Y Cyfarfod Llawn



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

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

Good afternoon and welcome to this afternoon's meeting. The first item on our agenda is questions to the First Minister, and the first question this afternoon is from Alun Davies. 

Public Services in Blaenau Gwent

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the potential impact of the UK Government’s economic policies on public services in Blaenau Gwent? OQ58545

Llywydd, the UK Government’s policy of unfunded tax cuts for the rich will be paid for by people in Blaenau Gwent. They will be asked to cover the debts this reckless Government will rack up. Cuts to other essential public services will be the deliberate consequence of this economic catastrophe.

Thank you very much, First Minister. We woke up this morning of course to the news from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that there's an unfunded £60 billion hole in UK public finances as a consequence of decisions taken by the UK Government—not as a consequence of war in Europe, not as a consequence of COVID, but as a consequence of their own decisions. Before we'd finished breakfast, the Bank of England had announced that they were expanding the intervention to maintain some stability in markets. First Minister, do you agree with me that the conclusion we've reached is that either the UK Conservative Government is entirely incompetent on public finances and can't be trusted to run public finances, or they're doing it deliberately, as Simon Clarke indicated a few weeks ago, when he said that we need a smaller state to align with a low-tax economy—tax cuts for the rich paid for by cuts to public services for everybody else? First Minister, this Government needs to protect the people of Blaenau Gwent in the way that it needs to protect the people of Wales against this incompetence and this conspiracy against the public sector. I hope that the Welsh Government can ensure that you can do all in your powers to protect the public services in which the people Blaenau Gwent want to see investment and not cuts. Thank you. 

Well, Llywydd, I give the Member an assurance that the Welsh Government will do everything within our powers to protect people in Blaenau Gwent and in other parts of Wales from the onslaught that is coming our way. Llywydd, I don't think it is possible to overstate the seriousness facing the UK economy today. Last night, the pound slipped further on international markets, and when the Bank of England intervene and put out a statement to say that the reason they are having to intervene is because there is a 'material risk' to the UK's financial stability—the Bank of England chooses every single word with the utmost care and caution—that is not an off-the-cuff remark, Llywydd; that is a statement of the Bank of England signalling to everybody else just how serious the position is for the United Kingdom economy. 

Jim Pickard, the very respected journalist for the Financial Times, who used to cover Wales as part of his beat, summed it up last night, when asked what does all this mean, and he said it will mean these three things: mortgage rates will keep soaring, Government borrowing costs will spike, and pension funds will head back into the crisis zone. And the IFS's estimate this morning of a £60 billion cut in a single year in public expenditure means real, real cuts here in Wales. They estimate a 15 per cent cut in departmental budgets. Llywydd, a 15 per cent cut to the Welsh Government budget would be something unheard of in the deepest days of austerity, and I just want to say as seriously as I can today that if we face cuts on that scale, we are talking about thousands and thousands of people losing their jobs in public services across Wales, with all the impact that that will have on the lives of those people who rely on those services. We are facing the most serious consequences of the decisions made only a couple of weeks ago. And the answer is that the UK Government must—must—change course. It must do what Rishi Sunak said needed to be done during the leadership election with Liz Truss. What did he say? 'If we are not the party of sound money, I don't see the point of the Conservative Party.' And there's no sound money anywhere to be found under the Liz Truss Government.


Obviously, we were expecting the political rhetoric to flow today, as was expected. [Interruption.] The Member for Blaenau Gwent, underneath all of that, I'm sure is very concerned about public services in Blaenau Gwent and he didn't refer to that. For example, what's particularly challenging at the moment is the pressures in local—[Interruption.]

Can we just hear the Member, please? I think the First Minister needs to hear and we all need to hear the Member contribute—and that includes people from your own benches to be quiet, as well as Government backbenchers. Thank you.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I was talking about local public services. For example, it's a particularly challenging time for local government, as you know, with the increased service pressures they have, and the demand is particularly felt in social care, both in adult and children's services. In Monmouthshire, for instance, the unmet care need is over 2,000 hours a week at the moment. Whilst I know some of the £70 million consequential, which is, I know, a small amount, linked to the stamp duty announcement in England, will fund part of your land transaction tax announcements, there is in the region of £46 million left from that announcement that I believe is still unallocated. First Minister, I know the Government has demands on its budget, but will you consider funnelling some of that money into local government to help them cope with the ever-increasing social care pressures, because, as we all know, that is fundamental to unlocking that massive problem we've got with the underperformance of our NHS in this country at the moment?

Llywydd, Peter Fox speaks always with authority in relation to local government, given his experience in leading a local authority. He will know what it must be like for a local authority leader to contemplate a 15 per cent reduction in their budgets. And he's right that there was a consequential from changes to stamp duty land tax in England. But what he won't have had a chance, I imagine, to have seen is that, yesterday, the UK Government announced that they were reducing the budget of the Welsh Government by £70 million next year and another £70 million in the year after. So, there may have been £70 million as a consequence of stamp duty land tax over a three-year period, but, yesterday, they announced—and this is in advance of all the cuts that will come on 31 October—that our budget is to be reduced by £70 million next year and the year after. That means that the opportunities, small as they would have been, to have assisted local authorities with the very real pressures that Peter Fox quite rightly outlined were wiped away in a single letter from the Treasury.

The Cost-of-living Crisis

2. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Prime Minister regarding the cost-of-living crisis facing residents in mid and west Wales? OQ58550

Llywydd, no opportunity for discussion on this or any other matter has been forthcoming from the latest UK Prime Minister.

Well, I just think that's ridiculous. On this International Day of the Girl Child, perhaps Liz Truss should reflect on what we teach our children about the importance of open dialogue and debate. When you do manage to catch her, would you press the Prime Minister for an answer on the three cost-of-living actions the devolved administrations are calling for: the £25 uplift to all means-tested benefit, abolition of the benefit cap and the two-child limit, and an urgent campaign to boost benefit take-up? These actions would immediately ease the burden on many households in my region and prevent tens of thousands more people in this country from falling into poverty.

Llywydd, I thank Joyce Watson for that, and thank her for drawing attention to the fact that today is the day of the girl. The Welsh Government has played our part, alongside Governments around the globe in that. I'm very pleased indeed to let Members know that Jaime, who's been shadowing me over the last 24 hours, is in the gallery and will be watching our proceedings this afternoon. Llywydd, of course, where opportunities arise, Ministers will want to pursue the points that we've made to the UK Government through the correspondence from our finance Minister. But not only has there been no invitation to meet the Prime Minister, but all those carefully agreed components of the inter-governmental review concluded by the last UK Government, agreed by the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, none of that is operating either. There was to have been a meeting of what's called FISC, the finance inter-ministerial committee. It was meant to happen in September; it was postponed by the UK Government. It was rescheduled for 5 October; it's been postponed again by the UK Government. Neither of those two committees—the ministerial committee and the finance committee—have met since the new Prime Minister took office. There were 11 groups set up at a ministerial level under the review of inter-governmental relations. There have been 20 meetings of those groups between March and the start of September. Not a single one of them has met since the new Prime Minister took office. It is a collapse—it's a collapse—of a set of arrangements that the last Conservative Government agreed, led and, to an extent, was making happen in the six months between March and September. We'll take whatever opportunities come our way, but the truth of the matter is that the current UK Government has turned its back not just on our economic futures, but the future of the United Kingdom as well. 


First Minister, the Health and Social Care Committee is beginning an inquiry into dentistry later this week. As you know, there are huge issues with people being able to access dental treatment, but one of the major issues is the impact that the cost-of-living challenges will have on patients. A concern raised is that patients who are receiving private treatment will now join, or attempt to join, NHS waiting lists, and, according to the Welsh NHS Confederation, that has the potential to add already further pressure on the system. Now, according to consultation responses, there are vast inequalities in oral health. People living in mid Wales, especially if you live in Powys, cannot access, as a new patient, an NHS dentist at all. So, can I ask what is the Government doing to close the inequality gap? And what is the Welsh Government going to do to support those who cannot afford to access dental treatment?  

Well, Llywydd, anything that I'm about to say, the Member can be sure, will be dwarfed by the impact of the cuts that we now know are coming our way. So, some sort of sober realism is required, even by Members on the Conservative benches. Now, as a result of the changes to the dental contract, changes that were, of course, opposed by Members on those benches, tens of thousands of new appointments will become available in the NHS dental service in this calendar year. Already, thousands more NHS patients are being taken on in every part of Wales. There was an anticipated growth, I think, of just over 120,000 dental patients as a result of the contract changes. We've exceeded half of that in the first half of the year, and that includes in the Powys Teaching Health Board—the smallest health board of all—where hundreds and hundreds of new appointments have become possible. I think that's a tribute to the work that's gone in alongside the British Dental Association to shape the new contract, but the pressures that we are about to face will be felt in dentistry, as in every other part of the services provided by the Welsh NHS. 

Good afternoon, First Minister. I just want to say that I feel it's really sad that the Conservatives on the other side of the benches don't listen to the real concerns we have around services here in Wales. I hope that, through listening—through listening—you are able to take back the very clear message that we need a dialogue between the UK Government and the Welsh Government in order to resolve our public services, because we hear that, whilst pensioners are subject to a triple lock on their state pension, those who claim other types of welfare benefits are facing the prospect of significant real-term cuts in what they'll receive. I hope, First Minister, that you will condemn that particular position, and that that will be heard by Conservative colleagues as well, and I hope things will change on that particular issue. 

I want to just look at homelessness, particularly the issue of housing in mid and west Wales, and I thank my colleague for raising this particular issue. Could you outline the steps that the Welsh Government could be taking to institute a floor for discretionary housing payments, which would give councils certainty around the pot of money that they have available to them to prevent evictions and homelessness? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.


Diolch i Jane Dodds. On a very sobering day, it's utterly sobering to imagine that the people who manage on the very least in our society and see their bills going up all the time might be faced with their benefits not even being uprated in line with inflation, as was promised in the Conservative manifesto of 2019. I agree with Penny Mordaunt, who said that it would be unthinkable for that to happen.

Last week, I asked the leader of the opposition here whether he would add his voice to the campaign to ensure that the very least well-off in our society were protected by their benefits being uprated in line with inflation. I offer him that opportunity again this afternoon. He'll join many Conservatives who believe that that ought to be the case. If it's not, everything else that we are seeing that will impact on the lives of those people will be made even less bearable by the actions of a Government that will have chosen its priorities—as we know, lifting the cap on bankers' bonuses while being prepared to cut the benefits of the least well-off. 

That is certainly felt in housing, as Jane Dodds has said. Discretionary housing payments were cut by the last Conservative Government. They are such a useful tool for local authorities, they are exactly the sort of thing that Peter Fox was referring to earlier. It is local money that allows a local authority to respond to the particular sets of circumstances that they face and what they can do to intervene with those discretionary payments to prevent the far more expensive route of families being taken into homelessness. We are doing our best in this financial year to put more money of our money in to compensate for the loss of UK money in this area. But, it will just be one more of a very long list of things that we will not be able to sustain at the current level if our budgets are reduced in the way that we now see being promised.

First Minister, when the Prime Minister finally talks with you and not just about you, can you assure her on behalf of the people of mid and west Wales that you are not at all anti-growth but that you are, most proudly, anti-greed?

Llywydd, the nonsense that we are somehow—although we are on a very, very long list of other people the Prime Minister has identified as apparently not sharing her view of the world. The Welsh economy, in the figures that the Office for National Statistics published in September, grew faster last year than any other nation of the United Kingdom. So, by what possible yardstick the Prime Minister believes that we are opposed to growth, I have no idea at all. We know—and certainly Ken Skates, in his previous responsibilities, did a great deal to contribute to this—the ingredients that make for growth. It's investment by the public and the private sectors to make sure that people who are carrying out jobs in the Welsh and the UK economy have the best possible equipment at their disposal, and it's investment in skills so that the people we have are as equipped as they can be as well to make their greatest contribution to the economy. 

The idea that the United Kingdom, which is already a low tax, deregulated economy, far in excess of much more successful economies elsewhere, needs more of that as a path to growth—there is no evidence for it and there's no confidence in it, not just by opposition political parties but by markets right around the world.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, last week I challenged you on your inability to bring forward a COVID inquiry, and there is a difference between the view that I take and you take, and I accept that, and that's a political difference. However, Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru do want that independent inquiry. During your answers to me, you indicated that they'd 'moved on'. Do you accept that it is still their goal to achieve an independent Wales-wide COVID inquiry?


Llywydd, I think it is better that I quote the words of the bereaved families themselves, so that there is no ambiguity in what I am saying. So, here is—. I'm quoting now directly from the press release that they issued on Tuesday of last week. They say that they firmly believe that a Wales-wide inquiry would be the best way to,

'achieve the scrutiny that Wales deserves'.

That has always been their view. I have rehearsed it and discussed it with them in five separate meetings. They go on to say that, despite those meetings, the First Minister,

'remains unconvinced that this is the right way ahead'.

That's a very fair summary of my position. And that I believe that,

'all decisions made by the Welsh Government must be seen in the context of those made by the UK Government'.

Again, an absolutely fair representation of my view. They then say,

'CBFJC have therefore shifted their focus to ensuring that Wales is fully scrutinised in the UK Covid-19 Inquiry'.

I think it's easier that I put their words onto the record rather than trying to gloss them myself.

I accept the point that you've made, First Minister, but last week, you did try and make the point that they had 'moved on', when in fact your opening remarks directing us to their press release last week clearly show that they do want a Wales-wide independent inquiry. But the record will speak and people will make their judgment accordingly. 

I'd like to raise with you, First Minister, my constituent's e-mail to me last night. Ross highlighted the experience that his grandmother had in the accident and emergency department in the Heath hospital, Cardiff. I appreciate that you cannot respond on individual cases, but this was a particularly poignant e-mail that came, and I'm sure that many Members in this Chamber get these e-mails. His 86-year-old grandmother went to the A&E department, not transported by an ambulance, but by a taxi, with a suspected stroke, because she was told that it would take several hours, if not a day, to get an ambulance to her. When she arrived at the hospital, she waited 20 hours to see a doctor—20 hours. Her assessment now is that she will never go back to a hospital, and all she wishes for is that she has a painless death. 

Now, in June, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales undertook an unannounced inspection of the A&E department at the Heath hospital. I hope, as a constituency Member here in Cardiff, you are familiar with the outcomes of their recommendations and the situation they found. Last week, you said to me that I highlighted the impotency of opposition. Could you show me the potency of your Government in addressing the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales report on the A&E department, and in particular, address the concerns that Ross's grandmother has, that she will never go to an A&E department again and wishes for a painless death?

Well, those concerns of the individual need to be taken up with the clinicians who are responsible for her care, because what the leader of the opposition has said would clearly be unacceptable, and those who were responsible need to be able to discuss with her how she now feels and what they can do to put that right.

I am of course familiar, Llywydd, with the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales report into the emergency department at University Hospital Wales. It's important to emphasise, isn't it, that the report found that the majority of patients reported being treated with dignity and respect and that they were receiving good emergency care. That's what the report says. But the report also says that there were numerous environmental factors impacting on the ability of staff to provide dignified care. And let me be clear this afternoon, Llywydd; it is absolutely unacceptable to me to read a report that says that an emergency department is dirty, that an emergency department doesn't have enough chairs for people to sit on, and that an emergency department is unable to provide access to water for people who are waiting.

Look, I understand the system is under huge pressure, with unprecedented numbers of people presenting, and staff who are under the most huge pressures for everything they've gone through in recent years. That does not excuse a health board for failing to deliver on those very basic environmental standards. Now, today, the health Minister has announced a further £2 million to help health boards across Wales with those small, basic things that make such a difference to the patient experience and to staff experience as well. It's hard enough working in the accident and emergency department at the Heath hospital without feeling that the physical conditions in which you are working are dirty and unacceptable. So, the Member asks 'What can the Welsh Government do?' Well, we will find another sum of money that we will provide to those emergency departments, and then I absolutely look to the people who are paid to manage those organisations to make sure that those basic standards are properly observed and that the physical conditions in which staff have to work and patients have to present themselves are not of the sort that were described in that report. 


One of the examples that was used in that report, First Minister, was children turning up with severe burns and, because equipment was not available, staff were having to put children into sinks to cool their burns or use the showers in the staff changing rooms. That's the level of the challenge in that A&E department, and indeed A&E departments across the whole of Wales.

What I would also suggest is one of the big pressure points on A&E departments is obviously the waiting times that people are finding when they have to go on to the lists and they're not getting their procedures undertaken. That's putting pressure on A&E departments, with people turning up with complications because of the waits that have grown over time. Now, the health Minister, on Sunday Supplement said that she has not given up yet on waiting times—a direct quote from Sunday Supplement. The one waiting time that she was challenged to say whether the Government would meet was the first target of having all out-patient appointments undertaken by the end of the year for those who have been waiting 12 months or more. Will you say now whether that particular target will be met in a little over two and a half months' time?

Well, what I will say, Llywydd, is that long waits in the NHS in Wales have come down for four months in a row, and people across the system are doing their very best to make sure that they meet the targets that the health service has signed up to. The leader of the opposition is right, accident and emergency departments end up dealing with failures in other parts of the system—less, I think, the failure that he pointed to. But, we know, when people feel that they might not get an appointment elsewhere in the system, they know they can turn up in an A&E department and in the end you will be seen. You may have to wait longer than you wanted to and the conditions that you might have to wait in would not be what you would expect, but in the end you will be seen. And that's why people default to it if they don't have confidence that they will get the timely care they need in other parts of the system. That is part of the explanation of the pressures that A&E departments are facing in every part of the United Kingdom.

Staff are working as hard as they possibly can in the very difficult circumstances they face. Every week, I report—I'm very seldom asked, but every week I report on the impact of coronavirus in the Welsh NHS. At the end of last week, the number of patients in a bed in a hospital in Wales with coronavirus went up by more than 100 in a single week, back over 500 on Friday. The number of staff off because of COVID-19 went back over 1,000 last week. All of that, every time that happens, that makes it more difficult for staff trying to clear the backlog of people waiting for planned care. And yet, every single day, they do everything they can to try to make sure that people in Wales get the quality care and the sustained interventions that we know they need. 

Diolch, Llywydd. This winter's cost-of-living crisis is coming on top of years of austerity, in which workers' pay has fallen behind year on year. People are working more hours for less money, and working people in increasing numbers are saying that enough is enough. Only a few weeks ago, at the Labour conference, a motion was unanimously backed from Unison for inflation-proof pay rises. Led by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, Unite, the Public and Commercial Services Union, the Communication Workers Union and other unions, hundreds of thousands of workers are already striking for pay.

Now, the Westminster Government hides behind arm's-length employers and independent pay review bodies in shirking its responsibilities, but, where large parts of the public sector in Wales are concerned, it's you and your Government that will decide. Nurses and teachers are balloting for strike action in Wales because of your proposals for a real-terms cut to their wages. So, First Minister, is it a policy of your Government that public service workers should be entitled to pay settlements that at least keep pace with inflation?


Well, Llywydd, the leader of Plaid Cymru drew attention to the resolution passed at the Labour Party conference. That is the policy of my party, and it is a policy this Government dearly wish that we were in a position to implement. He will know that every 1 per cent rise in the pay bill across the public service in Wales costs another £100 million. Every 1 per cent costs £100 million. If he can tell me where that money is to be found, then I'm happy to enter into dialogue with him. If all he has to offer me are pious aspirations and accusations that somehow other people are not as holy as he is, then I'm afraid that debate is hardly likely to prosper.

I have to say to the First Minister: look, awful politics in Westminster is not an excuse for poor politics here in Wales. These disputes are not just about pay; they're about the survival of our essential public services. In healthcare, we have a workforce crisis, with more and more people leaving by the day. There are 3,000 nursing vacancies in Wales, a rise of more than 1,200 on last year. Ever-increasing sums are being spent on agency nurses that plug gaps in rotas.

The figures for social care are worse, with 5,500 vacancies. Last week, speaking about the struggle to recruit social care workers, Deputy Minister Julie Morgan said that social care couldn't compete with the hospitality sector. To defend the public services that you're responsible for, you have to do something about the crisis of low pay, of nurses—the hard-working nurses you referred to—having to use food banks, of care workers that would be better paid in supermarkets. You referred to the Labour Party motion that committed you to pay increases at least in line with inflation, but it said not just Westminster—. I quote: the motion urged

'Government at all levels to take seriously their responsibility to fund public services properly and deliver a fair wage to those who provide them'.

Why are you not prepared to do that here in Wales?

Llywydd, it is the emptiest of contributions to offer us further and further iterations of the problem, without a single sentence that helps us to find a solution. This Government pays the real living wage to social care workers; the first time that's ever been done in the history of devolution. But I just put to the leader of Plaid Cymru the points I made earlier this afternoon: our budget in Wales next year is already cut by over £1 billion. We know that, because the UK Government has said in terms that it will not increase funding for public services, and the impact of inflation on our budget is that it is worth over £1 billion less than it was when the Conservative Government set that budget in November of last year.

On top of that, we are going to face huge further reductions. Let him tell me where the money to do what he asks me this week, let alone the money to do what he asked me to do last week, and the money to do what he asked me the week before—where is all that money going to be found in a time when we don't have more money to invest in our public services, we have less money than at any time during the history of devolution.

So, you agree with me, First Minister, about levels of pay, but you say your hands are tied by Westminster. Well, isn't it time, then, to take matters into our own hands? And no, I don't mean—. I'm not referring to independence or the devolution of welfare; that is a matter for another day. I mean in the here and now. In response to Alun Davies, you said you were committed to using all the powers that you had to defend the people of Wales from this Tory onslaught. Well, use all the powers that you have. We have the ability to use our tax powers to keep the 20p basic rate of tax in Wales and to be more progressive by putting a penny on the higher and additional rate. We argued for those powers, we campaigned for them, for situations precisely raise like this. Doing as we propose would raise close to £250 million and go some way, at least, to tackling the crisis in pay and morale in our public services, as well as in the wider crisis of liveability. It would protect our public services and save lives. Isn't that the Welsh way of solidarity, of community, of chwarae teg, for which this place was precisely created?


Llywydd, both I and the finance Minister have said that we will make decisions on the fiscal powers available to the Welsh Government in the way that we always do them, as part of the budget-setting process, when we have the full information we need in order to be able to do so. Now, he has made a case this afternoon; that case will be powerfully considered within the Welsh Government, but it will be done in the way that we always do it, in an orderly way, in the budget-setting process, as the Finance Committee would expect us to do, and when we are aware of all the decisions that will have an impact on our ability to fund public services next year.

The Equality Act 2010

3. How does the Welsh Government ensure that local authorities fulfill their duties under the Equality Act 2010? OQ58518

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. Local authorities have their own democratic mandate and responsibilities. Duties under the Equality Act are conferred directly on relevant public bodies. We can encourage and support local authorities to fulfil these duties, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission is the regulatory body responsible for ensuring compliance.

Key to the delivery of the Equality Act 2010 is the availability of Changing Places fully accessible toilets, designed so that everyone, regardless of their access needs or disability or reliance on the assistance of carers or specialist equipment, can use a toilet facility with dignity and hygienically. TCC, Trefnu Cymunedol Cymru—Together Creating Communities, a group of dedicated community leaders from organisations across Flintshire, Wrexham and Denbighshire, have joined together to take action on the issue of Changing Places toilets. They say that, despite assurances regarding their provision over successive Welsh Governments, going back two decades, including by some who are still Ministers in this Welsh Government, there are still only around 50 Changing Places toilets in the whole of Wales. They point out that, although the UK Government has launched a Changing Places toilets programme, with a dedicated £30 million fund for local authorities in England, all we've heard from the Welsh Government so far is that officials are undertaking analysis of the results of a consultation on Changing Places toilets and baby-changing facilities in publicly accessible buildings. So, when will the Welsh Government enable people in Wales who are not able to use standard accessible toilets to have their basic human needs and equality rights met, to enjoy a day out without the stress of worrying about accessing toilet facilities and thereby to increase their independence and overall health and well-being?

Llywydd, I'm aware of the group to which the Member refers, and it was good to join him at the annual general meeting of the Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham recently. The sequence of events that the Member outlines is the correct one. The responsibilities in this area lie with local authorities, and the Welsh Government funds local authorities to discharge those responsibilities.

It seems like a long time ago now, Llywydd, when you and I were both members of the health committee here. We both sat on a one-day inquiry into the public health impact of public toilet facilities, and a very good, well-spent day it was, with a report that demonstrated just what an impact it has on people's ability to go about their daily lives if there aren't those public health facilities available. So, I don't disagree with the analysis that Mark Isherwood has set out, and, as he says, Welsh Government officials are tracking the money that has been made available to local authorities to see the extent to which they have been able to use that funding to advance the availability of facilities for children, as well as adults, so that those inhibitions on being able to take part in ordinary activities, which otherwise would be there, are eroded.


First Minister, the serious cost-of-living and economic crisis due to the incompetence of the UK Government will hurt vulnerable disabled people and women the most. Labour-controlled Flintshire County Council and Welsh Government, together with the business community, have established a pilot project to locally support disabled people to access training and employment to help tackle inequality and chronic skills shortages in Flintshire. Would you agree with me this is a unique example of an equality-driven pro-business council working hard to deal with equality at the same time as supporting the economy? Thank you.

Llywydd, I very much welcome the initiative that's been mounted in Flintshire. We know that inequality does not fall equally on all parts of society, and people with disabilities have long reported excessive impacts in terms of employment, their ability to access services and so on, and the work that's being carried out in Flintshire has that very specific focus on those people who have the most to gain from effective public service intervention.

Private Properties to Rent

4. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve the supply of private properties to rent? OQ58535

Llywydd, amongst the actions being taken by the Welsh Government is the £30 million leasing scheme Wales programme. This scheme enables local authorities to lease private rented sector properties from landlords, providing those landlords with a guaranteed income and those who might otherwise face homelessness with homes at an affordable rent. 

Thank you, First Minister. I recently met with the National Residential Landlords Association to discuss how to boost the supply of private properties available to rent in Wales. They pointed out that renters across Wales are currently struggling to access the homes that they need. An independent report for the NRLA has suggested that Wales would need just under 9,000 new private rented properties a year to meet housing targets. However, 38 per cent of private landlords have told the NRLA that they plan to cut the number of properties that they rent out. The NRLA is concerned that the potential development of rent controls in Wales in response to the cost-of-living crisis would make it more difficult for tenants to access the homes that they desperately need. So, First Minister, will you listen to the concerns raised by the NRLA and thoroughly assess the potential damaging consequence of rent control on the supply of private properties to rent here in Wales? Thank you.

Well, Llywydd, I'm familiar with the work of the National Residential Landlords Association. They're calling on the UK Government to increase local housing allowances, to end their freeze on housing benefits and to end the five-week wait for universal credit at the beginning of a claim, and also that the advance payment that tenants might get should be converted from a loan to a grant so tenants do not automatically fall into debt at the outset. So, I agree with all of those points made by the NRLA and hope that the Member will wish to convey those points to the Government that's responsible for them.

She is right, of course, that there is a real risk that landlords will exit the buy-to-rent market. Why are they doing that? Well, it's because of the rapidly rising costs of borrowing money that they face. Had you borrowed £200,000—[Interruption.]

I might just finish the answer for one moment, Llywydd, just to illustrate the reason why people are under the pressure they are in in that sector. The mortgage rate in December 2021—you could borrow money at 2.34 per cent. On the day that the latest Chancellor announced his so-called mini budget, the mortgage rate had risen to 4.74 per cent. Today, it's 6.43 per cent, as a result of the reckless announcements made by the Chancellor, with his unfunded borrowing. That adds anything around £500 a month to the cost of borrowing for a private landlord seeking to increase the number of houses available to rent. That's the reason why the market is in danger of collapsing—because people can no longer afford to borrow money at the prices that they have to under the current Government.

Baby Loss

5. How is the Welsh Government supporting families who have suffered baby loss? OQ58551

Llywydd, the Welsh Government funds bereavement services in all parts of Wales, including specialist bereavement midwives, to help families in those uniquely distressing circumstances.

Diolch, Brif Weinidog. I know that this is a subject close to your heart, and that the Welsh Government already does a huge amount to support parents through what is an incredibly difficult time. I just wanted to raise the experiences of my constituents, whose baby was sadly stillborn at 40 weeks. They understandably requested a postmortem, but due to the gaps in paediatric pathology, they were advised that it would be a six-month wait until they received the results. This is an agonising wait.

My constituents said that it feels like their lives are on hold, and that an already difficult time is being made so much harder to navigate. Two important aspects of grieving are being able to process what happened, while also being able to look to the future. With so many unanswered questions still remaining, the delay in getting the postmortem results is making both of these things very difficult. Parents are understandably desperate to know as much as they can. What is the Welsh Government doing to address recruitment and retention in this area, and what further support can be given to parents after the devastating loss of their baby?

Well, Llywydd, I'm very glad to be able to sponsor, once again, Baby Loss Awareness Week activities here in the Senedd next week. These are among the most devastating experiences that families can experience. We have discussed them on a number of occasions here on the floor of the Senedd. Some people here will remember, I think, one of the most memorable contributions in the time that I have been here, when Dr Dai Lloyd set out for us the experience of his family in losing their son, Huw, 40 minutes after he was born. It was one of the most powerful contributions I have ever heard here in the Senedd.

When you reach a time, as I have, when you have grandchildren to think about as well, then every moment is precious with them, and any thought that they might come to harm is constantly somewhere in the back of your mind. So, families who find themselves in the awful circumstances that Jayne Bryant described need all of the help that the system is able to give them, including the help that comes from paediatric pathology.

At the beginning of September, the Welsh Health Specialist Services Committee met. It has made a decision to employ an additional permanent provider for paediatric pathology. It has negotiated the use of additional capacity at Alder Hey Hospital, so that some families in north Powys and north Wales will receive their paediatric pathology services there. That will release further capacity into the Welsh system. And WHSSC is also committed to an assessment of its investment in the Cardiff service, to make sure that it is capable of meeting the needs of families in a timely way.

Further Powers for Wales

6. What recent discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government regarding further powers for Wales? OQ58532

Well, thank you to Rhys ab Owen for that question. There has been a dearth of opportunities for discussions with the latest UK Government. However, devolution of justice was extensively discussed at a major event at the South Wales Police headquarters on 30 September. The Secretary of State for Wales was present and heard about our determination to pursue the recommendations of the Thomas commission.

Thank you, First Minister, and I deeply regretted hearing your response to my colleague, Joyce Watson. The lack of communication from the UK Prime Minister is not only an insult to you and your function, but also to this whole Senedd, and I hope that my colleagues opposite will convey that message to the Prime Minister.

If my colleagues opposite don't remove Liz Truss as Prime Minister, then it's likely that the public will do so at the next election. Now, Keir Starmer has previously said that he didn't have strong feelings about devolving powers to this place. So, what discussions have you had with the individual likely to be the next UK Prime Minister on devolving powers to this place, and ensuring that devolution is on firm foundations that will stop any Westminster Government in the future from undermining the Parliament and Government of our nation? Thank you.


Thank you very much to Rhys ab Owen for that supplementary question. I had an opportunity to meet with Keir Starmer in Liverpool in the Labour Party conference, and I had an opportunity to spend a day with Gordon Brown in Scotland in the week following the conference. That was an opportunity to discuss with Gordon Brown the report that he is putting together for Keir Starmer about constitutional affairs across the United Kingdom, but also about matters affecting Wales too, and I look forward to seeing the Gordon Brown report. That, in my view, will set out a number of important recommendations for us, not just here in Wales, but across the United Kingdom, to create a devolution system that can’t be rolled back by a Government in Westminster when people in Wales have voted twice in referenda to establish this body with the powers that we currently have. And, more than that, not just stable devolution here, but additional steps to strengthen devolution here in Wales, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland too.


7. What is the Welsh Government doing to encourage tourism in Wales? OQ58548

Llywydd, direct investment, both capital and revenue, promotional campaigns in the United Kingdom and abroad, and joint work with the industry to improve skills and career opportunities are just some of the actions we take to encourage sustainable tourism in Wales.

First Minister, I noticed on Friday that you and Adam Price—I think you both got along then—launched your tourism tax consultation with members of the industry present. In that meeting, I’m told you both sought to explain your plans, but then left before you could take any questions. Well, I’ve spoken with some of those tourism industry professionals, and the one thing above all else they wanted to get across to you is how low the morale is in the tourism industry at the moment. That morale, they say, is low because of a succession of policies from this Welsh Labour Government. They’re worried about the huge impact of a tourism tax on their businesses and their communities, they’re worried about changes to self-catering holiday properties, which will reduce the amount of holiday accommodation in their areas, and they’re worried that they have a Welsh Government that is doing very little to support them, and which they feel is hampering them instead. After speaking to one such operator in the last week, they told me they cancelled a seven-figure investment into their business, which would have supported more jobs and boosted the local economy, because of those Welsh Government policies. First Minister, do you now accept that your policies are having a real-world impact now, even before they are implemented, and that morale is at an all-time low in the sector? Will you commit to reviewing your slate of damaging anti-tourism policies before it’s too late?

Llywydd, week after week the Conservative Party in this Chamber runs down the tourism industry in Wales. It’s never got a good word to say for it. If there was a lack of confidence in the industry, it’s because it’s listening to people like Tom Giffard.

Now, the real problem that the tourism industry in Wales faced over this summer, a summer of fantastic weather, was that it was unable to recruit the staff it needed in order to be able to open to the extent that it wanted to, and to make the money that it might have made—another of the Member’s Brexit benefits, no doubt.

I was very glad indeed to take part in the event with the leader of Plaid Cymru. We had an ample opportunity to set out for the audience there the reasons why we will introduce a visitor levy: because it will raise money to invest in the tourism industry, and to make sure that the conditions that make Wales an attractive place to visit today will go on being attractive places into the future. A small contribution to that from visitors who come to enjoy those parts of Wales is both a fair thing to do, but also a very effective way of making sure that we can support and sustain the tourism industry into the future.

The consultation was launched on 20 September, Llywydd, and over 500 responses have been received so far. There’ll be five consultation events, in all parts of Wales, one of which Adam Price and I attended. There’s a virtual event for people who can't get to the physical events; that will happen on 27 October. Welsh Government officials will present to the Senedd cross-party group on tourism on 19 October, so it'll be a chance for the Member to be put right on a few of the points he's made today—it'll be good if he turns up to hear a few facts. And we will go on working with the industry to make sure that, far from week after week telling us how poor the industry is, and how desperate they are not to make a success of the future, we will do the things with them that will guarantee that tourism in Wales will go on being supported into that future.

Devolved Responsibilities

8. What is the Welsh Government's assessment of the impact on devolved responsibilities of recent UK Government actions? OQ58533

Llywydd, the latest UK Government has refused to rule out cuts to benefits, while confirming its intention to cut public services. Such perverse priorities will impact adversely on our ability to discharge devolved responsibilities, and penalise the poor to pay for bankers' bonuses.

First Minister, we've already heard ample today, I think, to stress the view of many in the Senedd, reflecting their constituents, that people and organisations face unprecedented challenges at the moment with the cost-of-living crisis, fuel and energy costs, and everything else going up in price so much, with the interest rate situation created by the UK Government, and with, I fear, spending cuts still to come. It really is a terrible storm for people and organisations to try and live through. Obviously, First Minister, Welsh Government, as you have set out, will do all it can to address these issues for people here in Wales, but many of the necessary levers to be used to respond lie with the UK Government. That's why I hope that that independent commission set up by Welsh Government is able to make progress, so that we get structures and arrangements in place for a proper communication channel to allow these issues to be properly addressed on a devolved responsibility basis.

First Minister, in addition to all of that, local authorities and the voluntary sector, and so many others in Wales, are desperate for good communication channels, ever better communication channels, with Welsh Government. And I wonder what you could say today in terms of that need and the fulfilling of that need to have regular contact, effective communication channels, at such a difficult time of such unprecedented pressure.

Llywydd, I thank John Griffiths for that, and I'll make two points if I could. First of all, to endorse what he said about the importance of the work of the commission, chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and Archbishop Rowan Williams. Members here will know that, jointly with the Senedd authorities, the Welsh Government is sponsoring a lecture series in which we will hear voices from outside Wales who have a contribution to make to thinking about our constitutional future. The first of those lectures is scheduled for immediately after Plenary next week. It will be delivered by David Lidington, the former Deputy Prime Minister in the Theresa May Government. I've read some of the contributions he's made elsewhere to these debates; he's absolutely worth hearing. I hope Members here will be able to come and hear what he has to say and to debate those issues with him. It's very important that we add to the debates we have internally those voices from outside Wales who can help us to widen our understanding and to devise futures for ourselves in the best possible way.

My second response to John Griffiths, Llywydd, is to, again, agree with him on the importance of communication. It's why, yesterday, at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet committee on the cost of living, we were joined by our social partners. So, we were joined by the voluntary sector. We will be joined by faith communities. We'll be joined by representatives of private industry and by the Wales Trades Union Congress. Local government will be at that meeting as well, and they will come fortnightly to every other meeting of that committee, precisely in order to do what John Griffiths has said—to make sure that there is direct communication from them to the Welsh Government of any views they have; any information they have that we ought to have, they'll be able to provide it. But then, also, where we are able to explain some of the actions we are taking, they will then be able to pass that on directly to their members and their organisations, who we know will have so much to do over this winter when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable from the difficult experiences that we know are bound to come their way.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically. 

Can I call for a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services, to provide an update to Members on the delivery of the north Denbighshire community hospital? This has been a long-awaited project that was announced by the current First Minister back in 2013. He said that he hoped a brand new hospital would be delivered by 2016 at that point, and, of course, we're going to be at least 10 years on from the now First Minister's announcement before we even see a spade in the ground, it would seem. Many people are concerned that this project is going to be quietly scrapped by the Welsh Government, and are concerned about the lack of commitment that appears to be the case from the current health Minister. I think that people need some clarity on this. They were promised these beds because of the closure of the community hospital beds in Prestatyn and Rhyl, and it has a direct impact on the services provided at Glan Clwyd Hospital, which has an emergency department that is under extreme pressure. Those beds are essential in order to relieve pressure on that hospital and make sure that it gets back up to scratch in terms of the way that it should be functioning for patients in north Wales. When will we have a statement, and when can we expect that hospital to be delivered, as was promised by the current First Minister?

There are no plans for a statement in the current half term in relation to the capital programme for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. I know the health board itself is having a look at its capital programme right across north Wales, so I would imagine that would be part of it. 

Trefnydd, in the past few weeks, major concerns have been expressed about the safety of an Ebbw Vale hotel that is acting as a house in multiple occupation. A man was found dead at the Park Hotel in Waunlwyd, and another was arrested on suspicion of his murder. Local residents who were part of a subsequent public meeting to discuss their fears about the safety of the hotel say it's the third death reported at the hotel. Their fears are not unfounded, as I'm told two local authorities, Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent, have now withdrawn their clients from the facility. The Labour leader of Blaenau Gwent council, Stephen Thomas, also said, and I quote: 

'There needs to be rethink from Welsh Government on the issue as councils are struggling to provide wrap around services from existing, already pressurised budgets. There have been several severe failures here and in other settings, which have detrimental effects on both those accommodated and, importantly, on the local communities surrounding the facilities.'

From my work as a Senedd Member since last year, I'm aware that failures concerning HMO regulation and their proliferation has led to a concentration of such facilities, and at least one vulnerable person being housed in unsuitable accommodation with tragic results. Is it time to revisit the regulation and guidance? Because the status quo does seem to be failing communities and the vulnerable clients at HMOs. Can we therefore have a Government statement as a matter of urgency on this please?

It's certainly very sobering to hear the tragic circumstances that you describe. Of course, it is a matter for each local authority where and how many HMOs they have within their own boundaries. I'm not sure that what you describe would lead to the Minister making a statement on looking at the regulations again. 

I would like to ask for two statements from the Government. The first one is on enterprise zones. There were eight enterprise zones created in Wales. The Finance Committee undertook an inquiry in 2013; there was a written update in March this year. I'm asking for an update on the planned future funding of enterprise zones. 

The second statement I'm asking for is on orthopaedic waiting lists. In Swansea bay health board, there are plans for Neath Port Talbot Hospital to become a centre of excellence for orthopaedics, spinal care, diagnostics, rehabilitation and rheumatology. I would like a ministerial statement on whether the Minister sees this as a way forward across Wales. 

Thank you. I will ask the Minister for Economy to bring forward a written statement on enterprise zones. In relation to orthopaedic services and waiting times, I think you will have heard both the First Minister and the Minister for Health and Social Services say that orthopaedic waiting times are not where we want them to be, like other waiting times. Significant additional funding has been given to reducing orthopaedic waiting times—I think it's over £170 million now, recurrently—to help address that backlog. We are now seeing waiting times reducing, but, as I say, not at the pace that we would want to. The health Minister did hold an orthopaedic summit back in August, to make sure that health boards were aware of what was needed to bring an improvement in this area of the health service. A national orthopaedic strategy has also been developed, and we're funding the development of an orthopaedic network.


Minister, there's huge concern in mid Wales with the proposals from the Welsh NHS's emergency medical retrieval and transfer service and the Wales Air Ambulance to move the base from Welshpool, which also includes the removal of a road vehicle. The service is greatly valued, it's absolutely necessary, and it's difficult to see how the removal of this service and base will lead to a better outcome for people in mid Wales who need to get to urgent treatment quickly. I questioned the First Minister on this on 20 September in the Chamber, and I asked him if he would ensure that the data the proposals are based on are published. I did so because there's doubt about that data. The First Minister answered, and I quote from the Record of Proceedings:

'I have seen figures that come from the work that has been carried out, but they are not figures that belong to the Welsh Government; they belong to the air ambulance charity itself.'

The charity itself are quite clear the data does not belong to them, but it belongs to the service within the Welsh NHS. I would like to see the full data published, I'd like to see the modelling behind the data published as well, so they can be scrutinised. I wrote to the First Minister last month, and asked him if he would correct the record. I have not yet received a reply. I would be grateful, Minister, if you could facilitate a reply via the First Minister.

Can I also call for an urgent statement from the Welsh Government outlining the Welsh Government's involvement in the proposals? It is, of course, the Welsh Government that are responsible for health services and provision. We need to ensure we have the very best emergency provision. I don't believe that the removal of the base in Welshpool, and indeed Caernarfon, is going to lead to a better outcome for the people of Wales in terms of getting to urgent treatment as quickly as possible.

You asked for two areas to be looked at. I will certainly speak to the First Minister's office to ensure that you do get a response to the letter you wrote to him last month. In relation to the data, my understanding is the data isn't suitable for publication, because, if it was published, it could enable identification of individuals, and obviously that would be a matter of concern for many people. I think it also contains commercially sensitive information, and, clearly, that would be very difficult to interpret without context.

I want to ask for a statement and an action, if I may. Back in March, I raised the issue of a shortage of dentists in Dwyfor Meirionnydd with you. At that point, you said that you would ask the Minister for health to bring a statement forward on dentistry, and that that would be done within the half term following March, because the Minister was working on the issue. We're now in October, and, as far as I know, there's been no such statement made on the provision of dentistry. People's oral health in Dwyfor Meirionnydd is likely to decline unless there is an increase in provision. May I therefore ask as a matter of urgency for the Minister for health to bring forward a statement on the provision of dentistry, please?

Secondly, since coming back from the summer break, I've noticed that Government days, on Tuesdays, tend to finish early, and all we get is statements, with no votes at all. Considering that the Government claims that the legislative programme is full to the brim, I find this surprising. Will the Trefnydd therefore look at the Government programme, and ensure that the time that we have is used effectively, especially considering that the various crises that we face are on top of us right now as we speak? Thank you.

I can assure the Member I look very closely every week at Government business, and have conversations with my ministerial colleagues to make sure there is a full afternoon of business.

In relation to dentistry, I will certainly look at what I said to you in March, and, if there hasn't been a statement, I will ask the Minister for Health and Social Services to bring forward at least a written statement before half term. 


Minister, back in 1913—I wasn't around then—when Maesteg Community Hospital first opened, it didn't have enough money to actually build it or run it, so the appeal went out, and the miners and their families in the Llynfi valley actually took weekly and monthly payments out of their salaries in order to pay for that hospital to get up and running. It is much loved; it's been at the centre of healthcare and well-being in the Llynfi and the Afan valleys ever since, and it's got a bright future, because the health board is looking at extending the services there, including the day services, to match the modern needs of that society. But—and here's where I'd welcome a statement—we know that there were good proposals to reopen the ward that's been closed, which was transferred under COVID to the Seren ward down in Bridgend, with an intention to bring it back, upgraded, more modern, with bigger space around the beds et cetera. But it hasn't happened, because, I understand, the cost overruns, with the rising costs now, have gone from £600,000 to well over £1 million, and there's a gap there that needs to be filled. Minister, could we have a statement on this? Because people want reassurance that there is a bright future for the hospital as an entirety, but also for this ward, because the staff themselves, who are also much loved, want to come back and be back in that ward looking after the people from the area.

Thank you. I think the Member describes a way that many of our public buildings were financed in the early part of the twentieth century. You refer to the plans that the hospital had, and, clearly, as you say, there's been now a massive increase in the cost of materials, for instance, and obviously labour as well. Rather than the Minister make a statement, I think it would be better for the health board to respond. Perhaps you could write to them and see what their response is. 

The NHS is a great concern for all of us here, and you can see that. Minister, we all appreciate the challenges faced by our health service in responding to a range of pressures. People are unable to have treatment or surgery quickly enough; patients well enough to leave hospital are not able to go home quickly enough; and some people are ending up in hospital with conditions that could be managed at home. I welcome the investment at Neath Port Talbot hospital, as Mike Hedges said, to increase the number of operating theatres with the aim of it becoming the health board's centre of excellence for orthopaedics and spinal surgery. There is a lot of work to do, and health boards should be supported in taking these key decisions quickly to address the growing crisis in the NHS. Can we have a statement from the health Minister setting out how our health service will tackle the range of pressures, how we will advance the integration of our services to become more seamless, and how we will address recruitment and retention of our doctors and nurses? Thank you. 

You cover a range of challenges that face the NHS. Obviously, we don't want to see people in hospital for a minute longer than they need to be, and getting them home, where they can obviously improve and get better, is vitally important. There is work continually going on to make that more seamless. We know we've had issues around delayed transfers of care, for instance. Certainly over the winter months we normally see an increase in that, and there is a significant amount of work going into that ahead of the coming winter. I think the Minister does make statements around recruitment and around these issues on an ongoing basis during her questions and the many statements she does in this Chamber. 

Good afternoon, Minister. This afternoon, at lunchtime, many people across the Senedd joined together to support the people in Iran, and I request a statement from the Government on the situation in Iran. You will know that there have been terrible situations in Iran, following the tragic death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, and, then, 16-year-old Nika Shakarami. The protestors—women, schoolgirls—now joined by many others, are incredibly brave. And this afternoon, we heard from people from Iran themselves what we can do. I know we are limited in the Welsh Senedd in terms of our powers, but there are many things that they would like us to do. On behalf of the group that was on the Senedd steps, I've been asked to write a cross-party letter that will go to the First Minister and to you. But, we would appreciate a statement on the situation in Iran, particularly looking at what we can do here in Wales to ensure we support them and to ensure that the media hold their gaze on the terrible situation that there is. Thank you. Diolch.


Thank you. Jane Dodds certainly describes a very heartbreaking situation, and I pay tribute to everyone who gathered today to show their support. I know the First Minister will be very pleased to receive a letter from you, Jane. Our ambition here is to make Wales the safest place in the world to be a woman or a girl, and that of course extends to the promotion of rights of women globally. Nobody should be forced to wear or not to wear any item of clothing or any outer expressions of their faith. We've got a national strategy to tackle violence against women and girls and a plan to promote gender equality. These represent the values on which we stand in solidarity with the women of Iran.

Trefnydd, I'd be grateful for your advice in managing expectations around ministerial and Welsh Government correspondence. A constituent has contacted me after writing to the First Minister back in March 2021 because he didn't receive a response, despite speaking to several different officials from multiple departments. I wrote to the First Minister myself asking for my constituent to receive a response in June of this year, and now I too am waiting for a response to my correspondence, despite chasing for it. I'm sure you can appreciate that this is deeply frustrating for all involved and absolutely disrespectful too. Therefore, I'd be grateful for your guidance on this matter and a commitment that I will receive a response so I can actually pass it on to my constituent.

Secondly, Llywydd, and I refer Members to my register of interests for this item, can I ask for a statement from the health and social services Minister on escalation and intervention arrangements for health boards here in Wales, following the news last week that Hywel Dda University Health Board has been escalated to targeted intervention status for finance and planning and there will remain in enhanced monitoring for quality and performance? It's vital that Members have the opportunity to scrutinise the Minister on this important development, so I'd be grateful if time could be made for a statement on this crucial matter. Thank you.

Thank you. I will certainly ask the Minister for Health and Social Services to bring forward probably a written statement in relation to Hywel Dda, and I give you a personal commitment you will have a response from the First Minister that you can share with your constituent.

Further to the question raised by Jane Dodds last week, there's still concern from local rescue centres about the fate of dogs racing at the Valley stadium. The Valley's own database records show that, between 2018 and 2020, an average of 141 greyhounds finish racing at the track every year. Their racing career finishes at the age of four to five years, and, in the last month, 20 greyhounds were shown as becoming inactive. There's no formal record of where these dogs have gone or what their fate might be, and Valley stadium does not publish any information about what happens to these greyhounds. Please, could the Minister investigate this by writing to the owner of the stadium and then provide a statement as to what records are kept of the fate of the greyhounds leaving the track, what efforts are made to ensure that they are found suitable homes, and what relationship the track has with reputable organisations that can help them with rehoming of greyhounds in Wales, such as Greyhound Rescue Wales, Hope Rescue, Dogs Trust, Almost Home Dog Rescue? There are so many charities that can provide that support. Thank you.

Thank you. I can certainly give you a commitment that I will write to the owner of the Valley racetrack in Caerphilly. Unfortunately, I did write to him in March, and I'm still awaiting the courtesy of a response. So, I'm not sure I will get a response if I write to him again, but I will certainly write to him again. As you know, I'm absolutely committed to the welfare of greyhounds. I want to look at what more we can do immediately. Obviously, there is the Petitions Committee bringing forward a petition. I am going out to public consultation on the licensing of activities involving animals. That's being developed at the current time. So, there is work going on. But I too would very much like to meet with the owner of the racetrack.

Minister, I would like to ask for a Welsh Government statement regarding the ability to challenge expected occupancy thresholds for self-catering accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we all know, during the pandemic, COVID-19 regulations meant that, by law, self-catering businesses were not able to reach the required advertised rates of being listed for 140 nights per year. As chair of the Senedd's tourism cross-party group, I've had members of the sector contacting me regarding the Welsh Government not granting any sort of challenge to this occupancy rate, despite other Governments across the UK allowing this to happen. So, as a consequence, we now have the Valuation Office Agency alerting businesses that, in previous years, they failed to reach the threshold, despite this being impossible for them to do due to the law, and now their non-domestic rating status is under review and, indeed, is likely to be lost for many of these businesses. This, of course, will lead to genuine businesses being reclassified as residential properties, with them then facing a backdated council tax bill for the last three years, which could be quite substantial for them, with many of them potentially having to close, with jobs being lost and other unintended consequences. Now, it's only right that there is the ability for these businesses to challenge this process because they weren't able to be open during those times. So, I'd like a statement on that position. Thanks.


Thank you. I understand the Minister for Finance and Local Government has asked you to write to her. I know she's had quite a bit of correspondence around this, so I think she'll be very happy to share that with you and also to respond to you if you write to her.

I just wanted to pick up on the earlier remarks by Jane Dodds today, because, having listened to the Iranian people living in Wales, on the steps of the Senedd, I think it was really clear the level of anger about the lack of action by the UK Government. Particularly, they want to see the freezing of Iranian assets in the UK until they stop killing their own people, particularly women and girls, in industrial numbers. We really don't have enough information about what is going on, and we rely, therefore, on these one-to-one conversations until and unless the media is in a position to tell us more. They also wanted to see the recall of the UK ambassador from Tehran. We just have to reflect on how little people have normally benefited from the oil-rich wealth in their countries. Few countries have had the prescience of Norway, which set up the fund for future generations, and what is now the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. So little discussion about the rights of individuals to benefit from their natural resources, and instead it's all about, 'How can we benefit?'. We have to put human rights much clearer, front and centre. So, I was very pleased to hear your words, leader of the house, but I really hope that we can write to the UK Government and ask them to make it much clearer where they stand with women and girls who are being killed in Iran.

Well, I will certainly pass on your comments and your views to the Minister for Social Justice, who, I'm sure, will be very happy to write to the UK Government. 

Business Minister, I too would like to reiterate calls from Jane Dodds earlier and others across parties, across the Chamber, for the Welsh Government to adopt a strong vocal position, even if this comes under the UK Government to take action.

I'd also like to request a statement from the education Minister updating the Senedd with a formal announcement of his plans to replace A-levels and BTEC here in Wales. It's hard to fathom that we're still in a position in Wales that we don't know what our equivalent to the English T-levels will look like. I'm sure you'll agree, business Minister, that this lack of a plan can't go on.

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

The second statement that I'd like to request is on home schooling. As you know, business Minister, three weeks ago, I requested an urgent statement from this Government on proposals for home schooling in Wales. The community are very anxious for answers, so I'd like to press you for a statement sooner rather than later from the education Minister.

Lastly, Dirprwy Lywydd, I'd like to ask for a statement on progress to upgrade school kitchens to facilitate the growing number of free school meals being provided. A recent admission by this Government to my colleague Janet Finch-Saunders, where the Government said, 

'it is not currently possible to confirm the number of primary schools in Wales requiring upgrades to their kitchens'

isn't good enough. So, I'd appreciate, business Minister, if the education Minister could come to this Senedd and allay concerns—obvious concerns—and confirm in a statement that all schools are and will be ready to implement this Government's universal free-school-meals initiative. Thank you.

So, I think I answered Jane Dodds fully regarding the situation in Iran, and you will have heard my answer to Jenny Rathbone. I think it's really important that we put pressure on the UK Government. 

You asked for three statements from the Minister for education. In relation to free school meals, that work is ongoing, and I don't think, really, there's a need for a statement at the current time.

Regarding examinations, the Minister for education will, obviously, update Members, by either oral or written statement, when the decisions have been taken.

And in relation to home schooling, again, I will have a discussion with the Minister to ensure that, at the appropriate time, a statement is made.

3. Statement by the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution: Publication of the Electoral Administration and Reform White Paper

Item 3 this afternoon is a statement by the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution—the publication of the electoral administration and reform White Paper. I call on the Counsel General, Mick Antoniw.

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. Today I present our electoral administration and reform White Paper. In this paper, we consult on our proposals for electoral reform and the next steps for modernising electoral administration in Wales. The consultation will run until 10 January. Our proposals are another step on our journey to build a twenty-first century electoral system—a system that increases voter participation so that every citizen can play a full part in our democracy.

I'll begin by reminding Members of some of the things that we have done already. During the fifth Senedd, we extended the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds, and qualifying foreign citizens. This was done through the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020 and the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021. I'm proud that young people, and those who have chosen to make Wales their home, now have a say in the running of their country. 

Dirprwy Lywydd, last July I published a clear framework for electoral reform with six principles reflecting the values of social justice and the value we place upon democracy in Wales: equity, accessibility, participation, improved citizen experience, simplicity and integrity. The White Paper we are publishing today asks for views on these principles. We want to use these clear principles as a benchmark or to benchmark electoral reform and guide our work to support democratic engagement and participation, and we want to make sure they command broad support.

Just over five months ago, we successfully delivered a set of electoral innovations at the May local elections in partnership with four authorities and the wider electoral community. First, we supported four councils piloting new ways of voting, giving people increased flexibility on the time and location of voting. We maximised voter registration by investing in increased capacity in local authority election teams, and tailored communications to target newly enfranchised groups. We supported the third sector and schools in engaging better with young people by providing opportunities to increase awareness and understanding of politics and citizenship. Finally, we introduced changes aimed at improving postal vote statement error rates. So, we're trying new things in Wales and learning lessons from our efforts with partners that share our ambition of increasing democratic health in Wales.

Having completed the cycle of Senedd and local government ordinary elections, the time is now right to accelerate our reform agenda in anticipation of the next major devolved elections in 2026 and 2027. Our White Paper sets out an ambitious long-term vision agenda for modernising electoral administration and wider electoral reform, supporting delivery of our programme for government commitment to reform local government elections to reduce the democratic deficit. This complements work under way to deliver the reform of the Senedd that Members have agreed for 2026 onwards.

So, we invite views on a mixture of non-legislative propositions to promote engagement in elections, to make standing for election safer and more straightforward. We also want to know what voters think about our proposals for legislation to modernise the administration of elections, improve the conduct of electoral and community reviews for local government, and consolidate electoral law, to be introduced during this Senedd. Finally, we set out our longer term propositions for electoral reform to support Welsh democracy in the future. Our proposals stand in contrast to many of the actions pursued by the UK Government, which seem designed to make it harder for people to vote in UK elections. I want to be clear: our priority is maximising participation, rather than creating barriers in tackling a phantom of electoral fraud.

May I turn to look to some of the highlights in the White Paper? In support of our principle of accessibility, we set out measures to support disabled voters and ways to support more diverse candidates for elected office, including extending the access to elected office fund, and measures to support candidate safety. To support our principle of participation, we set out how automatic voter registration could operate, which we want to pilot. We also ask for views on improved information for voters, and to set out improvements to how electoral reviews are conducted. In support of our principle of equity, we ask whether more should be done to treat English and Welsh equally in the electoral process, and to make suggestions for how we can improve under-registration for people like students. To support our principle of an improved citizen experience, we ask whether voting should be taken forward following our pilots, and how existing processes like proxy or absent voting could be improved as part of a clear vision for digital democracy. To support our principle of simplicity, we suggest restating the franchise for Welsh elections to reduce complexity, and ask about harmonising campaign finance requirements for devolved and reserved elections. And to support our principle of integrity, we propose creating a new electoral management board to ensure resilience in how elections are administered, and a merger of the independent remuneration panel and the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales to build on their existing strengths. 

The Welsh Government is deeply grateful to all those who make our democracy work, from the people who put themselves forward to work for their community as candidates for electoral office, to the administrators that work so hard behind the scenes throughout the year to make sure that our democratic processes work smoothly, and to everyone who explains how the system works to their friends, neighbours and young people, and to the voters at the heart of our democracy.

We've only had responsibility for Welsh elections for four years, and building a twenty-first century electoral system that increases voter participation, so that every citizen can play a full part in our democracy, will take time. I look forward to hearing from views across the country on our White Paper—voters, administrators, campaigners and experts. Our democracy belongs to us all, and we all have a stake in making sure that it is fit for the future. Diolch yn fawr.


Thank you, Minister, for your statement and the advance copy of it that you shared with me.

I have to say that I'm not adverse to making changes to the voting system. I'm not adverse to making changes to electoral administration, or indeed, reform, if that is necessary. But we do have a successful record of delivering fair elections here in Wales, as we do in other parts of the United Kingdom. It's not complicated, it works and it delivers results. We don't always achieve the sort of turnout that we would like to achieve, and that is a challenge, and I think it's something that we have to look to ourselves to sort out, in terms of inspiring the electorate to turn out at elections. You can't force people to use the vote that they're eligible to cast, and we've got to take and accept some responsibility for not, perhaps, inspiring them enough.

But I don't necessarily see the need for all of the proposed changes that you're putting forward in the White Paper, nor do I see this as being an area that ought to potentially be sucking up all of the Welsh Government's time in terms of its legislative priorities. There are many other things that the Welsh Government could be getting on with, but for some reason, you seem to be focusing on things that are not necessarily the priority of members of the public. 

So, we have a situation where you embarked upon your early voting pilots earlier this year; frankly, they were a disaster—they were an absolute, unmitigated disaster. You spent £1.5 million—£845 per person who voted early. That was the outcome. And the turnout in those areas that had the early voting pilots actually went down, and it went down by more than the actual turnout across Wales as a whole went down. So, it went down even further than the 3 per cent across Wales as a whole. So, that's not a success. So, you have one question, I think, resoundingly answered by the spectacular failure of those early voting pilots in that you should not be taking forward any further prospect of early voting in the future. 

You've talked, in your White Paper, about automatic voter registration. Now, to me, it's not clear why this might be necessary. Many millions of people in Wales register to vote with the current voting registration system without any issues at all. And of course there are some challenges that are thrown up by automatic voter registration. You could end up with people being registered to vote twice, for example, at two addresses, with potentially an increase in the risk of those individuals voting twice in the same election—[Interruption.] Yes, of course it could happen now, but it's more likely to happen if you're automatically registered in two places at the same time. 

You specifically refer to students; the reality is that many students only want to be registered at their home address, their permanent home address, not their term-time address. Now, it's a matter for them if they choose to register at their term-time address. That's entirely a matter for them to be able to choose, but you're taking that choice away from people if you automatically register them to vote at their term-time address. It's not clear how you're going to overcome some of those challenges, where people might want to express a preference to be registered in one place over the other, and it's not clear how, in the White Paper, you'll address the potential for people to vote twice in the same set of elections when they're not entitled to. 

In addition to that, of course, there have been pilots that have taken place, roll-outs of automatic voter registration that have taken place in other parts of the world. In California, for example, there were 1,500 ineligible voters who were added to the electoral roll automatically as a result of the introduction of automatic voter registration there, and there were 84,000 people who had duplicate registration in California alone. Now, I know that California has got a much bigger population, and I'd love to go over there to see first-hand how it all operates, but the reality is that we don't want a situation where people feel, unwittingly, perhaps, as though they might have two or three opportunities to vote because they own two or three properties in two or three different places, or because they register during a term time at one abode and are registering at another time in another abode. 

I was disappointed as well, Minister—[Inaudible.]—Welsh Government to extending the franchise to more prisoners. I think that that's very disappointing indeed, that you still hold that position as a Government. I'm pleased that the UK Government is preventing you from doing that at the moment, and I just hope that there'll be no change in the UK Government, in terms of that attitude going forward.


Yes. The final point, if I may raise it, if that's okay, Deputy Presiding Officer, is that I want to know how you're going to uphold this principle of simplicity around elections when you're actually introducing more complexity into the election system, because the more that we diverge in Wales from the voting system that is used for police and crime commissioner elections and for UK general elections, then the more complexity that that is going to bring to people to have to navigate, to try to understand when they are going out to vote. So, if we've got automatic registration, for example, for some elections and not others, people might assume that they're already registered to vote in the general election but might not be, and I think that that sort of complexity is very unwelcome. And that's why I would encourage you to work more closely with the UK Government in order that we can try, if we're going to take forward any reforms, that we can try and do so consistently for all elections, to make sure that that complexity isn't there.


Thank you for those comments, and thank you, also, for welcoming the common objective of obviously wanting a well-working, efficient and robust electoral system.

I think the crux is that the world is changing: we have technology, we've learned opportunity, just as we do within this Senedd with hybrid meetings—we've learned how to use that. And this is a consultation, and it's not about forcing anybody to vote, but it is about ensuring that you can maximise the opportunity for all those people, for the diversity across our society of abilities and so on to be able to participate in voting. Because maximising voting, maximising the opportunity to vote, is about creating a very healthy democracy. For me, that has always been, actually, one of the well-being goals that really, we should all be aiming for, because a society where increasing numbers of people don't participate I think is on a very dangerous slope, and I think we see that around the world.

You talk about it sucking up time, well, of course, in 2017, we were given specific responsibilities to enable us to actually change and to reform our electoral law, and we see out of that opportunities. The consultation is about exploring those opportunities and looking to how we might drag our electoral system into the twenty-first century. After all, what we've had in the past up to now have been some pilots, which have not been about—no-one ever believed that the four pilots that we carried out were going to suddenly transform the turnout and there was going to be this massive rush to the electoral polls. It was always about the technical mechanism for how we might actually do things differently, to show that we could digitise, to show that we could actually run elections in a different, more—and to that extent, they were very successful. If we really wanted to worry about sucking up time, it might be helpful if you called on the UK Government to dismiss the retained EU law, which is going to suck up enormous amounts of time in a totally unnecessary way. I leave that to one side.

I see it as a real attraction to use the powers that we have to look at how technology can make voting more attractive, make it easier, and also maintain robustness and simplicity. I have to say that when I listened to some of your comments, you reminded me of sort of a Captain Ludd—you know, the person who went around opposing, Darren the Luddite [Laughter.] And I think that that's a bit of the difficulty with the approach here. You should really follow the example of David Cameron, and David Cameron said,

'The changes we're making...are modernisation with a purpose. That purpose is to make sure we can meet the big challenges of our age'.

And in many ways, if you take our democratic health really seriously, then facing up to those challenges and looking at how technology can actually make our electoral system more attractive I think is well worth exploring, and if there are things that the pilots show that can work, then we ought to do that.

Automatic registration: well, it seems to me that having as many people as possible who can vote and are entitled to vote on the electoral register is an absolute objective that we should actually have. And in terms of the issue of being registered twice, well, at the moment, I don't think it is an offence to be registered twice or even registered three times. What is an offence is to vote in more than one place. I remember as a student, I was always registered in two places: my hometown and wherever I was depending upon when the election would actually take place.

On the prisoner franchise, we certainly have an ambition that, at some stage in the future, for a certain category of prisoners, part of the rehabilitation of prisoners and part of the engagement of people reintroducing into the democratic process is something that has an attraction to it. It won't be happening this time around; it is something that is certainly in the longer term, mainly because in order to achieve it, it requires a positive engagement with aspects of the referred justice system that we don't have at this moment.

In terms of simplicity, can I just say that the comment you made about not diverging, I don't believe that we are diverging? What we are doing is modernising. What the UK Government is doing is actually diverging—diverging from basic principles by creating hurdles that will make it more difficult for people to register for voting and also to be able to vote. But, as I said, this is a consultation, and I look forward to the inclusion of your and, no doubt, your party's input into that consultation process. Those views, obviously, will be considered, as will all views.


Thank you very much, Counsel General, and we as Plaid Cymru welcome any attempt to make it easier for people to vote. We look forward to seeing the details as the consultation proceeds.

Why aren't we willing to change the voting system? Everything else in the world changes. But Mr Luddite over here wants us to remain in the age of steam when it comes to voting, rather than go into the digital age. But it's hardly surprising, though, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, to hear Darren Millar opposing reform. Of course, his party's opposed every reform since the great Reform Act 1832, haven't they? So, at least he's true to form. His attack on pilots—. Well, pilots are just those, aren't they? They are tests. They are things to learn from, and I would support any pilot with the aim of trying to encourage more people to vote. He talks about confusion. His party changed the voting system, with the Liberal Democrats, with the police and crime commissioner Act, to first past the post. There was no talk about confusion there. They were the ones that wanted to introduce voter ID. There was no talk about chaos happening at that point.

I'm sure, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, you stayed up late last night to listen to my friend and colleague Sioned Williams on Sharp End. She said, as with the extension of the voting rights to 16 and 17-year-olds, people will not be empowered to vote unless they are inspired to vote, and that's so important. I agreed with Darren on that point. It's up to all of us to inspire, but political education is key. Sioned's right. Political education—what role does political education have in all of this?

Like many people, we're knocking doors during election time. You'll have people telling us, 'Oh, well, we only moved in a few months ago, and we haven't registered.' This will solve that issue. What it won't solve is some wards—. And I can take you to some wards in Cardiff, where you go street after street, passing house after house of people not registered. This isn't going to answer that problem, but what we will see in many wards in Cardiff, and I'm sure in Pontypridd, where the voting turnout at the moment is in the early 20s, is the voting turnout will just plummet even further, but at least it will be a true reflection of the number of people voting.

As you said, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, automatic registration is not a new thing. I, in my halls of residence, was automatically registered to vote in England, in their local elections, and I can tell you that's the only election I've never voted for Plaid Cymru. [Laughter.] I won't tell you who I voted for, but that party's never been represented here, and that party supports Welsh independence, so I'll allow you to guess. But it's important that people know that they're registered. How will you tell people that they have been registered? How will the advertisement be paid for? Will it be up to local authorities, yet again, to foot the bill?

When and where will these pilots take place, because you can only do it for local elections and Welsh elections? Well, they are far away, so when will they take place and how quickly will the evaluation be done afterwards?

I am disappointed—. And I will remind Darren Millar of the words of Jesus Christ in the gospel according to Matthew: 'When I was a prisoner, you remembered me, you came to me.' Well, I want to remember the prisoners today. The fact that Darren Millar does not want to include prisoners—. Everybody who lives in this country should be part of civic society, and you should listen, you should listen to the words of your saviour, Jesus Christ, in the New Testament, Darren Millar. Now, I do urge the Welsh Government to put this back on the agenda—something my party and I feel very strongly about.

A couple of technical things to end: what is this electoral management board you mention? Is it the same as the election co-ordination board that the Electoral Commission has been asking about? I noted, right at the end of your statement, that you mentioned merging the independent remuneration panel and the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales. Now, you'll know that the independent remuneration panel deals with levels of payment for elected members of councils, but also the national parks authorities and fire and rescue authorities. What has that got to do with the boundary commission, and how will that impact any boundary reviews when it comes to this place? Diolch yn fawr. And within five minutes. [Laughter.]


Can I thank you for your comments? I agreed with most of the comments, and I certainly agree with the comments that you made with regard to the voter ID. Only I would probably disagree with you there, because there is already emanating a lot of chaos on how on earth that would work and what the challenges are in terms of explaining to people what is required and how that would actually work, and I wonder whether that will actually happen. 

I think that Northern Ireland is a slightly different situation, in terms of its own process. I think, in terms of the common area that is among all parties, that we all agree that there is a need for politicians to inspire, and that is an obligation. I think, in order to inspire, we have to also have the opportunity to actually engage as well, and I think it is something that needs to be looked at with the education system and so on. Of course, there is variability, and obviously there are opportunities through the new curriculum in terms of increasing, I think, civic education, which I think is absolutely fundamental, but also the ability to engage fairly with young voters—with schools and so on—in a fair and non-partisan way about the way in which the electoral system operates, but also in terms of the sorts of issues that arise.

As a personal item, I have always felt really disappointed that so many schools do not educate people about trade unions, about co-operativism and things like that—things like that have been very important in our history—but that's another matter. Clearly, there is going to be an issue in terms of any changes and how they are communicated and the engagement process on that, and that is something that will be considered within the consultation, but obviously something that is extremely important.

In terms of the pilot, I think that the main point is going to be this: if we are going to set up a nationwide database in terms of automatic registration—basically, the digitisation of the electoral system—we can't really do that, because we don't have the power to do it. We need the legislation in place; we can then have the pilot. We will have the pilot after the legislation, which is why the timetable is really important. We'll have that pilot in order to assess the different sources from which information can be taken, because we have to ensure that the system that we set up and the databases that we use and the access to the information and how it is then maintained (1) respect privacy, but also are robust and maintain confidence in the integrity of the electoral system.

We already have, of course, many, many databases. The NHS has an enormous database already. What it does mean, of course—. One of the things is that the electoral register, per se—or that database—would become a closed list. So, it wouldn't be out for sale, as it is at the moment in some ways. And I think that that would probably be a very good thing. It would be there for the appropriate authorities to access when required. 

In terms of the electoral managing and co-ordination board, well, of course, that is something that was set up on a completely voluntary basis amongst the electoral registration officers. We are one of the few places that doesn't actually have a statutory national electoral management board. So, what the legislation is proposing is that we do actually create that—we create, actually, a proper nationwide structure for the actual management and co-ordination of elections around Wales, with all the benefits that would exist in terms of maximising use of technology, systems, consistency, robustness and so on.

In terms of the remuneration board, I think that is really just a matter where there's an opportunity to actually incorporate something within another body that is basically one of efficiency and effectiveness within the legislation. So, there's a proposal there as well. I hope I've answered all the points.

I very much welcome the Minister's statement. I welcome measures to make it easier for disabled voters, both those with physical and sensory disabilities, to be able to get to a polling station. Sometimes, getting into the polling station itself can be very difficult for people who do have those disabilities. And what do people do? They don't bother, because it's too much trouble.

I welcome automatic voter registration. Many of my constituents who had actually turned up to vote for me found out that they weren't registered, which was hugely disappointing to me, though not necessarily to anybody else. But, seriously, that is a problem: people thinking that they are registered and finding out when they go there that they're not. Those tend to be disproportionately younger people; they tend to be disproportionately people from poorer areas.

The one big change that has worked really well, the postal votes on demand, that has really been a huge success. But there are two problems: the number of people who, on their postal vote, get it rejected because they fill in the date they send it in, not their date of birth; and the people whose signature doesn’t match the signature they sent in. Often these people are suffering degenerative conditions, things like multiple sclerosis or things like Parkinson’s, and their signature has changed over time. So, my request is: would it be possible to return these votes to allow people to remedy these errors? Because all you’re doing is taking the outer envelope; you’re not touching the vote whatsoever.

The second one is: I’m afraid it’s not the difficulty in voting that stops people voting—it’s a lack of desire to vote, and that’s a challenge for us on all these benches here, and members of parties who aren’t represented here, to make people think they want to vote for us.


Thank you. I think the points you made early on about inclusiveness, really, about those with disabilities, whether they be sensory abilities and so on, are actually really important. Digitisation and so on create many opportunities for change and for inclusiveness within those. Those are the ones we want to explore, and there are many examples in countries around the world that I know have been looked at previously, but I think digitisation again creates opportunities there.

I should say one thing, of course, which is that one thing we refer to in the paper—not looking at it for the next set of elections, but in the future—is of course online voting. We think there are issues with regard to technology, security and so on at this stage, but of course digitisation opens the door for that, and I think that’s a really different thing. Many of us have experience of it in many ways already, so it is about the utilisation of the technology, provided it can be done safely, robustly and, I think, absolutely simply.

I think the point you raised in terms of postal votes is absolutely right. Of course, some changes were made after the last elections with regard to the format of the postal vote papers, and I have to confess you’re absolutely right about the confusion. I made a mistake and had to go and seek another paper in order to do that, for exactly the same reason—you sign in the wrong place or whatever. And those are easy mistakes to make. So, one of the things in this area that’s in the paper for consultation is of course that issue of tracking. And that is ensuring that those who want to vote and who use postal votes—if there are reasons why, there are technical errors like that and so on, there are opportunities for them to be corrected and so on. I don’t think that is beyond our abilities at all.

I just thank you for the other comments.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Good afternoon, Counsel General. I’ve got one minute to talk about democracy, when I am the only representative of the Liberal Democrats. But I just want to put on record how I support the principle of these reforms, because democracy in the UK is on life support, trust in politicians is at an all-time low, turnout in elections remains low, participation in democracy continues to fall, and we have a lot to do—unlike the Conservatives in Westminster, who are hell-bent on trashing our democracy and robbing us of our basic democratic freedoms.

Frankly, the attempts to dehumanise prisoners even further I think is unforgiveable. With the greatest of respect, Darren Millar, it is unforgiveable that you want to deny them the right to talk and to vote on things that are so important to them—as important to them as they are to us. So, we must remove barriers and make it simpler for people to vote, and I’m thankful for the advances that have been made in the statement today.

Here are some ideas to really push that Welsh vote out even further. I would like to see a shift where all councils have to elect councillors through STV. I want to see participatory budgeting, I’d like to see more innovation around citizens’ assemblies, and I want to see us lead the way on data and technology, which you have just referred to. There’s so much to welcome here, and I do hope that we can move it forward further here in Wales. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Can I thank you for those comments? I think this is a really exciting consultation, because it has shown that within Wales we can do something different, we can do it better and we can use the powers we have. I think the approach that we’ve had, and something that has been considered over a number of years since 2017, the way we can modernise and drag our voting system into the twenty-first century—. And let's face it, our voting system, essentially, has not changed very much in 100 years. It's still paper votes on lists, with pens and papers and rulers, where you draw lines through and so on, and clearly it's not beyond our wit to actually produce something a lot better, and I look forward to your ideas there. 

Can I just say something on your ideas and the comments you made in terms of local councils and STV? Well, of course, as a result of legislation passed in this place, local councils have the opportunity to choose to introduce STV in their voting systems if they choose to do so. They have to do it, I think, within the first two years, but that is a choice locally that they actually have. Diolch.

4. Statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language: Welsh Language Community Housing

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language on Welsh Language community housing. And I call on the Minister, Jeremy Miles. 

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. The large number of second homes and short-term holiday accommodation we have in some parts of Wales have provoked strong feelings for some years. In these communities, there is an understandable sense of injustice that people can be priced out of their local housing market by those purchasing second homes or homes bought as short-term lets.

Wales has always been a welcoming nation, and we always want that to be the case. Tourism is an important industry in Wales, but too much holiday accommodation and too many second homes that are empty for much of the year can have a negative impact on the vibrancy of these areas and the sense of community. Often, second homes are concentrated in Welsh-speaking communities and can reduce our opportunities to use our language in those communities. Also, if young people cannot afford to live and work in our Welsh-speaking communities, that can also be to the detriment of the language.

As ever, it's easier to describe the problem and call for action than it is to solve it. But we are breaking new ground here in Wales in the solutions that we are bringing forward to face these challenges, and many beyond Wales have expressed an interest in what we are doing. We are pioneering, with linguistic considerations now included in discussions surrounding affordability and second homes. And that is what I am going to talk about today.

I want the 'Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan' to play a central part in our response to the numerous challenges facing Welsh-speaking communities. We received 800 responses to the consultation on the plan—the largest number we have received on an issue relating to the Welsh language, which shows the strength of feeling and the desire to act. The people of Wales want to safeguard and protect the Welsh language as a community language, as do I. So, diolch o galon to everyone who responded.

The main aim of this plan is to help communities to plan for themselves, to address particular challenges in their areas, drawing on local insight and energy. This is not just a housing plan. It draws together, for example, the work that the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, has been doing in housing, as well as the work of Government on the economy, community development and language planning. It really is an example, Dirprwy Lywydd, of mainstreaming the language within other policies.

I am also announcing today a package of almost £500,000 to realise some of the plan’s objectives. To give you a flavour of these objectives: we want to create more co-operative enterprises, led by the community. There was considerable support for this idea in the consultation responses. These will be spaces where people can work and use the language freely—specifically Welsh-speaking spaces.

We also want to work with those who have a key role within the housing market—estate agents, solicitors, mortgage companies and local authorities. We have an opportunity to work with these local experts in order to share information about support available to help local people to purchase or rent properties that are affordable.

We will also create a network of cultural ambassadors. These will be local people who know their communities well. They will explain cultural issues and the language situation in order to help integrate newcomers. People are more willing to be part of a community when they understand the community in which they live.

We frequently hear of houses being sold before reaching the market, or being sold quickly to buyers who have the means to purchase them, often without the need for a mortgage. We also hear of sellers accepting lower prices from local people, and allowing adequate time for a loan to be arranged. There are examples of sellers helping buyers, and we must bear in mind that it is not estate agents who decide who buys a property—the ultimate decision is in the hands of the seller. We will therefore establish a fair chance scheme, to raise awareness among sellers or prospective sellers of the options they have to support people who want to remain in or return to the communities where they were brought up. This will be a voluntary scheme, highlighting what can be done to help local people access an affordable house to purchase or rent.

During the National Eisteddfod this year, I launched the Commission for Welsh-speaking Communities. The commission will respond to challenges facing Welsh-speaking communities. Based on information provided by experts in the field, the commission will compile a report within two years, making policy recommendations. The commission has already met, and I expect its conclusions may be challenging to many, but it is essential that we ground our policies in evidence and reality.

An important part of the plan will be to safeguard Welsh place names, which also features in our programme for government. We received a strong and constructive consultation response to this issue. We know that the names of houses, businesses, lakes and mountains impact the character of an area, and that people are concerned about this. And that is why we committed to do all we can to safeguard Welsh place names, so that future generations may enjoy them too. We need to develop our evidence base for action, not only concerning the number of names that are changing, but how and where they are changing. So, we are commissioning rigorous research to help us in that regard. We will also continue to work with local authorities to establish the exact state of affairs, and a variety of solutions will be needed in order to make a real difference.

The economic health of Welsh-speaking communities is important to the flourishing of the language. Members will have seen from announcements earlier this week that further funding will be provided to build on the work of the previous Arfor programme. This will support businesses and create employment opportunities in some of our Welsh-speaking communities, adding value to our mainstream programmes and to the 'Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan'.

If we want local people to have a realistic chance to live in our Welsh-speaking communities, to maintain the vibrancy of the language as a natural part of everyday social and economic life, to ensure the flourishing of Welsh in our communities and across our nation, we must act boldly. The Welsh Government, in co-operation with Plaid Cymru, has done so, and today’s announcement of the 'Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan', alongside the range of other measures we have taken, is the latest step in that journey to make a practical reality of the hawl i fyw adref.


I refer Members to my declaration of interest forms published, in terms of property ownership.

Thank you for the statement. I think that every Member of the Senedd is supportive of the target of having a million Welsh speakers by 2050. [Interruption.]

Thank you. It's a start. [Laughter.]

Importantly, our First Minister has called Wales a nation of sanctuary. So, for me, I have to start off my contribution today that there must not be here in Wales, at any time, any bias or prejudice to interfere against any person looking to buy a house in Wales. Now, I do respect the fact that the fair chance scheme, which may allow properties to be marketed locally only, for a fixed period, is voluntary, but by no means should this be made compulsory, because, after all, we do live in a free market.

Now, if we take Ireland, for instance, there are technically a million people who mention in the census and things that they can speak Irish, but, in reality, there are fewer than 80,000 who do speak that every day. That is the situation we're all working to avoid here, and we all want the Welsh language to thrive. However, we need sustainable communities and much better paid job opportunities in those areas where this plan is designed to support. At present, the two main sectors though, agriculture and tourism, have actually come under significant pressure from your Government, with all the regulations set on our farmers and also with tourism, with some of the moves now in tourism, and this is mainly as a result of the Labour and Plaid Cymru co-operation agreement.

Your plan quite rightly states that you've changed the rules around short-term holiday accommodation, introducing the 182 days barrier. Now, the case has been made against this so eloquently by the sector, and even the farming unions, so you've got to be a bit careful that what you're designing doesn't have unintended consequences, because it is completely illogical that farmers are likely to be charged a premium on their holiday let because they do not have enough customers or visitors to meet the 182 threshold, and planning conditions stop them from being rented in the private sector on the open market. These properties were only ever designed to be holiday let accommodation, and, when farmers have diversified, you should not be looking to pull that rug from under them.

Thankfully, the Conservative UK Government are backing schemes that will boost economic and community growth in west Wales, such as 200 jobs with His Majesty's Revenue and Customs at Holyhead. So, I would be pleased, Minister, if you could clarify how many jobs in west Wales—. The Arfor 2, which will be costing £11 million, how many jobs is that expected to deliver? And what kind of jobs? Are we talking now about higher paid roles? Because we mustn't forget here that, in Wales, the average median wage is £3,000 to £4,000 less than in England. So, if our local Welsh people were earning more money with better jobs, greater pay, then surely they would find it easier to actually then look to own their own homes.

We could also replicate our Prime Minister's low-tax investment zones. I know that the commission that you've set up is to help develop future policies too, but it could take two years for that commission to publish their report. So, is there any chance you'll be bringing that back any sooner, given the crisis facing some of our communities?

I was, however, disappointed to read in the plan that there is no evidence base currently of the problem of place names being changed. And I see this a lot, actually, in my own constituency. When we know of examples, such as farms—long, traditional Welsh family-owned farms—renamed Hakuna Matata, it seems unnecessary to commission specific research before you're prepared to take some kind of action.

It's going to take years before we see any progress at all on seeing local people more able to afford houses in their communities, because, fundamentally, this isn't the problem of second home owners or holiday let owners or guest house owners or anything. The fact is that the Welsh Labour Government have simply failed to build enough houses. In the first part of this year, the number is 1,236, I think it is, and that's considerably lower than the year before, so where is your dynamism to actually solve these problems in our Welsh communities by building houses? 


Yes. So, I have a couple of questions for you. Can you explain how many new builds are you hoping to see in Welsh language speaking areas? Whilst you are pursuing planning changes, in terms of categorisation, will you be focusing on planning reform that will boost house building and infrastructure projects, as our Prime Minister is doing? And, finally, where you have these Welsh-speaking only spaces, where we welcome people in as a nation of sanctuary, how will you find these communities remaining cohesive, rather than having exclusive bubbles, where that may then prevent communities from joining up together? Thank you.

Well, can I just firstly say that I thought very much that the Member's contribution started off better than it ended? I congratulate her on her use of Welsh in the Chamber, and encourage much more of that.

So, she made a number of wide-ranging points, some of which were germane to the statement, some of which were in relation to other areas. I think it's really important that we establish from the start that there is no tension between welcoming people into our communities and the success of the Welsh language. We see every day people from all parts of the world who've chosen to come to live here in Wales and we open our arms to them learning Welsh. I think that's really to be celebrated. It's a really fantastic thing to see. We've seen Ukrainian children learning Welsh. We see it with people coming from other parts of the UK and further afield. 

The role of the llysgenhadon diwylliannol is really important in this, in bringing people into the community, explaining the cultural context of the place that they've chosen to live. I think that's a really important part of creating that welcoming environment. I detect in the Member's question signs of having read the speech I gave at the Eisteddfod, so I'll thank her for the implicit compliment in that, but she's right to say that the headline numbers aren't sufficient if people aren't using the language every day. That's why we absolutely want to see local economies that are flourishing. I hear the point that she's made consistently about the threshold for self-catering accommodation. We need to make sure that property in that part of the sector is being used productively for the economy. We don't want to see those properties being empty for a long time and detracting from the ability of the community to flourish economically, socially and from a linguistic point of view. 

She is making many of the points in relation to employment opportunities in parts of Wales that I was making in the last Senedd when I was the Brexit Minister. I'm glad to see that she's finally realised the consequence of some of the decisions that she was happy to support at the tail end of the last Senedd. I think it's very welcome to see that Damascene conversion, which today's contribution was evidence of. I do also genuinely welcome the support that she gives for an ambitious approach in relation to place names. I do recognise that's probably in tension with her other commitment to the free market, so I think it's particularly significant that she sees that as part of the solution.

What I will say, though, in seriousness, in closing in response to her points, is that we have ambitious targets to build 20,000 social homes for rent, but she will know that the consequences of the economic collapse of the last 10 days has been to push up interest rates very considerably, and that will put incredible pressure on our Government's house-building targets and the targets of every other Government in the UK in that space as well. That's why it's so important that UK Government economic policy is set with these broader social objectives in mind. I share with her the ambition to make sure that we build plenty of homes in Wales for people to be able to live in them affordably, but the actions of her colleagues in Westminster are actually making that harder rather than easier.


Thank you, Minister, for the statement and thank you for the opportunity to have a look at the statement before the announcement today. The Minister is entirely right to say that second homes have caused major problems for our rural and coastal communities, particularly in those areas where the Welsh language is at its strongest, and have done for decades. A large number of second homes and short-term holiday lets has led to the Welsh language losing ground and to people leaving their communities, along with the associated detrimental social impact on communities. That, of course, is the sad context, but I am pleased, in co-operation with Plaid Cymru and by listening to the voice of campaigners who have, for decades, been so eloquent in expressing their concerns and putting forward possible solutions, that there is now light at the end of the tunnel.

I agree with the Minister’s statement that we are breaking new ground here in Wales. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the package of measures already announced, namely the new 'Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan', and that there is funding to support delivery in achieving this aim. There is a question, of course, as to whether this funding is sufficient, because the housing crisis is vast. So, I'd like to seek assurance about the sufficiency of the plan. I'd like to ask the Minister how exactly he foresees that this plan will help us achieve the aims of the wider package of measures to deal with the second homes crisis that we've all talked about this afternoon.

I'd like to emphasise that, whilst there are areas with large numbers of Welsh speakers and some with fewer Welsh speakers in them, the Welsh language and Welsh culture belong to everyone in Wales, from Môn to Monmouth. I note that you mentioned the Arfor region, which runs from Môn to Carmarthenshire, but you will know that there are other areas, such as the area where you grew up in the Swansea valley, that have a large number of Welsh speakers, also Maesteg, or the vales of Clwyd and Ceiriog. So, how does the Minister foresee that the plan will safeguard the language and culture across Wales, not just in the traditional strongholds of the Welsh language?

As we await a full analysis of the census results, it's clear that data related to the language will have implications for any Government plan to safeguard the Welsh language. In other words, the census will give a clearer picture of the Welsh language’s status, and we will need to consider this data as we move ahead with any new policies. So, is the Minister confident that this plan will be fit for purpose, and that it will be able to take into account the census results?

The Minister mentioned the matter of properties being sold before they reach the market, or being sold quickly to a buyer who has the financial means to buy it outright. The Minister mentioned the establishment of a fair chance scheme, as Janet Finch-Saunders also mentioned. She didn't want to see this being put on a statutory footing, but I'm eager to see whether you have ideas to develop this voluntary scheme to be on a statutory footing that will continue for years to come, and will be extended for other areas as well, to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to live in their communities.  

Another aspect that I would like to touch upon is the issue of place names, as you mentioned at the end of your previous contribution. I welcome the fact that this plan aims to help protect place names, something that this party has talked about several times. We remember the legislative proposal of Dai Lloyd to safeguard place names in Wales. To reiterate the point made earlier, the Welsh language and culture belong to every one of us, and are part of our history and inheritance as a whole nation. So, how does the Minister foresee that the plan will help to protect the language, via place names, on a statutory level?

Finally, the 'Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan' talks about co-operatives and mutuals. But, bearing in mind the reticence of the Government to develop a statutory framework to enable communities to take ownership of community assets, what role has the Minister for Social Justice played in developing this plan? And will you collaborate with her to strengthen the statutory framework to enable communities to take ownership of community assets to meet your objectives? Thank you. 


Thank you for those further questions. If I could begin on the issue of funding, I haven't outlined all funding sources related to the work that we're dealing with today. We have provided funding to Cwmpas to support co-operative enterprises and housing so that we can bring in the experience of co-operatives such as PLANED, Partneriaeth Ogwen and Cwmni Bro Ffestiniog. There's a lot of that that has been funded through the programme that Cwmpas is working with us on at the moment. 

I agree entirely with what the Member said; the Welsh language belongs to everyone. One of the exciting elements in the work of the new commission, I think, will be to look at the position of the Welsh language in all parts of Wales, and that will help us to understand the economic and social impact on the language. That will help us to draw up policies that will be applicable in all parts of Wales in due time. This will happen as part of the work of the commission. One of the elements currently under consideration is this concept of areas of linguistic sensitivity, where there is a possibility that education policy, planning policy and other areas may have an impact on the Welsh language in that community. The work of the commission will be very important in creating an evidence base for that, and that will work in different ways in the Welsh-speaking heartlands on the one hand, as compared to other areas of Wales on the other. So, that's part of the work of the commission in the medium term, too.

We await the census results, as the Member said. I don't know what they will be at the moment. What we've endeavoured to do in this and with the other steps that we've taken in terms of our response to the challenge of second homes—and, by the way, in the context of education policy in relation to the Welsh language—is that we are as ambitious as we can be. We don't know what the census results will be; we will know by the end of the year, hopefully. Whatever they are, we have more work to do, and that's the intention here—to be as ambitious as possible. The steps we've taken here, in planning, and in taxation, have been major steps forward, as the Member acknowledged in his contribution. But, we will look again at the trajectory when we get the census results to see if it's applicable for the next five or 10 years. So, we'll have an opportunity to review the trajectory to 2050 in that context.

In terms of the fair chance scheme, the question of what's devolved and what's not devolved is pertinent in terms of our ability as a Government to tackle this, but we are looking at one legal element, namely what more can sellers do in terms of covenants on their properties. So, that work will be ongoing, and there's a legal element to that, which will perhaps offer some kind of opportunity.

In a similar vein, he asked about the legislative basis for the work on place names. I'm not putting to one side the possibility of doing something legislative, but the legislative programme for this Senedd is very full indeed. We wouldn't yet know what we'd need that legislation to do. The situation is different in terms of place names, the names of houses, and business names, and that's quite a complex area in terms of powers and in terms of what happens on the ground. But the purpose of looking at the evidence base and commissioning that research is that we can see exactly where we need legislation to achieve our objectives, and what we can do without legislation. We don't yet know the answers to those questions. 


I draw attention to my declaration of interest in terms of property ownership. The Minister will be aware of the attention that I've paid recently to the tenants who told us that their landlord in the Bodorgan estate has asked them to leave their homes, to turn them into holiday accommodation. My concern here is for the individuals and families who face losing their homes, but I'm also concerned about the impact on the housing stock locally. May I draw the Minister's attention today to a letter that a constituent sent me yesterday? It was posted through a front door in Benllech:

'I do hope you don't mind me contacting you. I'm looking for a property in your area and wondered if you might be interested in selling or renting your property long term.'

A company called Coastal Holidays was responsible for sending that letter—not a local tourism company, I have to say, but a company from Warwick, according to their website. Very importantly, it's a company that is trying purposefully to take properties out of the local housing stock, disenfranchising people in the community from being able to buy those houses and driving prices up.

The Minister today has talked about good practice that he wants to see developing. Does the Minister agree with me that what we see in this letter is poor practice? It's not unique, of course, but it is testimony to why we need the kinds of measures that are being mentioned today that emanate from the co-operation agreement, and why we need to take robust action, including legislation, to safeguard the housing market, and through that safeguard the Welsh language.

I accept that that's bad practice. That's the very kind of thing that we want to tackle in the broader plans that we have. What I've said today will make a contribution. Good practice isn't always enough; we sometimes will need to change legislation or taxation. We're doing that in terms of planning and LTT and so on. So, that broader range of things will make a difference, hopefully. 

5. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Approach to Respiratory Viruses

We're moving on this afternoon to the next item, which is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on the approach to respiratory viruses. I call on the Minister to make her statement—Eluned Morgan.

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. I provided an update to Members regarding COVID-19 and winter pressures on 20 September. I highlighted the fact that we are preparing for a third winter of living with COVID, but that the situation regarding respiratory viruses is more uncertain than previous years because seasonal patterns have been significantly disrupted due to the pandemic. The latest rise in prevalence demonstrates that COVID-19 has not gone away, and we need to be vigilant and prepared. According to the latest Office for National Statistics coronavirus infection survey, the proportion of people in Wales testing positive for COVID-19 in the week ending 26 September was around 1 in 50 people.

To help prepare our communities and the health and social care systems for what could be a challenging winter, today, we are publishing our public health approach to respiratory viruses for autumn/winter 2022-23. Alongside this publication, we will also be providing further technical advice on scenarios and actions needed within the health and social care system. This will further supplement the existing planning commenced many months ago in the NHS, as set out in the NHS planning framework. So, planning for seasonal peaks in pressure is a year-round exercise, and there's been further development of interventions that will enable resilience within urgent and emergency care services this winter.

The technical advice on winter 2022-23 models, also published today, will further aid the ongoing NHS planning in Wales through the provision of four COVID-19 models. Over the previous two winter periods, we have seen low levels of flu and respiratory syncytial viruses circulating relative to a typical year, and that was mostly likely due to restrictions in place in relation to COVID-19. There is, therefore, much uncertainty for the winter of 2022-23, as those restrictions are no longer in place. Now, these winter models for COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses explore a 'what if' situation should these viruses come together, and that will help NHS planners and other partners prepare for a reasonable worst-case and COVID-urgent scenario, along with other pressures and challenges.

I'd like to take the opportunity today to highlight the key messages in our public health approach to respiratory viruses for autumn/winter 2022-23. Now, central to the approach that we've taken is our objective to protect the most vulnerable in our society from serious disease. This remains a key focus when we're operating in a COVID-stable environment, whereby we expect further waves of infection but we do not expect these to place continued, unsustainable pressure on the health and social care system. However, as we're aware, circumstances can change rapidly with a sustained increase in cases or the impact of future variants in terms of transmissibility, immune response and vaccine escape and severity. We'll need to act rapidly to respond to changing circumstances, and this could include introducing other measures and stronger advice on protective behaviours, including, for example, the use of face coverings and introducing additional testing to further protect the more vulnerable. 

We've set out plans to deliver, in partnership with Public Health Wales, an effective, combined surveillance system that provides timely information to aid effective risk assessment and risk management decisions to reduce harm from COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. This will be more critical this winter, with the end of mass community testing for COVID-19 in April 2022 and the uncertainties on potential impact for both COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. We've also outlined our tried-and-tested processes for managing outbreaks of communicable diseases, including respiratory viruses.

Our approach emphasises that vaccination continues to offer the best protection from COVID-19 and flu. For those who are eligible to be vaccinated, getting vaccinated is the most important action that they can take to protect themselves and others. Our winter respiratory vaccination programme was launched on 1 September and, to date, over 360,000 COVID-19 vaccines have been given.

Our advice and approach will continue to focus on enabling and promoting individual behaviours to protect themselves, to protect each other and, particularly, to protect the more vulnerable. This has to be done because this can have significant benefits in terms of reducing transmission of respiratory viruses. We should all now be familiar with these protective behaviours, which include staying at home if you're unwell and wearing a face covering in crowded indoor places and health and social care settings. We've also included targeted advice for those working in key settings, such as health, social care, prisons and education settings.

Another key element of our approach to respiratory viruses is how we can protect people who are at high risk of becoming severely ill as a result of COVID-19. We've set out advice for those who are eligible for treatment with antiviral or antibody therapies, including eligibility criteria and how treatment can be accessed. Our testing approach is also now targeted to protect the most vulnerable. This will help to inform the surveillance process, will support outbreaks, and will help to plan for a potential wave in cases of the virus and a COVID-urgent scenario. We continue to provide tests for symptomatic patients, health and care staff, prisoners, and care home residents. For the winter, we are also providing additional multiplex testing within several settings. These tests can diagnose other respiratory viruses apart from COVID-19, and can ensure that the appropriate treatment and protective measures are put in place.

Our planned communications campaigns will focus on daily protective behaviours that everyone can implement to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, in order to protect those people who are most at risk. The messaging will be sensitive to the increased cost of living, and they will focus on behaviours that are easy and simple for everyone to maintain and will help us respond to the challenges during the winter months. Thank you very much.


I thank the Minister for her statement this afternoon, and I very much support that message, encouraging people to take up their flu vaccination and booster as well. I was very pleased to sponsor an event in the Senedd last week, encouraging people to take their flu jab; I know, myself and many other Members had their flu jab at that event last week.

Minister, you mentioned in your statement today, you finished by talking about a campaign to encourage people to take up their flu vaccine and booster. Are you expecting health boards to run that campaign in each of the local health board areas, or is there an element of Welsh Government being involved in a more Wales-wide campaign? Perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about that.

You talked about the importance, of course, quite rightly, of healthcare staff and others taking up their vaccination as well. As I understand it, currently, just 29 per cent of healthcare staff have had their 2022-23 COVID vaccination, and one in three adults aged over 65 have taken their booster. Now, so far, that, of course, is well behind the Welsh Government's target of 75 per cent take-up of the vaccination. So, I'm interested, as well, in your assessment over the past 12 months in terms of take-up. There is that concern, of course, that, as time goes on, people put that priority lower down their priority agenda. How successful have those last 12 months been in terms of people taking up their boosters? Are you concerned about the figures that I've just outlined now? Are you going to meet your target of 75 per cent, and why 75 per cent? How was that target brought forward, and what does it mean if your target is not met? Also, there is concern that infection control amongst a number of health boards has become a bit lax, despite lessons learned during COVID-19. So, last year, just 57 per cent of healthcare staff with direct patient contact took their flu vaccination. So, perhaps I can ask you: is that a concern to you and how do you intend to combat that?

I was quite interested that you said in your statement, Minister, that your

'advice and approach will continue to focus on enabling and promoting individual behaviours to protect themselves'.

So, I'm just reading that and trying to digest that into my own words. Can you confirm that self responsibility is now the Welsh Government's approach to the future management of COVID?

Last week, of course, the technical advisory cell report was published. It was some interesting reading, as I read through that. The big headline there is that hospital rates are much higher in Wales than in England, considerably, and, of course, we know that death rates in Wales were higher than in any part of the UK on a per-population basis. I'm interested in what lessons you've learned in that regard to inform future approaches to respiratory outbreaks.


Thank you very much. Well, I can assure you that there will be a national campaign alongside the campaigns that are happening, I'm sure, at local authority level. If I'm honest, we are a bit disappointed with the number of people who have come forward so far in relation to health and care staff, which is why I've instructed my officials to write to the health boards to make sure that we drum up support and we drive up those levels of vaccination for both flu and COVID amongst health and care staff. So, I'm very keen to see that happening. We're working with trade unions also to try to see if they can help us out with some of that messaging. 

You asked if our programme has been successful; I think it's been incredibly successful. If you compare it to other parts of the world, we've had really high levels of take-up. The question is: how do we keep up that momentum, how do we keep up the enthusiasm when there's a danger of complacency because we're all getting back to normal—for the first time, let's face it, in about three years? So, what we have set is that 75 per cent target. We think that this is a realistic target. We recognise that, every time, fewer people are likely to turn up for their vaccinations. It's not ideal, it's not where we want to be, but I think we've got to understand that you can't force people into these things, you've got to bring the people with you. The best way to bring people with us is to convince them and to get them to understand that, not only are they supporting themselves, they're protecting their loved ones and they're protecting the broader community if they take up this opportunity. 

I think that, with infection control within NHS facilities and care settings, what we've done is we've allowed people to make choices at a local level. So, obviously, in some parts, you'll have higher COVID rates than in others. So, it's right that we give them that flexibility. If we saw the numbers soaring, then actually, we'd have to think about whether we needed to introduce more strict versions from the centre. But, you ask if self-responsibility is part of the response; it has always been a part of the response. It's a part of the response, it's not the only response. Vaccination is our key weapon in our armoury against COVID. But, self-responsibility—you know that if you go into a crowded room that is indoors in the middle of winter, and rates are at one in 50, the chances are that your risk is higher. So, of course it's up to people to take that responsibility themselves and to understand the risks that they're taking. 

You asked, finally, about COVID infections. You will have seen last week that, if you look at the number of COVID infections compared to England, 57 per cent of the Welsh public were affected compared to 71 per cent of the English public affected. So, excess deaths were 20 per cent lower in Wales than in England, although you're right to say that there were more hospitalisations, but you expect that in a population that's older, that's sicker, that's poorer and that's frailer. 

Thank you to the Minister for the statement this afternoon. I agree, generally speaking, with the plan as outlined by the Minister today. The Minister is right in saying, of course, that COVID has not left us; it is still casting a shadow, and that shadow is getting darker. And there's a concern too that flu could take hold this winter in a way that it hasn't done for a number of years. I am grateful to Dr Harri Pritchard and the team at the Amlwch Health Centre for giving me my flu jab, and I, like everyone else here, would encourage those who quality for that vaccination—those over 50 and those who were carers in one way or another during the pandemic—to go and get that vaccination and to contact a GP or pharmacist. 

I just wanted to ask one simple question on the impact that an increase in respiratory conditions through COVID, flu and other viruses, and the impact that that could have on the health service. I am truly concerned that the Minister is still telling us that she is confident of reaching Government targets in terms of waiting lists, that she's confident that, by the end of this year we will have reached the point where nobody will wait longer than 12 months for a first out-patient appointment. We are nowhere near being on track to reach that target, and if we see additional pressures because of respiratory conditions, then the pressures will be even greater, making it even more difficult to reach that target. So, when will the Minister carry out an assessment to see what impact respiratory conditions will have on the Government's ability to reach those targets? Because what I need to know is that the Government is willing to reassess at an early stage, to change direction at an early stage, or the whole backbone of the Government's plans in bringing down waiting lists and waiting times will suffer.


Thank you. Well, as you know, we have modelled and we have looked at what could happen during this coming winter, and the health service is preparing for the models that we have seen, where we'll be likely to see a peak, according to the modelling, in December and January, so we do need to prepare for that, and that is the time, of course, not just for COVID issues, but that's when people need to take time off for Christmas and so on, and that's when it's likely that we'll see the impact of flu too. So, those issues are certainly going to have an impact on our ability to hit some of our targets, but that's why it's important that we do have this plan in place, so that people take the opportunity to be vaccinated, so that they can protect themselves.

The fact is that 1,000 people who should be working in the NHS today aren't able to work as a result of COVID. Now, that is going to have an impact on our ability. One of the things that we are doing to plug those gaps is to use agency nurses, which is difficult, and that increases the cost for us in terms of how much we spend on agency nurses. That's not something we want to do, but it is something that we need to do if we want to continue to try to hit the targets that we've set. It will be difficult to hit those targets that we've set for waiting lists, but I do think that it's very important that we do our level best to reach those targets, to reach that target, because what we're talking about here is people's lives, and people need to be seen. I'm certainly urging health boards to make sure this happens as soon as possible. I look forward tomorrow to having a cancer summit with the NHS in Wales.

6. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being: 'Together for Mental Health' Strategy and Next Steps

The next item is the statement by the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being: 'Together for Mental Health' strategy and next steps. I call on the Deputy Minister to make the statement. Lynne Neagle.

Thank you, Deputy Llywydd. Yesterday we marked World Mental Health Day, and this Government is steadfast in its commitment to improve the protection of and support for mental health and well-being. This is demonstrated through my appointment as dedicated Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being and the positioning of mental health as a priority in our programme for government.

As we emerge from the pandemic, the mental health impact of coronavirus is becoming even clearer. Services are reporting an increased number of referrals with more complexity. Each month, although our local primary mental health services teams receive more than 5,000 referrals, more than 17,000 people are receiving care and treatment from specialist mental health services. There is increasing demand for people needing psychological therapies and crisis support, with more than 1,200 referrals to crisis resolution and home treatment teams each month. Against this backdrop, I am acutely aware that the current cost-of-living crisis is likely to add to the challenge.

We are reaching the end of our 10-year 'Together for Mental Health' and 'Talk to me 2' strategies, and I want to take this opportunity to update Members on progress, the independent evaluation of these strategies and our next steps. We have come a long way since the publication of both strategies, and the services, support and investment that we have today demonstrates a significant step change compared with what was in place in 2012. In that time, our annual ring-fenced investment to the NHS for mental health has risen from £577 million to £760 million. We've also committed a further £50 million in 2022-23, rising to £90 million in 2024-25 to support mental health and well-being.

With this investment, we have transformed services implemented at the start of the strategy. This includes the creation of local primary mental health teams across Wales, crisis resolution and home treatment teams, psychiatric liaison services and community perinatal teams. We've also established single points of contact for child and adolescent mental health services to improve accessibility, and we have embedded the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010, a unique piece of legislation that provides the framework to improve mental health services in Wales. We have also established a mother and baby unit in south Wales and are progressing our commitment to improve access to these services in north Wales.

We have significantly expanded support at tier 0/1 levels to provide easy access to a range of support and to avoid escalation to specialist support where appropriate. This includes through our 24/7 CALL helpline and online cognitive behavioural therapy. These services alone have received around 97,000 contacts since September 2020. We've also commenced the phased roll-out of urgent mental health advice through 111, which will provide immediate access to advice from a mental health professional. I expect all health boards to have commenced a phased roll-out towards 24/7 cover by Christmas.

However, we recognise the importance of early intervention and taking a whole-system approach to improving mental health and well-being. We have created a joint health and education programme and a joint ministerial approach, built around schools, to deliver a whole system approach to emotional mental health and well-being. Delivering on our programme for government commitment, we are also rolling out schools CAMHS in-reach support across Wales to ensure issues are identified and support provided earlier.

Good progress has now been made with key legislation underpinning our agenda, and we have now consulted on the draft regulations for Wales to support the implementation of the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Act 2019 and the liberty protection safeguards. 

Preventing suicide remains one of our top priorities. We have targeted an additional £1 million in 2022-23 to support this work. In April 2022, Welsh Government, in partnership with the police, NHS and Public Health Wales, implemented the real-time suicide surveillance system. This system will provide crucial information to strengthen preventative work, ensure rapid support and to identify trends or clusters.

I can announce today that later this month we will launch a consultation on new guidance to support people bereaved by, exposed to or affected by suicide. The guidance has been informed by insight from people affected by suicide and aims to ensure a more compassionate response, offering both practical and emotional support, at the different steps on that journey. The implementation of this guidance will be a key focus following the consultation.

Our current 10-year 'Together for Mental Health' and 'Talk to me 2' strategies are based on the principle of partnership working across Government, public and third sectors to improve mental health in Wales. We committed to an independent evaluation of the strategies to assess their impact and inform our next steps. This evaluation was commissioned in September 2021, and the evaluation team has engaged widely with service users, providers and key stakeholders. The team has conducted in-depth interviews and workshop events with stakeholders across Wales and with service users, carers and front-line practitioners. I will issue a written statement shortly, when the findings of the evaluation are ready to be published.

I am today announcing that, following this comprehensive engagement and evaluation, work is now under way to develop the future strategies. It is essential that we now learn from the evaluation findings, build upon our progress, make the best use of our resources and develop first-class mental health services that meet future needs and demand. The main findings from the evaluation will help guide and inform our focus and priorities in developing the next strategies and my officials will now engage further to expand upon this research and evidence. I am committed to a fully inclusive approach and to ensuring that citizen voice and the lived experience of those who use our mental health services are reflected in the design of our future services. 

A key priority will be developing a sustainable and diverse mental health workforce though the implementation of the Health Education and Improvement Wales and Social Care Wales strategic mental health workforce plan. I want to see better integration of mental health services, building on the work we've done to embed mental health in the strategic programme for primary care and the urgent and emergency care programme, and, of course, a focus on inequalities and access to mental health support.

Whilst we must maintain our focus on cross-Government working, prevention and early intervention, we also need to set out a clear vision for specialist mental health services to ensure this level of support is accessible closer to home. In all this work, I expect to build upon the service user engagement arrangements that are now firmly established, including our national service user and carer forum.

These are just a few areas of focus, but we expect to see significant engagement with partners in the statutory and third sectors, as well as service users themselves, as we develop the successor strategies. It will be important to do this in a meaningful way, and I expect this work to be undertaken during 2023, with a view to the publication of a draft strategy for consultation towards the end of 2023. I look forward to updating Members on progress with this important work.  


Thank you very much for your statement this afternoon, Deputy Minister. However, it is disappointing that this is not an annual report. While the willingness and enthusiasm is there from the Deputy Minister to improve mental health services, the Senedd needs to be able to analyse progress through clear reporting, rather than just a statement.

'Together for Mental Health' in its decade tenure has only provided one annual report in 2013 and one progress report back in 2018. Given the significance and focus of Welsh Government on mental health, it's imperative that it is able to demonstrate clearly to the Senedd where it has achieved its aims and where more work needs to be carried out. While we realise that COVID-19 has had an impact on mental health services, this is an opportunity to deliver key improvements to the Welsh mental health system. And there are a number of improvements and milestones met. However, the Welsh Government seem to seek to plug the gaps in community mental health services and crisis care with a reliance on third sector organisations to deliver sanctuary. Although I agree that there is a place for the knowledge and experience of the third sector, the Welsh Government should also fully implement its own agenda through the NHS and improvement of services within its own systems. And while the ardour and zeal and warm words are present in the statement this afternoon, Deputy Minister, I believe that an annual report should be published so that the Senedd has the opportunity to scrutinise this in a full, proper and democratic way that will encompass the needs of people the length and breadth of Wales, as I'm sure you can understand, Deputy Minister, that the needs of people in Cardiff will be very different to those in Denbighshire and my constituency, for example. 

I welcome the mother and baby unit in south Wales, but could I please ask this afternoon as well why this wasn't extended to north Wales, and whether you could provide any more information on whether that could be a possibility for north Wales in the future? I note that some high-level outcomes of the 2012 strategy, including improving the mental health and well-being of the entire population and reducing the stigma of mental ill health, have been turned on their head as a direct result of the pandemic, as you alluded to. It is concerning that, despite 'Together for Mental Health' aims to reduce stigma, Time to Change Wales found that just 5 per cent of adults have more understanding and tolerance of mental health issues, and that help-seeking behaviour has declined, with large drops in the number of people in Wales willing to talk about a mental health problem with family, friends or employers. So, how will your new strategy address the mental health fallout from the pandemic?

We're also fully aware that certain local health boards are still failing in their duty of care towards mental health in-patients, despite the significant funds your Government has ring fenced for mental health, Deputy Minister. In Betsi Cadwaladr, for example, under targeted intervention, and previously under special measures for mental health, we're seeing repeated mistakes, including two deaths in two years, and vulnerable and high-risk patients not being protected from avoidable harm in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd's emergency department. So, how will your new strategy ensure that these mistakes aren't made again so that assurances can be provided to people in Denbighshire and north Wales?

Deputy Minister, prior to the pandemic, Mind Cymru outlined that thousands of people were waiting longer than ever to receive psychological therapy. Although adult waiting times have improved since the pandemic, it should still be of grave concern that just one in two patients in CAMHS received a local primary mental health support service assessment within 28 days, with just one in five children and young people in Swansea bay receiving their assessment within this time.

We also see from the latest figures that therapeutic interventions for children and young people are worse, with just 40 per cent starting their therapy within 28 days. So, Deputy Minister, is this a sign that your current mental health strategy has failed children and young people? What urgent action are you taking to reverse this situation? And are you now going to undertake a full review of mental health services? Thank you.


Can I thank the Member for those comments? Obviously, there were a lot of issues there to respond to. If I can pick up, first of all, on your comments about the reporting on the 'Together for Mental Health' strategy, there are regular reports made to the national mental health partnership forum, as well as other bodies. Also, I have established—well, my predecessor established—an NHS ministerial oversight board to monitor progress against all the streams of the 'Together for Mental Health' programme. But certainly, as part of our consideration of how we are going to develop the new strategy, I’m very happy to look at reporting and how we can make that more transparent, in addition to the regular statements and scrutiny that I undergo in the Senedd. Just to add as well: we are planning to publish a closure report after we have completed the current strategy, so you will be able to see exactly where we are with all of those things.

I don’t really concur with what you have said about the balance of support with the third sector. The third sector provides, in my experience, enormously important and much valued support to communities and, in many ways, is best placed really to break down those barriers, especially in communities that we sometimes describe—although I don’t like the term—as hard to reach. They are very well placed to do that. We have massively increased funding for mental health services, including for the third sector, but that is not to the exclusion of NHS services. Just this year alone, we are spending an additional £23 million on priority areas in the 'Together for Mental Health' plan and addressing waiting times pressures. So, it is certainly not a question of investing in the third sector to the exclusion of statutory services.

Thank you for your welcome for the MBU in south Wales, which I was delighted to visit a few months ago. I am acutely aware of the need for there to be provision in north Wales. Modelling has been undertaken to identify the possible need for an MBU in north Wales, and it has been identified that, currently, around two beds—possibly three—will be needed. So, on that basis, it’s very difficult to establish a stand-alone mother and baby unit in north Wales. But, what we are doing now is working with the NHS in north-west England to establish a unit that women in north Wales can have access to. I am very committed to making sure that we deliver that mother and baby unit provision in north Wales.

The Member made some points about stigma, and referred to Time to Change Wales. Of course, unlike England, we have continued to fund Time to Change in Welsh Government. We announced £1.4 million a little while ago to continue the programme, jointly with the economy Minister, because that’s the approach that we take to mental health in Wales. It’s a cross-Government approach. But there is always more that we can do in terms of tackling stigma, and that will be a key feature of the work that we are doing around the new strategy.

In relation to the points that you have made around Betsi Cadwaladr, as you are well aware, Betsi Cadwaladr is in targeted intervention for mental health. That has been supported by £12 million in recurrent funding to improve services. And in addition to the many meetings that take place to drive performance in the NHS, in Betsi there are also targeted intervention meetings; I meet them quarterly to go through the targeted intervention matrix. You'll be aware that we announced a while ago that there will now be an independent review of the various reviews that have been undertaken of the incidents that you've referred to, to really look at to what extent those recommendations have been fully embedded in Betsi Cadwaladr.

You made a number of points around waiting times. We have got a delivery unit review of psychological therapies at the moment, which is looking at that. But in general terms, services are achieving around 70 per cent against the 80 per cent target for access to adult psychological therapies, although we recognise there's more we can do. That data isn't currently published at the moment, but we are working towards that, and the delivery unit review will help us with that.

In relation to your points about CAMHS, there's nothing that is more important to me than delivering on services for our children and young people, and you've repeated your call again for a review of services, even though I was very clear in the debate we had about this that we have got a review that is nearly finished. It is the delivery unit review of CAMHS that will be reporting this month, and that will enable us to look at the data, check that we're counting the same things in different health boards, and, vitally, will make some recommendations about how we improve those services. That will be an absolute priority for me.

But I have to say to the Member that it is not just about specialist services. Lots of the children and young people who are waiting for specialist services will be referred back out again because they don't meet that threshold. What we are doing in Government is a whole-system approach to supporting children and young people where they live their lives, so starting in schools with our whole-school approach, then through our NEST framework providing early help and enhanced support with the community, and then moving on to more specialist services, and of course crisis support is a key part of that as well. So, there is nothing that is a higher priority for me. We are making good progress and we'll want to look through the next strategy about how we can consolidate that.


I thank the Deputy Minister for her statement this afternoon. I don't think we can over-emphasise the significance of this point in time in terms of the attention we give to mental health. It has been positive to have the 'Together for Mental Health' strategy to give us a focus on the work that needs to be done, to understand the problems that we face in terms of mental health and well-being in Wales, and now, as we're at that point where that strategy is being reborn, we must get it right.

Yes, steps have been taken over recent years. Yes, there has been an increase in investment in mental health, but the fact that we continue to face such intense problems in this area tells us that something is still wrong. Just as we talk of the need to invest in the preventative in the context of the NHS in general, I'd like to hear from the Minister what intention she has to ensure that even more of a percentage of the budget is invested in tackling problems at an early stage, before they develop into problems that are a greater burden for the individual, but are also a greater burden on the acute services, which are so expensive to provide, and create more heartache for the people who need those services.

I would like to know what work the Minister is intending to do at this point to ensure that, in future years, we won't continue to face problems in the provision of acute mental health services of the kinds that we've seen in north Wales in recent years—the ongoing problems at the Hergest unit in Ysbyty Gwynedd, where staff are still turning to us as local representatives and describing problems of low morale and concerns about patient safety. That isn't acceptable, so I would like to hear more about the kinds of ideas that the Deputy Minister is developing in this area.

And finally, I need an assurance here that more will be done to prioritise children and young people. We know that, despite the increase in expenditure and despite the additional focus on mental health—and we welcome that—we are still failing to move children and young people into mental health and well-being services at an early enough stage, and that means that the problems that could be resolved do become more difficult to resolve. I know of people who have given up entirely on NHS services and have decided that there is no option for them but to go private, and that’s in all sorts of areas, including eating disorders.

I need an assurance from the Deputy Minister that there will be a renewed focus on this and a rebalancing of priorities for young people, but also for that transition period between young people's services and adult services. I would be grateful for some comments on that too. We know that Mind Cymru and their plan, Sort the Switch, deals with this area specifically. So, once again, this is a key point. I will support the Government in making the right decisions now, but I do look forward to seeing that strategy being more robust than it has been in the past when it’s before us very soon.


Can I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for his comments, and particularly the recognition of the positive work that's been undertaken through the strategy? I absolutely agree that we must get this right, and, as you've acknowledged, we have hugely increased investment. You alluded to the continuing issues with children and young people's mental health, but I think that we have to acknowledge that the COVID pandemic has had a huge impact on everybody's mental health, and particularly children and young people.

You talked about the need to prioritise children and young people's mental health. That's why I've come into this job, Rhun; I've come into this job because I care so passionately about that, having led the work in the committee, and my dedication is to delivering on that agenda. And we are making progress. You referred to prevention. We are spending money on prevention through what is a cross-Government strategy that deals with housing, employment, debt advice, money advice—all those issues. So, we absolutely recognise the importance of prevention, and that is supported by the funding that we are investing in those programmes. 

We are seeing reforms of children and young people's mental health services. I referred in the statement to the single points of access. They have made a difference, because that means that children aren't batted about the system, back and forth then. They can be put in touch with the right people; it's our 'no wrong door' approach in action. And as I said to the previous Member, lots of these young people won't need specialist CAMHS. They're not mentally ill; they are experiencing distress because of what's been going on in their lives, and there is more appropriate help available to them. What we have to do is make sure that they can get that help, and we are investing I think it's £12 million extra this year in the whole-school approach for mental health. Our NEST framework is underpinned by additional funding, and we have, as you know, the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru to pilot the sanctuary provision for young people, although we very much hope that young people won't need to be in crisis; we want to stop that escalation earlier on.

Thank you for your comments regarding Betsi Cadwaladr. I've outlined already the steps that are being taken in Government. As I say, I meet with Betsi quarterly to go through the targeted intervention framework in detail. That's in addition to all the other meetings that are held to monitor quality and performance in Betsi, and the targeted intervention meetings. We have got this review now that is going to look across the range of recommendations that have been made in relation to Betsi in recent years. I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that the health Minister approved the outline business case for the new mental health provision at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, which is really important. Having the right capital really matters, and that's a message that has been given to me many, many times when I've talked to the staff in Betsi. So, that will, I think, make a really big difference.

I'm very happy, Rhun, to give you the assurance around eating disorder services. I've been very clear that those services are a priority for me. I've been going around visiting the different eating disorder teams, and had a very positive visit to the one in Betsi, where they're doing really brilliant work preventing problems escalating for service users. We've underpinned our commitment to eating disorder services with an additional £2.5 million every year from this year, and I've been really clear with all health boards that they're expected to meet the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance on eating disorders, including the four-week waiting time. But we're also focusing on early intervention as well, because that's absolutely key, and our work in schools. So, I'm very happy to give you that assurance, and I will be going to see the other eating disorder teams. I've got to say that, actually, the experience of visiting them has been incredibly positive. They're incredibly committed people who are doing really wonderful work. I think we need to do more to talk up the really good work that goes on in our mental health services in the NHS. 

The Llywydd took the Chair.


Good afternoon, Deputy Minister. I do welcome the statement, and also the work that I know you have done and the commitment you have to this particular area of work.

Just two things from me, if I may. Firstly, the situation with CAMHS was bad before COVID, significantly bad. It was worsened, yes, but now we still have 60 per cent of young people having their first appointment within four weeks. That still isn't good enough, and I just hope that there will still be a light shone on this particular area of work, because I know we all know the devastation that mental health issues in young people will bring. I'm not sure I totally agree with your analysis that they don't need the mental health support, that they need other support; I'd like to see the data and the information on that.

The second point, if I may make it, is that we believe in parity: mental health and physical health. I'm delighted to see the tier 1 services, 97,000 people included in that, but there is an issue still about crisis care, and we would like to see a 24/7 crisis care service in mental health. I wondered if you would meet with me just to talk that through, because it's not just simply about health services; it's about a range of services. Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Thank you very much, Jane, and thank you for the kind words as well, which are much appreciated. I just want to be clear that I didn't say that all young people don't need specialist mental health support. What we know, though, is that some of those young people who are referred into specialist CAMHS won't meet the threshold for specialist CAMHS because they're not mentally ill; they're experiencing acute distress because of what's going on in their lives. It's the sort of missing-middle children and young people that we picked up in 'Mind over matter'. What matters is that wherever young people need that support, they're able to get it at whatever point they need it. That's what our 'no wrong door' approach is all about. 

I do have to take issue with some of the things you've said about waiting times, because if we look at the most recent figures for your own constituency in Powys, they're well above the 80 per cent target: 97.4 per cent of children are seen within the four weeks, and are actually receiving an intervention within 97.1 per cent for primary mental health services. For specialist CAMHS it's 91.3 per cent, although I acknowledge that other areas are not in such a good position. And, just to give you the assurance, the delivery unit review that I've referred to is coming to completion now. They've been working with all health boards to develop trajectories so that health boards can all recover their performance to meet the targets that we've set out. 

I'm very happy to meet you, Jane, to talk about crisis services. Just to say as well, as I said in the statement, we are making good progress with our 111 'press 2 for mental health'. I met with all the vice chairs last week to have a full update on where they're at, and entirely recognise that this won't be just about mental health services. That's why the health boards have to get the right pathways in place, because lots of the people, we know from the data, who come forward for crisis support will, unfortunately, be people who are struggling with things like the cost-of-living crisis, debt and things like that as well. So, we've got to have that range of pathways in place so that we can connect people with the right services. But I'm very happy to have that discussion with you.