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 Minister for Social Justice

Okay, we are ready to begin. Good afternoon to you all. The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Social Justice, and the first question is from Natasha Asghar.

The Welcome Ticket Scheme

1. What discussions has the Minister had with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change regarding the future of the welcome ticket that provides free bus and rail travel for refugees? OQ58649

Thank you very much for the question. The Deputy Minister for Climate Change has agreed the extension of the welcome ticket scheme for refugees until March 2023. A working group has been established to take forward a programme of work for the free transport scheme and work needed to be taken beyond April 2023.

Thank you so much, Minister. Minister, as far as I'm concerned, the welcome ticket is a fantastic initiative and has been very much welcomed by refugees all across Wales. However, it has been brought to my attention directly from asylum seekers and the Welsh Refugee Council that improvements are needed to make the scheme even better. I do apologise to everyone here if I do sound like I'm repeating myself, Minister, because I did recently raise it in a business statement, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to question you directly myself.

To get onto a bus or a train, refugees have to show either a biometric residence permit, a passport or a letter from the Home Office. I'm sure that you'll agree with me that it is a very important document that refugees are having to carry around with them every time that they want to access public transport here in Wales. And some refugees have been left incredibly embarrassed and stopped using the scheme altogether because some services do not actually recognise the welcome ticket. Apparently, there is a misunderstanding by drivers of the various types of status on biometric residence permits, so, sadly, Minister, many asylum seekers are not eligible for the welcome ticket as well. By extending the scheme to include asylum seekers, it would enable them to better integrate into life in Wales by allowing them to attend English lessons and have volunteering opportunities. So, Minister, will you commit to looking at rolling out a special card that will be universally recognised by drivers to avoid confusion and to stop refugees from having to carry important papers? And will you also look at extending the welcome ticket to include asylum seekers? Thank you so much, Minister.

Thank you very much, Natasha Asghar. It's really important that we look to this working group to resolve many of the issues that you've raised. You'll be aware, of course, that the Welsh Government—and it's only the Welsh Government; there is no other scheme of its kind in the UK—provided free transport for asylum seekers in a short pilot, which was managed by the Welsh Refugee Council from January to the end of March this year. So, of course, we're taking forward the outcomes of that pilot to consider free transport options for sanctuary seekers. 

It's very important that, in the working group, we've actually got representatives from the Welsh Refugee Council as well as from Transport for Wales and the Welsh Government. And what we're now looking to do is to develop a welcome ticket with a free travel smartcard based on the current concessionary card scheme so that you can then get that eligibility assessment prior to the issue of a free travel pass and eliminate some of the difficulties that have been experienced. It is a really important scheme. We want to look at the eligibility and, as I said, here in Wales, we're going much further, for example, than the UK Government in our offer in terms of travel to integrate into Welsh society.

Fuel Poverty

2. What support is the Welsh Government providing for off-grid homes that are in fuel poverty? OQ58675

Thank you for your question.

The Welsh Government provides support to those in fuel poverty in off-grid homes, including the Warm Homes Nest scheme, the discretionary assistance fund, the Welsh Government fuel support scheme and the Fuel Bank Foundation.

You will be aware, Minister, that a high percentage of homes in Wales are not connected to the gas grid—it's almost one in five homes. And in some areas in Carmarthenshire, for example, it's as much as 39 per cent. These homes, which are reliant on home-heating oil or other alternative fuels, don't benefit from the cap on fuel prices—they don't get that 4 per cent discount; they'll receive just £100 through the UK Government. Even the Secretary of State for Wales has accepted that that is insufficient. Are you putting pressure on the UK Government to do more? And in the meantime, what additional support, in addition to what you've already mentioned, can we provide to these homes that will face very difficult times in the coming months?

Diolch yn fawr, Adam Price. This is really important—that we're recognising that challenge in those households, and the high proportion not just in your constituency, but across Wales, who are not connected, or not on-grid. And just looking at the issues and the ways in which we've been supporting people in your constituency, in your area, at the end of March 2021, more than 5,000 lower income households in Carmarthenshire had benefited from home energy efficiency measures, because that's crucial, of course, in terms of reducing bills through the Warm Homes programme. But, you're right that the issues in relation to the setting of the price cap—. Of course, the energy regulator has no role in setting the price cap on heating oil and liquid gas, whilst the others are regulated, of course—those who are on the gas and electricity grids.

Now, this is where we have used our discretionary assistance fund, to help reach out to households—DAF support for off-grid households that are unable to afford their next delivery of oil or LPG. That's been extended to next March, and will help households with up to £250 for one-off oil payments or up to three payments of £70 for LPG. And also, I'm sure you're aware of the new Fuel Bank Foundation partnership that we've got with the Fuel Bank Foundation heat fund. But we do put pressure on the UK Government—we are calling on them to recognise the fact that people are losing out. Can I just also say that, in terms of the Government energy Bill support, which is £400 over this winter, it's not reaching many of the households that are off-grid and many on pre-payment meters as well, so we need to make sure that that is addressed. But still we call for a lower price cap for lower income households and a significant increase in the rebate paid through schemes such as the warm home discount from the UK Government.


I'm grateful to the Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr for submitting this question, because many of the circumstances that he described are applicable to my constituency of Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire as well. But it's also important to note that, for many rural households, their home also acts as a place of business, and this is incredibly important for those in the agricultural community, for example—and I declare an interest as a director of Wales young farmers club. On average, off-grid homes have experienced a 21 per cent price increase in the cost of fuel, and a nearly 60 per cent increase over pre-Ukrainian-war prices. However, this disproportionately impacts households that live and work in the same setting. So, given this, can I ask what discussions the Minister has had with her colleague the rural affairs Minister to help alleviate these disproportionate financial pressures on those in our agricultural community? Diolch.

Well, clearly, the response to the cost-of-living crisis is a cross-Government issue, and the First Minister has set up a Cabinet sub-committee on the cost-of-living crisis. So, we're looking at the impact on households and businesses, and the rural communities and businesses that you've highlighted today, across the board. It is very important that people take up the benefits that they are entitled to—households, of course, that will benefit, in particular some of those farming businesses. So, I'm very pleased that, in terms of the £200 payment from the Welsh Government winter fuel support scheme—only announced at the end of September—already over 200,000 payments have been made. But I think it is important that also we look at the fact that, in rural areas, one in 10 households are reliant on heating oil or liquid gas, as has been said by the Member Adam Price, for their domestic space and water heating, and this increases to 28 per cent of households. And we do call on the UK Government to look at this, in terms of the impact it has. But can I just say, have you taken account—I'm sure you have—of oil-buying syndicates, such as Club Cosy and the Ceredigion fuel clubs that buy fuel together? We want to encourage that, because that can help residents and businesses.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. And this afternoon, these questions will all be answered by the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership. The Conservative spokesperson first of all—Joel James.

Thank you, Llywydd. Deputy Minister, I wanted to pick up, if I may, a few things today in relation to the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill. According to the draft Bill, one of the overarching objectives is that, and I quote:

'A statutory duty will be placed on certain public bodies to seek consensus or compromise with their recognised trade unions (or where there is no recognised trade union) other representatives of their staff, when setting their well-being objectives'.

Now, as we all know, this works when consensus or compromise can be reached, and I am sure that in many cases it will. But there is no mention whatsoever in the Bill about what happens when consensus or compromise cannot be reached, and this will undoubtedly cause issues. With this in mind, Deputy Minister, I'm eager to know what will happen when consensus and compromise cannot be reached, and what mechanisms will be in place to allow public bodies to overcome trade union or worker representative sign-off when there is disagreement.


Can I thank the Member for his contribution and the work that he has been doing as a member of the Equality and Social Justice Committee in scrutinising this important piece of legislation as it makes its progress through the legislative system in the Senedd? The Member refers to the duty on certain public bodies to work in social partnership when setting their well-being objectives, and he very much picks up on the wording of it around 'consensus' and 'compromise'. We could have just had the phrase in there 'to consult' but, often, 'consult' can be interpreted in different ways—it could just be a tick-box exercise. So, the consensus and compromise is very, very important—that it's done in a meaningful way. And the Member actually said in his question the likelihood is that this will be reached in these circumstances anyway because most public bodies already work in that way. 

You'll be familiar that, as part of the legislation, there will also be the establishment of a social partnership council, and that council will be able to advise Welsh Government, advise bodies, if there are challenges in terms of that part of the legislation, on what could be done to move forward. 

I just want to pick up finally, if I may, on the point that the Member said regarding trade union sign-off. There is no sign-off from any of the partners as part of this process. It is about actually what it says on the tin—working together in social partnership. 

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your answer, but I'm conscious of what I've said, that it's most likely that, in most cases, you are going to get that compromise, but I think, with all the will in the world, you will always still get disagreements that cannot be resolved, and, without a proper mechanism in place, I fear that this Bill could have the potential to grind procurement for public bodies to a halt, and even for them to be held to ransom if unrealistic demands are made. For example, the future generations commissioner has set a precedent for the encouragement of a four-day working week, which trade unions or other worker representatives could ask for, which is, as you no doubt agree, just not achievable for a public body. So, with this in mind, I would like to understand what the Welsh Government's plan is if a trade union has initiated strike action against a public body. If there is a dispute, in my mind, trade unions can quite willingly withhold or withdraw from sign-off unless their conditions were met, which would mean that public bodies would fail to meet their statutory duties. So, with this in mind, Deputy Minister, what is stopping trade unions from using the statutory powers within this Bill as leverage in trade union disputes?

So, I think I should start by saying that the right to withdraw labour and the right to strike is a fundamental human right for workers around the world. But the Member—I don't know whether deliberately or just through misunderstanding—seeks to conflate some of the aspects of the legislation and elements more generally. So, I'll just try and pick that apart in the time that I have this afternoon. The Member talked about trade unions apparently holding public bodies to ransom on procurement. Well, the socially responsible procurement process is conducted by those public bodies. We then have a social partnership council, and a public procurement sub-group, which is made up of equal representation of Government, employers and trade unions to work through any challenges that come and to look to mediate. There is no sign-off or ransom, as the Member puts it. 

And the other element the Member conflates in his questioning is around working in social partnership and industrial relations and industrial disputes. Social partnership is a way of working—working collaboratively and working together. The legislation in Wales does not seek to legislate on any industrial relation matters, and that is distinctly separate from what the legislation sets out to do. 

Finally, Deputy Minister, in terms of the social partnership council, as you mentioned in one of your earlier responses, there is concern that the council will not adequately represent the wide and diverse range of views present when providing evidence and advice to the Welsh Government. For example, social enterprises, non-unionised workers, ethnic minority communities, health and social care workers, to name but a few, will not be represented, and this risks undermining one of the fundamental aspects of the Bill because the very people that the Bill claims to help won't actually have a voice at the table. It's obvious that expanding the council to include such representatives would, indeed, make the council unworkable. But the alternative is that having, as pointed out by CollegesWales, representatives exclusively from the trade unions risks excluding a significant number of workers and could create a two-tier system of worker voice. It also has the potential to become a quagmire of opposing opinions, where the Welsh Government will be put in a position of alienating some groups over others because their opinions do not conform to Welsh Government thinking. Deputy Minister, how are you going to ensure that a greater section of worker voices is represented? How is the Welsh Government going to ensure a fair assessment of those opinions when taking advice from the council? And how are you going to stop the social partnership council from being reduced to an echo chamber of the Welsh Government and an instrument that only says what the Welsh Government wants to hear? Thank you. 


Can I thank the Member for his further questions? I just want to point to one element where people will be surprised that we may agree. It's around the need for diversity of representation as part of the social partnership council, through those bodies that are represented on the body as proposed. You are right that, actually, you can't extend it to everybody, because, as I've said in committee, you'd end up with a conference every time, rather than a council. But on the point of making sure that we have diversity of people, whether that's in terms of their background or protected characteristics, there is a piece of work ongoing now, through our social partnership forum we've established, to look at the operational nature of what the legislation would involve, to make sure that we are working with those bodies to ensure that there is a mechanism to ensure there is that diversity of representation on the council. Again, the Member just misunderstands what the whole point of the council is about, and social partnership. It is not for the Welsh Government to assert our authority over anything or to try and drive our agenda. It's actually recognising that we know, in Wales, that we are stronger by working together as part of a team, using those collective experiences and voices, to shape legislation for the better. I would say that this legislation is significant and landmark, but ultimately it's not about changing legislation; it's about changing lives, and that's what we want to do further along the line. 

Questions now from the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Peredur Owen Griffiths. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Pensioners in the UK are expected to be around £442 per year worse off from April following a reduced pension rate and a cut in help for energy bills. Given that in January this year over 75 per cent of over-65s surveyed by Age UK were worried by the rising cost-of-living crisis, and, since then, the inflation rate and the cost of energy bills have only continued to skyrocket, what is the Deputy Minister doing to further welfare reform by maximising the use of our devolved competencies to ensure that support is targeted towards older people who need help, especially those who will be facing higher than average energy and mobility costs? Could you also shed some light on whether over-60s are getting more help to access the discretionary assistance fund, bearing in mind answers I had to a written question I submitted earlier this year suggesting that less than 1 per cent of over-60s accessed the fund?   

I thank the Member for his question and his interest in this area. Clearly, there are some challenges involved because of where the boundaries lie between what is devolved and what isn't, but clearly we are committed—myself and my colleague Jane Hutt, and colleagues right across Government—to using all the levers we have at our devolved disposal to make a difference. The Member is right to raise the particular impact of the cost-of-living crisis, which is hitting too many in communities right across the country, but the particular impact it has on perhaps pensioners who will have a fixed income. Through our 'Claim what's yours' campaign, we recognise what you're saying about online access; we want to ensure that we look at ways in which people can access that information and that it's readily available in the places that they may go to get support, and make sure they are accessing what they are entitled to and that the additional support is there. I'm not familiar with the written question you raised about access to the discretionary assistance fund, but my colleague Jane Hutt is sitting here nodding as I answer, and I'm sure that's something we'd be happy to take away and look at to see if there's anything else we can do to ensure that age group are aware that support is there, should they need it, in these very difficult circumstances. 

Diolch. Sorry if it is falling between two Ministers, as it were. Any information would be gratefully received. Thank you very much.

Last month marked Black History Month. A timely report by the Trades Union Congress released that month revealed that racism and discrimination towards black workers is still rife in the UK. The statistics in the report 'Still rigged: racism in the UK labour market' that account for racist incidents in the workplace are shocking. To make matters worse, when racist incidents were reported in the workplace, the TUC found that action taken to prevent harassment was taken in just 29 per cent of cases. It isn't surprising, then, that four in five respondents say they wouldn't or haven't reported racism in the workplace for fear of it not being taken seriously or having a negative impact on their work life. How does the anti-racist action plan that the Welsh Government published this year target this issue? Are the measures within the plan enough to reach the target of an anti-racist Wales by 2030 and truly make our economy an equal playing field?


The Member refers to the anti-racist action plan, which was launched back in June by my colleague the Minister for Social Justice. I'm familiar with the event he refers to that Wales TUC held to mark Black History Month. Nobody should face discrimination or hate in any part of society or any walk of life. People should certainly be safe to be themselves and to not face discrimination within the workplace, particularly within those workplaces where we have more leverage in the public sector here in Wales. Inclusive workplaces and tackling racism in the workplace is a key component of the anti-racist action plan. We've worked very closely with employers and with trade unions as part of that, and we're also undergoing training around inclusive workplaces and what that means—to call it out and to support people. There's a lot more work to be done, but we recognise that working in partnership and using those resources that we know some of our trade union colleagues already have in place, and their support networks to enable people to have somebody to go to for advice and support within those workplaces, will make them more inclusive. It's very much something that we're committed to taking forward to ensure that nobody—nobody—faces discrimination whilst they are at work.

The White Ribbon Promise

3. How is the Welsh Government encouraging men and boys in Wales to make the White Ribbon promise? OQ58661

Thank you very much, Jack Sargeant, for that question. The Welsh Government organises activities each year to promote the White Ribbon campaign and highlight the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence agenda as part of the 16 days of activism. This year, our officials will host an internal event in the Welsh Government to raise awareness and encourage officials to become White Ribbon ambassadors.

Can I thank the Minister for that answer? I will be delighted to join you at that event for Welsh Government officials to encourage officials to become White Ribbon ambassadors. I will declare at this point that I am, Llywydd, a White Ribbon ambassador, just as my dad was. But, I'm not the only campaigner for the White Ribbon cause here in the Senedd. My close friend and colleague Joyce Watson has dedicated years to promoting events and sign-up to the White Ribbon promise to get that real clear goal of ending domestic violence. Minister, do you agree with me that all men and boys in Wales should make the promise to never use, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women?

Thank you very much indeed, Jack Sargeant, and thank you for being the White Ribbon ambassador that you've been for so many years. And of course, we remember so well your father and the way that he championed the White Ribbon cause, and recognising that, of course, the White Ribbon cause is led by men to eliminate violence against women and girls. We will be coming together at the end of November; we have a 'light a candle' event at Llandaff cathedral, and that's a multifaith event hosted by BAWSO to recognise that international day. It is absolutely crucial that we have your support. All the men here in the Chamber will be backing that, hopefully, and wearing their white ribbons as well. It's actually to ensure that men commit that they will not condone or remain silent about violence against women. I'm very pleased that I've committed to a new phase of 'Don't be a bystander' training. This is where you have to speak up. I've actually agreed three-year funding to develop pan-Wales bystander intervention training that will be delivered to all of the citizens of Wales. 


I'd like to thank Jack Sargeant for raising this vitally important question. As he did, I'd like to take this moment just to thank Joyce Watson for all her long-continued work in this area; she's an absolute champion for the White Ribbon campaign.

Peer-on-peer sexual harassment in our schools is totally unacceptable, and it's happening up and down Wales. This was found in the recent peer-on-peer sexual harassment inquiry done by the Children, Young People and Education Committee. These behaviours need to be stamped out, and White Ribbon Day is an excellent way to draw attention to this problem, spur on action and get our boys in schools to make the White Ribbon promise. I'd like to ask the Minister: what steps is the Welsh Government taking, specifically regarding schools, to end harassment and violence in those institutions, to ensure that we do not see that these young people manifest their problems into adulthood, which then causes more violence against women?

Can I thank you for that question and, at this point, also acknowledge and endorse what has been said by the two Members about Joyce Watson and her leadership as far as the White Ribbon cause is concerned? It is important what you say in terms of how we can reach out to our children and young people, and school obviously is the place to do this, because violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence obviously can have a huge impact on children and young people. I do think that it's really important that we look at the way in which our relationships and sexuality education, now a statutory requirement in the Curriculum for Wales framework and mandatory for our learners, is actually going to focus on developing healthy relationships from the early years, furthering our aim to ensure all children and young people have the ability to enjoy healthy, happy, respectful relationships now and in the future. But also, we continue to fund Hafan Cymru's Spectrum project, which has been working in schools delivering training for staff, because that's crucial for our staff and governors in understanding the impact domestic abuse can have on children and young people.

There is, as you say, Minister, some fantastic work that's going on in the schools around respectful and healthy relationships, and that's hugely important. But we need to spread the message wider than schools and take it outside the school gates to organisations like, for example, the Scouts and army cadets, football clubs, and other places where boys find themselves. So, are you able to tell me if there's any work that you're doing to influence those organisations in exploring ways that they can help those individuals become role models and amplify the White Ribbon message?

Thank you, Joyce Watson, because we do need to go outside. We've commented on the opportunities and the work that's been done in schools with children and young people, and the importance of the new curriculum in terms of that relationships and sexuality education framework, but we also need to reach out to all of those organisations where young people gather and engage. I think it is interesting, and many of you will know from your contact with Girl Guides and Scouts, how they are beginning to embrace these issues, recognising issues relating to equality and also addressing harassment and sexual abuse, and understanding what children and young people are experiencing, which, of course, has been an important point of the inquiry undertaken by the Children, Young People and Education Committee. But also football clubs, army cadets—this is where we can take the White Ribbon message, and I think that Jack Sargeant, and all of those who are engaging with the White Ribbon campaign, can get that message over and reach out to those organisations working with children and young people.

The Fire Service

4. How does the Minister ensure that the fire service benefits the people of South Wales West? OQ58647

I continue to work with the fire and rescue services across Wales to ensure that people, communities and the environment are kept as safe as possible from fires and other hazards. In the longer term, we remain committed to ensuring the sustainability and safety of the services and to broadening the role of firefighters.

I'm grateful to you for your answer. I wanted to draw your attention to the terrible fire at Windmill Farm, a much-loved rural hotel and wedding venue on the Gower peninsula, in the heart of my South Wales West region. The blaze spread rapidly across the property, and firefighting efforts were delayed by an insufficient water supply to operate the hoses and the time taken in transporting a bowser to the scene. Having met with the owners of the venue myself, I've seen first-hand the stress, heartbreak and financial cost that has been borne as a result of the fire. So, I think it's crucial that, regardless of administrative boundaries, all local fire authorities can come together to ensure that crucial equipment such as bowsers are located in areas that best serve the needs of local communities.

In England, fire and rescue authorities must attempt to enter into reinforcement schemes or mutual aid agreements with other fire and rescue authorities for securing mutual assistance. They're also obliged to respond to incidents such as fire, road traffic collisions and other emergencies within their areas, in line with their mutual aid agreements too. Therefore, Minister, will you commit to working with the fire and rescue service and Welsh Water to ensure that vital firefighting equipment such as bowsers are installed in the right places to maximise geographic cover across Wales, regardless of which fire authority boundary someone lives in, to ensure that a tragedy like that won't be repeated?


I thank the Member for his supplementary question, and my heart goes out to the people whose premises were destroyed in this terrible, terrible fire. I'm aware of the incident that he refers to, of the operational challenges in terms of access to water for Dŵr Cymru and the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service. It's an operational matter for those services, but I'd be more than happy to follow up to see, actually, if more can be done in our regular meetings with the fire and rescue services to ensure that these things, if there are any concerns, are acted upon proactively rather than reactively in the future.

In South Wales West, we have different boundaries for the police service and the fire and rescue service, with the ambulance service on an all-Wales basis. Has the Minister considered consulting on reorganising the fire service so that its boundaries mirror the police boundaries?

I thank Mike Hedges for his question. I think what Mike means is not necessarily—. Some of the fire and rescue service boundaries are aligned with those of local health boards, but the footprints are not the same in terms of the area that they cover. I could say that there aren't any plans to align those boundaries, as I understand it. However, what we are focused on at the moment is actually where organisations can work together or co-locate; we know that that has a positive result, not just in terms of the services working together, but in terms of the relationships that have been able to be built up between them. Just a point of interest on that, in the Member's region, the mid and west fire and rescue service covers Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, which are both near South Wales Police, but the two organisations have a long-established relationship and share the same control room, and we've seen the co-location of services where we've got ambulance and fire and rescue, and that's something that we're keen to support as a Government. 

Men Experiencing Domestic Abuse

6. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve support for men experiencing domestic abuse? OQ58650

Thank you for that question. We are continuing to improve our response to domestic abuse through our national strategy. We fund the Dyn project to support male victims of domestic abuse and continue to fund awareness training to recognise indicators displayed by men who may be experiencing domestic abuse.

Thank you, Minister, for that response. Presiding Officer, I ask this question whilst, of course, recognising that violence against women and girls in particular is far too prevalent in society, and, as men, we must challenge abuse and violence in all of its forms, and I agree with what's been said; I too was a White Ribbon ambassador for my previous organisation, and I'm happy to continue that in this one.

However, I want to use this question to raise an issue of men who are experiencing domestic abuse. Whilst it's not a topic that is often discussed, it too is an issue that occurs far too often in society. The Older People's Commissioner for Wales noted that around a quarter of people who experience abuse are male, and that male victims tend to be older, with the highest proportion of those affected aged 75 or over. Whilst organisations such as Both Parents Matter Cymru offer support, the report by the older people's commissioner found that men may be reluctant to seek help due to the stigma of being a male victim of abuse. The small number of domestic abuse services targeted specifically at men are under-resourced, meaning that the support that they're able to provide is often very limited. Minister, what action is the Welsh Government taking to raise wider awareness of abuse against men, and particularly older men? And how are you working with the commissioner and other public bodies to ensure that the adequate support services are available? And, finally, what consideration have you given to ensuring that a strategy to eradicate violence against men is put in place that can sit alongside the great work that is already happening to prevent violence against women and girls?


Well, thank you very much, Peter Fox, for starting your supplementary with the recognition of our response to the earlier question, with your support and endorsement for the White Ribbon campaign, and recognising, in terms of the statistics, the impact of violence against women and girls and just looking at the fact that the percentage of domestic abuse-related offences recorded by the police identified that 73.1 per cent of offences affected female victims and 26.9 per cent male victims, ending March 2021.

But I think your point about domestic abuse affecting older people, and older men particularly in relation to your question, is key. Because I've recently met with the older people's commissioner myself and we discussed the findings of her report on improving support and services for older men experiencing domestic abuse. So, we now have our next phase of the strategy of the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, implementing the legislation, and we are looking at these issues. We're going to have an older person's working group within the blueprint, which is the approach we're taking now. I'm co-chairing a national implementation board with the police and crime commissioner for Dyfed Powys, and we're looking at this from the criminal justice as well as the social justice perspective, so I do believe that the older person's working group within the blueprint will look at these particular issues that you raise.

Early Years Childcare

7. How does the equality impact assessment for the phase 2 expansion of early years childcare provision via the Flying Start programme compare to the assessment completed for phase 1? OQ58664

Thank you very much, Jenny Rathbone, for that question. As you well understand, of course, the focus of this question doesn't fall within my ministerial portfolio in terms of policy, but I'm very happy to respond in terms of the impact assessment issue. Phase 2 of the expansion of Flying Start builds on the approach taken in phase 1. That's reflected in the equality impact assessment. And, of course, high-quality early years provision does help ensure that every child has the best start in life and fulfils their potential. 

Okay. My understanding is that it is within your portfolio to look at the equality impact of all Government policies, and that, obviously, includes Flying Start, while I appreciate that you're not the Minister who actually carries responsibility for that programme.

So, I'm interested in looking at how the phase 1 expansion for £20 million, which increased the numbers of children benefiting from that additional support by a further 2,500, compared with phase 2, which is £26 million for 3,000 additional two-year-olds to get free Flying Start childcare from next April. But, as raised by Cardiff Council, the concerns they have about this phase 2 are that those additional children getting the additional childcare earlier on doesn't include them in the important increased support for health visitors, speech and language, and other parenting support. And I'm interested in exploring why we've done that, because it's all about the evaluation of how much impact the childcare has if it hasn't also been accompanied by that additional health visiting and other parenting support. 

Thank you very much, Jenny, for that question. I fully recognise the importance of the equality impact assessment and how that guides us in terms of moving forward with this all-important Flying Start programme, which has such an impact on children's lives. Now, of course, as you are fully aware and you're so engaged with this, not every family receiving phase 2 provision would require further services, but the families who do need that additional support will continue to have the opportunity to access support through existing routes. So, I hope that gives you some reassurance about phase 2, learning from phase 1. If they need additional support, they will be able to access that, and if we can reassure the parents or Cardiff Council about the importance and the impact of the expansion that's going to take place.

Clearly, the Deputy Minister for Social Services is working very closely with local authorities in terms of monitoring whether phase 2 provision leads to increased referrals to other services, and we'll work very flexibly with local services to support them to meet additional needs. But I think what's really important is that Flying Start is able to provide and offer that high-quality childcare environment, coupled with high-quality staff, in supporting improved outcomes for children. I do think, in terms of the importance and the announcement that was made recently by the Deputy Minister for Social Services, as part of the Plaid Cymru partnership and the co-operation agreement, with Siân Gwenllian, it's so important that we've got this extension of the £26 million over the next two years to expand Flying Start to support long-term positive impacts on the lives of children and families across Wales.

And just finally, Llywydd, just to say that, obviously, I'm responsible for tackling poverty as well, and we know that the provision of childcare is crucial, and with the evidence and indeed the Wales Centre for Public Policy and the Bevan Foundation showing that investment in childcare, with an additional 3,000 two-year-olds accessing high-quality childcare, is a huge step forward in terms of tackling child poverty.


I'm pleased that this question has been raised this afternoon over the Flying Start scheme, and it's not the first time I've raised this issue, but I get deeply concerned over the postcode lottery of the scheme, where funding is based on where somebody lives rather than on their financial situation, and essentially a scenario in which wealthy people can qualify and people who need it the most actually miss out, in some cases. So, what consideration does the Welsh Government give to this notion, and what steps do you intend to take to remove barriers to the scheme and provide equity in the system?

I'd just repeat what I said in answer to the earlier questions. Flying Start helps families with young children in the most disadvantaged areas of Wales. That's the crucial thing. We need to target that support. It includes free part-time quality childcare for children aged two and three living in those areas, and in April, we announced that up to 2,500 more children would be eligible for Flying Start, and that will include children that you represent across Wales. The first phase of the programme began at the start of September, and phase 2 will make more than 3,000 additional two-year-olds eligible.

Also, I think it's important to say that there's the £70 million for improvements to facilities and maintenance for registered childcare settings, and that those settings can apply for that funding through their local authorities.

Modern Slavery

8. Will the Minister provide an update on recent discussions with the UK Government about modern slavery? OQ58666

Welsh Ministers last met with the then UK Minister responsible for modern slavery in May and officials are in regular contact with the Home Office.

We continue to press the UK Government for a victim- and survivor-focused approach to modern slavery, in which safeguarding is of primary concern.

Thank you for that response. The Minister will know, I'm sure, that the UK Government has moved modern slavery recently from the Minister for safeguarding to an issue at the bottom of the list of the Minister for illegal immigration and asylum. A constituent has contacted me to voice concerns about this. She's concerned about the risk that it means for victims of slavery. She questions specifically how it's possible to justify doing this in the case of immigration when nearly a third of modern slavery victims are British citizens anyway. This could mean disregarding a great proportion of them.

Now, victim blaming, that's what the Home Secretary has done recently, saying that people are claiming to be trafficked in order to abuse or take advantage of the immigration rules—disgraceful comments that don't take any notice of the suffering that people face. But, unfortunately, we've come to expect no better from Conservative Home Secretaries. What steps can the Minister take in order to try and ensure that the support is maintained for victims of modern slavery in Wales, despite this decision by the UK Government?


I thank the Member for his supplementary question, as I absolutely agree with everything he said in terms of the disgusting way in which victims are potentially being scapegoated by the UK Government now, and I share his and his constituents' concerns about the fact that we did have a safeguarding Minister and now it sits under immigration. And conflating the two, I think, is a very dangerous and distressing route to go down. And alongside that, since July, we've seen a procession of different UK Ministers holding the modern slavery brief, and that chaotic churn of Ministers is leading to delays and uncertainty in the development of the new modern slavery strategy for England and Wales. We're concerned that the post of the independent anti-slavery commissioner has remained vacant since back in April. So, I and my colleague Jane Hutt are continuing to press UK Government on this matter, but also working through the Wales anti-slavery leadership group and doing what we can do with the levers we have in Wales to make sure we are supporting people and taking a very different approach. Some people can say it's just words, but we know words have impact, and it's very dangerous and damaging rhetoric, and we're working to do what we can do along with things like our code of ethical procurement and supply chains, working to review that and strengthen it as we move forward. 

Royal Mail Workers

9. What discussions has the Welsh Government had regarding the pay and conditions of Royal Mail workers in Wales? OQ58677

Whilst oversight of postal services remains reserved to the UK Government, I met separately with Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union back in July regarding the situation. I have since written to both parties—just last month—to request an update on the situation and urge a resolution that works for the workforce and postal services.

Thank you for that, Minister. Before being elected as a Member of the Senedd, I was a postal worker for Royal Mail, and I know how hard deliverers work day in, day out. I walked an average of 12 miles a day for five or six hours, in all weather—extreme heat, storms, snow—and my ex-colleagues have embraced change already to increase productivity and efficiency, being more flexible regarding hours, fleet of foot, coping with increased rounds, lapsing of rounds, using postal digital assistants and van shares, to name a few. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their dedication during the pandemic and to their customers. I understand that CWU are now in intensive negotiations with Royal Mail about pay and conditions, showing how important it is to be part of a trade union. Minister, will you join me in encouraging the Royal Mail to engage fully with the union to achieve a positive outcome for these negotiations for the benefit of workers, as well as the general public who rely on their service? Diolch.  

May I join Carolyn Thomas in urging Royal Mail and the CWU to continue that work, in partnership with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, on a resolution to this dispute? I also agree that any such resolution needs to work for postal services, postal workers and the people of Wales, and I want to join her in paying tribute to the role that our posties play in communities right across the country, whether that be rural or urban. They're not just doing a job; they provide a vital community service. And I actually remember seeing the Member, because her postal round wasn't far from where I live, and I can confirm I did see her out in all weather making sure that people in the communities across my constituency received their post. 

2. Questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution

We move now to questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, and the first question is from Huw Irranca-Davies. 

The Devolution Settlement

1. What discussions has the Counsel General had regarding the impact of the recent changes in the UK Government on the devolution settlement? OQ58678

I can emphasise the importance of strong inter-governmental relations and that open engagement between the Governments at every opportunity is taken. The instability of the UK Government and frequent UK ministerial changes have clearly made it difficult to form long-lasting, productive links, which are vital in underpinning sound inter-governmental relations.

Counsel General, Luke Fletcher MS and I have just returned from attending the second meeting of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly in London. It was good to attend that; Alun Davies and colleagues—Sam—have attended before, and it's an emerging feast of a body, and it's growing more muscular as well. But one of the themes within that is the need for this—regardless of the systems in place—regular engagement, routine engagement, between Ministers at a UK level and at an EU level, particularly in this post-Brexit scenario. We've got the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill—we don't know what's happening quite with that at the moment. We've got the EU retained law—we're not quite sure what's happening with that. We've got the Bill of Rights Bill and the impact on citizens' rights, let alone the wider panoply of legislation coming down the line. In a different context, the First Minister once used that phrase, 'the regular, reliable rhythm of meetings', how important that is. So, does he share my hopes that, with the new Government and the new Prime Minister, but all those new Ministers, that this will now become the norm that there are regular, routine, reliable meetings between Ministers, so that we can deal with some of these pressing issues?


Thank you for that supplementary question, and I do totally agree: there is a need for regular engagement, for consistent engagement, and properly planned engagement as well, and that engagement should be taking place in respect of all aspects of the UK Government's legislative programme that engages with us, that triggers our particular obligations, but also all the areas of interdependency that arise as well.

I think it was really most disappointing that there was a long delay—. Well, in fact, it's taken so long to get now to a situation where the current Prime Minister is now talking to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, and I give credit to the new Prime Minister that that was one of the first things that he did do, and it's a very important statement. There was a comment that was made that the previous Prime Minister was very busy, and really that is not a satisfactory answer when that situation arises, because you can never be too busy to say that you are concerned about the importance of your relationship with the four nations of the UK.

On a personal basis, I've already had introductory meetings with the Attorney General Victoria Prentis. I did meet with her predecessor; there was a very quick change then. I've met also with Lord Bellamy, who will be visiting the Senedd, and there'll be an opportunity for meetings with myself and with the Minister for Social Justice.

But I do agree. We need early and open engagement between the Governments on all policy areas. We need a period of stability and co-operation to support closer working relationships between the Governments in all our mutual interests.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

3. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers about the timetable for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill? OQ58676

Thank you for the question. We are monitoring the Bill’s progress through Parliament whilst continuing our engagement with the UK Government on the proposed timeline for its coming into force and the implementation of provisions and what this will entail in terms of implications for Wales.

Thank you for the answer, Counsel General. I know you agree that this bonfire of the EU retained law started by Rees-Mogg is an extremely dangerous one. Not only does it put at risk important protections, including workers' rights and climate measures, it's also a blatant attempt to undermine devolution, Welsh Government and this Senedd. Given that this Bill will have serious implications for the devolved nations, I find it totally unacceptable that they have not been properly consulted. Counsel General, what representations have you made to the UK Government about this matter, and what discussions have you had with  other law officers about protecting the competencies—sorry, I can't say it very well—of this Senedd? Thank you.

Thank you. The Bill is obviously something that is very significant; it transfers enormous powers to UK Government Ministers, who would have the option of not instating, or not retaining, certain legislation in UK Government, almost at their discretion. The example that I know has been publicised very well is the one, for example, of statutory holiday pay, which derives from the EU retained law. Were that not to be retained and reinstated into UK law, it would at a stroke actually be eliminated, so we would lose that, and there are many other examples where individual rights that individuals have could disappear at a stroke with virtually no scrutiny from UK Government. Our concern as a Welsh Government is, of course, that the Bill contains issues in respect of concurrent powers for UK Government Ministers in the retained EU law Bill that can be exercised in devolved areas. It has a sunsetting clause that was set for 31 December 2023. This relates to something like 2,400 pieces of legislation. I think I've already commented, as, indeed, have other nations of the UK commented, that, basically, this would almost completely overwhelm not only the UK Government's legislative programme, but ours as well, if we were to try and address this. So, we are looking at very careful options on that.

I suppose there is some hope in terms of some comments that maybe there will be a review of it. My view is that this piece of legislation is wholly unnecessary. It doesn't actually achieve anything or do anything of any significance when you consider all the particular challenges that exist. I'm very moved by the comment from the former environment Secretary Theresa Villiers. She was a Brexiteer, so she has a vested interest in Brexit and these issues, but she said that the proposals would take up vast amounts of civil service time and would involve undoing legislation that, in many cases, was broadly popular and good for the country. Others have expressed a view that this Bill is potentially an ideological millstone. So, we're monitoring it very, very closely. I had two meetings with the previous Minister, Rees-Mogg. That, of course, has changed, but there will be opportunities for further discussions, and this is very much on the Welsh Government's and on my radar.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, first of all. Mark Isherwood.

Diolch, Llywydd. Responding to your statement here in May on justice in Wales, I stated,

'given that senior police officers told me during my visit to the north-west regional organised crime unit that: all north Wales emergency planning is done with north-west England; 95 per cent or more of crime in north Wales is local or operates on a cross-border east-west basis; North Wales Police have no significant operations working on an all-Wales basis; and that evidence given to the Thomas commission'

regarding this

'was largely ignored in the commission's report',

I asked,

'why do you think that the Thomas commission on justice report only includes a single reference to any cross-border criminality in the context of county lines, and that the solution it proposes is joint working across the four Welsh forces in collaboration with other agencies, but no reference to partners across the border, with whom most of the work is actually being done?'

You accused me of 'a head-in-the-sand response', when, instead, ignoring these key issues would represent a dangerous head-buried-in-sand approach—

Mark Isherwood, I am sorry to cut across, but we were all there when you asked these questions and had this response. If you can ask your question of today, please—and you're out of time now, but I'll allow you to ask it.

What, if any, action have you therefore since taken to investigate the serious omissions I identified and gather the necessary missing evidence?

My role isn't to answer for the Thomas commission, or to take up specific issues that are in or not within the Thomas commission. What my role has been—Welsh Government's role—is to consider the totality of the recommendations made by the Thomas commission, to evaluate them and see how those might be pursued.

The issue of the devolution of policing is obviously one that has been taken up, and it is one that's resulted in quite a range of meetings between myself, the Minister for Social Justice, as well, at the police partnership board that has been set up, and a very close collaboration as well with the police and crime commissioners. In doing so, what we seek to do is to have a proper partnership in terms of those areas that are devolved that clearly do relate to policing, which is why we, obviously, want the devolution of policing, the partnership between the four police areas, but, of course, any other areas that overlap in terms of engagement there are equally valid. Now, those organisational matters are obviously matters for the chief constable, but they do get discussed, so I don't think there are grounds there for criticism, because what we are looking at is how the partnership between our responsibilities and policing can actually work collaboratively together. I don't think the points you make on whether they're sustainable or not sustainable really have any real bearing on the importance of actually having that partnership, having that engagement or actually undermining the view that we've taken, but also that the police and crime commissioners hold—all four of them, who have been democratically elected—that there is merit in the development of the devolution of policing.


Without this gaping hole being filled, there's clearly no real basis to go forward on the basis of an only partial report.

But responding to you in May, I detailed evidence showing that the UK Government is actually more aligned with the Welsh Government approach to justice than otherwise and has stated repeatedly that it favours policy based on prevention through tackling social challenges and rehabilitation, quoting, for example, the UK Ministry of Justice's 'Prisons Strategy White Paper' to rehabilitate offenders and cut crime; the female offender strategy to divert vulnerable female offenders away from short prison sentences; and the UK Government's turnaround scheme to catch and prevent youth offending earlier than ever to help stop these children and young people from moving on to further, more serious offending.

I also quoted, as you did, the former UK justice Minister, Lord Wolfson, at the October 2021 Legal Wales conference, where he said that being part of an England and Wales justice system made Wales a more attractive place to do business and that,

'We are continuing to work closely with the Welsh Government to deliver justice in Wales, including the joint work on supporting women and young people, and taking forward some of the recommendations of the Thomas Commission'.

What progress has, therefore, been achieved with this in the 13 months since—I appreciate you might be tempted to respond by just commenting on the last couple of months—as we go forward?

Thanks for the question. The discussions that take place and the work that goes on isn’t something that just happened in the last couple of months—it is work of a long, continuous process. One of the reasons it’s part of that long process is because there is a real dysfunction in the England and Wales jurisdiction. I have to say that my view is that the England and Wales jurisdiction is dysfunctional and is not working. That is one of the reasons why we’ve published a paper, 'Delivering Justice for Wales', in order to put those across, not in terms of the issue of who controls justice or whatever, but, basically, how can it be delivered better? And you’d be perfectly valid in asking for details as to how we think that can be delivered better.

Of the work that is going on, much of it is actually borne by my colleague the Minister for Social Justice in terms of women’s issues; in terms of a women’s blueprint; in terms of the youth justice work that is going on; in terms of the issues over the women’s residence and the prison issues that arise. Those are things that have been going on for many, many months and have also been ones that have engaged partnership between the Ministry of Justice and the Welsh Government and between all the other agencies and bodies that have a direct interest within that. And I think those have been very effective and very successful, but they are only part of the picture.

There was a very interesting publication that’s just come from Cardiff University on criminal justice—The Welsh Criminal Justice System: On the Jagged Edge—which really begins to highlight the dysfunction in our justice system: the fact that we have no proper alignment between all the devolved functions and a very centralised Ministry of Justice, where Wales only plays a very peripheral part.

You raised issues also with regard to policing. I mean, let’s be honest about it in terms of the issues around crime and police operations: when the Conservative Government came into power in 2010, you cut 22,000 police officers and you’re now talking about appointing 15,000, to some extent rectifying that disastrous damage that was actually done to policing and community safety.

So, we work as a partnership; we work across board; we seek whatever opportunities there are for joint working and there are a number of blueprints and projects that are jointly under way. But they are really on the surface of what is happening. There is a need for a far deeper consideration of justice and I do not accept your view, and I don’t think any logical, evidential analysis of the England and Wales jurisdiction can say that it is serving Wales well. That was a view that was found by the Thomas commission as well, but I think it’s been justified in significant other evidence since then.

Without the evidence I referred to, we can't tell whether it is working any better or any worse than it would if devolved. The suggestions might be to the contrary in the absence of such evidence. And of course, those police officers, the cuts were reversed, and we're now well on the road to deliver on 20,000 new police officers within the three-year target.

But responding to you in May, I noted, for example, that Wales has the highest proportion of children in the UK in care, and one of the highest proportions of children looked after by any state in the world, and asked,

'Is it therefore not the case that such a difference in delivery within what is a shared criminal justice system shows why the calls for devolution of criminal justice should not be answered?'

I also noted that, in consequence of the UK Government's female offenders strategy, the Minister for Social Justice here had written to Members, stating that she'd been working closely with the UK Ministry of Justice, and announcing that one of these centres would be near, and asked,

'How will this help vulnerable women offenders in north, mid and west Wales to access the services they need closer to home?'

Rather than answer this, you instead stated that it was thanks to the Minister for Social Justice that

'we actually have the women's residential centre...coming to fruition.'

Plans for this centre were subsequently turned down by Swansea Council. So, what is the current state of play, where women prisoners from England can now be released from Welsh prisons for rehabilitation in centres in England, but women prisoners in Wales cannot be released to equivalent centres in Wales?


Well, I think you've just put a very good case for the devolution of justice, because that's exactly one of the reasons why we have been doing that, why we work in partnership where we can, but you need a proper, consistent and organised devolution of responsibilities to enable us to get rid of that jagged edge within the criminal justice system. You talk about the numbers of people that are in care, and you talk about the numbers in prison, and so on. What is very clear from the data is that Wales has one of the highest numbers of women that are actually in prison. We also have almost the highest level of, I think, people from ethnic backgrounds actually in prison—some of the highest figures in Europe. They are all part of the non-devolved justice system, and they're all part of the evidential base as to why the devolution of justice actually is necessary.

You referred again to the policing figure, et cetera. Well, you've been in power since 2010; it's taken you 12 years to begin to repair the damage that has been done in terms of the massive cuts to policing that actually occurred.

With regard to the turning down of the planning application in respect of the women's centre in Swansea, of course, that is a matter for the Ministry of Justice to now consider how it intends to respond to that. But that, again, is a responsibility of the Ministry of Justice.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I'm glad, Counsel General, that you've referred to the recent publication, The Welsh Criminal Justice System: On the Jagged Edge, by Dr Rob Jones and Professor Richard Wyn Jones, and I would heartily recommend it as a good read to the Conservative spokesperson—it might even help open his eyes somewhat to the reality of the situation. Because you're absolutely right in saying that—. It really outlines how the Welsh criminal justice system is unique, and, while our nation has its own devolved Government and Parliament, of course, there is no Welsh equivalent of the Scottish or Northern Irish justice systems. Rather, the writ of England and Wales criminal justice institutions continues to run. Yet the extensive responsibilities of Wales's devolved institutions ensure that they necessarily play a significant role in criminal justice, and, as a result, the Welsh criminal justice system operates across this jagged edge of devolved and reserved powers of responsibilities.

So, what discussions, then, have you had to ensure that we create a Welsh justice system, to improve what are some of the worst criminal justice outcomes in the whole of western Europe? And also, will you discuss with your Labour colleagues in London to ensure that any potential future UK Labour Government will actually devolve justice, the police and prisons to Wales?

Thank you for the question and thank you for the comments. I certainly agree with you that the content of the publication from Cardiff University contains some really significant information within it. And of course, it raises that point: one of our main concerns—I meant to mention this with the last question—is the disaggregation of data. We do need that evidence base, we do need that data. Unless we actually have that data disaggregated so we know how it applies to Wales, it becomes very difficult to actually determine policy, to evaluate precisely what is happening, why it is happening, and how we actually change it. That is why we published in May 'Delivering Justice for Wales', and we've referred to that, and it's been mentioned consistently.

I've been raising these issues now in all the discussions that I've had with counterparts at UK Government level, and we've done it in a number of ways. Firstly, we will continue working, we will continue co-operating in all areas where we can work collectively to improve the justice system. There are a number of projects like that that are under way. Secondly, we'll identify additional projects that we can work with. There are some very interesting ones that are under way in terms of the establishment of a domestic abuse law centre up in north Wales; we're awaiting a decision on funding and we're hopeful that will happen. We might look at that in terms of a model as part of a broader policy in respect of developing law centres and access to justice.

But also, what we'll also do is actually start preparing for the delivery of justice, particularly in those areas where the connectivity between devolved responsibilities is so blatant. I would say there is no rational argument for not devolving justice in the area of probation and in the area of youth justice. Even if we were to start there. And, of course, the debate over justice policy and these issues is partly about getting it out of a mindset that this is somehow about who controls something, as opposed to how you can actually deliver justice better. And my view, and the reason I work so closely with the Minister for Social Justice, and vice versa, on these, is that a key part of the justice system is social justice, and the combining of those two makes it absolutely essential that, certainly in those areas, there is devolution of justice, and in the longer term, there's an end to the dysfunction of the very centralised judicial system for England and Wales, which also has significant adverse impacts in the way it is delivered in England as well. 


Thank you for that. You've listed engagement with the UK Government. I'm still waiting for something in relation to your own UK Labour Party; maybe you could expand a little bit in a moment.

I wanted to ask you about something else as well, because the UK Government has announced that its Bill of Rights Bill is to return to the Westminster Parliament in the coming weeks. And we know that that will dismantle the Human Rights Act 1998 that made human rights part of domestic law available to everyone in the UK. So, would the Counsel General agree that human rights are actually one of the cornerstones of devolution, and that the Welsh Government has to act to protect human rights in Wales by ensuring, for example, that we get a human rights Bill for Wales?

Well, firstly, you are absolutely right in terms of the bill of rights, and, of course, 10 December is Human Rights Day, and I hope there will be a substantial debate in this Chamber. At one stage, it looked as though there might be a debate on Human Rights Day that didn't need to have reference to the bill of rights. We were told it was shelved. Unfortunately, one of the main instigators of it has returned, and it appears it is back on the agenda again. 

It is within the portfolio of Lord Bellamy, who I will be meeting with in Cardiff in December. So, there'll be an opportunity to discuss there. What we don't know is precisely what the format of this Bill might be, whether it's going to be a complete return of the existing Bill. Now, that seems to me to be something that's very difficult, since once it was shelved, there were so many UK Government Ministers and Members of Parliament who basically were saying, 'Well, it's been shelved, the thing is an absolute mess, so it can't go on as it is; that's why we've shelved it.' Well, it's now coming back and they've obviously got to do something to resolve the fact that it is, in its current form, an absolute mess.

But it is something that is essentially an undermining of human rights. It actually takes away the rights from individuals. So much for the Brexit argument of taking back control; it actually disempowers individual citizens within the UK. 

In terms of a Welsh Bill, and what we can do within Wales, that is something that we're looking at very, very closely. What the options might be as to how we might further strengthen the commitment to human rights that we have, either within our legislation, within our policy, and whether that means by means of a legislative format or whatever, I don't know. But it is a matter that's being discussed at the human rights advisory group that has been set up, in conjunction with the Minister for Social Justice, which I chaired the other day. So, this is very much on the radar and I hope this debate continues and we keep monitoring what is happening. 

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

The Hillsborough Disaster

4. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers regarding ensuring justice for the 97 victims of the Hillsborough disaster? OQ58662


Thank you for the question. I wrote to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice about the considerable demand for a Hillsborough law in August of this year, and have previously raised the matter in meetings and correspondence with UK Government Ministers. 

I thank the Counsel General for that answer. And can I thank him for his continued work with me about promoting the need for a Hillsborough law? Counsel General, you will be aware that the next Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer, used the opening of his conference speech in Liverpool to commit his future Labour Government to implementing a Hillsborough law. This is not only a bold move, but it is the right move. It is too hard for people in this country without significant means to access the justice they deserve. Will you commit this Welsh Labour Government to supporting Sir Keir in his plans for a Hillsborough law, and his calls also for a general election to make that happen? 

Thank you for the supplementary question. And I congratulate you for the way in which you have continued to pursue this and to pursue some of the other significant miscarriage of justice issues. I think it's very important that we debate them and we consider them on this floor. I think, first of all, the thing to say is that I think there have been a number of missed opportunities to actually discuss on an inter-ministerial level, inter-governmental level, the issue of Hillsborough and other similar issues. The inter-ministerial group on justice has not yet been established, but I am hopeful that it will be very, very soon. In terms of Welsh Government, I can confirm, and say again for the record, that we support the calls for the introduction of a Hillsborough law, which would not only place a duty of candour on public servants, but also put bereaved families on a more equal footing to public bodies by ensuring publicly funded legal representation is available. I'm disappointed also that the Public Advocate (No. 2) Bill is unlikely to progress. So, we are maintaining pressure on the UK Government over this issue and about some of the other miscarriages of justice that have occurred and that you have raised in the past: the Post Office Horizon scandal and, indeed, the issue of a pardon for wrongly convicted miners during the 1984-85 strike.

But, on the summary points you raise, I completely agree with you about the statement from Keir Starmer. I was pleased to see the announcement at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool that a future UK Labour Government, which hopefully won't be too far away, will introduce a Hillsborough law. I also agree with the Member that we should have a UK general election as soon as possible so the public have an opportunity to elect that Labour Government. 

The Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

5. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers regarding the impact of the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill on the devolution settlement? OQ58668

Thank you for the question. The Bill and its impacts in Wales are being urgently assessed by my officials. I am extremely concerned, again, by the lack of engagement on this Bill before introduction, and the limited information available on its content.

I'm grateful to the Counsel General for that response. It is, of course, a forced labour Bill. It takes away freedoms and it takes away rights from people, and acts in a way that is incompatible, I would argue, with our expectations and our values in a free and open and democratic society. It is also at odds with the values that we, on this side of the Chamber, have certainly held dear throughout the period of devolved Government. The Welsh Government's social partnership Bill, which is being delivered by our colleague the Deputy Minister is something that paints a very different vision of the future for industrial relations, and for enhancing people's rights and underpinning people's freedoms. But it is, of course, a matter of great concern that the Welsh Government has again been unsighted on another piece of UK legislation. It may be useful, Counsel General, if you could publish a list of all the engagements between the United Kingdom Government and the Welsh Government, at ministerial and official level, for us to understand exactly what engagement has taken place in the development of this piece of pernicious legislation. 

Thank you for the supplementary question. Of course, we will be monitoring very carefully what happens. I understand the Second Reading has been delayed. I had been reading through the Bill. I actually have a copy of it here. It is quite difficult to see how exactly it might work. Maybe that's why it is slowing down in the process. Another ill-thought-out, ideologically driven piece of legislation. It has, as I said, got very little information on it. It does, of course, then create a base for further and a lot of powers being transferred into the secondary legislation process. That further limits our ability to assess and scrutinise the Bill's rights.

As a matter of principle, we just do not think the Government should work to—. Well, our approach is one of social partnership—one of positive and progressive engagement. We believe that governments should work to resolve industrial disputes collaboratively, rather than seeking to impose their will through the reduction of workers' rights. As a former trade union lawyer for 30 years of my life, imposing tighter restrictions on trade unions is highly regressive, and the Bill is just another unwarranted attack on the rights of workers to take legitimate industrial action. I think you have to see this legislation within other regressive legislation that seeks to restrict civil liberties and freedoms that we've come to enjoy.

So, we will be making it very clear to the UK Government that we oppose the Bill in the strongest of terms and that officials are working to find out more about the substance and timings of the Bill, and we will be expressing our full range of concerns to the Department for Transport.

A Gender Quota for the 2026 Welsh Parliament Election

6. Will the Counsel General clarify what legal advice the Welsh Government has sought in relation to introducing a gender quota for the 2026 Welsh Parliament election? OQ58657

Thank you for the question. The special purpose committee reported on 30 May and made 31 recommendations, including one relating to the introduction of gender quotas. At present, officials are developing policy for legislation in relation to those recommendations.

Thank you. There are clearly serious legal and constitutional questions as to whether the Welsh Government indeed has any such power to introduce radical changes to our electoral laws. Attempting to enforce these quotas at a national level on all parties is completely without precedent in our democracy. It also raises the question of those who do not identify as either male or female and thus would not place themselves in either category. This actually demonstrates the issue with trying to select elected members on the basis of arbitrary—I can never say this word—arbitrary characteristics, where particular groups or cross-sections of society will always feel excluded in some way. That is why, in this country, we have always thrived on the uniting principle of meritocracy—basically meaning the best person gets the job. I find personally, as a woman of 28 years—

I am doing. As a woman in politics for over the last 28 years elected, I find this insulting, what you propose going forward. Will the Counsel General make public any legal advice concerning the power of the Welsh Government to make this unprecedented intervention in the way in which politicians in Wales are elected? Diolch.

Thank you for the supplementary question. Perhaps I'll deal with the point you raised when you said the best person gets the job. You might want to explain to me why it is, then, that only 18 per cent of the Tory membership in this Senedd is female. I'm not sure what conclusions we should draw from that. I'll leave that there, because the special purposes committee recommendation 11 was that the Senedd should be elected—

Can the backbenchers please stop to talking with one another so I can hear the answers from the Counsel General?

Recommendation 11 was that the Senedd should be elected with statutory gender quotas. Recommendation 17 of the report was that the Welsh Government take appropriate steps to ensure that our recommendations on Senedd reform for 2026 are not put at undue risk of a Supreme Court referral. So, effectively, officials have been undertaking work to develop a detailed policy aimed at giving effect to recommendation 11, whilst also being mindful of recommendation 17. Now, the purpose of the recommendations that were made by the special purpose committee, and the overarching aim in introducing gender quotas is to make provision, the aim of which is to ensure that elected Members of the Senedd broadly mirror the gender diversity of the Welsh population. In my position as law officer and as Counsel General, I'll be mindful of the need to ensure that the Senedd reform legislation as a whole is going to be clear, is going to be robust and that it will be within competence.

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

8. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers in the UK about the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on the UK constitution? OQ58670

Thank you. We've had no engagement from the UK Government before the Bill was introduced. We have some serious concerns about it, including the very broad powers it gives to Ministers of the Crown and its potential implications for the devolution settlement. We are recommending that the Senedd withhold consent for the Bill.

I'm grateful to the Counsel General for that. I'm grateful to hear his final point there. This is a rotten and grubby piece of legislation that has, by its introduction, tarnished the reputation of the United Kingdom in councils across the world. It has damaged our relationship with the EU and has demonstrated that the UK Government itself is prepared to break international law and agreements freely entered into having deceived the unionist population of Northern Ireland. It really is a squalid piece of legislation and one of the most dishonourable pieces of legislation that I've seen in front of any legislature at any time. It is important, Counsel General, that, as a legislature and as a Welsh Government, this place stands up for good governance, stands up for international law and stands up for the values of democracy where freely entered-into agreements are delivered by all parties. Can the Welsh Government reassure this Chamber this afternoon that it will continue to argue that this piece of legislation not only damages the UK externally and internationally, but undermines the basis of the UK constitution internally as well?

Thank you for that supplementary. I think I agree with all the points that you've made. In the summer, I attended a British-Irish Association conference, and, at that, I made the point that I just think it is fundamentally wrong to try and tackle what is a significant political problem by means of legislation. You cannot legislate to solve those types of problems. The Bill is ill-judged and it's damaging to the UK's international reputation. It is the UK Government going back on an international obligation that it designed and signed early in 2020 as part of the withdrawal agreement. And, if it's enacted and implemented, it will result in a significant breach, in my view, a likely breach, of international law, which does still further damage.

There are a number of reasons why legislative consent cannot be given. There will, of course, be a full debate in this Senedd on the legislative consent motion. But one of the key things for me is this: I cannot see how, with our intrinsic commitment to international law, and to human rights and so on, in all that we do, that we could recommend legislative support for legislation that so blatantly potentially drives a coach and horses through the very concept of the rule of law and international law. On top of that, of course, it gives enormous Henry VIII powers to the Government. So, the Welsh Government's position is not to give consent. Obviously, it is a matter for this Senedd to determine that issue of consent; it is not a matter for the Government, but, during that process, Welsh Government will make its position very, very clear.

The Proposed Statute Law (Repeals) (Wales) Bill

9. Will the Counsel General outline how the proposed statute law (repeals) (Wales) Bill will help improve the accessibility of Welsh law? OQ58656

Thank you. The Bill will declutter the statute book by removing provisions that are obsolete, spent, no longer of practical utility or effect or have no realistic chance of ever being commenced. This will make it easier and quicker for legal practitioners and others to find the information that they seek.


Thank you. Announcing the consultation on the statue law (repeals) (Wales) Bill, you did advise that the measure would tackle the

'disorganised state of our vast and sprawling statute book.'

I acknowledge that provisions can fall out of use or are never commenced. However, I am concerned that this work is going to contribute to the delay we are experiencing in the implementation of new Welsh law. The clean air Act is late; the Minister for Climate Change is refusing to legislate to replicate sections 116 to 125 of the UK Building Safety Act 2022; we've still not established an environmental governance body; and the Bill comes at a time when the focus of the Welsh Government should be on matters of greater importance, such as the cost-of-living crisis facing people across Wales.

Whilst I appreciate that you are only now consulting on the Bill, do you agree with me that the priority should now be on focusing Welsh resources on the creation of new Welsh laws that our society and our country desperately need?

I thank you for some of those comments, and I certainly agree with you about the importance of focusing on the cost-of-living crisis; of course, that is the very reason why we actually think that the retained EU law Bill should, actually, be shelved or completely disregarded. But, in terms of the responsibilities we have as a Senedd and as a Welsh Government, the purpose of the consultation is, really, to fulfil our ongoing obligation to maintain a Wales statute book. This is, essentially, a housekeeping exercise to remove unnecessary provisions. I don't believe that this will impact on all of the other important legislation that is there, and I think it's a mistake to confuse it within that, because it is not reforming law or changing law. What it is actually doing is a tidying-up exercise of the statute book.

It covers a number of areas, from rural development boards, enterprise zones, recorded public rights of way, Welsh Development Agency and so on and so forth. All Parliaments have a responsibility to do this; all Parliaments, by and large, do do it, to one degree or another. I think we're at a stage where the issue of access to law is really important to us. As we develop Welsh law, it's very important that our law is put into good shape and we exercise best practice. One of the reasons we are introducing, for example, the consolidation Bill on the historic environment, and we'll be doing one in planning, is because there are long-term benefits to us doing so; there are long-term benefits to citizens, practitioners, civic organisations and other bodies to actually having the law in a state that is fit for purpose. So, we will continue with this at an appropriate stage; legislation will be tabled.

If I can just make the point, because I know your comments were well intentioned, that it is equally important, as a Parliament, in terms of our legislative programme, that we also are monitoring the overall quality and state of our legislation, and that where opportunities arise to tidy that up to make it more effective and efficient, then we have an obligation to do so. This is one of my specific responsibilities that I'm carrying through and that I report on each year to the Senedd.

The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill

10. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the legal implications for Wales of the UK Government's Data Protection and Digital Information Bill? OQ58655

Thank you. Before the Bill was withdrawn from the Second Reading in the House of Commons, my officials assessed its impact on Wales and identified provisions requiring the Senedd’s consent. Any forthcoming data protection reforms by the UK Government will be similarly assessed.

Diolch, Counsel General; thank you for your response on that and for that reassurance. As we now know, the UK Government has said that they are pausing their data reform Bill, but they are continuing to express their plans to scrap the general data protection regulation. Under GDPR, there is a legal requirement for consent to collect and share data; there is also an obligation for companies to delete any personal data when requested.

In the last few weeks the UK Government has gone further than that and released a statement to say that they are working on a new data adequacy agreement with the US that would allow our personal data to be transferred freely, removing the protections currently in place to secure our data from being used by private companies without our knowledge or consent. This means that they could sell our NHS data. This means that it will impact our Agriculture (Wales) Bill that's coming up, because Welsh Government will be collecting that data, and we won't be able to protect it because it will be under UK legislation that impacts us. It means that the biometric data that is being collected on children in schools will be able to be sold. And I have to say, this is all about trade agreements—this is all about trade agreements. So the recent right-wing experiments of the UK Tory Government do not leave me with hope that they will protect citizen data. What can we do? What talks are you having with them? Thank you, Counsel General. 


Thank you for raising what is a really important issue that is not often commented on. I think this is the first specific question I've had on this, and it's very important that it has been raised. What I can say generally is that when issues in terms of data collation have arisen, I know that the Welsh Government Ministers have always raised the issue in terms of the protection of that and avoiding the misuse of that. I know that has happened within the health sector, and I see my colleague Eluned Morgan here, who I know took major steps ensuring that NHS data could only be used for specific objectives of medical benefit et cetera, for NHS purposes, and not be used in other ways where it can be sold and disseminated and used for any other corporate or commercial activities. That applies in terms of other legislation that may arise. 

So, we will continue to seek to work with UK Government departments to gain information and consider the potential issues arising from any proposals to reform data protection law. We will strongly oppose any reforms that undermine an individual's right to protection of their personal data and their privacy. We do recognise also that the potential loss of EU adequacy is a major threat to Welsh exporting businesses, whose main overseas market continues to be the European Union. So, we will oppose any reform that marks a significant departure from the principles of the EU GDPR on the basis that this is likely to jeopardise the UK's chances in terms of having its EU adequacy status withdrawn. 

Equal Opportunities

11. How does the Counsel General ensure that individuals have equal opportunities within the justice system in Wales? OQ58639

Thank you for the question. We use every lever possible to tackle inequality in the justice system, even though it is not devolved. For example, we worked with partner organisations on the anti-racism action plan for the criminal justice system in Wales that was launched this September and that complements our own anti-racist Wales action plan.

Thank you for that answer, Counsel General. I don't know whether you've had time or opportunity to read and reflect on the new report by Manchester university on racial bias in the judiciary. It found discrimination to be directed particularly towards black court users, from lawyers to witnesses to dependents, and backs up the finding of the 2017 Lammy report. Institutional racism is a very serious charge, but it does seem to fit the bill here. So, can you tell us what Wales is doing and what more we must do to overturn this endemic judicial prejudice?

Thank you for that very important question. Yes, I'm aware of the Manchester report. I've started reading through it and it makes very, very grim reading indeed. It is something that I know the members of the judiciary are very concerned about, and I know that it is something where there are efforts to seek how to address it.

It is not an easy issue to address within a justice system that works in this particular structure and the way in which it operates in conjunction with the legal profession. It's certainly the case that everyone in contact with the justice system deserves an equal opportunity to access the support and the help they need when they are engaged with the justice system. I mentioned earlier, when we were talking about the Cardiff University publication on the criminal justice system, the high rates, almost one of the highest rates in Europe, of imprisonment of those from ethnic backgrounds as opposed to white backgrounds. When you see that data in conjunction with the Manchester report, et cetera, you cannot help but say that there is an institutionalised racism within our justice system.

One of the ways we seek to address this is by working with the criminal justice board for Wales partners, His Majesty's Prison Service, the courts service and policing in Wales to develop the criminal justice in Wales anti-racism action plan, which was published in September, and which the Minister for Social Justice has played such a major role in. This sets out our plan to tackle racism proactively, with a particular focus on staff diversity and training. But there is a long way to go. This also features as part of the evidential base, I believe, in terms of the need for the devolution of justice as well. That is something that is being monitored very closely and that we are raising in opportunities that we have with other law officers and with the Ministry of Justice. 

3. Questions to the Senedd Commission
The White Ribbon Promise

1. How does the Commission encourage staff to make the White Ribbon promise? OQ58663

In the past, the Commission has supported the White Ribbon campaign by holding an annual event in the Senedd and by raising money through the sale of White Ribbons in the Tŷ Hywel and Senedd shops, which you yourself, Jack, of course, requested. Since the pandemic, the Commission has been mindful of the increased risk of incidents of domestic abuse, as home working has been the norm, and has implemented and communicated increased measures to support those home workers. Ahead of White Ribbon Day in 2022, the Commission will highlight the resources available and encourage staff to make the White Ribbon promise through the Commission's health and well-being strategy pages. I, along with Jack and many other Members, do actively champion the White Ribbon campaign. I know that you took the mantle up from your father, and I was proud to work alongside him, too.   

Can I thank Joyce Watson for that answer and all the work she does as a Commissioner, but also in a personal capacity as well? I know you are just as passionate as I am about the White Ribbon campaign. It is my role as an ambassador of the campaign to promote to never use, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women. We've heard already from Joyce Watson exactly what the Senedd staff will do to encourage all staff members, particularly men, to make the promise. So, will you join me today in putting that plea out to all staff across the Senedd that, when they do make the promise, they mean it?  

I think that last point you made is a hugely important one. It's one thing making a pledge, it's another thing meaning it. But there are two sides, of course, to the White Ribbon, and one is all the work that is done around the White Ribbon, but the White Ribbon is about attempts to diminish the prevalence of violence against women and children. So, on the one side, we will raise awareness; on the other side, we have to protect people.

Within the home working support pages, the Commission have supplemented existing policies with further guidance for those who experience abuse within that home environment, and the Commission has provided a risk-assessed safe place to work away from home for Commission staff, if they should require it. The domestic abuse policy has been revised and places greater responsibility on all staff to report concerns for a colleague. It also reflects the current change of legislation that finally recognises that children are victims of domestic abuse and experience significant harm. That links to the Commission's newly revised safeguarding children policy. The Commission's support also includes provision of a new domestic abuse loan, because very often it is the case that people leave with absolutely nothing. Commission officials have recently—this October—discussed activities to support victims of domestic abuse with colleague public sector organisations—Welsh Government sponsored bodies that collaborate together.

The Senedd Canteen

2. What essential criteria other than cost did the Commission use to select the new Senedd canteen contractor? OQ58658

The qualitative evaluation criteria used for the retender of the catering services included a range of areas to meet the objectives and performance requirements of the Senedd for the service. Cost and quality evaluation was split 30:70—30 per cent for cost and 70 per cent for quality evaluation.

Examples of the key qualitative evaluation criteria included, for example, how the service would support our social and environmental and sustainability objectives, innovations for the service, and staff development and recruitment. The provision of menus and recipes for the service, including hospitality services, was also evaluated within the 70 per cent for quality.

Thank you very much for that answer. I'm glad to hear that only 30 per cent of the criteria was cost. But I think one of the issues—I mean, there are several issues. One is, of course, that the cost of food has increased, and therefore it's very difficult to be comparing the previous contractor with the current contractor in the rapidly rising inflation of food. But the previous canteen contractor, Chartwells, had a Food for Life accreditation from the Soil Association, and this ensured that the food was quality assured i.e. what it said on the tin was actually what was being delivered. Does the new contractor have this, and if not, how can we know that what we're eating is what it claims to be? In light of the greenwash actions of many commercial operators, do you agree with me that, potentially, this risks the reputation of the Senedd and accusations of, 'Do what we say, not what we do'?

I can't answer the specific in that case; I don't have the information to hand in terms of that particular accreditation, but I'm more than willing to look at it. It's an important accreditation by the Soil Association. I'm willing to find out whether that is the case with the new contractor, and I'll write to you with that confirmation or otherwise. And if it is 'otherwise', then I will look into why it was the case that this current contractor was chosen in light of that and whether there are any other aspects of the current contractor's criteria that meet what was undertaken by the previous contractor, or even exceeding that. So, I'll do some digging, if you don't mind—no pun intended—on Soil Association accreditation there with that. I'll do some digging on this and I'll make sure that the Senedd is informed on the actual specific accreditation that you've raised, and it's an important area for me to investigate.

I actually believe in the direct provision of services and I'm opposed to the contracting out of public service to private contractors. Did the Commission consider bringing the contract in-house, and if they did, why did they reject doing so?

Yes, we've investigated a number of times over the number of contractors that we do contract out, whether in-house direct provision is preferable, both in terms of quality and cost. To date, it hasn't proved to be so; I can write to the Member with any specific analysis that was done on this particular contract. He'll have to excuse me that I can't recall it at this point, but I'm happy to provide that evidence. But I can give you the confirmation that we regularly review the issue of direct provision. Like you, instinctively I support direct provision of services. We've seen it actually work to our benefit, of course, when we took in-house, as a Commission, the ICT services, and we saw that especially during the pandemic, how that worked in our favour. But I will confirm some of these points to you when that was last reviewed.

Provision of ICT for Members in the Chamber

3. Will the Commission provide an update on the provision of ICT for Members in the Chamber? OQ58669

The use of IT by Members has transformed since the beginning of the pandemic. The Commission has continued to drive the improvements needed to accommodate different working practices. The introduction of Zoom and a web-based voting app, alongside improvements to audiovisual broadcasting and interpretation technologies, allow Members to effectively participate in Plenary, irrespective of whether they are physically present in the Chamber or choose to attend remotely.


I'm grateful to the Presiding Officer for that. Presiding Officer, I want you to rip out these grotesque computers that we have placed in front of us. They are completely inappropriate for a debating Chamber; they were designed at a time before we had iPads and before we had the ability to communicate in the way that we can. It's a twentieth-century response to a need that doesn't exist in the twenty-first century. This should be a debating Chamber where we discuss what matters to the people of Wales, and where we listen to each other, no matter what's being said, and not simply carry on answering e-mails, which we could do in any other way, at any other time. This place has to be the cockpit of the nation, the fulcrum of our public debate, and not a call centre.

Well, I don't agree with the florid language used by the Member, but I can see that a time will come when these exact static computers that we currently have in front of us will no longer be useful. I've been looking around me as you were asking your question. Of the three Members closest to me, I can see that one is looking at the papers in front of him, one is looking at the computer screen in front of her, and another is looking at the phone that he has. I'm also a mobile phone user within this Chamber. So, Members make use of various media in looking at the work in front of them, contacting constituents even when they're here, or participating in proceedings. My view is that it doesn't matter what computer you have in front of you, or if you don't have a computer at all; the debate is interesting and lively when Members contribute in a lively and interesting way, and that draws the attention of fellow Members, just like your question has just sent virtually everyone around us to look up from their computer screens very quickly, because Alun Davies was saying something interesting in a contentious way. So, I would say that it's not the fault of the computers; let the Members make the discussion within this Chamber interesting and challenging, and the equipment will follow that, and they will be here in the twenty-first century, just as my phone is in front of me now. 

The Cost-of-living Crisis

4. What steps is the Commission taking to support staff members during the current cost-of-living crisis? OQ58645

The Commission is committed to the well-being of its staff, and we are acutely aware that the current cost-of-living crisis will be a very real concern for many. We are also aware that it will be a deeply personal matter for some, and that they may not feel comfortable sharing that with their employer. For those reasons, we have pulled together a series of financial and practical resources that can be accessed easily and confidentially through our dedicated intranet pages. These range from a series of salary sacrifice schemes to confidential helplines and signposts for financial and mental well-being, practical suggestions also for reducing costs, and, for those who need it, salary advances that are interest-free. Communications about these are regularly published with our staff.

Thank you, Llywydd, for that response. It's very helpful. As we know, the cost-of-living crisis is affecting many people and families across Wales, and people are finding it tough. Whilst those from more disadvantaged backgrounds are being disproportionately affected, people who are generally seen as 'just about managing' in more normal circumstances are finding themselves in real difficulties. In asking the question, I realise that many employed by the Senedd or those who work as support staff are comparatively better paid than in other sectors, but that doesn't mean that they're not finding things really difficult, as you've acknowledged. It's important, then, that, as a responsible employer, the Senedd does everything it can do to support its employees and their families, and the support on offer needs to be equitable—that is, available and accessible to both Commission staff and Member support staff.

Llywydd, what discussions are you having with colleagues about the ways in which the Senedd can provide support and advice to staff members who may be facing difficulties? I know that you've already alluded to some of that. Perhaps we could use the intranet pages to provide more of a one-stop-shop facility. And I just wondered if there had been any working with the remuneration board to see what further things could be done to help staff members in these difficult times.


Well, yes, as you've outlined in your supplementary as well as the answer I gave, these are real and pressing issues for members of staff, people who work on our estate during these months, and there is worry, of course, as to what the future will hold for some. As I hope I emphasised in my answer, we are aware of this; we have discussed it as a Commission in our most recent meeting on Monday, and we are aware of the need to ensure that all staff, on an equitable basis, are able to access information and support and use our intranet pages in particular to look at that, and I'd urge all staff to make sure that they make themselves regularly aware of any support that is available.

I know that the remuneration board as well are aware of the implications of the cost-of-living crisis for support staff of Members and have provided some support already in terms of allowance for members of staff who may be working at home and who have increased costs due to that, and I'm sure that the remuneration board are actively seeking any further information that they can glean as to where the pressures exactly exist and will respond and consider those requests accordingly.

4. Topical Questions

Item 4 this afternoon is topical questions. We have one topical question, and I call on Russell George to ask that question.

A Potential Strike by Nurses

1. Will the Minister make a statement on a potential strike by nurses? TQ674

I've just heard that the required turnout threshold has been reached for the Royal College of Nursing members balloted in all NHS employer organisations in Wales, with the exception of Aneurin Bevan health board, and in each of these, a simple majority mandate for strike action has been achieved. So, just to be clear, in Wales, RCN member nurses have voted for strike action everywhere with the exception of the Aneurin Bevan health board.

As a Welsh Government, we recognise why so many nurses have voted the way that they have, due, in no doubt, to the Tory-inflicted cost-of-living crisis, and also, the increased work pressures that many nurses are facing. And can I be clear that we agree that nurses should be fairly rewarded for their important work, but there are limits as to how far we can go to address these concerns in Wales without additional funding from the Conservative Government at the UK level?

Thank you, Minister, for your response. We know that, in the last half an hour, as you've said, six health boards across Wales out of the seven have responded to the result of the RCN strike ballot, and strikes will take place in those health board areas.

I have to say, Minister, I'm disappointed by your response, trying to deflect away from your responsibility. This is a Labour-run NHS in Wales, this is your responsibility, and it's for you to solve this problem. And I'm disappointed by your answer this afternoon. We know that, in Wales, a fifth of the population are waiting on an NHS waiting list, 60,000 of those waiting for over two years, the longest ambulance red-calls responses on record, and the worst accident and emergency waiting times in Britain. So, the last thing that we need in Wales, and the people of Wales need, is for nurses to be striking. Now, I appreciate that solving this problem is difficult. I appreciate that—it is not easy. But it is your dispute to solve, Minister. It is the responsibility of this Labour Government here. I hope that every opportunity has been taken, every opportunity possible has been taken, to avoid getting to this point and stopping strike action. So, can I therefore ask you, Minister: can you tell me how many times you have met with the Royal College of Nursing to negotiate the proposed pay rise; what approach are you going to adopt to bring any strike action to a close; what effect do you believe that the strike action will have on those long waiting times for emergency and elective treatment, which I've just outlined; and, finally, what will the cost be, if any, in agency nurses to cover any striking action?


Thanks very much. Can I just be absolutely clear that, without additional funding from the UK Tory Government, it will be impossible, within the current health and social care budget, to provide the kind of inflation pay rise for the NHS without facing—

—some extremely difficult cuts that would have to be made elsewhere in the health budget. And that is an extremely difficult—. If he wants to give me some ideas of exactly where he thinks we should cut to pay for this, I'm all ears.

Now, I want to make clear that, in Wales, we work in social partnership. I meet very regularly with the RCN. We have a conversation, which is ongoing. We of course will continue, now we know the results of the ballot, to discuss what contingency planning we will need to put in place. We will not be using agency nursing to cover any shortfalls, because we respect the right to strike in Wales, and we understand that the nurses have not taken this action lightly and we appreciate the strength of feeling amongst members. I think this is the first statutory ballot on industrial action across the UK in the 106-year history of the Royal College of Nursing. Can I make it clear also that we would expect and we will continue to have conversations with the Royal College of Nursing in terms of the derogations that would happen at the time of the strike? In other words, we would expect emergency and cancer care to continue, for example, and we will be having those conversations in the forthcoming weeks.

Can I first of all register my support for all RCN members and the way they voted? Nobody wants to see industrial action taking place, and that includes, more than everyone, the nurses themselves. But the fact that this ballot took place in the first place tells us all we need to know about how nurses feel. Now, in driving a decade and more of public service cuts and real-time cuts to nurses' pay, the UK Government created a crisis. We can recruit into nursing, because, thankfully, we have enough people who care, but we can't hold on to nurses, because they feel undervalued. And whilst that's not all about financial rewards—we're still waiting for the extension of section 25B of the safe staffing levels legislation, for example—we simply have to show, through nurses' pay packets, that they really are valued. So, the UK Conservative Government should not have created this crisis; they should have undone the damage they themselves caused. And the Labour Welsh Government should have taken the opportunity, if not when the sun was shining—because it hasn't shone for some time—but at least before it disappeared behind the darkest of dark economic clouds we now face, to address the cuts in pay that have built up over time, and those other elements that have contributed to the unsustainability of nursing in Wales.

Now, pay, as I say, is just the tip of the iceberg—there are so many issues that need to be addressed—but nurses have taken a pay cut for the last 10 years. I understand that the Minister is still refusing to meet and negotiate pay with the RCN, but, I'm sorry, the need to negotiate has to be non-negotiable. Now, if Scotland can take the first step to prioritising their nurses by increasing their pay there by 7 per cent, why can't we? I agree entirely with the Minister that the Conservatives in UK Government have to take the blame for driving those cuts in public services, but there are actions that Labour can take here in Wales. When are we going to take the action that the Scottish Government have taken in Scotland?

Thanks very much. Can I be clear that we have been recruiting to the workforce in Wales, in terms of nurses, for several years? We've seen a 69 per cent increase in the number of nurse training places in Wales since 2016. The challenge, as you mentioned, is retention, and we understand that. These nurses have been under incredible pressure, in particular during COVID. We understand that that pressure has been unrelenting, and we also understand that they're heading into a very difficult winter. Those conversations will continue.

We have conversations regularly with the Royal College of Nursing, but I've got to be absolutely clear that there is no money left in the NHS budget. So, if we're going to find this money, we would have to cut it from the services that we give to the public in Wales, and, as you've all pointed out, there are many people waiting for operations in Wales as we speak. So, we're going to have to make some pretty tough choices here.

I know that Plaid Cymru, for example, are very keen for us to honour the commitment to pay the real living wage to care workers. Again, we'll have to find that money from somewhere else. So, let's be absolutely clear that taking political decisions is about determining what your political priorities are. It's very, very difficult when you have a limited funding pot that has been brought about and is going to get substantially worse because of the chaos the Tory Government has inflicted on us in recent weeks.


What we need to see is the Welsh Government taking responsibility for nurses' pay and stop passing the buck onto Westminster whenever the going gets tough. You slice the pie at the end of the day, Minister, and you have full control over this matter. The Scottish Government have put forward a pay offer that will see nurses in the country given an uplift of £2,205, with the health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, saying that the new deal for the 2022-23 pay cycle would reflect the hard work of NHS staff and

'will go a long way to help them through the cost of living crisis.' 

Now, I don't agree with the political make-up of the Scottish Government, but at least what they have shown is some guts and some leadership in dealing with nurses' pay, which has prevented strike action by the RCN up in Scotland. Are you happy to stand here this afternoon as a Labour Minister, in the shadow of Nye Bevan, and preside over the first nursing strike this country has ever seen, all because this Government can't get its act together? We are heading into winter with all the associated pressures, and in a situation, for the first time ever, that our vital front-line NHS staff are likely to walk out. When are you going show some guts, take some responsibility and give our hard-working NHS workers the pay reward they deserve?

Russell George asked you in his question how many times you've met with the RCN, and you've refused to answer, health Minister. So, could you please answer that question on how many times you have met with the RCN? Thank you. 

Well, I won't be lectured by a Tory on how to deal with the NHS. I will not be lectured by a Tory. And the shadow of Nye Bevan—absolutely, I feel a real responsibility to make sure that we provide the best possible service for the people of Wales. And that does mean keeping our nursing friends and our colleagues safe in the NHS, and making sure that they are happy in their workplace. And we will continue to have those conversations. 

As I say, I meet regularly with the RCN, at least quarterly—at least quarterly—and, on top of that, at other times.

But can I just give you a little bit of background to how we've come here today, because this pay award that is on the table at the moment is implementing in full the NHS pay review body recommendations? And as part of the pay review body process, various parties, including the Welsh Government, but also including trade unions, have the ability to submit evidence for their consideration, and then the independent pay review board submits their proposal. And what we've done is to take on their recommendations, which has been the story for many, many years. If we step out of that, then we're opening up a whole new world that we need to consider what happens if that happens. So, we're not in that place, and, as I say, it's going to be very, very difficult for us to find any additional funding. 

Just a note to Gareth Davies—the pie has shrunk over the last 12 years, and that is why the whole of the public sector is struggling so badly in terms of its budgets, in terms of the resources it has to deliver the services. So, there is no more money, because the chances of the UK Government suddenly shaking this magic money tree and delivering us more money is absolutely infinitesimal. So, my question, Minister, is this: I appreciate that you've only just got this information, but what's really interesting about what you've just said is that Aneurin Bevan health board has not followed the other six health boards in voting for strike action, and I wondered if you've had any time to reflect on whether that is down to the fact that Aneurin Bevan is consistently sector-leading in the way it delivers services, and reshaping them to constantly being better able to meet people's needs, and whether this has enabled staff in Aneurin Bevan to not have such a stressful working existence, which has made them less likely to strike. 


Thanks very much, Jenny. Certainly, we're always keen to work in social partnership. Obviously, I haven't had a chance to digest what is happening in Aneurin Bevan and why they perhaps have taken a slightly different route. My understanding is that they didn't reach the threshold of the numbers of people to participate, but I haven't seen the exact breakdown, so I'll look forward to analysing those results and seeing what is going on there that's different from other areas. But, as I say, I am very keen to make sure that we continue the conversation with our trade union partners, and to make sure that, where we can, we can stand with the nurses, who certainly deserve a pay award. 

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. First of all, I want to declare the fact that a close family member is a member of the RCN, before I speak on this. We all know that nurses are under huge pressure. We also all know that nurses were at the front line and instrumental at the time of the pandemic, and that others went outside every Thursday evening to clap their endeavours to try and save us from the worst excesses and death rates, whilst, at the same time, putting themselves forward on the front line. The pay award, as the Minister has said, was delivered and agreed by the pay review body, and has been paid in full, but the point here is that that was done before the double act—Truss and Kwarteng—crashed the economy, and has now put huge strain on families and public services. We can't get away from that, and I can hear the silence over there now; they're not trying to.

So, I think what needs to happen here—. And we've got a statement coming forward, but it's being leaked and drip fed to us that the Tories intend to cut public expenditure. They've made that perfectly clear, and they're drip feeding. Now, if you're going to cut public expenditure, included in that, and maybe the Tories here need a lesson, will be the NHS. That includes it. [Interruption.] It isn't beside it; that is public service, that is public expenditure. So, what I hope the Tories will do here, because they're clearly, like all of us here, exercised by the fact that we want to reward our nurses and all other staff who work to protect us and deliver our services, what I hope that they will do is write to the UK Government before that budget cuts the public expenditure even further, so that we can deliver what we know we want to deliver to the people who are delivering those services for us. And I look forward to having copies of those letters, delivered by e-mail or on my desk; they can take their choice in which way they do that. Thank you.

Thanks very much. The cost-of-living crisis, as Joyce has pointed out, is hitting everybody, but it's hitting nurses as well as other people, and it's really depressing to hear of nurses going to foodbanks and other places. That is, really, a very difficult situation. And what we have seen, as you pointed out, is a huge increase in energy costs, a huge increase in food costs, and now, as you pointed out, thanks to Truss and Kwarteng, what we've got are increases in mortgages, and that's what's really challenging people. All of those nurses who own homes are now going to have to dig deeper, as a result of the chaos that Truss inflicted on our economy. And—can I just be clear—it's not just about this year, as Joyce has pointed out, we are expecting substantial cuts next year. Now, even if the NHS stays at the same level as it is at the moment, we know that, with an ageing population and with digital advances and things, we should be improving the NHS by about 2 per cent a year. That is going to be incredibly difficult in future. But, on top of that, what we're seeing is an erosion of the amount of money that is available for us to spend on the NHS. So, I've given you this example before, but I'm going to give it to you again: I had—


Can I ask Members to be quiet, please? I'd like to hear the answer from the Minister, and Members are getting rather loud in their backbench heckling.

I had £170 million to clear the backlog, and now I've had an additional bill for £207 million for the cost of energy. I've had a little bit of money to cover that from the UK Government, but nothing like what is needed. So, that means we have to find cuts from within the NHS. That is your doing. That is your doing, and you have not come to the rescue. Go and speak to your political masters up in London.

5. 90-second Statements

Thank you very much. Tabernacle Chapel in Morriston. This year marks 150 years since the opening of the independent Tabernacle chapel in Morriston. Those watching Dechrau Canu Dechrau Canmol on Sunday would have seen the chapel full and would have seen the splendour both inside and out. It was designed by the architect John Humphrey and was built at a cost of £15,000 in 1872, which is equivalent to over £1 million today. It is a big chapel.

I don't know how to say it in Welsh, but it is a building that shows Morriston and is seen as the chapel of Morriston.

Previously, it was the home of the world-famous Morriston Orpheus choir, and it now regularly hosts concerts for the Morriston women's choir, the Morriston rugby club choir and the Tabernacle choir.

It was built to replace Libanus, because that had become too small for the number of regular attendees. The design was copied several times elsewhere in Wales. The pulpit is the focal point, and below it is the sedd fawr, or elders’ pew, for the deacons. The Welsh inscription above the organ reads 'Addolwch yr Arglwydd mewn perffaith sancteiddrwydd', or 'Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness'.

Like any 150-year-old building, it is in need of constant repair. Swansea Council has recently been supporting the building, and has turned the vestry into a space available to the community. Like many chapels in Wales, it has an ageing and declining congregation. However, this is the landmark building in Morriston—psalm 96.

I have previously asked for the Tabernacle to be turned into a museum of religion in Wales. We cannot afford to lose this building.

I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate S4C, which has its headquarters in Carmarthen, on celebrating its fortieth birthday last week. The channel was established on 1 November 1982, and I'm sure that many of us will have fond memories of gathering around the television on that historic evening. I have some very fond memories of the launch.

Over the past few decades, the channel has created iconic programmes and characters that have stayed with generations of viewers: Superted, Sali Mali, C'mon Midffîld!, Cefn Gwlad, Pobol y Cwm, and of course memorable rugby and football matches.

The channel has developed not only to be an important part of the personal lives of so many of us, but its contribution to our journey towards becoming a confident, vibrant and inclusive nation has also been very notable indeed.

Whilst challenges remain, the channel has been remarkably successful in evolving as our viewing habits have changed so much. When S4C was launched, there were just four channels available, but now digital and various different platforms are available, with a choice of hundreds of different channels. But thanks to the innovation of staff and management, the channel has succeeded in reflecting twenty-first century Wales to viewers across the globe, ensuring that the Welsh language belongs to everyone in Wales.

In celebrating the 40 years, we must also recognise those who campaigned so valiantly for its establishment and who sacrificed so much for the benefit of the channel: Gwynfor Evans, the members of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, and ordinary people who understood the importance of having a Welsh language channel for the future of the Welsh language. Our debt to them is very great.

So, long live S4C and onwards to the next 40 years. Thank you.

6. Debate on the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee Report—'Raising the Bar: Securing the future of Hospitality, Tourism and Retail'

Item 6 is next, a debate on the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee report, 'Raising the Bar: Securing the future of Hospitality, Tourism and Retail'. I call on the Chair of the committee, Paul Davies, to move the motion.

Motion NDM8120 Paul Davies

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the report of the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee: 'Raising the Bar: Securing the future of Hospitality, Tourism and Retail' which was laid in the Table Office on 6 July 2022.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and I move the motion tabled in my name.

Dirprwy Lywydd, the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors are really at the heart of our nation. Their importance to supporting and enhancing life in Wales will be clear to everyone in this Chamber. Whether it's in the form of a bustling high street, a nice country pub, or a restaurant selling locally produced food cooked by expert chefs, the retail and hospitality industries are at the core of our communities across Wales.

As well as making use of and often enhancing our retail and hospitality offer, tourism allows us to show off the best of Wales to the rest of the world and provides 12 per cent of jobs in the Welsh workforce. In short, these industries are absolutely vital to foster, support and promote culture and the good life we all want to pursue.

The hospitality, tourism and retail industries were one of the first areas we identified to explore when we met to plan the new committee's priorities. Initially, we identified these sectors as we knew that they were facing big challenges as a result of the pandemic. Retail and hospitality were facing the huge challenge of recovery and adapting to the new post-pandemic world. Tourism was facing a slightly different challenge. The industry had also been hit hard by the pandemic, but was facing a situation of feast or famine. During the lockdown restrictions, tourism businesses, as with most retail and hospitality, had to close, but then as the UK started to reopen but international travel was still off the table, the industry found itself overwhelmed by demand.

We decided to look at these industries from two sides. One was the economic viability and sustainability of the sectors, particularly looking at COVID recovery and long-term viability. The second element we wanted to investigate was the workforce. This included improving the quality of jobs in the sector, addressing labour shortages, and looking generally at skills in the workforce. The committee is very grateful to those who gave evidence to our inquiry, in particular the anonymous individuals from across the country who completed our survey and gave us a real insight into what it's like working in these sectors.

Those participants told us about the long hours, low pay, job insecurity, lack of worker voice, and a lack of respect from customers and employers. However, they also told us that they enjoyed working in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors as it allowed them to work in their local community, gave them flexibility in their lives, and provided them with a social environment. One participant told us that, and I quote,

'Working in retail means that I don’t have to move out of my community for work. I can live in the area I grew up in where my language is used.'

Another told us that, and I quote,

'The flexibility generally allows me to work around other aspects of my life. It also allows me to work in my local community. So many jobs require you to commute or move, but I can stay and work in the community that I grew up in.'

And I think I speak for all on the committee when I say that it was quite moving to hear the participants speak so passionately about working in their local communities and where they grew up. Clearly, there is a great sense of pride in working in Wales's vibrant visitor economy, and that is why action is needed now to ensure that working in these sectors can offer secure and fulfilling careers for the future. 

Our report contains 18 recommendations across four broad areas: business support, the retail strategy, the visitor economy and labour market challenges. I'm pleased that all recommendations have been accepted either in full or in principle by the Welsh Government, and so I welcome the Minister's commitment to better supporting these sectors.

The report first considers business support and how the sector can be better supported post pandemic. Representatives from all three sectors made it clear that they believed the Welsh Government provided a comprehensive package of financial support measures to businesses over the course of the pandemic, and they recognise that some of that support was specifically targeted at the hospitality, tourism and retail industries. However, a number of areas for continued support and attention from Welsh Government were identified by witnesses, including business rate relief and reform, support to tackle cost-of-living increases, and better supply chain support and local procurement.

The next non-domestic rates revaluation will take effect on 1 April 2023, based on property values as at 1 April 2021. This should mean that the rateable values will reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and I'm pleased that in response to the committee's report the Welsh Government has committed to reviewing this and whether transitional support is needed or appropriate, going forward. Businesses in hospitality, tourism and retail made it clear that business rates are an increasingly unjust system, and so I hope the Minister will reflect on their message and use the levers he has to help ensure that any reform of the system results in a much more level playing field for businesses, going forward.

We also know that businesses are feeling pressured by the rising cost of living. The impact of the war in Ukraine, supply-chain issues, rising inflation and the soaring cost of energy, fuel and food have all contributed to the rising cost of living, and that's having a real impact on Welsh businesses. As our report makes clear, sectors that rely on households' discretionary spending on non-essential goods and services are being increasingly squeezed, and workers and businesses owners already badly affected by the pandemic face increased mental health strain. Indeed, businesses operating in more rural areas in particular are disproportionately affected by increased energy and fuel costs to run their business and access services, as well as facing greater skills shortages.

In light of this, the committee has recommended that the Minister should set out whether hospitality, tourism and retail businesses can be given additional flexibility in repaying loans to Welsh Government or the Development Bank of Wales in light of the continuing financial pressures they face. In addition to that, the committee has also recommended that the Minister for Economy should consider what additional support for capital investment can be provided to the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I'm particularly pleased that these two recommendations have been accepted by the Minister, because in accepting them, the Welsh Government shows us that it's listening to these sectors and that it's committed to reviewing the support it can offer to businesses as part of in-year capital budget monitoring and the annual budget-setting process. 

The committee's report also considered the long-awaited strategy for the Welsh retail sector. The strategy was published in June and the committee now looks forward to seeing the promised delivery plan, which the Minister says will take account of evidence to this committee inquiry. It's vital that we all better understand how any measures and activity will be resourced to meet needs identified by the retail forum, and the extent to which these will be met from existing or new funding. And the committee will certainly be monitoring this area further in due course. 

The committee also considered the Welsh Government's approach to the visitor economy, and Members will be aware that the Welsh Government is currently consulting on the introduction of a visitor levy. This comes alongside recent regulations that have been set in place to increase the number of days that self-catering accommodation must be let each year in order to qualify for business rates rather than paying council tax, rising from 70 days to 182 days. I'd like to thank the Minister for his detailed explanation of the reasoning behind the changes in the Welsh Government's response to our report. The response sets out that these initiatives are being implemented to increase vibrancy, encourage more usage of properties and to ensure that tourism pays its way.

The committee heard a lot of concern, however, about these changes and in particular the introduction of the levy. We heard evidence that where tourism taxes work, there tends to be a lower VAT rate for tourism and hospitality than we have in Wales and that a visitor levy was the wrong tax at the wrong time. Therefore, I’m pleased to see the Welsh Government has accepted the committee’s recommendations in this area, as it’s clear that more work needs to be done to take the industry along with Government on this specific issue.

Finally, I want to briefly touch on workers in these three industries. The Wales TUC told us that 70 per cent to 75 per cent of workers in tourism and hospitality earned below the real living wage, and that was supported in the feedback the committee received from our interviews. As I said at the start of my remarks, the committee heard that many people loved working in hospitality, retail and tourism, but we also heard that workers were worried about low wages, job security and poor terms and conditions. With tourism and hospitality employing so many Welsh workers, it is vital that the Government works hard to improve the quality of jobs in the sector via support for businesses to improve their offer and workers to improve their skills.

The Minister made it clear that the economic contract was important for encapsulating the Welsh Government’s approach to raising the bar for these sectors. However, the committee heard worrying evidence from unions, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Bevan Foundation that the economic contract was poorly understood and having—at best—limited impact. Therefore, it’s vital that the Welsh Government provides assurances that the economic contract is being better promoted and that there is sufficient monitoring and enforcement of the contract to ensure it’s having more of an impact on workers in these sectors. The Welsh Government must really do more to place value on workers in these sectors. These are workers embedded and serving in our local communities, and the Government must be proactive in ensuring that these sectors are better supported in the future.

On that note, I’d quickly like to repeat my thanks to everyone who engaged with the committee during our work on this important issue, and also thank the team who supported the committee to carry out this inquiry. I look forward to hearing Members’ views on this key issue of supporting our hospitality, tourism and retail industries and the people who work hard in them to make Wales a fantastic country to live in and visit. Thank you.


I want to thank the Chair and clerks for their work on this report, and I also want to give thanks for the work that happened through the engagement team, which was a great help as we gathered evidence from workers in the sectors of tourism, retail and hospitality, a workforce that often has difficulty in ensuring that its voice is heard outside of the workplace. I know that many are very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the committee’s work.

I’m going to focus on hospitality in particular. It’s a significant sector in itself, employing at its height 200,000 people in Wales, and it’s a sector that I have a good amount of experience in. However, much of this will be applicable to retail and tourism.

When we first undertook our inquiry into the sector, much of it focused on the effects the pandemic had on it as a sector, and the struggles the sector was having in dealing with the aftermath. I think it’s fair to say that much of that has been completely overtaken by the cost-of-living crisis. All of us get on a daily basis correspondence from businesses in our constituencies and regions who are struggling to stay open. VAT and business rates were highlighted in evidence to us. The Chair has referred to business rates already; VAT was also a particular sticking point of interest, given the desire by the sector not to revert back to the 20 per cent rate. I think the economy Minister was right in what he said: going back to the 20 per cent rate could damage the economy more than help it; more so now, given the cost-of-living crisis.

Thanks to the cost of living, we can now also add to that list of worries high inflation and energy costs. One hospitality business in my region, for example, saw their annual energy bill go from £15,000 to just shy of £70,000. Another more public one, Ristorante Vecchio in Bridgend, shared how their energy bill was now at £8,000 a month. The reality is we need serious intervention from Government now if many hospitality businesses are to survive beyond the winter.

Staffing was also an issue raised with us as a committee, and the real struggle the sector is having with recruitment. We heard from the sector, who were ready to admit that there were long-standing issues that needed to be addressed—such as wages, job security and work-life balance—as a starting point. But there was also a very keen desire to professionalise the sector as well, to show new entrants that there is a progression pathway, as well as training, something highlighted consistently as a desire from the evidence collected from workers. Fundamentally, this is needed, because I would hope it would lead to a change in culture and in how people treat hospitality workers as a whole. The amount of times customers thought it was okay to talk down and patronise me and my colleagues are uncountable; it was an hourly occurrence, if not a by-the-minute one.

I'll always remember one interaction I had. A couple came up to the bar that I was working on at the time. They ordered two espresso martinis. I could tell almost straight away that they were a specific type of people. It wasn't because of the drinks they ordered, because I do actually quite like an espresso martini, but I could tell it by the way they ordered the drinks. I started making the order. They went on about a holiday that they'd been on recently, holidaying on their friend's £1 million yacht, and they turned to me and said, 'I bet that's a bit of a culture shock for you, isn't it?' I think Members know me well enough to know what my reaction to that would have been, but that's an example I have. I have many more examples, but there are also millions more examples out there.

But that's why the culture needs to change, and that's why I was encouraged by the recognition of the sector that there was a need for that change as well. I've given one negative story about hospitality, but I will finish on a positive one, because it is a great sector to work in, again recognised in the evidence from workers. The experiences I had were great, and the friends I made are lifetime friends. As a sector, it's taught me so much about people, how to deal with people, especially how to deal with people with friends who have £1 million yachts. It certainly gave me the confidence and skills to be able to do what I'm doing now. It also taught me how to make a pretty good cocktail, which I'm sure we can agree is a very valuable life skill. But, in all seriousness, I'm glad to see the Welsh Government have accepted fully or at least in principle many of our recommendations, but action needs to follow. Much like the sector, I also see the Welsh Government as a vital partner in the sector's recovery and development.


I'd like to start my contribution today by echoing the remarks of colleagues thanking the clerking team and everyone who gave evidence that helped inform this inquiry. I think it's a really important piece of work. Around a third of the Welsh workforce is employed in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors. The latter alone, Wales's largest private sector employer, accounts for just over 6 per cent of our national gross value added. As such, these are incredibly important parts of our economy.

When we normally conduct an inquiry of this nature, I approach the piece of work with a spirit of optimism. We investigate a problem, get some really robust data and evidence, put forward non-partisan solutions, and these, hopefully, lead to remediation of the challenges identified. However, in this case, with this inquiry, the challenges have become much more severe, even in the five months since the publication of our report. I know that this will not be a surprise to colleagues in the Siambr, to those who gave evidence, or to businesses and people employed in the sectors.

The Caterer, which covers hospitality, conducted a survey of the sector in September. Eighty per cent of respondents said rising energy prices had wiped out their profits. Three out of five feared their business would not be there in a year's time. The majority of respondents had noted energy bills had risen by more than 100 per cent, with 22 per cent saying their costs had increased by a staggering 400 per cent. The chief executive of UKHospitality, at the start of this week, issued a stark warning about the sector's extreme vulnerability to energy price fluctuations, and accused energy company bosses of profiteering. Of course, hospitality and tourism are both sectors gravely affected by people having less money in their pockets due to the cost-of-living crisis.

Similarly, these pressures are also having a tremendous impact on workers in the sectors. USDAW trade union represents shop workers. I'm a member of USDAW, and in their recent survey of retail workers, it was revealed that half are struggling to get to work due to increased travel costs, one in four workers are missing meals every month to pay bills, and three in four report that their mental health is affected as a result of financial worries. There is a clear need for this committee to undertake further work in this area, examining the impact of the crisis and scrutinising the interventions of both the Welsh and UK Governments. I hope this is a topic to which we can return and, moreover, one where future inquiries can leave me feeling a little more optimistic for the future. 

Turning to the report's specific recommendations, I just want to comment on a few key ideas. Firstly, recommendation 5 is calling for additional support from the Welsh Government for capital investment. I'm pleased that the Welsh Government has accepted this recommendation. It's something I support. However, we must realise the impact of spending pressures on Welsh Government budgets since our report was written and since Welsh Government replied to our recommendations. That's not just the cost of living and rising prices, but the economic inadequacy of successive Tory Prime Ministers and their cliques. As the finance Minister reminded us just last month, over the current three-year spending period, the Welsh Government's budget will be worth up to £4 billion less in real terms than when it was set the year prior—£4 billion less. The challenge is stark.

Reading recommendations 9 through to 12, I'm pleased by the Welsh Government's engagement with our comments. A visitor levy is, in my opinion, a common-sense approach to generate the investment to enhance the tourism offer in an area. There's nothing new about the idea, and it's standard practice in many countries and territories. Recently, Edinburgh council became set to bring in a visitor levy, which will be used to support waste and cleansing services, and to deliver improvements to public areas and green spaces. A small charge won't deter visitors, and I don't agree with the naysayers who just want to run down all that Wales has to offer. 

Finally, the recommendations relating to fair work. I note the Welsh Government's response that it is, again, a matter of fact that the interventions we called for are largely a matter for UK Ministers. However, I look forward to Welsh Ministers using the tools that are at their disposal to make sure that workers in all these sectors are valued, appreciated and receive the fair day's pay they should be able to expect. Diolch.