. Every single local authority has examples. Every Member here will have examples that they have supported of community efforts to take on buildings, church halls, sports facilities, green spaces—all the things that that programme represents—but we know that we get more applications from places that are already well resourced than we do from places who need those facilities the most, and that, it seems to me, is the real challenge that we have to try to work on further.

First Minister, last week I chaired the launch of a very interesting report from the Wales Co-operative Centre into enhancing community ownership of land and increasing community housing opportunities. I know this was raised in Plenary with the climate change Minister and I welcome her comments, but an additional key recommendation from the report was to develop a standardised approach to community asset transfers for public bodies. While appreciating the good examples you have given in answer to my colleagues on this question already, I'd like to ask what work Welsh Government is doing around this, so that all communities can be empowered to take charge of those assets that may be so important to them locally.

14:15

I thank Vikki Howells for that, Llywydd. I referred earlier to Welsh Government-commissioned research that we published that is about community asset transfer in Wales, and the purpose of the research was to look at the conditions that enable that to happen effectively and then to the barriers that prevent it from taking place.

As a result of the research, we published detailed guidance to support community groups looking to take on publicly owned assets, and it's a key finding—I was drawing on that when I made an earlier answer, Llywydd—it's a key finding of that research that, while most local authorities provide a good level of support during the transfer period, it's a minority of local authorities that provide support to that group post transfer. And for community asset transfers that succeed, the need to continue to be able to draw on a level of post-transfer support is one of the things that that report highlighted.

We're taking it forward through Ystadau Cymru, the group that we have in the Welsh Government that focuses on land and assets, and want to work with local authorities, particularly those who have seen the greatest success, to make sure that that best practice and the lessons that we've learned from the research can go on supporting those communities who wish to take charge of assets, and then are able successfully to go on discharging the responsibilities that they have taken on.

Dentists

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the reduction in the number of practising dentists in the NHS in South Wales West? OQ57739

Llywydd, a reduction in the number of NHS dentists in South Wales West is primarily due to the effect of boundary changes on data reporting. Brexit and the COVID pandemic have also reduced the overall level of dental activity and that too is reflected in these figures.

Diolch. The health board with the highest percentage reduction in NHS dentists was Swansea Bay University Health Board, which serves residents in my region, with 22 per cent fewer dentists in 2021, compared to the previous year. The effect of the pandemic and boundary changes may partly be responsible for this situation, but the fall in NHS dentists is a long-standing trend, and the British Dental Association believes that unhappiness with NHS dental contracts is a key factor.

The health Minister has admitted in her reply to my letter on this matter that there will be delays for new patients seeking regular care, but constituents who are registered patients are telling me that they are being turned away if they don't need emergency treatment; hundreds of people who have been affected by this crisis have contacted me—hundreds of them—one mother in Gorseinon saying, 'I have a three-year-old who is yet to have his first-ever visit to a dentist. Every time I call, they say they're only able to see emergencies.' Other patients report of having better treatment in the private sector, some NHS patients even being told that they'll be seen if they pay.

Does the First Minister agree with me this is completely unacceptable, and with regular dental care being vital in preventing oral health problems from occurring in the first place, what is the Government doing to address this scandal that is seeing patients, including children, having to face significant delays, or, in many cases, being turned away entirely?

Well, Llywydd, let me begin by just correcting the record on one important thing that the Member said in the beginning, when she suggested that the reduction in the number of dentists in Wales was part of a long-term trend. In fact, the number of dentists providing NHS care in Wales rose every year between 2006-07 and 2018-19, and, in 2018-19, the number of dentists carrying out NHS work in Wales went above 1,500 for the first time. So, actually, the long-term trend is exactly the opposite to the one that the Member suggested.

The downturn in the numbers in the last couple of years is, particularly in the Swansea bay area, most explained—not partially explained—it is most explained by the changes in the boundaries, because the health board that saw the largest increase in the number of dentists is the health board that gained the Bridgend area of the previous health board. That's why the numbers went down in the way they did; there was a whole chunk of the health board that was no longer in the health board.

But the important points—the important points—are the ones the Member made in the second part of her contribution, because, of course, we want to see a recovery and growth in the ability of the dental profession in Wales to provide for more people than it is able to at the moment. The pandemic continues to have a bigger impact on dentistry than on any other part of the NHS, because those aerosol-generating procedures continue to mean that dentists are not able to see the volume of patients that they were able to in less challenging circumstances.

'How will we tackle that?' the Member asks, and it's a perfectly proper question. Well, here are three ways. First of all, as we emerge from the pandemic, we will be working with the profession so that they can safely see more patients within their premises. The Welsh Government has provided significant investment to dentists, for example, to improving ventilation in dental premises so they can see more patients safely.

Secondly, we will introduce contract reform, beginning, again, in earnest in April of this year. We will offer dentists a choice. Members of the British Dental Association will have a choice. They will be able to opt for the new contract, the better contract in my mind, because it will mean that dentists use their skills to the maximum extent and don't do as much routine and repetitive work as has been in the past in order to earn the incomes that they do, but those who prefer to continue to have their practices based on units of dental activity will be able to opt for that as well. I believe the contract reform will be in the long-term interests of the profession and of patients.

And then the third way, Llywydd, that we will address the need to increase the supply of NHS dentistry in Wales is to liberalise the profession. We need to make sure that there is a wider skill mix, that we don't have dentists who are very highly trained and very expensively trained doing work that does not require the level of skill that the dentist possesses. And the dental profession, if I'm being frank about it, has been the slowest of the primary care professions to move in that direction. There are ways in which we will be able to invest in the training of hygienists and therapists who perfectly clinically competently, under the supervision of a dentist, are able to do more work today than they do in most parts of Wales, and that will allow us to have a different sort of service here in Wales in the future.

14:20
Recovery from COVID-19

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's approach to recovery from COVID-19 in Mid and West Wales? OQ57774

Llywydd, I thank Joyce Watson for that. Our transition plan, published on 4 March, continues our well-established approach to the pandemic, informed by the best advice, focused on living safely with COVID-19 and prepared for new threats that the virus could yet pose.

First Minister, the gradual, science-led response of the Welsh Government to the pandemic has been supported by the majority of people in Wales. How confident are you of the ability of Wales to continue to take that approach, and what assessment have you made of the impact UK Government actions may have on that?

Llywydd, I thank Joyce Watson for that important question. We are on track, we believe, to move beyond alert level 0 on 28 March. And on Friday of last week, we published our transition plan, which is all about living safely with the virus. We are moving from the emergency to the endemic state of dealing with the pandemic, and, while we are living safely with the virus, we will rely on good advice, properly informed, as the Member said, by the best clinical and scientific advice available to us. We will have to rely on the continued responsibility of individual citizens here in Wales, and then that sense of responsibility will be underpinned by actions that only Governments can take. And that is where the actions of the UK Government are concerning to us. The abrupt, cliff-edge end to testing in England has, in the perverse way of the system, driven Barnett consequentials into Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that constrain our ability to make different choices of a public health nature, and really that cannot be acceptable.

We have two major concerns at the way in which the UK Government is rushing to remove the protections that have been available to citizens over the last two years. First of all, we have to have a sufficient capacity of surveillance so that we are able to spot whether there are new variants emerging here in Wales, new variants being imported from other parts of the world, or simply local outbreaks, where you need to have a more intensive public health response. Without adequate testing, having an adequate surveillance system becomes more difficult.

And secondly, I have a real concern about the way in which it will be possible in future to rebuild a system should we face an unexpected surprise. The UK Government has decided unilaterally to close the Imperial Park 5 laboratory in Newport at the end of this month. Wales will be the only part of the United Kingdom, or of Great Britain at least, without a testing laboratory of that sort available to us. I ask UK Ministers repeatedly what would happen in the autumn if we were to see a different variant emerge and a need for a new, stepped-up level of testing to be available to deal with it, and so far, Llywydd, I can tell you that there is no answer to that at all. Once you have dismantled a sophisticated laboratory of the sort we've had in Newport, when you take that equipment away, when you say to the people who have served us so well over the last two years that we're going to dispense with their services in a few short weeks, do we really expect that they will simply re-emerge when we need them again in an emergency? These are short-sighted actions, they are driven by the Treasury, in my view, not by the department of health in London, and I hope that we will not all have to live to regret them.

14:25
The Urban Centre Property Enhancement Fund

6. Will the First Minister provide an update on the urban centre property enhancement fund in the Bridgend local authority area? OQ57768

Llywydd, the fund to which the Member refers ended in April of last year. Its successor programme includes an expanded list of ways in which funding can be applied to urban centre improvement, and that investment continues to be available in the Bridgend county borough.

I thank the First Minister for that answer. I was recently contacted by Nadim, who was awarded a grant from the fund to renovate his business, Zia Nina, in Bridgend town centre. After the awarding of the grant, Nadim began the necessary work, including planning and architectural designs, but has struggled to find builders to complete the work on time due to difficulty in acquiring the necessary materials. He has now been instructed by Bridgend County Borough Council to complete the work by the end of this month, which is not possible due to builder delays. Paragraph 3.3 of the September 2021 report into the scheme stated that there is scope for possible extension beyond March 2022. Whilst Nadim and I are grateful that Zia Nina has been awarded this grant, would the First Minister confirm whether extension can be granted in such circumstances, given that the fund is delivered in partnership with Welsh Government?

Well, Llywydd, this is a matter for Bridgend County Borough Council, but, anticipating the next question, thanks to the Member's social media publicity, I am more familiar with the Zia Nina restaurant in Bridgend than I was hitherto the case. So, I'm pleased to be able to say to him that I am told that Bridgend council officers met with the business owner and his agent on 3 March, last week, to discuss a way forward with the project. When the grant was originally awarded, it was clearly on the terms that the work could and would be completed within the current financial year, but there are reasons, to which Luke Fletcher has referred. My note says that Bridgend council officers have told our officials that they are hopeful that they will be able to support the owner's project proposals in the future and that, as a result of the meeting held between them, both parties now feel that they have found a way in which that can happen.

14:30
Social Media Strategy

7. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's social media strategy? OQ57769

Llywydd, our strategy is to deploy social media channels to communicate directly and bilingually with the public, especially those audiences less engaged with conventional media. We provide rapid, authoritative information in forms that are clear, engaging and accessible to all.

I thank the First Minister for that answer. First Minister, you will recall a few weeks ago, when I asked you about the Welsh Government's moribund Wales.com social media, you said that I needed to spend

'a little less time trailing Instagram'. 

You will be delighted to know I followed your advice; I've been looking at TikTok instead. [Laughter.]

You will recall that my colleague Andrew R.T. Davies submitted a freedom of information request last year, and discovered, in the financial year of 2021 alone, the Welsh Government spent over £135,000 on advertising on TikTok. That's one year on one social media website. But, when Andrew R.T. Davies asked what the total reach of the posts was in return for the money spent, he was told the Welsh Government didn't store that data. If that's true, it means the Welsh Government has no idea how many people that spending reached, whether it reached the right people, or whether the money was well spent. No trail, no nothing.

Do you share my concerns, First Minister, that spending hundreds of thousands of pounds in this way, and having no means whatsoever to judge whether that was effective or not, is an incredibly poor way of spending taxpayers' money?

Well, Llywydd, I don't share the Member's concerns because, despite not devoting the amount of time he does to social media, I turn out to be a good deal better informed than he is. [Laughter.]

So, let me help him. Let me explain to him that over the last two years there has been a 400 per cent increase in followers of the Welsh Government's different social media channels. So, if he's concerned about the effectiveness of the spending, he'll be cheered up by that. He'll be cheered up by the fact that we now have 2.9 million followers of Welsh Government social media channels, and he will surely be even more pleased to learn that on St David's Day last year, because he was interested in that I remember, 19.4 million people across the Welsh Government's digital and social media outlets were in contact with the messages of the Welsh Government, including 13 million people who watched video content produced by the Welsh Government through our social media channels.

So, I'm glad to have been able to help the Member this afternoon, and now he may find it less necessary to ask me questions where the answers are so reassuring to him. [Laughter.]

Repairing Local Roads

8. How is the Welsh Government supporting councils in repairing local roads in Clwyd South? OQ57732

Llywydd, I thank Ken Skates for that. The Welsh Government has provided £90 million to local authorities for highway maintenance over the past five years. This is funding over and above capital contained in the local government settlement, itself increased by £70 million this year. Support through the resilient roads fund is also available in south Clwyd.

Thank you, First Minister, and you'll be aware that the Welsh Labour Government has already provided financial support to Wrexham County Borough Council for assessing the work that is required to bring the B5605 Newbridge road back into use after a major landslide. First Minister, I'd be very grateful if you could confirm whether, as a result of this financial support from the Welsh Government, the council has now been able to submit an application for funding for the repair work itself, and if so, I'd be very grateful for a speedy decision and a sympathetic decision on that by Ministers, given this road's unique role as an alternative artery supporting north Wales when the A483 trunk road is closed.

Well, Llywydd, first of all, I'm very happy to confirm for Ken Skates that, as a result of the help provided to the county borough council, an application has now been received from Wrexham council. Let me say to Ken Skates that I entirely understand the need for speed in this matter, both the importance of the issue itself and the impact of that road being closed, but we are keen, if we can—and I have to say it's 'if we can'—to be able to make decisions in advance of the local government election period, so that officers of local authorities can get on with the work that they would then be able to carry out. And, Llywydd, I recognise the enormous effort made by the Member on behalf of his constituents in this matter, and the case he has made for a positive decision. A decision on the application is with Ministers, and I can't anticipate it, but I am certainly able to assure him that the efforts that he has made, and the case that he has promoted, have certainly been heard.

14:35
2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Diolch, Llywydd. There is one change to this week's business: a motion to suspend Standing Orders is required to enable us to debate the LCM on the Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers, available to Members electronically.

Minister, you will have heard the exchanges that the First Minister and I had in relation to food security. I'm obviously questioning you today as leader of the house, but, obviously, you wear the other hat of rural affairs Minister, and you are the sponsoring Minister for the agricultural Bill that you will be bringing in in April, I believe. I cannot overstate the dilemma that we face with what is going on in Ukraine. We've heard about the refugee crisis, we see the brutality of the scenes on tv, every night, every morning, every waking hour, really. But coming down the tracks at us in the next two, three, four months, and indeed, two, three, four years, is this issue of the complete destabilisation of that region and its ability to produce food, not just for this part of Europe but for the world. It has changed the fundamental gravity, I would suggest, of where this Bill needs to sit in our food security requirements. As I've said, wheat has doubled in price, and going forward on the futures market, for November, it will be far higher than even today—it might be over £300 a tonne. Other commodities are going north when it comes to food production as well, as well as the fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides that are required to grow these crops. A farmer can only make that decision once in a year, and if that decision isn't made then, then that year is lost, and it takes two years to catch up.

Could we have a statement on what your officials and, in particular, you as Minister believe are the actions that the Welsh Government now need to take to reactivate the mentality within the Welsh agricultural community to grow for food security? Because I know they're up for that challenge and they want to play their part, albeit, and I acknowledge, the relatively small agricultural land base that we have in Wales. But there is an opportunity here that we need to grasp and make sure that we play our part in making sure that, whilst Ukraine remains destabilised, we are doing our bit to feed the nation and feed the world.

Thank you very much. I don't disagree with anything that you said about the heartbreaking situation unfolding in Ukraine. You will have heard the First Minister say that I have asked for food security to be put on the inter-ministerial group agenda when we meet a week on Monday. Because, obviously, food security has to be integral across the UK—we all have to work together around that. And you're quite right about wheat prices. I will be meeting with the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales on Monday—part of my regular meetings—and, obviously, that's something that we will continue to discuss.

In relation to the specific points you make about the agricultural Bill, I think, again, the First Minister referred to a lot of things that have changed since we had the White Paper in the last term of Government, which, obviously, will then feed into the agricultural Bill. So, these are all things that my officials are looking at, including the cumulative impact of the trade deals that the UK Government have brought forward.

Trefnydd, I'd like a statement, please, outlining the Welsh Government's justification for going ahead with spending £1.4 billion to dual 11 miles of road on the A465. The Western Mail expressed the view yesterday that this hugely expensive project was no longer justifiable, given the rationale behind the decision to cancel two less-carbon-intensive projects in the north. Now, I note that the Government hasn't denied that pressing ahead with the project does contradict its climate change policies, but you'll know that I've been raising concerns for some years now about the funding of the project, because it will lock future decades into a debt that they'll have to pay back. The Western Mail has questioned if contractual obligations are the reason that the project perhaps can't be cancelled, and, as we're talking about such a huge sum of money, not just now, but for decades to come, I would ask for an oral statement, please, to help us determine why this vastly expensive project is going ahead.

14:40

Thank you. You will be aware of the significant work that's been undertaken in relation to road reviews, both in south Wales and, now, north Wales, with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change recently announcing the chair for the north Wales road review. So, I would think it's probably more beneficial to bring forward a statement when we've got the pan-Wales approach, rather than at the current time about one road.

Could I ask for one statement and one debate? The statement is one I know that the Trefnydd will be familiar with in her departmental role as well. Back in autumn 2019—. Sorry, I do declare my interest as the Atlantic salmon champion for the Senedd. [Laughter.] But in autumn 2019, the salmon and sea trout plan for action was introduced. It had a series of actions that flowed from it. I suspect that some of them may have been hit by recent factors, including the pandemic and the ability to get out there and monitor and evaluate on the ground. So, it would be good to have an update through a statement on the floor of the Senedd on the actions and the outcomes of that plan, and where we are, bearing in mind that it was brought forward, and I quote, recognising, 

'the serious declines...in early-running "spring salmon" and now...all sea age components of salmon and, more recently, sea trout',

as well. The health of those migratory fish stocks is an indicator of the health not only of our rivers, but also of our marine environment around the UK and globally as well. So, I'd welcome a statement.

It would also be an opportunity to test the views of people, here within this Chamber, on the issue of the cage farming of salmon. Major questions have been raised over the sustainability of this, and it is not only a question for Scotland; it's wherever this takes place. Because there is the issue of parasites and the effects of parasites on wild salmon and migrating salmon, the issue of pesticides discharged from caged salmon and the effect on wild salmon and other wild species, and also of protein foodstuff—the scandal that we have recently heard of 460,000 tons of wild fish being harvested to feed caged farm salmon. Heaven help us with what's going on there and the question of sustainability around this, and we need assurance that this is never going to be seen in Wales in the warmer waters that we have here. 

I'd also like to seek a debate, if I could—

I think you've spent two minutes calling for your first statement. I think you'll have to wait until next week to call for your debate.

James Evans. No, Minister to respond. Yes, sorry, I forgot about that bit of it. [Laughter.]

I'll be slightly more succinct. So, the first thing to say, and I'm really pleased to be able to say this and to reassure not just Huw Irranca-Davies, the Atlantic salmon champion, but all Members, that this type of industrial fishing does not take place in Welsh waters. We don't have industrial fin fish aquaculture here in Wales either, but I will—. You heard me say, in an earlier answer to the leader of the opposition, that we've got an IMG DEFRA meeting a week on Monday, so I will raise it with the other administrations at that time.

What the Minister said, Huw.

Minister, can I ask for a statement, please, on why Welsh Government are removing the rural broadband scheme top-up? This is vitally important for rural communities in getting superfast broadband right across our communities, and I'd like to know exactly what that scheme is going to be replaced with, because I do worry that some of our communities will be left behind, if that top-up isn't available, which makes a lot of these schemes viable. Thank you. 

Well, you will have heard the First Minister say, in an earlier answer around broadband, that actually it's the responsibility of the UK Government. So, maybe, if they'd have kept to their promise of 'not a penny less' we would have had more money to continue with that rural broadband scheme.

I wish to call for two statements, and I'll try and keep it within two minutes. 

Firstly, I would like to ask for a statement from the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being on residential mental health facilities in Wales. I've recently been contacted by a constituent who is under the care of a mental health team in south Wales who, due to lack of local facilities, was referred to a residential unit based in London. After a resident at that unit tested positive for COVID, she was sent home after only 10 days of treatment. As you can imagine, this has been a very stressful experience for someone who had to travel so far for the treatment they needed. So, I would appreciate if the Deputy Minister could provide an update as to whether there are any developments in providing suitable residential mental health facilities in Wales.

Secondly, I would appreciate a statement from the Minister for Finance and Local Government on recent claims that councillors on Bridgend County Borough Council were threatened by statutory officers with breaching the code of conduct if they were to vote down a recent budget proposal. As we all know, elected members, whether it be to Westminster, council chambers across Wales or to this very Senedd, are all elected to act in the best interests of their constituents. Therefore, I would appreciate it if the Minister could offer some clarity on the situation and confirm whether any investigation into these claims will be taking place so that we can get to the bottom of the issue.

14:45

Thank you. In relation to your first point, around suitable residential placements for people suffering with mental health issues, I will ask the Deputy Minister for mental health to bring forward a written statement.

The Minister for Finance and Local Government has heard your request. I'm not aware of the situation that you spoke about, and I'm sure, if the Minister does have anything further to say, she'll write to you.

Trefnydd, I was just wondering, given the awful situation in Ukraine, as another sign of our solidarity, whether you do have on site within the Welsh Government offices and things a book of remembrance where staff and Members or Ministers can send their thoughts across. I have also raised this with the Llywydd and had a positive response, but I just wondered whether any books have yet been placed in any of the Welsh Government buildings. 

Before the Minister responds, I think you've put words in my mouth there. My response to you was to say that I would want us as a Senedd to think about our actions rather than our words, and that I was investigating whether it would be possible for us to set up a collection point for money to be given in support of those suffering in Ukraine. I very much believe, and I hope I reflect the Chamber on this, that it is our actions not our words that are most important at this point. I'm sorry if my message to you didn't get to you in time for you to have raised that, but I didn't want my words to be misinterpreted in any way.

I've said actions not words, yes, and there will be a collection point. I'm very, very sorry, Janet, that you've chosen to raise this in this most inappropriate way at this point. The Minister, to respond.

So, I would think that this is more of a matter for the Senedd Commission rather than Welsh Government. But I absolutely agree with what the Llywydd has said—I think it's really important that our actions speak far louder than words.

I'd like to request a Government statement on day-care provision for disabled people during the pandemic. I raise this with you again because there seems to be a big contrast between what is provided, with some local authorities, such as Gwynedd and Blaenau Gwent, retaining day-care centre provision for the most profoundly disabled, and other local authorities, such as Caerphilly County Borough Council, have slashed provision, leaving many parents and carers of disabled people with little or no respite. It seems that local authority interpretation of Government COVID regulations and guidance has led to a postcode lottery whereby somebody profoundly disabled in Crumlin, for instance, which is in Caerphilly County Borough Council area, would not receive day-care centre provision, whereas somebody living in Sofrydd, a few yards away in Blaenau Gwent, would. I've raised this matter a number of times in this Siambr since my election. I was hoping that, with things opening up and this Government's commitment to the importance of day-care centres, we would see some change in disabled day-care provision, but that hasn't happened in many parts of the country yet. Can the Government look at this as a matter of urgency? I don't think it's good enough just to say that it's a matter for local authorities.

Well, it might not be good enough, but it is a fact that provision of services for the people to whom you refer is a matter for each local authority. I think the Welsh Government's guidance is very clear in this area and it is up to local authorities to ensure for their local population those services are provided. Clearly, there have been issues during the COVID pandemic—I know from my own constituency—with staff who've unfortunately been off sick with COVID, et cetera. There's been a shortage of that provision. But, as you say, we are now opening up. I would hope that each local authority is able to put the importance that this absolutely requires on these services. 

14:50

We are hearing now, of course, that there is humanitarian aid that is meant to go to Ukraine stuck on the UK border because of the additional red tape to export goods as a result of Brexit. Now, according to the charities affected, they say that there is additional paperwork needed because it's gifts that are being transported rather than products that will be sold on after crossing the border. You might be aware that Llyr Jones and Rhys Jones from Denbighshire are driving to Ukraine this week, but, because of the circumstances, they are being forced to cross the border to France and then they have to buy the humanitarian aid to transport it. Now, I would like to have a written statement or some kind of update from the Government to explain what you're doing to make the case to the UK Government to get to grips with this problem, because one is concerned about the fate of hundreds of thousands of items that have been given in collections—in Wrexham, in Rhug, and across Wales—that could be stuck in ports and not reaching Ukraine, where they are very much needed.

I think the Member raises a very important point, because there's been such an outpouring, hasn't there, from the people of Wales in relation to this horrendous situation in Ukraine. And, as you say, significant donations have been given, and I know there are many lorries going this week.

I think the Minister for Social Justice has been working with the UK Government to try and find a way forward. I mean, the Welsh Government—. We were thinking about bringing forward an oral statement today, but because, obviously, the Welsh Conservatives have got a debate tomorrow, we've decided that the Minister's response will be the appropriate place for this. So, I will make sure that she refers to the work that's been going on in answer to your question. Diolch.

3. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Update on COVID-19

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services—an update on COVID-19. I call on the Minister to make that statement—Eluned Morgan.

Thank you very much, Llywydd, and thank you for the opportunity to give an update to this place on the recent information on coronavirus.

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

Thanks for the opportunity to provide an update about the current public health situation, the outcome of the latest review of the coronavirus regulations, and our plans to move beyond the emergency response to the pandemic as we move to live safely with coronavirus in the longer term.

I’m pleased to report that cases of coronavirus continue to be well below the peak that we saw with omicron across Wales. The latest figures show we have 178 cases per 100,000 people in Wales, but that's based on positive PCR tests. As I've previously said, however, we now need to look at a wider range of measures to understand the public health picture beyond just the PCR tests. And one of the best ways of doing this is the regular Office for National Statistics's coronavirus infection survey, which is currently carried out across the United Kingdom. The infection survey shows that infections in Wales have been falling over recent weeks. They also show that levels of infection in Wales continue to be lower than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The public health situation is improving steadily, thanks to everyone’s hard work. People in Wales continue to follow the rules and do all those small things that help to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Last week, we reviewed all the protections we have in place at the moment and we agreed Wales will remain at alert level 0. As long as the public health situation remains favourable, we will aim to remove all the legal frameworks that have underpinned our response to the pandemic for the last two years at the end of March. This means the legal requirement to wear face coverings in those remaining settings, the requirement to self-isolate, and the requirement for businesses to carry out specific COVID risk assessments will come to an end.

Dirprwy Lywydd, these measures have kept us safe for two years and we'll not be abandoning them. We don't want to forget all those behaviours that have helped to protect us from this dreadful virus. We'll be producing guidance, we'll be advising people to carry on wearing a face covering in certain places, and to self-isolate for five days if they have symptoms, to wash their hands regularly, to meet people outdoors, if possible, and to keep indoor spaces well ventilated. We want to keep on keeping each other safe as we move to the next phase of our response, because the pandemic is not yet over. Coronavirus won’t vanish on 28 March just because we no longer have regulations.

As we move away from a law-based approach, we'll also be making changes to testing. Between the end of March and June, we'll gradually move in a phased way from PCR testing and lateral flow testing being available to everyone. PCR tests will no longer be used for symptomatic testing. Instead, lateral flow tests will be available to order free online for people with symptoms.

Dirprwy Lywydd, on Friday, we published our longer term plan 'Together for a safer future', which sets out how we'll move beyond the emergency footing we have been on for the last two years. It retains the two planning assumptions we first described in the autumn—COVID stable and COVID urgent. We hope and believe that COVID stable is the most likely scenario for the future.

We hope that our vaccines will continue to be effective and that the national health service will not be overwhelmed. Our public health response will be based on the existing, well-established protocols for communicable diseases, and the surveillance and reporting of COVID-19 will take place alongside the reporting mechanisms for respiratory infections. We will begin to integrate our very successful COVID-19 vaccination programme with other preventative vaccines to maximise protection, based on the latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and the office of the Chief Medical Officer for Wales. The programme will continue to focus on protecting our most vulnerable, and we will be offering a booster vaccine in the coming weeks to over-75s, older care home residents and the most vulnerable.

As I outlined three weeks ago, we will be offering a vaccine to every child between the ages of five and 11 later this month. This is a precautionary offer to increase children's immunity against severe COVID-19 in advance of a potential future wave, and this will also give them the best chance of a smooth autumn term after the summer holidays. I would urge families to talk about this offer now. There’s more information on the Public Health Wales website to help them make a decision.

I want to reiterate that if you haven’t had a vaccination yet, it's never too late. Almost 6.9 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered in just over a year. The vaccination programme has saved lives, and it continues to weaken the link between virus and serious illness.

Dirprwy Lywydd, we will also prepare for the worst, but in the hope, of course, that this doesn’t happen. I'm very mindful of the views of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group that future variants are highly likely to appear and that these may lead to more significant levels of direct harm than we have seen from the omicron variant.

Under the COVID urgent scenario, we have contingency plans in place to respond to a deteriorating public health situation. In such a situation, we would take the necessary actions to protect people’s health, by scaling back up our test, trace and protect service, and taking collective action to protect the most vulnerable. We have asked health boards to plan for a COVID urgent scenario, and in this scenario they will need to stand up surge capacity in the vaccination programme if a quick response should be needed once again.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I’m very pleased that I can say today, thanks to the fantastic vaccination programme, and to people across Wales for their hard work, sacrifice and patience, that we are poised to leave the public health emergency behind us and start a very different relationship, hopefully, with the virus.

14:55

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you for your statement today, Minister. I very much welcome the announcement last Friday regarding a road map to releasing restrictions, with the majority of restrictions being lifted at the end of this month. This is very good and positive news indeed, and, of course, as Welsh Conservatives, we've been calling for this for several weeks. So, I'm glad that the Government has now provided this road map and easing of restrictions. What I would like to understand, Minister, is, given your criticism of the UK Government for lifting restrictions when they did—and I guess you can include the Northern Ireland Executive in that way as well, as they announced the same at the same period of time—can you explain what evidence you've seen to make these changes? Because when I asked you just last week to scrap all restrictions, you said:

'Unlike in England...we like to follow the science rather than the politics here in Wales'.

And then, three days later, after saying that, you did the same yourself. So, can you explain the science that changed your position in those three days last week? After 28 March, Minister, I'm very pleased that we will see the end of restrictions. Can I ask you when you anticipate the three-week review cycle to conclude? Will that continue for some time? When are you expecting to get to a point where those three-week cycles will no longer take place?

The UK Government Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies committee is winding down. I would, perhaps, just ask, is your Government doing the same for the technical advisory cell? I appreciate that some structures will wind down but will remain dormant. There are elements of putting some of these infrastructures into a dormant state, ready to react—although we don't want to see this—should restrictions come back, or the pandemic comes back at any point as well. But I'm interested to know your views in that regard.

I'd also be interested to know, Minister, whether the Welsh Government Cabinet has discussed whether to reintroduce COVID alert levels during next winter, during those winter months, should cases rise, especially given the First Minister's comments last Friday—and I don't disagree with his comments—that the pandemic isn't over and that there could be fluctuations in global patterns for several years to come. I'm obviously concerned here that we do not want to be at the stage where we're back into a full lockdown next winter, so I'd very much like that to be taken off the table. I appreciate you don't have a crystal ball, but you do work on assumptions and you do work on modelling, and we are in a very different place to where we were in March 2020 with so many uncertainties. Can you also tell me what preparations the Welsh Government is now making for future pandemics, should they arise, so that lessons can truly be learnt about the community spread and hospital-acquired infections?

We're also moving into a recovery phase from the pandemic, and given that it's a year since your predecessor published the Welsh NHS's recovery plan, I'd be interested to know where you are in terms of the COVID-lite surgical hubs to help tackle the mounting backlog in Wales. In December, waiting figures didn't make good reading at all, with one in four patient pathways waiting over a year for treatment and a staggering 50,000 still waiting for over two years for treatment. I for one very much welcomed the announcement in regard to the winter plan for hubs, but we're not hearing much about this. Given the fact that we're technically out of winter, how far are health boards with COVID-lite hubs, and what timescales are you now working to in order to reduce one-year and two-year waits? Could you also outline the actions the Welsh Government are taking in terms of ensuring that the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group will get core participation status in the UK-wide public inquiry, given the fact that the Welsh Government has, extremely disappointingly, refused to hold a public inquiry to look at your actions here in Wales specifically?

Finally—I have asked this before, and I hope you can answer this this time—Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson both presented their plans to live with COVID and the end of restrictions to their respective Parliaments, but, here in Wales, those comments were made first to journalists and then later here in our Parliament. Can you explain why this continues to be regularly the case? Diolch, Llywydd.

15:00

Diolch yn fawr. Thanks very much, Russell. I'm glad that you're welcoming the lifting of restrictions. Of course, our job is to keep Wales safe. Other Governments keep their own people safe, but our responsibility is to do it in the way that we believe is correct for us, and we do that by always trying to follow the evidence and the science. But we've always been very clear that, actually, it was always going to be the case that we would go in the same direction as the UK Government, it was just a question of timing. We believe that the timing that we announced on Friday will work for us. We are in a situation where, of course, we're not lifting those restrictions yet—we're keeping them in place for another month, effectively. That will ease us into, hopefully, a warmer time. We know that there's a seasonality to the shape of the virus and the way it hits our communities. We're hoping, as things get warmer, that we will be in a situation by 24 June, of course, where there will be no restrictions anymore and it will be a very different position. So, we're not the same as England, and that's the reason why we are in a different place from England.

We have started discussions with TAC in terms of what that might look like in future, and we're very keen to make sure that we keep in place an infrastructure that would allow us to spring back into action if we were to see a new and dangerous variant. Of course, that is made more difficult because of the restricted funding that we're getting now from the UK Government. Certainly, in terms of COVID alert levels, we will keep them on the back burner ready and, of course, we'll need to keep an eye on developments. Nobody wants to go back into lockdown, but I do think it's irresponsible to say that we would never do that. We have no idea what's ahead of us, Russell, and it always makes sense to make sure that you have a range of options available to you in terms of being able to respond.

In terms of lessons learnt, we have been trying to learn lessons all the way along during the pandemic. We're continuing to learn those lessons, but, of course, there will be more lessons to learn, and I'm sure some of those will come out during the course of the inquiry. You asked about the core participant status for COVID-bereaved families. I know that the First Minister has discussed this issue with the bereaved families for justice. The inquiry will set out the process for designating the core participant status, and we don't know yet how the chair is going to do this. What we wouldn't want to do is to do anything that would end up causing more harm than helping that situation.

Certainly, when it comes to waiting lists, we will be publishing our planned care plan in April and, obviously, we'll be looking at how we can see better regional co-operation in terms of trying to address that backlog that we've been looking at. And just to emphasise that, actually, I thought that the NHS did a remarkable job in December. We only saw an increase of 0.2 per cent in December. That's despite the fact that we asked them to concentrate and to roll out the booster at a superfast pace. So, I'm really pleased, actually, that things are already moving in the NHS. Of course, we've got a long way to go. On our figures, of course, we count very differently from the way that they count their waiting lists in England. In terms of the 21-day review, I think it makes sense for us to continue with this. I think we need to consider whether that is necessary beyond 24 June.

15:05

Thank you very much, Deputy Llywydd. I hope that this has been a very significant statement, and what I mean by that is that I hope that this is the last major statement that marks the beginning of the end—only the beginning of the end, of course, not the end of the pandemic. There will be other twists in the road I'm sure, but we can only hope that we will be continuing to travel in the right direction.

Because of that significance, there are a number of questions I'd like to pose. First of all, yes, we have the two scenarios—that things remain stable, or become urgent. What is that transition between the two? I think that's an issue we could do with some more clarification on. Specifically, of course, it's not acceptable that the funding has been withdrawn by the UK Treasury, but in the absence of that funding, is there a fund that's ready to go—an easy-access fund, if you like—held by Welsh Government, where support could be put back in place if we did have to take a step back because of a new variant? Also, the legislative frameworks will be lapsing in a matter of weeks now; is there new legislation that we would need to reintroduce, or introduce anew, in order to reintroduce restrictions, which we very much hope won't be required, of course?

I think I'm content with what I've heard from the Minister and her team in terms of testing continuing to be available free of charge. In order to be entirely certain of that, could I have an explanation of what will happen to people who are vulnerable? Pharmacies will sell tests, of course, but can I be given a full assurance that anyone who needs a test because of vulnerability will not have to pay for those tests under any circumstances? Also, one question that I've failed to get a response to in briefings from the Minister and her officials to date is: when exactly will we get a definition of who will be considered vulnerable in months to come? Because I know that one of the questions that I was asked most regularly in the first months of the pandemic was people asking, 'Am I vulnerable? Am I to be on a list of people who are to be safeguarded?' So, I would appreciate more information on that.

One issue that I know is of concern to health professionals is ventilation within the NHS estate. We've talked a great deal about ventilation in schools specifically, and a few other settings, but can we have an explanation of the assessment that's been made by the Welsh Government of the work that's been done on the NHS estate—in hospitals and so on—in order to ensure the safety of staff by having adequate ventilation through those buildings?

There are two other issues. I asked the Minister last week if she would be willing to join my call for the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice in Wales to be given core participant status in the UK inquiry. I and that campaign and many of us wanted a Wales-specific inquiry; that was blocked by Welsh Government. I'm astounded by the response we heard a few minutes ago from the Minister, actually, who said that they don't want to intervene somehow in the UK inquiry. I'm asking the Minister again today: just join our calls for COVID-bereaved family campaigners to be given core participant status. Yes, we hope that the Welsh public as a whole, and the Welsh Government, and us as opposition parties, and the health and care services in Wales, will be listened to by the UK inquiry. But this is a campaign group that has its own legal counsel, that has gone through the diligent work of gathering the kind of evidence that we need to make sure gets heard by the UK inquiry. So, I'm asking Welsh Government again: will you join our call? I've written to the UK inquiry asking for that to be the case, please would the Minister also back that call? Not as the exclusive interaction between Wales and that inquiry, but as a very, very important element of it.

And finally, we are coming up to two years, or we're at the two-year point, since the pandemic began. There are health and care workers in particular who contracted the virus in the early days, perhaps being exposed to a particularly heavy viral load, because they were on the front line in the NHS and in the care service. They are now facing the prospect of having their pay halved—those who are still suffering the devastating effects of long COVID to this very day. As far as I know, COVID special leave is still in place in Scotland to protect NHS workers who are in this position. It is not good enough to cast those NHS workers who put themselves in harm's way aside at this point. They need assurance that they will not see their pay cut, and I'm asking Welsh Government to look at this issue as a matter of real urgency, to give hard-working, caring staff within the NHS the support that they need after they cared for others in those first dark days of COVID two years ago.

15:15

Thank you very much, and I too very much hope that this is the last major statement with regard to COVID, and I very much hope that we can continue and focus on other issues regarding the NHS in future.

Just in terms of the absence of funding, if we needed to return to some of these measures in futures, there's always funding in reserve and we would have to make a case to the Minister for Finance and Local Government if funding was required in future. The legislation is going to come to an end on 24 March this year. We've undertaken a detailed assessment of what will stop to ensure that nothing that has a legislative basis remains after that, and we are content with that particular situation. Of course, we'll have to keep an eye on what happens in future. What we don't want to see is a situation where the UK Government tries to use different legislation that would prevent us from having the role that we've had hitherto.

In terms of testing—.

The lateral flow tests will continue to be available from pharmacies until 31 March. Discussions are taking place with our partners to ensure that those vulnerable people who are digitally excluded can continue to access tests when they need after 31 March. So, there is a facility for you to phone up and to get that support, or you can obviously order those online. We're also working with our community hubs and local collection points to ensure that from April, the most vulnerable can continue to access tests in person. And, of course, we will be moving to use lateral flow tests for symptomatic individuals. 

Just in terms of ventilation in hospitals—

—there have been lots of reports and assessments made in terms of making sure that people are taking that situation seriously, so every health board knows exactly what they need to do in this space. 

I've given an answer on the core participants' status, but I think it's really important that we do stand by our health and care workers and give them the medical support that they need. They were on the front line for us, they suffered for us and, obviously, we've put a lot of support in place, particularly when it comes to health workers in terms of mental health but also in terms of long COVID support. But I think there is a lot more work to do in this space, and we need to make sure we stand by these people who were there for us throughout the pandemic. 

I've been contacted by a constituent stating, 'My husband had his first COVID vaccination in Scotland, second in Wales and booster in England.' This year, he's had two letters with appointments for a vaccination. After he pursued the first, he was told, 'Unfortunately, we aren't authorised to record vaccinations given outside north Wales as it's outside our jurisdiction. Having checked the system, none of your vaccination details have been transferred over to us from NHS England.' He then learned that, in fact, his booster had been recorded but not his initial Scottish vaccination, and there was no mechanism for recording this. He then received another letter offering him a vaccination appointment. When he pursued this, he was given the option of opting out, but given that he's likely to be eligible for a fourth vaccination or second booster later in the year, that's not an option he's willing to accept, and after discussion, it was agreed he would have to have a stop on his record until June. As the wife said, both England and Scotland have sorted out the issue of people having vaccinations in different places. Why can't Wales manage it?

When I pursued this with the health board, their chief executive stated, 'The national vaccination record system is the responsibility of the Welsh Government. We can't alter the record for vaccines received outside our area. We've repeatedly raised this issue at a national level because of the problems it causes.' How do you respond to my constituent accordingly?

Thanks very much, Mark. This is an issue that has been ongoing for a long time, so whilst the Wales and England systems speak to each other and they can record and we can know exactly if people have had a first vaccination and a second vaccination in England, the system has never worked with Scotland. And the responsibility for that and the people leading on the digital side of this is actually England, so we have been asking them to try and correct the situation for a long time, but we're still waiting for that to happen.

15:20

I just want to say a word about our track, trace and protect staff, who have been a huge part of the effort to keep us safe over recent years. They're now being discarded at what feels like a moment's notice. I know of workers, for example, who've just had 48 hours' notice that their hours were being cut. They, frankly, did a job that not many people wanted to do, and they're being paid back with this abrupt reduction in hours, which has serious implications for their livelihoods, of course, and their incomes, at a time when we know that the cost-of-living crisis is—it's not emerging, it's with us. So, if the scheme is to be wound down, do you not agree that that should happen gradually and that it should happen in a way that acknowledges that people's livelihoods depend on these jobs, because they were all heroes last year, but now it seems they're being tossed off at a whim?

Thanks very much, and I must say that I would endorse your view that these have become really skilled workers. They have done a terrific job for us, and certainly kept the rates lower than they would have been, thanks to their huge efforts. Of course, we're reluctant to let these people go. There was obviously a time when it would have to come to an end, but, as you say, this is rather an abrupt end to what has been a very effective programme. The problem, of course, is that the funding was cut by the UK Government, and certainly we would have liked to have seen a much slower phasing of that than the one I'm afraid we've had to impose.

4. Statement by the Minister for Economy: Stronger, Fairer, Greener Wales: A Plan for Employability and Skills

Item 4 this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Economy: stronger, fairer, greener Wales—a plan for employability and skills.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. It's a pleasure to be back in the Chamber today.

In the programme for government, we set out the actions that we will pursue over this Senedd term to help ensure that nobody is left behind, nobody is held back and everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential. Today I am pleased to launch the plan for employability and skills, to set out what we will do. This signals our policy and our investment priorities, together with how we expect to sharpen our delivery focus and the activity of our partners. And we do this in building on the significant labour market and skills improvement in Wales since the publication of the last plan in 2018.

Economic inactivity reached a record low in 2018, and fell below the UK level for the first time in November 2018. By the end of 2019, we had reached our target of closing the unemployment gap with the UK, and levels continue to remain lower than the UK today. And the employment rate for the last quarter of 2021 was higher than at any point before the last plan was introduced in March 2018. And, of course, the proportion of 19 to 24-year-olds who are now in employment, education or training is close to the highest level on record. The proportion of people aged between 18 and 64 who have no qualifications has fallen by more than 1 per cent, and those with higher education qualifications has increased by 4 per cent.

We are setting out our new plan today in the context that the labour market impacts of COVID-19 have not been as severe as feared, with a strong rebound in hiring. This has led to the lowest ever ratio of unemployment to vacancies in the UK. However, looking forward, we face a number of risks and new challenges: high vacancy levels, labour shortages of key workers, an ageing population, and more people leaving the labour market prematurely for reasons of ill health—and particularly those over the age of 50.

Rising business overheads, the cost-of-living crisis and impacts on living standards are all challenges we will need to contend with. And, of course, the sad reality is that the invasion of Ukraine marks the onset of what could be the largest humanitarian crisis on our continent in decades. At the same time, unequal access and insufficient provision of fair work and a pay gap for gender, ethnicity and disability still prevail. There are still significant disparities between groups, such as black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, disabled people and single parents.

Now, in addressing the plan, I know that we can't fully replace from the Welsh Government budget the missing millions lost through the fact that the UK Government has not kept its funding promises to Wales following our departure from the European Union. As Members will be aware, Wales is due to lose about £1 billion over the next few years, and much of that money lost to Wales would have been invested in improving employability and skills. That means that together with ministerial colleagues, I've therefore had to make difficult choices to prioritise budgets, to continue to invest in our people and skills. We will of course continue to press UK Government to back our team Wales ambitions to invest in the talent of our people and restore to Wales the lost £1 billion. I do hope that parties across this Senedd will be able eventually to present a united front on this key issue for the future of the people that we all represent.

Supporting people to stay in work, enter or progress in employment, and increase their skills and employability is critical to increase the pool of available talent, and to support people to gain fair work and progress in the labour market. Access to fair work supports household incomes and livelihoods and the health and well-being of workers.

The new plan sets out five key areas of action over this Government term, which should propel us towards our longer term milestone. The first is delivering the young person's guarantee to protect a generation from the impacts of lost learning and delays to entering employment. I'm pleased to launch Jobs Growth Wales+ today as part of that. This will deliver the most successful element of the traineeships and Jobs Growth Wales programmes to offer the best possible support to young people.

The second is tackling economic inequality, shifting our focus to those furthest away from the labour market to find work, to improve labour market outcomes for disabled people, minority ethnic communities, women and those with lower skill levels. This includes building on the Better Jobs Closer to Home model, while supporting employment and continuing our partnership approach with local authorities.

The third is promoting fair work for all, to use our levers to improve the offer for workers. That includes introducing the social partnership and public procurement Bill and, of course, continuing to encourage employers to make work safer, better, fairer and more secure.

The fourth is providing more support for people with long-term health conditions to work. This includes better anchoring the health service, both as employer and the partner of the delivery network, to prevent people falling out of work or getting into employment because of a healthcare condition.

And finally is raising skill levels and the adaptability of our workforce by expanding access to flexible and personal learning for people both in and out of work to improve their skills, find work or retrain. Just last week, the Welsh Government extended the childcare offer so that parents can be supported to undertake education and training.

We remain committed to driving forward our priorities in the 2018 plan to tackle economic inactivity, to increase employment levels of disabled people, and to try to futureproof the supply of people and skills. This plan responds to and draws on the involvement of key stakeholders in the development of the regional investment framework for Wales, the race equality action plan and the 'Locked Out: Liberating disabled people's lives and rights in Wales beyond Covid-19' report.

Going forward, we always need to work smarter and together to make the best use of our people and resources. This plan will help our partners to align their activities to our priorities, and help to ensure that UK Government funding is used in a way that supports rather than cuts across Welsh Government priorities. Elements of this plan are covered by the co-operation agreement, and where applicable these policies are being developed with Plaid Cymru. I look forward to working with ministerial colleagues and Plaid Cymru's designated Members to develop and oversee an area of genuine cross-Government policy implementation over this programme for government.

Our people are our greatest asset, and Wales will not prosper if the ability to train, learn, train and progress at work is not made more equal. Making this a reality requires a shared sense of mission from all partners, so that we can maximise our resources to deliver a stronger, fairer and greener Wales, with an economy that works for everyone. Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd.

15:25

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon? Today's statement makes it clear that the Welsh Government's plan for employability and skills will be rooted in the principle of fairness and with the intention of tackling climate change and creating a much greener economy, and so I welcome today's plan and its five key areas. This is exactly the right time to be laying the foundations for change in relation to the delivery of skills so that we can yield those returns in the future. Firstly, we need to ensure that our children and young people have access to opportunities, and I'm pleased that one of the five priority areas in today's statement refers to the young person's guarantee, which has the power to be the vehicle to offer young people opportunities in sectors and industries that they might not have thought of before. It's absolutely crucial that these opportunities are relevant to the skills that we need here in Wales, and that young people are gaining valuable skills and experience in fields that are meaningful. Therefore, perhaps the Minister can tell us how the young person's guarantee is being tracked to monitor its effectiveness, and how it's ensuring that young people are going to be equipped with the right skills for the future. 

Of course, any plans for employability and skills should link with the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research, which will be responsible for overseeing the post-16 sector in Wales, and will be working to align education and training more closely with the needs of employers. Therefore, can the Minister tell us how this plan will link with the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research, and what discussions he's having with the education Minister on this and on the wider issue of aligning education and training to the needs of employers as well?

Now, one of the key areas of the plan is in relation to promoting fair work by encouraging employers to make work safer, better, fairer and more secure. Perhaps the Minister could tell us how much funding is being allocated to meet this specific aim, and how that funding will in fact be distributed. 

Now, central to the Welsh Government's employability and skills plan are regional skills partnerships. And we all know how important they are in terms of advising Welsh Government on current and future regional skills demand, as well as identifying shortages and advising on how to address those shortages. Members will know that the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee looked at regional skills partnerships in the last Senedd, and so I hope the Minister will provide us with an update on the Welsh Government's progress in relation to the recommendations in that report, and perhaps he could also tell us a bit more about the current work of the regional skills partnerships. 

The Minister will know that it's National Careers Week, and it's disappointing that there's no mention of the Welsh Government's careers policy. And perhaps the Minister could tell us how this plan will work alongside other policies and strategies, like its careers policy, enterprise zones, city and growth deals and the Jobs Growth Wales+ programme, which was also launched today. 

Now, one of the five areas of the plan is raising skill levels and adaptability of the workforce, and I'm pleased to read that the Welsh Government is expanding flexible and personal learning opportunities. There is sometimes a fear that we focus on skills delivery in terms of school leavers, and we must see skills development as a continuous programme through a person's working life. And so I'd be grateful if the Minister could tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to encourage employers to develop a continuous approach to upskilling and learning. 

Now, today's statement refers to action being taken to better anchor the health service, both as an employer and part of the delivery network to prevent people falling out of work, or getting into employment because of a health condition. And it's crucial that more support is available to those with long-term health conditions. And so perhaps the Minister can tell us a little bit more about the Welsh Government's initial steps in this specific area. 

The statement also prioritises tackling economic inequality, and I'm pleased that the Welsh Government is committing to improving labour market outcomes for disabled people, minority ethnic people, women and those with low skills. One of the milestones to measure the plan's success is the elimination of the pay gap for gender, disability and ethnicity by 2050. Perhaps the Minister could tell us how confident he is that this plan will help tackle inequalities in the labour market. 

Dirprwy Lywydd, the Welsh Government made it very clear that moving to a low-carbon, net-zero economy is a priority, and, as I've said before, I believe that a net-zero skills audit needs to take place so that we can identify the gaps in skills, knowledge and resources that our economy will need. And so perhaps the Minister can tell us more about how the Welsh Government is collating that information, and if it is doing so as part of this plan. 

Dirprwy Lywydd, the Minister is right, our people are our greatest asset, and that's why now is the time to invest in our skills landscape, and I look forward to working with the Minister constructively to ensure that everyone has access to vital learning and training opportunities across Wales. Thank you. 

15:30

Thank you for the series of questions. I will try to deal with as many of them as I can without testing the patience of the Deputy Presiding Officer. 

On to your starting points, when it comes to the part that the young person's guarantee will play, it's clearly a key component of what we're trying to do with the employability and skills plans. And in not just today's plan, but in my previous statements on the young person's guarantee, I've indicated that Working Wales are running the guarantee and the job-matching service, and the range of things going through there. And we are going to have data, as I indicated in the previous statement, that will help to demonstrate the numbers of people that are coming through, but the sorts of outcomes that we think we're going to be able to deliver as well.

And I'm pleased you mentioned Jobs Growth Wales+. It's a new programme, combining what we've learned from traineeships and the Jobs Growth Wales programme, to help people into work or to get them the skills they need to get into work in the first place. And we've learned about the support that different people will need at various points to make sure they're ready to go on and acquire those skills or enter the world of work. So, the personal support element will be important for us.

Now, I fully expect that, in this Chamber, and in the committee you chair, with a slightly different hat on, you may well take an interest, and I'd expect that to be the case going through the first year, but as we get through the rest of this term, to be able to understand the sorts of outcomes we're achieving and whether actually we're learning more as we go along to help improve the offer of the programme. Because on this, I think, there isn't much difference between the parties in the Chamber as to what we ultimately want to see, which is more people in work and in good work, with an improved ability for that person to acquire and then continue to gain skills through their working life.

And that brings me on to your point about the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research. I'm happy to be able to confirm to you that I have met the education Minister in advance of the plan being published, in advance of the Cabinet discussion that agreed this, and we do see significant work to do between us and the work of the new commission. Because part of what we're going to need to do to help to improve people's skills, lots of that will be undertaken within the further education sphere. So, we're going to need to understand what we're going to do alongside them and how that's going to enable them to deliver for us. Of course, further education will be one of the key partners in delivering the Jobs Growth Wales+ programme.

And on your point about regional skills partnerships, which you mentioned on several occasions, I've met all of the regional skills partnerships, and I've met all of the regional groups led by local authorities in the new joint committees that are working alongside the city deals. And one of the things that I think has been really positive is that, in amongst all of the different political leaderships of local authorities, they all see the regional partnerships they have as key to their regional future, and they recognise it adds to what they're doing rather than takes away from it. And they all recognise the importance of those regional skills partnerships, understand the opportunities that exist for businesses within their areas, and then to try to understand how we're going to match the skills needs for those businesses. So, they're a key part of how we're going to run the system successfully—that's both earlier skills, but, crucially, developing skills for people in the workplace as well.

And I think that really does go to your point about employers investing in their future and current workforce. Of course, the workforce of the future is in very large part already with us. It's the workers who are already in the workplace today who are going to be here with us in five years' and 10 years' time. So, there is going to be a need to carry on investing in them. And that is one of the things we're trying to do in setting out our plan today: to help provide stability for employers to make their own choices, but also for them to be clear about how they can get involved in helping to influence our own agenda on skills provision.

And I think the Member also made a point around not just this plan but alongside other interventions. So, to give you an example, the Minister for Climate Change is especially interested in this plan, not just because she cares about the ambitions of the whole Government or her constituency, but, as an example, the housing retrofit programme, that should make a difference in spending money to improve the efficiency of people's homes, to make their homes warmer and less expensive to fit. There's also plenty of work to do in that programme as well, and we want to try to make sure we have the right skills for people to undertake that programme for the future housing needs that we know will exist as well. So, there are jobs and there is skills provision needed.

And recently, I visited not a retrofit programme, but a new-build programme in partnership between Cardiff Council and Wates, as a partner in the Cardiff Living programme. And they are delivering apprenticeships on that site—people are being trained today in how homes are being constructed, and those people will find that that is very much the world they're going to carry on working in for the future. So, we're already seeing a jobs and a training dividend whilst improving new housing stock, as well as the need to improve the housing stock we already have. And you should find those examples through the way that this plan works alongside other Government interventions. This isn't simply going to be a success if my department is the only one working towards it.

And on the challenge around economic inequality, it's one of the key things we know we need to address. With our current programme, the Communities for Work programme, 40 per cent of the people who were helped and supported in that programme have a disability or a limiting healthcare condition that is a barrier to them accessing work. We know that lots of people have support from our Parents, Childcare and Employment programme, helping parents into education where childcare is a barrier, and I met some of those people today, when we launched the programme. So, we're deliberately setting out how we're going to look to reduce economic inequality in the delivery of this plan, and that, of course, includes the gender pay gap.

Now, I look forward to updating the Member on some of the other points he's made, including the work we are undertaking on improving net-zero skills and the work that I'm doing with climate change Ministers on that. But I can see the Deputy Presiding Officer politely giving me the look that says that I should stop and allow the next question to get asked. 

15:40

Always happy for you to be succinct in your answers, Minister. 

Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Luke Fletcher. 

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you to the Minister for his statement. There's much to welcome here, but I'd like to focus on a couple of points. Access to high-quality employment is strongly linked to mental health: 43 per cent of unemployed people report poor mental health, compared to 27 per cent who are in employment. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has noted that job loss, of which there have been many in Wales over the pandemic period, is a traumatic experience in someone's life and has an immediate negative impact on their mental health. Further still, there is significant further damage when unemployment continues long term.

Low-paid workers were the most likely to be furloughed or lose their jobs, and groups already at the most risk of problem debt prior to the pandemic are now at even greater risk. Addressing these financial inequalities this side of the pandemic should be at the forefront of our political agenda. However, access to employment alone is not enough. We must guarantee that this employment is fair and just. Half of people in poverty now live in working families. People are being trapped in poverty by low wages, zero-hour contracts and job insecurity. Promoting fair work is great, but I would like the Minister to drill down a bit and outline how fair work will be guaranteed, including job security, opportunity for education and training and staff consultation and representation. How exactly will these be guaranteed? 

On the green economy, Russian oil and gas imports have not currently been fully included in the UK economic sanctions against Russia, because of the concern of the impact of this on the UK economy, especially while we are already experiencing a cost-of-living crisis that is being heavily fuelled by rising energy costs. Some reports suggest that this is set to change today, but the impact of our reliance on Russian fossil fuels is huge. Shell has calculated that current exports and flow prices to western democracies are helping to finance a Russian T-90 tank every 20 minutes. This is something that my colleague Liz Saville-Roberts MP has been raising in her Westminster capacity, and a topic that Adam Price has already spoken on, and, to reiterate his words, 

'not a single drop of Russian oil should be offloaded into Wales...while innocent blood is being shed in Ukraine'.

But the discussions have rightly raised questions around our reliance on fossil fuels. We must ramp up our renewable low-carbon economy, which, hopefully, this plan will play a part in doing. To do this, we have to immediately and continuously invest in the technologies of the future here in Wales, and create green jobs through a just transition. A skills gap in Wales is one of the obstacles that is preventing us from moving at this accelerated rate away from fossil fuels, an issue that has been highlighted by the Construction Industry Training Board, an issue I know the Minister is aware of. Specifically, how will we fill these skill gaps? How will this gap be filled urgently so that we can significantly increase our renewable, low-carbon economy?

And, finally, on gender equality, today marks International Women's Day, and economic barriers continue to face women. Our economic system, structures and policies are continuing to recreate and reproduce gender inequality. The latest data from Chwarae Teg has highlighted that the gender pay gap in Wales has actually worsened in 2021. The gender pay gap increased from 11.8 per cent to 12.3 per cent. Women's median hourly pay increased 34p between 2020 and 2021, below the average of 42p, whereas men's increased by 49p. And this is a point I've highlighted before in this Chamber, but needs reiterating: as of 2021, men earn more than women in every local authority in Wales. These figures should highlight to us that progress towards eradicating income inequality is neither consistent, guaranteed nor rapid, and we must, therefore, ensure we are considering the views and needs of women in plans like these. I am concerned that, as we move towards a green economy, these figures may continue to worsen, as it's known that the biggest gender gaps occur in agriculture, manufacturing, construction and transportation—areas that will be key areas to a green transition, where new jobs and skills will be focused. So, we must ensure that women are not left out of the green transition.

So, finally, I ask the Minister: how does this plan tangibly address these issues? How are we encouraging women in Wales into STEM subjects? How are we guaranteeing fair and green employment for women? And how are we ensuring they're not left out of the green transition? And of course, if this plan does not address those issues, will the Minister consider expanding the plan to include additions that address economic inequalities in employment and training, on International Women's Day?

15:45

Thank you for the questions and the comments. I recognise that work, and in particular good work, is often a protective factor for people's mental health. It isn't a guarantee, but I also know that poor work can have a really detrimental impact on people's mental health. I know from my former time as an employment lawyer, when I've seen people who worked in a poor workplace having difficult experiences at work affecting not just their work, but their whole life around them as well, and the people they love and care for. And that's particularly the case when people are in poorly paid work as well. So, fair work is one of our five key aspects in the plan.

There are some things we can do ourselves rather more directly. So, the NHS, for example, is a living wage employer, a real living wage employer. We're doing more on the social care system in terms of making sure that people have decent and better wages. We're looking to try to make sure we build on the social partnership we have created through the last few years, which has been accelerated and deepened during the pandemic, to try to make sure that we really do deliver Wales as a fair work nation.

Our staff are paid in a certain way; we know that in the private sector we can't influence every single employer. Where we do need to be clear, though, is in the examples of what we're prepared to reward and stand by and say, 'This is what good looks like.' I've seen more of that in the way the economic contract works and is being deepened. So, I expect to have more on that in what we're doing with people in the private sector where most pay, of course, choices are made. And at the same time I think we'll be able to do more in the field of procurement, and that's a matter that the finance Minister leads on and Ministers right across the Government have a real interest in. So, I think you're going to find, not just in this plan, but more generally in what the Government does, that we're genuinely committed to that, as well as individual interventions like Healthy Working Wales and Time to Change Wales, which my department jointly funds, together with the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being as the lead Minister.

When it comes to the comments you made about Putin's war and the invasion of Ukraine, I fully recognise that there are challenges in rising prices that will be exacerbated by the war. The cost-of-living crisis was with us already before the invasion of Ukraine. It will be made worse because there will be reduced supply of oil and gas from Russia. One of the things we have to accept is that if we think it's wrong for there to be Russian oil and gas helping to fund that war, then that means there'll be challenges in energy supply within this country as well. It reinforces the point about energy security and our ability to generate more of our own energy and be less reliant on the supply of oil and gas from other parts of the world. It's one of the things that, even before the dreadful crisis in Ukraine, Ministers were already clear about and keen to make the most of our assets.

Within that, there are of course challenges in terms of investing in skills and in the infrastructure we need. We know that we already have a position where, I think, over half of our power needs are regularly provided by renewable sources. The challenge then is how much more can we do, how much more reliable will that need to be, how we'll get the investment from the private sector as well as the public sector that will be required to further exploit offshore wind, marine and tidal power as well, and then the skills that go alongside that. That is a bit of a circular conversation because we need to understand what is going to happen with investment in the whole supply chain for those industries that are going be created when new rounds are auctioned off by the Crown Estate for offshore wind. How do we then make sure we understand what those companies are going to do and when we can actually invest alongside them to make sure we have the skills supply for people?

An example of where that can go wrong, of course, is Wylfa Newydd, the former Hitachi project. We did invest in lots of skills, and actually what we were doing there would have made sense if the project had gone forward. When it didn't, we'd essentially taken a community of people together with us on a journey that wasn't then completed. It does, though, show I think that where we have some certainty on those very large investment choices, we can make sure that  the levers we have are available to help people into what should be good jobs for the future. We're already doing some of that work as we know we're going to need to do even more to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy, and in particular how we get the most gain from renewable sources of power.

I'll finish with your points about women and the pay gap. I've been very lucky in my working life to work with a number of women, to be led and managed by women in the workplace, and I'm very proud of my own wife who is a women of real achievement in her business. She's a much better leader and manager than I ever was in the workplace. But, actually, we know that we still have significant gender inequalities, not just in money, but in the way that leadership positions are undertaken and the culture of workforces and workplaces in the private and the public sector. It's why the Government continues to invest in promoting opportunities for women and girls to seek careers in areas where they have not been in the past, whether that's construction, whether that's STEM or, indeed, in tech and in fintech. And I have to say, when I was recently away and looking at some of the promotion we're doing in the United Arab Emirates around the World Expo in Dubai, I was really proud to see Welsh women in fintech as leading figures, running those companies and making a pitch about how they are doing something not just for themselves, but for a whole sector where their skills could and should be recognised. I think we're going to see more of that in the future, so that everyone can see there is someone you can see and someone you can be, and there's a Government that is on your side to make sure you get what you're worth, which is exactly the same as the person next to you, whether a man or a woman.

15:50

Following the International Women's Day theme, I want to try and explore how we're going to close the gender gap in relation to not having women in one section of the workforce and men in the other, because we need—. A bit more mixing up will benefit the whole community.

So, we know from the Well-being of Future Generations Commissioner for Wales's report, 'Homes Fit for the Future: The Retrofit Challenge', that we need over 4,000 people to be skilled in insulating people's homes—existing homes—and we also need nearly 3,000 retrofit energy assessors. How does the Government think that we can get a much better balanced workforce in these really important skills, rather than them all being male? Equally, the social care sector would benefit from having a much wider diversity of the workforce, both in terms of more men working in it, and also a range of different ethnic minorities to reflect the communities they're serving. So, I'd be very keen to understand how the proper shortage in social care and in childcare could be filled by training up many more people to work in this absolutely crucial area, which is never going to be outsourced to artificial algorithms—these are proper jobs of the future—as well as the most urgent jobs around retrofitting, which, obviously, with the price of energy going up, we need to get on with as quickly as we possibly can.

I thank the Member for the questions. I'm not sure how far linked and how closely linked they are to the plan, but I'm happy to address the points that I think are being made. Because, again, in my past, when I've run equal pay claims, you very quickly get to see what looks unusual, and you then have to try and prove them. So, for example, in areas where there are gender-segregated jobs and different negotiation structures, you often find, even in the same employer, there are different outcomes in terms of pay structures. And that has created a huge problem for employers in the public and some parts of the private sector. The difficulty is that actually running a legal claim is a blunt tool to try and achieve it, and you often find people invest lots of money in defending claims, rather than looking at what they can do to address their pay systems to make sure they properly reward people for the work that they're doing. That's where people who really are doing the work should be valued and paid the same, rather than challenges where you tend to find people concentrating in different professions entirely.

I take on board your point around some of the work on energy assessing. Well, some of this is about promoting opportunities and being clear that this isn't just man's work or woman's work. To be really clear, there are jobs for people with skills and talent, and to be clear that that talent exists in all parts of the country. And that's what we're trying to do in giving people the skills and the opportunities to re-enter the workforce. I met a single dad and a single mum who'd been helped by the programmes that we had provided, and they were now in work because of the help and support we had provided. But it is about making clear that we tried to remove some of those barriers in the way that people see themselves, as well as the way they're seen by other people. And that's a bigger challenge, because, actually, lots of gender bias that we talk about starts off from before people are born and then after they're born.

I don't know how many of you still wander up and down aisles with children's clothing and books, but you still see an awful lot of pink for those things that are for women—and I'm wearing a pink shirt by coincidence today. But, when you look at the messages on people's clothing, and I recently saw messages around this, the messages that girls are given about who they should be and what they should do are very different from the messages that boys are given at a very young age. And, actually, part of our challenge is how we get through some of that, because without knowing it, we end up growing up with those assumptions about ourselves and about other people. What we are doing with this plan is part of what we should do as a Government in making clear that the opportunities are there for everyone, and we recognise that people are not in the same position and we deliberately want to do something about righting that and making sure that people who do have different responsibilities and different outcomes have a better chance because of the action that this Government will take.

15:55

Thank you, Minister, for your statement today and responses so far in the Chamber here. As a keen follower of Plenary, I'm sure that you noted that, last week, I asked a question to the climate change Minister around the opportunities in particular in north Wales around renewable energy and the supply chain there, and making the most of the resources that we have in north Wales to ensure that the green economy is thriving in that part of the country. I outlined the opportunities that it has to offer, and, of course, that's not just for north Wales but for Wales as a whole, and whether that's in wind energy, solar energy or some marine energy as well, and I thank you for acknowledging that today in some of your responses. There's been cross-party acknowledgement of the opportunities there today as well.

I did note in one of your responses—I think it was probably to Paul Davies a moment ago—that you touched on some of the potential risks because this type of statement and thinking touches all parts of Government, and perhaps there's a risk of some departments of Government not fully engaging in this, and what we see sometimes in Government around silo working. So, I was wondering whether you'd be able to outline how you're working across Government to ensure that your plans and thinking around employability and skills, and particularly around the economy and greener Wales, are completely and properly utilised and that we don't see that silo working that can be associated with Government from time to time. Thanks.

Thank you for the question. Yes, I am particularly interested, as indeed are our climate change Ministers, in supply chain opportunities for renewables in all their forms; there's much to offer in both north and south Wales on those opportunities for us. And it will require us to have a conversation with businesses as well as the UK Government, as well as the partners that we have in devolved areas of responsibility too.

When it comes to cross-Government working, in the questions earlier, I know that I was asked about work with the education Minister but also with the housing Minister and others, because we do know that for the employability and skills plan to work, we need to match up our own interventions to point in the same direction. Part of the reason we've undertaken this review and a new plan is that there's been a shift in the way that some of our partners are working. That's partly the pandemic, it's also partly that the UK Government have pivoted and shifted some of their employability support as well. I think I mentioned it before that the Department for Work and Pensions are more active in some of this space than they have been in the past. They tend, though, to be active closer to the labour market, which is why we're concentrating our efforts further away from the labour market, so that we don't contradict or potentially duplicate the support that should be in place from the DWP.

This isn't particularly interesting in the sense of people who are watching getting lots from it, but the wiring within the Government really does work: how we make sure that officials talk with each other, how much of our briefings are shared at the right point in time and how we make sure that Ministers do properly discuss this when we need to, to make sure that we're keeping on track. So, the obvious points about the work with the education Minister, but also the opportunities not just in the area of housing but others are something that I'm keen that we do see carried forward. I hope that the Member is reassured by the fact that, when it came to the discussion in Cabinet, there was not just a general welcome for it, but a recognition by lots of Ministers that they had a part to play in making the plan successful.

I welcome the statement today, Minister. It's not just these benches who welcome the statement, I think most Members of the Chamber do. I know that the opposition spokesperson looks like he's wearing a tie from our party today, but even he welcomes the majority of it, as do our colleagues in the Trades Union Congress, of course. But I think it's worth noting, as well, what we've delivered as a Welsh Labour Government. In the last Senedd term, 112,000 plus apprenticeships were delivered in Wales, and that's something I'm really proud of as a former apprentice. And this statement again shows our ambitious plan for training in Wales.

You'll be aware, Minister, that I have an ambition to bring the design and manufacture of renewable technologies to Alyn and Deeside. We have the skill set, we have the people. I've worked alongside them, I've trained alongside them. So, I just wonder if you would be willing to meet with me to discuss how Alyn and Deeside fits in to the plan for a stronger, fairer, greener Wales, and how the Welsh Government can support projects and unlocking potential projects within Alyn and Deeside—perhaps, for example, the Tata Steel manufacturing offsite hub in Shotton, a great project for the future of Alyn and Deeside. I'd be grateful if you would accept that invitation.

16:00

I'm very pleased that Jack Sargeant has highlighted our track record on delivering and, in fact, overachieving our pledge in the last Senedd term. We pledged 100,000 apprentices; we got to over 112,000. Of course, we had the ability to draw on European funding at the time, so 125,000—a 25 per cent increase on our previous target—is going to be more difficult to achieve, but I'm confident that we'll do so. Actually, this plan shows that we're directing our resources to do just that. It means there are difficult choices we've had to make elsewhere, but that does reinforce the priority that we place on the future of apprentices and the skills that they will bring, the economic benefit that they will bring as well. As to his kind invitation, I have of course already visited the Member's constituency. I've been to Shotton works with him, but I'll be more than happy to have a further meeting with him. Because there is lots for us to talk about in opportunities for north-east Wales, including, of course, Alyn and Deeside, the investment we're putting in to some of our manufacturers there, the advanced manufacturing centre that we're funding and supporting as well. So, I'd be more than happy to discuss how we could have a useful conversation with a range of stakeholders around his constituency about the future.

Diolch. Minister, I welcome the statement and message regarding growing a stronger, fairer, greener Wales by investing in people and developing skills and confidence. I think confidence is really important. I attended a very interesting presentation at the women's cross-party group, chaired by Siân Gwenllian, on a care-led recovery, which would generate more employment than investment in construction, whilst not exacerbating the gender pay gap. It would improve well-being by contributing to a better cared-for population, preventing greater needs in the future, help create a greener, more resilient and caring economy. Investing in care expands the supply of labour across the regions, not just where there is land supply, and recoups more revenue through increasing the numbers in employment who then spend in their local economy, and maintains vibrant communities. Pathways have already been created into nursing careers for healthcare workers in north Wales, though Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, working with Bangor University and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which is really welcome. Minister, is a care-led recovery an idea you would take forward with the health Minister under this plan for employability and skills? Thank you.

Thank you. I do know a thing or two about the health service and investing in choices around our future workforce. Actually, it's one of the things we have consistently done. We've always, in my time as the Minister, but also Eluned Morgan as the new Minister, invested the maximum amount possible in terms of our future health workforce that our system can actually successfully train. What we've also done is we've made not only the choice that we can certainly make to keep things like the bursary, to make sure people don't drop out, but also to try to make sure that there are some conditionalities, so that people who receive that extra support that isn't available across the border are then committed to working within our system as well. We do know we're going to need more people in our health and care sector in the future. That's partly because we have the success story of having an ageing population, it's partly because we know we're going to lose some of our staff following the pandemic—people who will want to leave their careers early or not work full time for as long as they otherwise would have done. And we're also, I'm afraid, confident we're going to have greater health and care need coming into our system as well.

The reason we're investing in the incomes of people in our social care sector, and in particular in the residential and domiciliary care sector, is that we actually want to see people paid properly for the work that they do. The real living wage is the first step to doing that. You're absolutely right to point out that investing in those workers will lead to that money going into local families and local communities. These are not people who are going to hide their wealth in the Seychelles or some other jurisdiction; they're going to spend it locally on their families. So, yes, you can expect to see us continuing to invest. In line with the plan, it's not just the point that healthcare conditions should not be a barrier to work, but that the health and social care system itself as a major employer has a major role to play in delivering the ambitions of this plan and creating a fairer, stronger, greener Wales.

Diolch i'r Gweinidog. You are always welcome to come to Aberavon to discuss your plans as well.

16:05
5. Statement by the Minister for Social Justice: International Women’s Day

The next item is the statement by the Minister for Social Justice on International Women’s Day. I call the Minister, Jane Hutt. 

Thank you very much, good afternoon.

Today we mark International Women’s Day. Today is an opportunity to pay tribute to the women who came before us and the women who stand on the shoulders of these giants, continuing the fight for equality and social justice—women including the formidable Betty Campbell MBE, Wales's first black headteacher, co-creator of Black History Month and champion of multiculturalism in Wales. I know that you all share my pride that Cardiff is now home to Betty Campbell’s statue, a fitting homage to her legacy. Thanks to the work of Monumental Welsh Women, Mountain Ash will soon also have a memorial dedicated to the exceptional Elaine Morgan.

As we reflect on the contribution of women in Wales, we must, of course, consider the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We're all aware of the wide-scale harm it caused to our health, social and economic well-being, and women have been at the centre of this. Globally, women have led the health response to COVID-19, making up almost 70 per cent of the healthcare workforce. And at the same time, women have shouldered much of the burden at home, carrying out up to 10 times more care work than men. Women have also faced a high risk of job and income loss, and increased risk of violence and abuse. The pandemic has revealed society’s dependence on work that is disproportionately done by women, as unpaid carers and as employees within care, social work and hospitality. But the pandemic has also highlighted the brilliance of women’s contribution to the scientific and clinical response. As we move out of this crisis and into another on cost of living, it's crucial that we place far stronger value on this work, which is central to our economy and our communities. Our 'Advancing Gender Equality in Wales' plan provides the framework through which we will address the changing landscape for women in Wales, and our programme for government prioritises implementation of key aspects of this plan.

We will fund childcare for more parents in education and training and on the edge of work, and the childcare offer gives parents, in particular women, more choice and greater ability to have both a family and a career. This is strengthened in our co-operation agreement. The Welsh Government will work in social partnership to eliminate the pay gap for gender, ethnicity and disability by 2050. This is a vital step towards a society that enables people to fulfil their potential, no matter their gender, background or circumstances. Deputy Llywydd, an equality evidence unit will be implemented within Welsh Government this year, alongside race disparity and disability disparity evidence units. And collectively, these will improve data on underserved and disadvantaged groups, as well as considering evidence from an intersectional perspective.

The Welsh Government has always been clear about its ambition to end violence against women and girls, building on our groundbreaking legislation. We will strengthen our strategic focus on violence against women in the street and workplace, as well as the home, in order to make Wales the safest place in Europe to be a woman. We've recently consulted on our proposals, and I look forward to publishing our final strategy early in the summer term. Each of these priorities demonstrates the importance of an intersectional approach to gender equality. As we challenge systemic inequality, we must be sure to challenge this for every woman, and we must acknowledge and understand that equality of outcome requires differing and sensitive approaches.

A theme of International Women’s Day this year is 'break the bias'. Thirty years since Chwarae Teg was launched, it's a timely reminder of our collective responsibility to challenge gender stereotypes and the deliberate or unconscious bias affecting women here and across the world. No woman can be left behind. We will work with and for black, Asian and minority ethnic women, disabled women, women who are lesbian, bisexual and trans, women in poverty, older women, girls and others to deliver equality and social justice. We will do this with expert stakeholders, including Women Connect First, WEN Wales, BAWSO and many others, to engage communities across Wales, building upon relationships and trust, developed over decades.

We must also ensure that this Senedd houses a growing group of diverse women, to work for everybody’s benefit. The same goes for every council and every board in Wales. The Welsh Government is proud to part fund the Equal Power Equal Voice mentoring scheme. The scheme provides opportunities to diverse communities across Wales to explore leadership roles in public life in Wales, and the scheme is already delivering—mentees have become MPs, councillors and key public appointees. I hope that, one day soon, we will be sat alongside graduates of the programme.

No single idea will address the root causes of inequality. Systemic cultural change is required and there must be collective responsibility in how we rethink our society and how we reset our ambitions for opportunity and equality of outcome. We will embed gender budgeting in our decision-making processes to drive cultural change around social justice and sustainability, and, in doing so, we will acknowledge the potential challenges for women as we cope with the effects of climate change. Through our mainstreaming equality pilot, we will ensure a zero-carbon future includes and values women and provides new and innovative opportunities for skills, education and work, ensuring a just transition to a green economy. It is crucial that all players—partners, activists and politicians—stand ready to work in partnership, to turn the dial and make real, meaningful and swift progress to achieve the change we all want to see, a gender-equal Wales.

I began my statement today by acknowledging pioneers of equality in Wales, and I want to end by paying tribute to the women of Ukraine, who, with their families, are on all our minds today. I wish my words could undo the horror they're living through. I'm in awe of their strength, as I'm sure we all are today, and their resilience, and we send them our solidarity in these awful days. Diolch.

16:10

Minister, thank you so much for your statement. I must say, I really did appreciate everything you said. International Women's Day is a moment to recognise past achievements, I 100 per cent agree with you when you said that, and to look at the future challenges is also vital for each and every single one of us.

As a proud Welsh woman, I'm delighted to be sitting amongst so many hard-working and dedicated women in this Parliament here in Wales on a weekly basis. As much as today is about celebration, it's also a time to reflect on progress made in tackling gender inequality here in Wales and to take action to create a fairer and more just nation. We do this having had to respond and adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. Women have been on the front line in the fight against COVID-19, whether it's front-line workers in the health service, the ladies serving us in our supermarkets, or indeed those who work in the care sector, and I'm proud to say that women have played a leading role in the development of the vaccines that are playing such a vital role in our lives returning back to normal.

One consequence of this pandemic has been that employers have been made aware of the benefits of more flexible working, which is certainly a positive. The proportion of women working part time has reduced by about 3 per cent as a result of more flexible working and better childcare provision. However, it is worrying that the gender pay gap has increased from 11.8 per cent to 12.3 per cent. Sadly, this is not the full story. Regional disparities mean the gap can be as low as 1.9 per cent in Conwy but as high as 25 per cent in Torfaen. Can I ask, Minister, how you intend to address the widening gender pay gap that exists at present here in Wales? Too many women remain concentrated in lower paid occupations. We must break the perception that some careers are for boys and others are for girls. What action is being taken, Minister, to raise the aspirations of girls and young women to ensure that more are studying maths, engineering, technology and science, to raise their potential earning levels and provide the vaccine discoverers of the future here in Wales?

There will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make the laws, and I know you are working tirelessly to achieve that and do that, but we really need to see more. Women remain under-represented in public life in Wales, with only 29 per cent of local councillors being female and women making up less than half of public appointments in 2020. More needs to be done to not just break, but smash this glass ceiling. I would ask you, Minister, what more can be done to increase the representation of women in public life.

Recent high-profile cases have also once more brought about attention to the issues of violence, abuse and harassment that too many women face here in 2022. Cases of domestic abuse and violence against women are on the rise, exacerbated by the stresses of lockdown. It takes great courage to come forward and report incidents of domestic abuse, and I commend all those women who speak up for those causes and work in that field. I hope the Welsh Government's forthcoming strategy will focus on recognising the signs of such abuse on the victims and their children by public and private bodies so that appropriate action can be taken. The exploitation of women through human trafficking, modern slavery, forced marriage and female genital mutilation are more widely recognised now than ever before, which is certainly progress. I would urge you, Minister, to please redouble your efforts and do all you can to stamp out these scandalous and illegal abuses that take place today. 

To conclude, women cannot achieve equality without the creation of opportunity. It cannot be right that the potential of half of our population should be stifled and suppressed. If we are to succeed in creating a more equal and a just Wales, then International Women's Day cannot solely simply be for one day. It has to govern our actions, each and every single day, to ensure the equal rights of all women and girls across Wales. Thank you very much.

16:15

The Llywydd took the Chair.

Diolch yn fawr, Natasha, and it's so great that you are with us here today and that we can share so much in terms of celebrating progress, but also acknowledging the huge challenges that lie ahead for women. I do want to pay tribute and thank Joyce Watson for bringing us together tonight—the women of this Senedd, this Welsh Parliament—as we are going to meet together across parties. And also to not only share where we want to go forward together—women representatives in this Senedd—but also listen to the inspiring words of Lucy Kassa, who's joining us today, an Ethiopian independent journalist.

I think it's crucial that we just do acknowledge the importance of the gender pay gap, which you referred to. It's actually so important that questions have come to my colleague the Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething, about his employability skills plan, very much relating question after question about 'Will this help address the gender pay gap?' Because this is about committing ourselves to pursue economic and social justice, and tackling pay inequality is an essential component of this. And, of course, the pay gap isn't just limited to gender. That's why I think the equality evidence units that we're setting up are going to be crucially important to look at disability and race pay gaps as well—part of our national milestones for the well-being of future generations. It's a shared endeavour, and we'll achieve this through our social partnership approach, through working in social partnership, because that, actually, provides us with the opportunity to engage with employers, trade unions and the workforce to persuade them also of the benefits and the positive outcome of tackling the gender pay gaps and pay gaps of all dimensions.

I think it's important to also acknowledge the way in which the annual 'State of the Nation' report mentioned earlier on by the leader of Plaid Cymru, published by Chwarae Teg just a few weeks ago—. It did actually recognise that there is the gender pay gap that we need to address, and mainstreaming it across all Government responsibilities, which will start making the difference. But we need to engage with our social partners to do this.

Yes, it is crucial that we now drive forward our commitment while we do have strong support across this Chamber for our violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy. You know we're developing our next five-year strategy. We extended consultation times to engage directly with children and young people and victims and survivor groups, and we're strengthening and expanding the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy.

But I think it is also important that we look at—and we've expressed this in the Chamber, and from our male colleagues as well—tackling male violence and the misogyny and gender inequality that lie behind it, and how we have to break the cycle and address the root causes of VAWDASV. This must start with boys and young men, if future generations are to be offered an opportunity to break this cycle. We recognise also that all perpetrators, regardless of their gender, must be held to account for their actions and also support our campaign, CallOutOnly, helping people identify behaviours, particularly now as we widen that to street harassment as well, and looking at how we can address not just street harassment, workplace harassment and general harassment of women and girls.

Can I say, just in terms of smashing the glass ceiling, how wonderful it was to hear today the news that Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is going to be our new chair of Sport Wales? I think that's a tremendous public appointment of Tanni, who grew up in Cardiff, in Wales, and is globally known. But she's coming back to Wales to be chair and such a fantastic role model. I met with her recently and she's very inspired by the work that we're doing on our disability taskforce about the impact of the pandemic on disabled people. But we have to make sure that we reflect Wales in running Wales, and that is in terms of our public appointments, and indeed across all our political parties in Wales. Thank you.

16:20

I thank the Minister for her statement and would like to associate myself and my party with her tribute to the women of Ukraine. 

My grandmother had to give up her job when she was married. My mother started out her career as a teacher on less pay than her male counterparts. I worked part-time for over a decade because I couldn't find suitable childcare. According to the World Economic Forum, none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, nor likely will many of our children. There is urgent work to do, and Chwarae Teg's 'State of the Nation 2022' report, published last month, shows clearly that Wales has a lot of work to do.

Yesterday evening I took part in a discussion organised by the Senedd and chaired by Jenny Rathbone about the provision of childcare in Wales—or should I say the inequality caused by the lack of it. I am very glad, of course, that the expansion of free childcare is part of the Government's co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, but we know that this must really just be a first step.

In a round-table discussion with Chwarae Teg last week, it was noted that, when looking at gender inequality data and assessing its root causes, it almost always comes back to the burden of caring responsibilities falling disproportionately on women. Their report found that, out of women who were economically inactive, 24.1 per cent of the time this was due to family caring responsibilities. The figure for men was only 5.8 per cent. No matter what policies we put in place across the economy, or what quotas we implement in public life, we have to create a society where women are able to take up the opportunities that are before them. Given this, could the Welsh Government please outline what further provisions are in place for these women who are economically inactive as they are having to care for family at home, especially as the current childcare offer is not available to those who are out of work?

To truly achieve gender equality in Wales, we have to focus on the most marginalised women first—the women in society who face the greatest barriers and are the most disadvantaged. The compound effect, as you've said in your statement, of the intersection between gender inequality and other socioeconomic inequalities in Wales is clear. According to the 'State of the Nation' report, in Wales, in 2021, 78.4 per cent of men were economically active as compared to 70.3 per cent of white women who were in employment. But only 56 per cent of ethnic minority women were in employment.

In politics and public life, diversity is crucial, as this is where decisions that affect day-to-day life are taken. Without intersectional women's representation, we will not have a diverse range of voices in the room that allows for different issues and perspectives to be discussed and heard. Women, as we know, are already under-represented in public life. While 43 per cent of the elected representatives in this Senedd are women, this is still a drop from where we ended the last Senedd term, and we have a higher proportion of women here than we do among Welsh MPs, for example, and only 29 per cent of Welsh councillors are women.

In local government, we really need to see significantly more women elected in this coming election in May, and ensure this translates into higher numbers of women in local government cabinets and as leaders. Part of this is ensuring that working practices work for women; maintaining the virtual element to meetings and keeping to flexible and family-friendly working hours can help. So, what is the Welsh Government doing to ensure an improvement in that 29 per cent rate for the election of female councillors in the upcoming election in May?

Women from ethnic minority backgrounds, working-class backgrounds, low incomes and women with disabilities are proportionally less represented in areas where they will have their voices heard or receive the highest pay. In Wales in 2021, less than 5 per cent of public appointments in 2020-21 were from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds, and less than 5 per cent were people with disabilities.

There is positive work being done in Wales, and I congratulate Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson on her appointment. I welcome also the creation of the equality evidence unit alongside the race and disability disparity units, which will undoubtedly help us to see what is going wrong. However, more must be done to ensure everyone involved in making decisions about spending and public policy embed intersectional equalities analysis into everything they do. So, how is the Welsh Government ensuring that intersectional and gender equality are being considered during public appointments in Wales, for example? Is there scope for mandating or encouraging the use of quotas, not only in Senedd elections, as is currently committed to in the co-operation agreement, but also public appointments? Would the Welsh Government also consider implementing gender and other equalities training for all those involved in making decisions about spending and public policy, to ensure we are embedding intersectional equalities analysis into everything we do? Diolch.

16:25

Diolch, Sioned Williams. I do think it's so important that we reflect on the women we've descended from as well—our mothers and grandmothers. So often we pay attention to perhaps the men we're descended from as well, because they've had achievements, but it's the women we've descended from who are so powerful to us. And we have a responsibility to them as well as to our future generations.

It's crucially important that we tackle gender pay, and if you look at areas of concern relating to gender pay, it widened slightly in Wales this year. And women also—this point about childcare—remain four times more likely to cite childcare as the reason for being economically inactive. But also, intersectionally, representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people and disabled people—among public appointments, we're making some changes, but it still remains low, and we need to look at the under-representation of women among business leaders, managers, directors. 

I think some questions came up about women in STEM earlier on this afternoon. If we look at current surveys, they indicate that only 11 per cent of the UK's engineering workforce is female, and we've got the lowest percentage of women engineering professionals in Europe. So, I think the Not Just for Boys work that Chwarae Teg has undertaken is crucially important as well. It's very gender segregated, we know, the labour market. I visited a day nursery in my constituency a couple of weeks ago. They've never recruited a young man to work in the day nursery, and it's an all-female workforce in childcare, and very much so in social care as well. It's great we've got the real living wage, because that's going to help address women's pay disparities as well, and we need the real living wage as a crucial route towards tackling the gender pay gap, and then progress in the labour market.

I think it is very important that we look at the most marginalised and those with protected characteristics. That's why I focused on the intersectional approach in my statement, but poverty rates have increased—cost of living, pandemic, inequalities have increased, and of course now—. And we know that, actually, single parents are still at greatest risk of living in poverty. I think the issues that we raised last year about the fact that the cut to universal credit, that £20 cut—it directly impacted on women and their families on lowest pay. I think we need to recognise that unpaid care work, harassment, abuse and violence all have to be addressed. 

I would like to just say, as we move to the local government elections, it's really important that we have more women candidates. I'm sure all political parties are seeking this for the local government elections. I'm very proud that we now have women leaders across our political parties anyway representing local government, who are absolutely at the sharp end of everything that we're doing in delivering in terms of policy. And I was very pleased to meet with all of the cabinet members who are responsible for equality recently and, of course, Rebecca Evans, the Minister for local government, has shared with me the ways in which we take forward the budget improvement plan, looking at gender budgeting as well as helping to tackle the pay gap, but also looking at ways in which we can ensure that more women are represented, and also see that as an intersectional approach and core as well. 

So, we have a long way to go, but I think I was very pleased to see the First Minister's tweet on International Women's Day today that he was very proud of the fact that he had more women in the Cabinet than men, and I think sometimes people must say, 'Oh, there are some women running Wales here', and we've got women Chairs of committees across the Senedd, our Llywydd. This is where we have to stand up together and hopefully—. I've mentioned the equal voice initiative. We really must ensure that we inspire and enable our young women to succeed us in this place. Diolch.

16:30

Usually, I'd reflect on—. I'd like to reflect on this year's International Women's Day theme, which is 'break the bias', and I'm delighted that the Welsh Government is helping to break the bias in healthcare, with today's announcement of endometriosis specialist nurses. It's a serious, life-changing condition affecting one in 10 women, and it deserves to be treated and resourced as such.

But, today, like women around the world, I'm haunted by the situation in and spilling out of Ukraine. More than 1 million Ukrainians have already fled the country, mostly women and children. This International Women's Day, the UK Government should do the right thing and put in place simple, fast, safe and legal routes for sanctuary in the UK, like other European nations. Frankly, the current visa situation shames our country.

But, in terms of what we in Wales can do, I know women and women's groups across Wales are furiously organising community appeals. They'll be the first in line to welcome refugees when they arrive, as they welcomed Syrians and others in recent years. So, on that, can you update us on your meeting last week with the Minister for Finance and Local Government and the WLGA regarding preparations to accommodate refugees from Ukraine?

Diolch yn fawr, Joyce Watson, and can I just thank Joyce for being such a lead champion for women in Wales? Before you become a Senedd Member, it's been your adult life commitment.

But it is important to focus on the theme, 'breaking the bias', in terms of International Women's Day, and I have responded to many points about breaking the bias already, but I just want to acknowledge as well that women's health—. Everything that we do in Welsh Government has a bearing on women's lives, and health and well-being are crucially important, so it is good to see progress being made through the women's health implementation group, set up by the former health Minister, to look at issues around endometriosis and to see that we now have this recruitment of a network of specialist endometriosis nurses in each health board, developing those national pathways, because it is a crucial issue for women's lives in terms of their economic activity and every aspect of their lives.

Just in terms of an update, because we know, in terms of the women and children, the refugees, who are now escaping the horror in Ukraine, that it will be mainly women and children who we want to welcome to Wales as a nation of sanctuary, so we have asked and called consistently, as the First Minister has said today in contributions this afternoon, for that fast, simple legal route to enable us—the welcoming that's coming from families, but also from local authorities. 

So, Rebecca Evans, the Minister for Finance and Local Government, and I met with all leaders last week. What we saw was a strength of committed, compassionate leadership at that meeting. We were also joined by the Wales Strategic Migration Partnership, by the Interfaith Council for Wales, by refugee support agencies as well. So, what they have already done since that meeting last week is met as—. Housing is crucial, obviously, so the cabinet members for housing across Wales have met. They've met with our housing officials. They're looking at different levels of co-ordination that they need to offer, in terms of taking up the many offers from people who want to provide space in their own homes, but also recognising that this will also need temporary accommodation, hotels and temporary accommodation, very much building on the experience from the Afghan evacuation, the team Wales approach. But the Welsh Local Government Association themselves are very frustrated by the lack of progress in terms of routes into Wales and have also, as the First Minister said, been calling for a way in which we can have a bespoke community response here in Wales. So, it is going to be today, as we think of the women and girls of Ukraine. Some also are fighting in Ukraine. I know that Mick Antoniw and Adam Price, when they visited Ukraine, they met women who were at the front line, as well as women and children who have left and want to be reunited with their menfolk when this appalling war is over.

So, thank you, Joyce, for bringing this important point to this International Women's Day statement today.

16:35

Good afternoon, Minister. I, like many in this Chamber, including my colleague Joyce, just want to focus on the situation in Ukraine. I don't know about people here, but I just can't think of anything at the moment apart from that tragic situation. And just one issue to raise, and that's around trafficking. On 6 March, reports emerged that sex traffickers were targeting single women and young children along Ukraine's border, and a social policy charity cautioned that desperate refugees are at risk of falling into the hands of human traffickers. Police and aid workers in Poland have now issued a warning about sex traffickers, indicating the ordeals for those forced to free their homes are far from over.

I welcome the fact that, again, Wales is ready to play its part in providing sanctuary to those who need it, but I wonder if I could ask the Welsh Government to write to the UK Government to ensure that the trafficking of women and children fleeing Ukraine is firmly on their radar. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Diolch yn fawr, Jane Dodds. And this is just another aspect that you've brought to the attention of the Chamber again today—Siambr heddiw. It's really important that we—. I'm very happy to write that letter today, and, actually, I think probably it's a letter that we would all want to share across this Chamber, and as we meet tonight, women meeting tonight, I think we can probably agree a few things that we might want to agree on and take forward. But I certainly will commit myself now to write that letter. Because we know that there are on the borders and in the countries where people are being welcomed—particularly women and children—they're having the most amazing welcome in those countries bordering Ukraine. We know that Poland, Hungary, Belarus—not Belarus—Poland, Hungary, Moldova, they're also all giving such a welcome, and also caring for and sheltering so many women and girls and families who are fleeing. But we need to look at this. Unfortunately, the trafficking—the charities that are there highlighted this—it needs to be addressed. Thank you, Jane.

Thank you, Minister for bringing forward the statement today. And in marking International Women's Day, and as outlined by you, Minister, and by colleagues from across the Chamber, it's really important, of course, that we continue celebrating the achievements of women and girls from right across Wales. And on this day as well, as outlined by Sioned Williams, it's important that we acknowledge how far Wales has come with women's rights and that action's being taken to create more equality. But, of course, there is more to be done. And sadly, as we know, the equality that we experience here in Wales is not the case around the world. For example, there are still 10 countries in the world where women are not allowed to vote, and there are countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, where many basic freedoms and protections for women are not currently in place, and we must continue to do our bit in Wales to see this change.

And I approach and wanted to speak briefly today, not just as a Member of the Senedd, but also as a father of three young girls. I clearly have a personal interest in ensuring we continue to protect women's rights and spaces here in Wales. And in light of this, Minister, I wonder how you think the world that my daughters will experience in the future will be different to the world we see today as a result of the actions of the Welsh Government. Thank you.

16:40

Thank you very much, Sam Rowlands. It's always very—. It's great when our male colleagues are also speaking up on International Women's Day, and we've had many debates and statements over the last few weeks and months where you have made very powerful contributions across this Chamber. I think it's very important that Wales is also looking outwards. This is why we're a nation of sanctuary and we want to have that welcome to our refugees from Ukraine, which mainly will be women and children. But also, as I said, we have a visit today from Lucy Kassa who—. She's in the gallery, I hope, as we speak. She's an Ethiopian journalist who's reporting on the war in Tigray. She has exposed massacres, sexual violence, man-made starvation and other human rights abuses, and she's going to be joining us tonight. But I