Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

22/11/2022

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

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

Good afternoon and welcome to this afternoon's Plenary meeting. The first item on our agenda is questions to the First Minister, and I have received notification, under Standing Order 12.58, that the Trefnydd will answer questions on behalf of the First Minister. The first question is from Jayne Bryant. 

Newport Wafer Fab

1. What assessment has the First Minister made of the impact of the UK Government's decision to block the acquisition of Newport Wafer Fab by Nexperia BV? OQ58769

Thank you. Welsh Government welcomes the fact that the announcement has finally been made, which has provided some welcome clarity. The semiconductor cluster is vital to the Welsh economy, and we call again on the UK Government to publish its semiconductor strategy and invest in this significantly important sector as a matter of urgency.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. The decision by the UK Government to stop the takeover by Nexperia due to national security issues understandably grabbed the headlines. However, what is being missed is the effect that this announcement has on the 500-plus strong, highly skilled and dedicated workforce. You'll know that, over the years, in different incarnations, the workforce have faced much uncertainty about the future of the site. The promise of Nexperia offers stability with further investment. The jobs are high-tech and, in recent times, well paid. What role has the Welsh Government had in that decision, and what discussions has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government following that decision? And can the Minister assure me, my constituents and the workforce from across the region that the Welsh Government will do all it can to ensure that these cutting-edge jobs, which are of national significance, are safeguarded?

Thank you. So, Newport boasts a globally significant semiconductor cluster, and the UK Government does have a responsibility to ensure that it's not held back as a result of this episode. And I know Jayne Bryant has always stood up for this very crucial sector in her constituency, and we're ambitious about the role it can play. I think the Biden administration really put a huge priority on this sector too, and I think there are many people who are very rightly frustrated at the UK Government's failure to prioritise the sector here in the UK. The Minister for Economy recently worked with KLA to unlock a major new investment in the cluster. That will support 750 new jobs in Newport, which further underscores the Welsh Government's commitment. And the Minister for Economy has written to Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, seeking an urgent meeting. As a Government, we don't have the expertise to assess the security issues at stake, but a UK semiconductor strategy should now be in place to provide a framework for decision making, with certainty for all levels of Government. 

I'd like to thank my colleague Jayne Bryant for raising this question. Minister, the decision of the UK Government to block the acquisition of the Newport Wafer Fab by Nexperia for reasons of national security has obviously caused great concern amongst the workforce about the safety of their jobs and the future of the company, which my colleague just mentioned. Judgment on issues of national security still remain with Ministers at Westminster, and rightly so. However, last Thursday, I, alongside the Minister for Economy, as you mentioned, wrote to the Secretary of State for business, Grant Shapps, asking for clarification of the Government's position and seeking to guarantee that he will do all that he can, in conjunction with the Welsh Government, to protect the jobs of the workforce. Will you, Minister, commit to cohesively work with the UK Government to support the workforce at Newport Wafer Fab to safeguard the future of the company, because Newport cannot afford to lose highly skilled, well-paid jobs in companies like this, going forward?

Absolutely, and you will have heard my initial answer to Jayne Bryant. And, as I mentioned, the Minister for Economy has written to the BEIS Secretary of State to seek an urgent meeting. I think that letter only went either yesterday or today. So, I would hope—and if you've got any influence—and I would suggest it is an urgent meeting to discuss this, going forward. I said in my original answer that we've been waiting a long time for a response from the UK Government, and we're very pleased that they now seem to have a bit of urgency around this matter. 

Minister, I have also been contacted by Islwyn constituents who work for Nexperia, who are very deeply concerned about their job security following the decision of the UK Government. In a letter to the UK Government's business secretary, Grant Shapps, the Nexperia staff association stated that the UK Government had cast a dark cloud over south Wales. Minister, tomorrow, the staff association will travel to Westminster with Ruth Jones, Member of Parliament for Newport West, to present those concerns. So, what can the Welsh Government do to safeguard the cutting-edge cluster of semiconductor companies in the Gwent region, so vital to the south-east Wales economy? Are there plans to seek urgent face-to-face talks with UK Government counterparts to quickly agree a way forward and ensure that not a single highly skilled job is jeopardised? Also, would you and the economy Minister be willing to meet with me and other Gwent colleagues to address our constituents' serious concerns?

13:35

So, as I've already mentioned, the Minister for Economy has written, asking for a face-to-face meeting with the BEIS Secretary of State, and I'm sure, once he's had that urgent meeting, he'll update local Members on the latest developments on this very important issue. I think one of the best things the Welsh Government can do is to continue to really put some pressure on the UK Government to publish its semiconductor strategy urgently, because we know that would then not only secure jobs that we're talking about now, in Newport West, but also attract more high-tech businesses into Wales, and also into the UK, for that matter.

Additional Funding for Schools

2. Will the additional funding provided to schools in England by the UK Government be matched by the Welsh Government for schools in Wales? OQ58767

We continue to face very difficult choices as we prepare our draft budget 2023-24. However, as we have stated, we will maintain our focus on front-line public services. As shown by recent analysis from HM Treasury, spending per person on education in Wales was 17 per cent higher than in England in 2021-22. We will provide further details in our 2023-24 draft budget.

Minister, last week, the UK Government's autumn statement announced an increase in funding for education, which would equate to roughly £200 million extra for education in Wales if we were to do the same, with Welsh Government, of course, receiving an extra £1.2 billion in additional funding, overall, over the two years. Minister, it's now imperative, with all the extra pressures on our schools, that this Welsh Government ensures that any additional funding for future budgets that's being provided for schools in England by the UK Government will be matched in Wales, to go to our schools, whose budgets desperately need it. Can the Welsh Government today give that reassurance and commitment to headteachers and schools up and down Wales?

So, I think I'll take the opportunity very early in this question session to say the additional funding that the Welsh Government has been given—£1.2 billion over the next two years—will not fill the big gaps in our budget. I will make that really clear. We face some very difficult choices as Ministers as we bring forward next year's budget. We will continue to prioritise our budgets to shield the most vulnerable and maintain our commitment to create a stronger, fairer and greener Wales. We're going to have to very carefully consider the detail from last week's autumn statement, and I know the Minister for Finance and Local Government is clearly doing that as we go towards the publication of the draft budget next month. Our overall settlement over the three-year spending review period—so, that goes from 2022 to 2025—is still worth less in real terms than it was at the time of the spending review last year. So, we've got the amount of funding that you mentioned, the Minister for Finance and Local Government will be having, no doubt, bilaterals with every Minister as we bring forward next year's budget. The amount of funding set aside for school budgets is obviously for local authorities to determine, and Welsh Government, obviously, doesn't fund schools directly, as you know. And, again, those discussions around funding for local government will obviously have an impact on the education budget too.

Trefnydd, last week I visited Capcoch Primary School in Abercwmboi to see the wonderful and truly heart-warming work that the school does to try and combat the effects of child poverty. The school's proactive interventions, including a clothes exchange, a foodbank and its approach to things like school trips, have been praised by Estyn. The Resolution Foundation estimates that relative child poverty is projected to reach its highest level now since the 1990s. So, how is the Welsh Government supporting schools to support children, young people, their families and carers who are suffering due to the cost-of-living crisis that is imposed by this UK Tory Government?

Thank you. Well, we recognise that increasing energy costs, the cost-of-living crisis, are obviously putting increased pressure on our schools, on our local authorities, and other public services, as well as on so many of our constituents. The Welsh Government is committed to using every lever it can to help people across Wales with the cost-of-living crisis. You'll be aware our pupil development grant is the most generous across the United Kingdom. Year on year, we've extended the PDG, with funding for this year now at over £130 million. In recognition of the pressures facing families, earlier this year, the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language announced an additional one-off payment of £100 to every child or young person eligible for PDG access. And, again, that takes funding for that scheme up to over £23 million for this financial year. The Minister intends to update our statutory school uniform guidance and launch a consultation on proposed changes—sorry, that consultation is currently out.

13:40
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Leader of the house, one can't not be really upset by reading the reports in The Sunday Times about the activities of police officers in the Gwent force, and in particular in a week when we're highlighting domestic violence and in particular violence against women. It is traumatic, to say the least, that the accusations, shall we say, and the revelations within that article highlight such widespread abuse within the Gwent force. This morning, the daughter of the officer named in the report said that her and her mother are petrified of what they might do to them because they came forward with these messages that they found on her late father's phone. Do you have confidence that the Gwent police force can protect victims of domestic violence when the wife and daughter of someone who's been involved in domestic violence say such statements—that they are petrified of what they might do to them?

I think the most recent allegations in last Sunday's The Sunday Times report are extremely worrying. As a Government, and I'm sure everybody in this Chamber, we stand against corruption, misogyny, racism and homophobia in all forms. I haven't seen the comments made by the family as yet. As you know, policing is not devolved to Wales; it is a matter for the UK Government, it's a responsibility for the UK Government, but of course we work very closely with our policing partners here in Wales. I know, as a Government, certainly, the Minister for Social Justice has taken these reports very seriously and I'm sure, following on from the comments that you've referred to by the family, will want further reassurance. She has sought reassurance from both the chief constable and the Gwent police and crime commissioner and has met with both of them to discuss the allegations and has been reassured that Gwent Police are taking these allegations very seriously.

I can say it, leader of the house: I have no confidence in the senior leadership of the Gwent force, whether that be at officer level or whether that be at the police and crime commissioner level. These revelations are horrendous, to say the least. I commend the activities of the police force in alerting people in the area that 33 women a week face domestic violence for fear of their life or injury, but how on earth, with such accusations that have been put forward—real accusations that say exactly how it is—that people are petrified to go to individuals to seek help, can those 33 women, let alone the rest of the community in the Gwent area, seek that assurance? So, I have said I have no confidence in the ability of the senior management at Gwent Police to rectify the situation. I asked you in the first question do you have confidence.

We do have confidence. As I say, the Minister for Social Justice has met with both the chief constable and the PCC to discuss the concerns. As far as I know, she hasn't had a further meeting. You mentioned comments that the family had come forward with. It's really important that, obviously, people who do want to come forward with their concerns, if they have been a victim of any crime, do have confidence in the police force, and that's why it's so important that these allegations were dealt with immediately, which was certainly the case. I'm aware, for instance, the ex-Crown Prosecution Service head, Nazir Afzal, has called for a national inquiry on this issue. I know it's something that the Minister for Social Justice is, obviously, taking forward with Gwent Police, and I'm sure she will seek a further meeting in relation to the comments you referred to that have been made today by the family.

Has the Government formed a view on such an inquiry here in Wales? I know the economy Minister last week said that the Government was in the process of forming a view at his press conference. But, if you today, for example, live in the Gwent area and you go to the political control's website—i.e. the police and crime commissioner's website—there is no mention at all of what action is being taken to address these complaints. You can find a video that talks of ChuChu TV Police collecting hens that are causing problems in the area, but you can't find anything out about these accusations that have been levelled against Gwent Police force. I go back to my point: this is about confidence and addressing some of the most serious accusations that could possibly be levelled at a police force, and its capability to deal with the most vulnerable in our society. Do you, like me, agree that the police and crime commissioner should look in the mirror and ask is he the best person to sort this problem out in the Gwent Police force area?

13:45

Your reference to the website, I think, is incredibly concerning, and obviously the Minister for Social Justice is in her place, and I will ask her to make some specific enquiries in relation to that. Around the view of whether a national inquiry is needed, obviously policing is a reserved matter for the UK Government, and it's really for them to decide, if they think an inquiry should take place. 

Diolch, Llywydd. The Royal College of Nursing has paused the formal announcement of strike action in Scotland, because the Scottish Government has reopened pay negotiations. Why are you, so far, refusing to do the same? Last week, the First Minister suggested it would be wrong to talk to the RCN while other unions are also balloting, so can we expect that, when the ballot results for those five other health unions are announced in the next two weeks, you will reopen negotiations then? The First Minister asked us in Plaid Cymru where the money could come from for an enhanced pay offer this year. Well, can I suggest two potential sources? One is the current spending that is unallocated, and the latest published figure for that, in June, was £152 million; the other is the reserve, which stood at £92 million. Can you perhaps update us on where those figures are now, and why they can't be used as a source of funding for a revised pay offer?

I'll pick up your latter point about unallocated funding and reserves. I'm sure the leader of Plaid Cymru is very well aware of the financial position the UK Government is in. You heard me, in my earlier answers around the autumn statement, saying the very real gap that is still there—. Inflation is running at 11.1 per cent—11.1 per cent. Our budget is nowhere near to being able to cope with that figure.

In relation to your specific question around the RCN, it's not just the RCN that has balloted; it's not just other health unions that have balloted. We know there are postal workers on strike, we know there are rail workers, again, on strike, barristers are on strike, I think university lecturers—. It is right across our public sector and, unfortunately, our current financial settlement falls short by a huge amount of what really is needed to meet the very significant challenges that are faced by our public services and workers across Wales.

I'd be grateful if you could address the specific question: whether you have money in the Welsh reserve, and whether you have unallocated spending available to you.

Now, Keir Starmer says he wants the NHS to rely less on overseas doctors and nurses and wants to break Britain's immigration dependency. Does this kind of rhetoric concern you? When the Tory peer Dido Harding suggested, last year, ending NHS reliance on overseas staff, Eluned Morgan said this: 

'We should be celebrating these people who’ve helped us through the pandemic, rather than looking like we want to shut the door on these people who’ve really stepped up at our time of need.'

So, does the Welsh Government only criticise inflammatory dog-whistle politics when it's a Conservative to blame? And isn't the real dependency in the NHS that on agency staff spending, which rose to £133 million last year for nurses alone, which is effectively privatisation by the back door? Setting a ceiling on agency staff spend this winter would give you another means of giving NHS staff, wherever they're from, the decent pay rise they deserve.

I don't have the figures to hand that you ask me for around reserves and unallocated—. But all I can assure you is there's going to be very little left in reserves or unallocated funding by the end of this financial year, because of the gaps that we have in our settlement from the UK Government.

I haven't seen Keir Starmer's either article or statement. However, what I will say is: as an NHS here in Wales, we certainly do rely on people from overseas to support not just our health service, but also social care. And a lot of the real problems that we have in social care now are because so many—and you can take this back to leaving the European Union—of our social care staff left the country. Many of them were EU nationals, and others. I know in my own constituency, in Wrexham, we have a significant number of Filipinos who support us in our social care sector. So, we do rely on people from overseas to help support our public services—and in other areas. You only have to look within the agricultural sector. I know our farmers, again, rely on migrant workers.

13:50

If so, why is Keir Starmer talking about making Brexit work rather than taking us back into the single market?

Now, if we can turn to Qatar, you will have seen the reports that Welsh fans, including former Wales captain, Laura McAllister, were refused entry into the stadium last night for wearing rainbow hats and T-shirts. You will also have read FIFAs refusal to rule out a sporting sanction for players wearing a One Love armband. Is it not homophobia that FIFA should be showing the red card to, and it shouldn't be up to players to be doing this for them? Do you think there's an opportunity around the Wales versus England game to send a powerful message, possibly involving officials of the two associations, but also the Minister for Economy wearing the One Love armband or another rainbow symbol, not only in the stadium but also in official meetings, as the representative of everyone in Wales and also of our universal values of equality without exception, to which the whole Welsh nation and the Welsh team subscribe?

Absolutely. It was an outrageous last-minute u-turn by FIFA. It was a very different proposition to what they had said they would do. I think the initial one was that they would fine the football association, and I think certainly the European football associations that had signed up to that sort of accepted that, if you like. Sporting sanctions are very, very different, aren't they? If Gareth Bale had been booked and then he was booked again, he wouldn't have been on the pitch to take the penalty, for instance, so you can see the impact it would have had. But, FIFA, it was just absolutely outrageous. It would have been such a simple but powerful statement, I think. And you're quite right, we saw one of our own ambassadors, Laura McAllister, being asked to take off her hat. I know somebody in Qatar last night who was asked to take their rainbow laces out of their trainers. It's completely and utterly unacceptable, and I know we have been in dialogue with the embassy in Doha, trying to seek some urgent clarification that rainbow bucket hats, laces or T-shirts are not banned from stadia, and I very much hope we won't see a repeat of that. I absolutely take on board what you're saying about the Wales-England match next week and how we can make that powerful statement that, for us, this is a really, really important matter. I just think FIFA missed such an opportunity and they've caused so much hurt and distress to so many people.

Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the effectiveness of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016? OQ58729

There have been some tangible benefits of introducing the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016, including increased funding and a strengthened nursing voice from ward to board level. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing global shortage of nursing staff have inevitably proved a challenge to the health boards' implementation of the Act.

Thank you. Trefnydd, as we all know, section 25A of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016 does place a duty on local health boards to have sufficient nurses to allow the nurses time to care sensitively for patients wherever nursing services are provided or commissioned. Registered nurse vacancies in Betsi board stood at 736.5 in August this year, up from 541 in November 2020. Now, whilst the staffing level can be achieved in some wards, often this is made up of nurses who are permanent, bank or agency staff. Many agency staff are unable to fulfil certain roles, even though they may be on a relevant band. For example, being able to carry out intravenous work on a patient. This, then, results in other nurses having to do more work to ensure correct patient safety. This is a significant issue. Certainly, in the three hospitals, the larger hospitals, that serve my constituency, getting the right number of nurses on a ward does take precedence over the right nurses with the right training. So, what assurance can you provide that patient safety is not being compromised as a result of these massive nursing shortages that we face? And how many incidents of 'never events'—and that's a term used in the health fraternity—and how many other reportable safety incidents have occurred due to these immense nursing shortages? Diolch.

13:55

I'm afraid I don't have an answer to your last question about never events. I would ask you to write to the Minister for Health and Social Services in relation to that.

As I said in my opening answer to you, there is a global shortage of nursing staff; this isn't just unique to Wales or the UK. We are working very hard to ensure that we have as many health service staff as possible across our health boards, and we have seen an increase, certainly, in the NHS workforce. It's now at record levels in some areas. The full-time equivalent of all-staff figure is 88,638 right across Wales, which is 12 per cent higher than it was three years ago.

Trefnydd, I recently visited the new health education innovation centre at Wrexham Glyndŵr University, where they have now expanded to offer nursing and allied health degrees. This opens up a world of opportunities for students to become nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists, speech therapists—it's fantastic, the offer now—and also for existing health employees to retrain and reskill with the latest technology and wonderful facilities. It's proving really popular, and they're going to do an extra intake in January.

First Minister, I know how rewarding a career in nursing can be, and I'd like to say that my nurse has just made a career change to study to become a mental health nurse there, and is really enjoying the course. Will you help promote nursing as a career, and ensure that the Welsh Government continues to do all it can to support people into a career in the health services? Also, the bursary is really welcomed in Wales. Thank you.

Thank you. I'm obviously—as it's in my constituency—very well aware of the new health education innovation quarter at Glyndŵr university and I think it's really important. We have similar provision down in Swansea, so it's great to have it in north Wales as well, because we do know, don't we, that where people train, they often stay in that area. So, that will obviously help with retention and bringing in staff to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board as well, I would have thought. Obviously, as a Government, we're very keen to promote nursing as a career; it's a very rewarding career, and we will continue to do all we can to promote it.

Flooding Support

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for communities who experience flooding in South Wales West? OQ58741

Thank you. Our funding objectives to reduce flood risk to communities are set out in our national flood strategy and the programme for government. We are providing £36.4 million of ongoing grant funding for flood alleviation schemes from design to construction work within the South Wales West region.

Diolch. Three weeks ago, heavy rainfall overwhelmed drains and culverts in a number of communities in my region and I saw the effect of this first-hand, both in the Swansea valley and the following day in the Melincryddan area of Neath, and this is the third time in recent years that the Melyn has suffered from serious flooding. It was heartbreaking to speak with residents who expressed their sadness, frustration and anxiety at once again seeing their homes flooded and many possessions ruined.

Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council received funding from the Welsh Government for a £100,000 new flood-alleviation scheme at St Catherines Close in the Melyn, under the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy. As it failed just six months after the new culvert was completed, what assessment was carried out as to the effectiveness of Welsh Government investment in this scheme? And also, will there be emergency support provided by the Government to help the council with the cost of the clean-up and to make the necessary improvements to the flood prevention works, and also to fund discretionary support payments for affected households? And for local businesses that have been devastated once again, who have no access to Flood Re, will there be any help for them, for those who cannot now get insurance, and business flood relief grant payments made available by Welsh Government, as was the case after storms Bella and Christoph?

Thank you. With regard to your question around the assessment that Welsh Government did in relation to the effectiveness of investment in the scheme, funding for a new trash screen was provided to the local authority through our small-scale schemes fund to Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council. They provided detailed proposals for a significant redesign of that existing trash screen, and officials were content with the risk management authority's proposed improvement works, and what that did was seek to make the grid more efficient and, therefore, safer to operate. Regrettably, in this instance—and I completely hear what you're saying about your constituents; it's just a dreadful experience to go through, flooding of your home—the culvert was still overwhelmed due to the magnitude of the storm event. Ultimately, flood schemes can only manage risk, and extreme events can still cause flooding. I know the local authority are in the process of preparing an outline business case to address the wider flood risk associated with the Cryddan brook, and the Minister is expecting those proposals to inform the local authority's section 19 report investigations into the event that you've referred to.

In relation to emergency support, where appropriate, local authorities are able to make applications for financial support under our emergency financial assistance scheme. That would assist with the financial burden of providing relief and carrying out immediate work to manage the impact of an emergency situation.

Regarding business flood relief grant payments, Business Wales does provide businesses with a single point of contact, so they could have a look at that to see if there is anything further available.

14:00

Trefnydd, in your initial answer, you mentioned the importance of reducing the risk of floods in the first place, so I wanted to draw your attention to the flood defences at Newton beach in Porthcawl. Residents living on Beach Road there have contacted me, worried about Natural Resources Wales's shoreline management plan, which says, and I quote:

'the short term policy is to hold the line, through maintaining the existing defences, until they reach the end of their effective life. Given the medium and long term policy, no defence improvements would be undertaken, therefore there will be an increased risk of flooding to the residential properties and assets inshore.'

In other words, the policy here is not to improve the sea defences at all, which NRW's own report concedes will significantly increase the likelihood of flooding in the area, which you can imagine causes a huge deal of concern to local people with their homes located there. Surely it's better that we take preventative action to defend against flooding, rather than reacting to a situation when it becomes too late. So, can I ask Welsh Government whether you'll liaise with Natural Resources Wales and the local council to come up with a plan that doesn't rely on people's homes being flooded?

I absolutely agree with you that it's far better for absolutely everybody involved to take a preventative approach to flooding, rather than always having to react. Clearly, as a Government, we have put significant funding into those preventative measures, with a large number of schemes right across the country, not just in south-west Wales. I did mention in my answer to Sioned Williams that flood schemes can only manage risk, and what our national flood strategy does is set out how we will manage that risk over the next decade. But I'm sure the Minister will certainly be very happy to take up the concerns that you raise with NRW and the local authority.

Guide Dogs

5. How is the Welsh Government working to combat access refusals experienced by guide dog owners? OQ58733

The Equality Act 2010 is clear: it is unlawful to refuse access to a disabled person with an assistance dog. The Equality and Human Rights Commission in Wales is responsible for adherence to the Act and we work with them to help ensure compliance.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Trefnydd, for that answer. Can I also extend my thanks to the Minister for Social Justice for her letter on 10 November to myself on this very matter? Members will be aware of the work of Guide Dogs Cymru, who are campaigning to end refusal of guide dogs entering businesses. When I met with them in the Senedd a few weeks ago, they told me about guide dog owners being asked to leave some well-known establishments, with particular recent examples of places like Tesco and Premier Inn. These businesses do operate here in Wales. I understand what you've said in your initial answer, Trefnydd, but can I ask you what the Welsh Government can do to send a strong message that, in Wales, even one refusal is unacceptable? How can we send that message to ensure that in our nation we have an open-doors policy for guide dogs?

Thank you. It's extremely disappointing to hear what you've just said, Jack Sargeant. That situation is completely unacceptable and, as I've already indicated, it's unlawful. People with assistance dogs are lawfully entitled to access retail premises—you mentioned a hotel, also—and should not be refused entry to premises. We are working with the Welsh Retail Consortium and the supermarket groups to raise awareness of the issue. I meet regularly with the supermarkets, and I'll be certainly very happy to take the issue up. What we really want to do—and I know the Minister for Social Justice is passionate about this—is raise awareness of the impact that people's actions have on such people who have these very difficult conditions and really need their guide dog to assist them with their everyday lives. We also work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to review compliance with the guidance and the regulations. I will, certainly, from my part, do that with the supermarkets, and I'm sure the Minister for Social Justice will take that up too. We also have the disability rights taskforce and the Welsh Government work to advance the rights of people with disabilities via this taskforce. 

14:05

I was fortunate to host the Guide Dogs event in the Senedd last month. As we've heard from our colleague Jack Sargeant, Guide Dogs research published last month showed that 81 per cent of guide dog owners responding to their survey had been illegally refused entry to a business or service because they were with their guide dog. They've launched what they've called the Open Doors campaign against illegal access refusals to educate the public and businesses and grow understanding and awareness of how access refusals impact guide dog owners.

But that's not the only barrier that people with guide dogs encounter. Guide Dogs Cymru are also still campaigning for safer streets, stating there are many schemes funded with Welsh Government active travel money where cycle routes are installed on footways without any clear delineation between the cycle lane and the pedestrian footpath. How will the Welsh Government therefore not only support Guide Dogs' Open Doors campaign, but also respond to their call for Welsh Government to introduce much more robust checks before funding is allocated to new active travel routes, to ensure that all new routes are safe and usable for everyone? 

Thank you. The Welsh Government fully supports the Guide Dogs Cymru Open Doors campaign, where we urge all retailers to fully comply with the law. It's horrific to hear you say that 81 per cent of guide dog owners who've been surveyed believe they've been refused entry—we've both just used the words 'illegal' and 'unlawful'. 

In relation to safer streets, I will certainly ask the Deputy Minister for Climate Change about the monitoring that the Welsh Government does in relation to this and the way that schemes in relation to active travel are assessed, and if he believes it's robust enough. 

The UK Government's Autumn Statement

6. What assessment has the First Minister made of how the UK Government's autumn statement will affect communities in Wales? OQ58765

9. What assessment has the First Minister made of the implications for Wales of the UK Chancellor's autumn statement? OQ58728

Thank you. Llywydd, I understand that you have given permission for questions 6 and 9 to be grouped.

Despite some modest additions to our settlement over the next two years, the autumn statement goes nowhere near the pressures we are facing. The reality is that we are still facing a real-terms cut in our budget, which will have a significant impact on communities and public services in Wales.

Thank you for that. Communities across Wales are already suffering. After 12 years of austerity, vital services are in no position to face further cuts. I think that honesty is crucial in politics, so it must be underlined clearly that it is the Government in Westminster that is at fault for the seriousness of this situation, and the fact that they deny this and instead blame the worldwide situation is a cause of great disappointment. In Wales, according to the Wales Governance Centre, your Government budget is facing a significant funding gap as a result of inflation, there's a decrease of 7 per cent in household disposal income, and energy bills have gone up again, as well as higher taxes. So, can you tell us, please, how you will seek to strike a balance between the need to maintain services with the need to support those people facing serious hardship? With such tight budgets, will you prioritise the most vulnerable as you put together your budget, to try to prevent as much suffering and as many deaths as possible?

Thank you. I think you make a really important point about transparency and where this fault lies. I quite agree with you. With the UK Government, we've had a decade of austerity, and now I think this is even worse than the austerity elements that they brought in over the last decade. The UK is in a deep recession, and household incomes are falling at an incredibly fast rate. What did the Chancellor do last week? He just presented us with an invoice for the UK Government's failure to manage the economy and public finances over the last 12 years. We have got the highest inflation in 40 years. We have got the highest tax burden in 70 years. This is so serious, and I think that it is absolutely important that that is communicated with our constituents.

The Minister for Finance and Local Government has repeatedly called on the UK Government to invest in public services. What the Chancellor said was that he wanted to provide support to the most vulnerable, but I think that there's a real concern that that's just not going to happen. That's why the Welsh Government will do all that it can. I mentioned in earlier answers that, obviously, we are looking at our draft budget, which will be published next month. We are really carefully considering the detail of the autumn statement, and I can assure everyone in this Chamber that, as a Welsh Government, we will continue to prioritise our budgets to shield the most vulnerable and maintain our commitment to that stronger, fairer, greener Wales.

14:10

Minister, my constituents are already struggling to afford their bills—not just people on low incomes but on middle incomes as well. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast last week, in response to the autumn statement, states that the next two years will see the biggest fall in household incomes in generations. More than half of households will be worse off after the autumn statement. British families will lose 7.1 per cent of their disposable income. This year, we will see the biggest fall in real disposable income per head since the late 1940s. Next year is not that much better; we will see the second largest fall on record. So, will the Welsh Government continue to urge the UK Government, in the strongest terms, to seriously tackle this cost-of-living and household income crisis, which is devastating people right across the UK, or, frankly, step aside and let a Labour Government that will tackle this get in place as soon as possible?

Yes, absolutely. I know that the Minister for Finance and Local Government will continue to press those points that you made. They are simply staggering numbers in that OBR report that you referred to. Real household disposable income per person will fall more than 7 per cent over the next two years, as you said, and that’s the biggest fall on record. Income is now going down to 2013 levels—nine years ago. I mentioned that we are already in a deep recession. The inflation shock that we have had since last month varies between different measures. Another shocking revelation that I saw was that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has stated that the UK is forecast to have the worst growth performance in the G20 over the next two years, with the exception of Russia. It’s just incredible. I know that the Minister will continue to have those discussions and, as I said, we will be looking very carefully at the details of the autumn statement as we prepare to bring our draft budget forward next month.

Of course, we will be debating the autumn statement a little later on, and I will have a contribution there, I hope. But it does include some very welcome support for communities, particularly given the current cost-of-living crisis, through policies such as the increase in the national living wage and the minimum wage, and an uplift to pensions and benefits. It's no surprise that we've heard no reference to those in the Chamber today so far.

In England, the statement will provide an additional £1 billion for the household support fund. This will mean that Wales will receive a Barnett share of that consequential funding, with some £158 million being made available to the devolved Government. In Wales, we have the discretionary assistance fund, which provides much needed help for people in times of financial difficulties. As you will appreciate, Minister, the current inflationary pressure and cost-of-living issues have meant that more people are at risk of suffering from financial difficulties. However, the discretionary assistance fund is currently only an option for people on certain benefits, meaning that those who need support may find themselves unable to access financial assistance. Will the Government consider using the Barnett consequentials from the household support fund announcement to further boost funding for the DAF, enabling the expansion of the eligibility criteria, so that more people can access the support that they need?  

Thank you. As I mentioned in earlier answers, the Minister for Finance and Local Government—obviously, the whole of the Welsh Government—will be looking very carefully at the detail of the funding that we were allocated last week, as we prepare to bring the draft budget forward.

In relation to the discretionary assistance fund, I agree with you—it's an excellent fund. The offices are actually based in my own constituency in Wrexham and I've listened in on calls on several occasions, and you can see how desperate people are. But I will say that the Chancellor missed some really good opportunities last week to help with people from low-income households. He could have abolished the benefit cap completely, along with the two-child limit, for instance. There are some really harsh Department for Work and Pensions policies that could have really been looked at. 

14:15

Good afternoon, Minister. 

Thanks also to Delyth for raising this issue.

I just really wanted to follow up on something you said in response to Delyth, which is about shielding the most vulnerable, and the commitment of the Welsh Government to do that in the light of what is in essence a really difficult budget decision from the Welsh Government. I wanted to raise the issue of child protection services and how under pressure they are. So I just wondered whether you could comment on the situation with regard to child protection, social workers and those services, which need to be well-funded in order to ensure that children are safe and protected. Could you just comment on that, particularly in light of what are, in essence, cuts imposed on us from Westminster? Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

I can't say anything specifically around how we will fund child protection services going forward. As I say, we will look in the whole at how we use the funding that was allocated to us last week, but I absolutely agree with you about targeting support to the most vulnerable and prioritising public services—that's an absolute necessity, and it's what as a Government we've always tried to do. For instance, we've invested significant funding in schemes over the last year to provide direct support to people, so the winter fuel support payment, for instance, and you heard me in an earlier answer talk about pupil deprivation grant access, and we've given additional funding there. Obviously, free school meals is another area where we're trying to help families with the cost of providing for their children who are going to school.

Can I ask you, Minister—? You're being very uncharitable, I think, about the UK Government's autumn statement. You know full well, all of you on those benches know full well, that the Welsh Government has currently got its largest budget ever. It's a record-breaking budget, and it's going to go up over the next two years. We had an autumn statement that protected the triple lock on pensions, that increased people's benefits at the rate of inflation, that protected the budget for our schools, and also, of course, invested more money into our national health service. Now, I know that your Government's record on funding the national health service is appalling—the only Government in the whole of the UK to have ever cut an NHS budget—but will you commit today to increasing the NHS budget in real terms as the UK Government is in England over the next two years?

I am not going to make any spending commitments today. You will have heard me say several times this afternoon that these will be decisions led by the Minister for Finance and Local Government, but taken across the whole of Government as we work towards publishing our draft budget next month.

I don't think I've been uncharitable at all. I think I've been very clear. I think what Delyth Jewell said before about being transparent is very important. I've just said how it is, and that is, our overall settlement over the three-year spending review period is worth less in real terms than it was at the time of the spending review last year. Now, that's a fact. You can say 'here we go'—that is a fact. We will receive, as you say, an additional £1.2 billion over the next two years—not this year, the next two years. But our overall budget in 2024-25 will be no higher—no higher—in real terms than in the current year, and our capital budget will be 8.1 per cent lower. Inflation, which is 11.1 per cent, has eroded our budget to very worrying levels, and of course that then has an impact on local authorities and it has an impact on our NHS. They're reporting significant shortfalls as a result of inflation, pay pressures, and, of course, the rising energy costs, and I'm afraid that the Chancellor's statement last week failed to address any of that. 

Now, I'm sure that your constituents will have heard your praise for the UK Government, and they can form their own opinion. 

14:20
Gilestone Farm

7. Has the Welsh Government considered any additional uses for the land at Gilestone Farm other than the proposed lease to the Green Man festival? OQ58744

All Welsh Government assets can be considered for delivery of any policy agenda. Gilestone farm is currently being managed appropriately to ensure that the asset is maintained whilst discussions on the long-term future of the site are concluded.

I'd like to thank the Minister for your answer. There is huge concern in my area about the £4.25 million purchase by the Welsh Government of Gilestone farm and the due diligence around that, and the potential future land use for that area. Currently, I'm aware that you're in discussions with the owners of the Green Man festival, but local people would like me to put an alternative solution to the Welsh Government of what that land could be used for, and would like you to take it very seriously.

South Powys is in need of an agricultural college because of the long travel times that people in my constituency have to go to get that provision. Welsh Government officials have previously told an organisation that there was no appropriate site for an agricultural college in south Powys, but now the Welsh Government has Gilestone farm, and I believe, and a lot of other people believe, that that would be a perfect place for an agricultural college. There's support for this from local people, local companies support it, and an education provider said that they would support it as well. And that means that that land could be used for farming and to help the next generations of young farmers. So, will the Welsh Government meet with me and others to take this proposal forward, because we all believe that that is a better use for that land, other than its use for a festival?  

You mentioned that there are ongoing discussions with Green Man, so if, at the conclusion of those discussions, it's decided not to proceed with the proposal, alternative policy objectives will be explored for the use of the site, or the site can be considered for sale on the open market. And that would be the time then to engage with Welsh Government. 

Public Services

8. How have the Welsh Government's spending priorities helped public services recover from the effects of the pandemic? OQ58746

Thank you. As set out in our 2022-23 budget, our priority has been to use every possible lever to deliver our ambitious programme for government, provide the foundations for our post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery, and to move forwards towards a stronger, fairer and a greener Wales. 

Thank you for your answer, Minister. The devastating effects of the pandemic are still, sadly, being felt by public services all across Wales. It would be reasonable to assume, therefore, that your Government will take every opportunity to assist public services to recover. However, a recent meeting of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee scrutinising the Welsh Government's accounts for 2020-21 found that there had been an underspend of £526 million. As a result, £155 million of funding allocated to Wales had to be returned to the Treasury. Every week in the Senedd, Minister, we hear about this Government blaming their failures on a lack of funding from Westminster, and yet, it is apparent that you're not spending the money that you already have been given. So, do you agree, Minister, that this is scandalous that you returned £155 million to the Treasury, when our hospitals, schools and local councils in Wales are under severe financial pressure? Thank you.

I don't have the details of that £155 million, so I don't know whether it could be spent on schools or health. There are different budgets, there are different rules and regulations. I'm afraid I don't have the detail to agree with your comments. 

2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

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

Trefnydd, can I call for a statement from the Minister with responsibility for education in relation to student support during the current cost-of-living pressures? I have raised this in the past, but I haven't seen a statement on the subject. As you'll know, students at the moment—all students—are entitled to a grant of £1,000 per year towards their living costs. That is an amount that has been fixed since 2017, never increased with inflation, and, effectively, it's been cut in real terms now by more than 17 per cent. In addition to that, the household income thresholds at which people have to make a contribution towards their living costs and tuition has remained at £18,370, and hasn't increased in line with inflation, which means that many more people now are having to fork out for a family member who might be enjoying the privilege of higher education. Can you tell me—? It is time that these levels were increased. I think that this is an appropriate time to do so, given the cost-of-living pressures, and I would like a statement from the Minister on this subject.

14:25

Thank you. We do have the most progressive student support in the UK, and the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language will be making a statement very shortly.

Trefnydd, the Cymru team have succeeded in uniting our nation, and newspapers across the world are telling our story. Even The Washington Post has run an article on the team and the inimitable Dafydd Iwan's 'Yma o Hyd'. It is, though, a testament of shame to FIFA that the tournament is happening in Qatar. I'm proud that the Cymru team have been so open in sharing Wales's values with the world, but the Government here must help ensure that the world cup's legacy in Wales is a positive one. So, I'd like a statement, please, outlining how that will happen. How can we build on the phenomenal success of 'Yma o Hyd' in opening up access and engagement with Cymraeg? How can our sporting success translate into the grass-roots game, and how can we ensure that Wales becomes an even more unashamedly inclusive, equal nation, and loudly proud of being so after this tournament? How can we ensure that hatred will be met with love and with pride for everyone living in Wales? I raise this because constituents have written to me to express their concern.

Thank you, and it is certainly an amazing opportunity, isn't it? I've waited all my life—and I'm a lot older than you—to see Wales in a world cup final. And, you know, it's a global audience—5 billion people—so it is indeed a massive opportunity. And we discussed, in First Minister's questions, the outrageous last-minute u-turn by FIFA in relation to the OneLove armband. But I think it is a massive opportunity for us, and that's why, as a Government, the First Minister is currently on his way back from Qatar, where I know he's had a series of meetings in relation to what we can do from a Welsh Government, to encourage businesses to come here, for instance. The Minister for Economy will be in Qatar next week, and I'm sure that both the First Minister and the Minister for Economy will provide us with written statements on the trips that they've had and the people they have met with, as well as making sure that we use that global platform in a way that we haven't had for many, many years by our fantastic Welsh men's football team.

Trefnydd, can I ask for your annual update on the Welsh Government's TB eradication programme, please? This was last held on 16 November last year and, as you'll be aware, bovine TB has been a continuous negative thread throughout Welsh agriculture over the last decade or so, causing immense pain and heartache to the farmers of Wales. With the winter fair—the Royal Welsh winter fair—next week, today would've been a good and ideal opportunity to bring this annual statement to the floor of this Chamber, so that we as Members, and the wider farming community, can scrutinise you and your Government's record on TB eradication. Therefore, can I ask that your annual TB eradication programme is brought forward before the Christmas recess, so that it can remain annual?

Thank you. As you stated, my last one was in November last year, and I had hoped to be able to do it in November this year. I have to say, there are a couple of reasons why I haven't been able to bring it forward this week. One of the main reasons—and I'm sure that you'll absolutely appreciate it—is that it's the same officials working on TB eradication who are having to deal with the outbreak in relation to avian influenza, so that's put a lot of pressure on my officials. I'm also awaiting—as you know, I set up a particular advisory group in relation to TB—but I do want to—. It's not just an annual TB eradication statement I wanted to make; I wanted to refresh the programme as well, so it's a bigger piece of work. But I want to assure you that I will bring it forward as soon as I can.

Trefnydd, could I request a written or oral statement, whichever one is more appropriate, on the progress of Big Bocs Bwyd and how it interacts with local community organisations also providing food for those who need it? A number of organisations have approached me, expressing some concern that there is a lack of co-ordination, which has ultimately led to multiple organisations competing for the same funding and food within the same area. Ultimately, this is to the detriment of the shared goal of supporting our communities, and I'm sure that you would agree that ensuring better co-ordination will better serve the very people who this support is intended to help.

14:30

Yes, absolutely, I will speak to the Minister for Social Justice and she if she'll bring forward a written statement. I know she's done a huge amount of work, and certainly, we're aware of, obviously, Big Bocs Bwyd. And I think it's really important we don't have duplication, so that better co-ordination of organisations is obviously needed, but I will ask the Minister for Social Justice to bring forward a written statement. 

Minister, last week, I asked for an update from the health Minister on the cancer summit, which took place over a month ago. The lack of commitment from the Government to provide a comprehensive update to the Senedd caused me some concern. The cancer summit resolved that, where possible, health boards should implement straight-to-test pathways and establish one-stop diagnostic clinics. This will reduce the need for out-patient clinics, and reduce the length of time in the diagnostic pathways. Following what has been described as a significant, unprecedented summit, what urgent action and activity has been undertaken, and in what ways are health boards changing their ways of working to meet the commitments outlined, and will the Minister now schedule a statement in Plenary?

Thank you. Well, I am aware there were a number of actions that came out of the cancer summit that the Minister for Health and Social Services is currently considering, but I'm sure, once that piece of work has been done, the Minister will bring forward a written statement. 

Trefnydd, I'd like to request a statement, please, with an update from the Minister for health on changes to the Welsh ambulance service and what this means in practice for patients. Over the weekend, I was contacted by a number of constituents concerned by the changes now being implemented to the Welsh ambulance service, with rapid response vehicles no longer operating from Gelli in Rhondda. These are, of course, part of wider changes to the use of RRV services throughout Wales.

But, only last night, I was contacted by a constituent desperate for an ambulance for a relative who was over 80 years old and had fallen in the shower, breaking their ankle, leaving them in absolute agony. They rang for an ambulance at 2 p.m; this arrived at 12.30 a.m. in the early hours of this morning, with the person deteriorating, and it's uncertain of that person's outcomes at this point in time. Relatives have again been on the phone this morning asking is it now safe to ring for an ambulance when you cannot take a person to hospital yourselves, and connecting it to the changes in the RRV in Rhondda in particular, and affecting nearby areas. 

What assurances are we able to give patients that they will receive that urgent treatment, rather than being left in agony for hours?

Well, I am extremely concerned to hear about your constituent; nobody wants to ring an ambulance and feel that the ambulance won't respond. So, I can say we've brought forward 74 new ambulances, for instance; you referred to the age of an ambulance. So, there is that assurance and that confidence for constituents, and I know the Minister, just last week, met with the ambulance trust to talk about their performance response—their response performance—sorry, I'm getting my words the wrong way around. And I think it's safe to say it's not where it is, but the Minister is bringing forward a few initiatives—and I mentioned the new ambulances—to help improve the matter as a matter of urgency. 

I'd very much like a statement from the Minister for health and the Minister for social care on the number of unsafe discharges from hospital. I'll declare an interest at this point because this example I'm going to give now involves a very close 98-year-old family relative. 

Two weeks ago, this relative suffered as a result of a car accident and was taken into hospital, and suffered a broken shoulder and other mobility issues as a result of this accident. Yesterday, without any notice as such, that person was taken home at lunchtime yesterday by the ambulance. No care provision in place at all, and it was only when I was on my way here to Cardiff, just before 5 o'clock, that that person had been sat in a chair, obviously no access to food, drinks or the ability to go to the toilet. I phoned to be told the care package was kicking in the next day and that I had nothing to worry about. I then phoned the hospital, who could not tell me what care was going in. In short, I just phoned round as many people I knew last night, and we did manage to get some support in, at about 7.30 p.m. So, that individual had been sat in a chair for seven hours. I was advised last night that this was an unsafe discharge and that it wasn't rare, that this is happening on too frequent a basis—and this came from somebody working within that provision. Hence why I would be really grateful if the health Minister, and indeed the social care Minister, would be so kind as to give a statement. I sat here during the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, where this kind of thing was going to stop—health and social care was going to be more joined up. There is no joined-up thinking in, certainly, the unsafe discharge that affected my family relative. But, as somebody who represents a large number of elderly constituents, I want some guarantees that this won't happen again to either my constituent, or indeed any constituents of any of the Members sat here. Thank you.

14:35

Thank you. And again, I'm very concerned to hear of the experience of your family member. I think it is fair to say we do have real problems in social care—we spoke about those during First Minister's questions. And we have lost a huge number, a significant number, of social care workers, going forward, and we do need that flow from health to social care to improve. It's not unique to Wales. I know that's no comfort to your family member, but it is something that the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the Deputy Minister for Social Services, are working on.

We've heard already today, of course, many references to Qatar's wholly unacceptable record on human rights, reflected in the way that many football supporters have been treated in the last 24 hours. Human rights abuses perpetrated by the Iranian Government, of course, are ones that we must also highlight and condemn, and, given that Wales is playing Iran on Friday, and given now that Welsh footballers aren't able to make their own stand, it's up to all of us to make a stand on their behalf, and on behalf of the men, women and children in Iran who are being persecuted and killed by the abhorrent regime in that country. So, can I ask that the Welsh Government, before the match on Friday, issues an unequivocal statement of condemnation of the Iranian Government for their human rights violations, for their systemic prosecution of minorities, and for their increased use of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and, of course, the death penalty? Will you, as a Welsh Government, make that stand?

Thank you. I thought the Iranian football team were incredibly brave in their comments and statements in their press conference following—I think it was following the match yesterday, or before. I will certainly speak with I think it would be the Minister for Social Justice regarding your request.

Could we have a statement, please, from the Minister for Economy on what financial support is available to businesses who find themselves in financial difficulty? There are relatively major employers now in contact with many of us talking about their concerns that they will have to make their workforce redundant over the next days and weeks. To date, there's been no real financial support provided by this Government. It appears that there isn't an understanding in Government of the gravity of the situation for many of these businesses. They don't need long-term advice, they need money—money to help them with their cash flow in the short term, and they don't know to whom they can turn. So, a statement of what support is available and where these people should turn to would be very useful for businesses in Wales at the moment. Thank you.

Well, I disagree profoundly, that you don't believe there's an understanding in the Welsh Government of the difficulties and the challenges that our businesses are facing—of course we do, and Business Wales is there to provide that support. But, as I've said several times in the past hour, our financial settlement doesn't allow us to give huge amounts of funding. But I absolutely recognise the point you're making, and certainly, in relation to energy costs, I think there's a significant number of businesses that have contacted the Minister for Economy. So, if there's anything further he can do, that support will be available via Business Wales.

14:40

Could I ask for a statement from the Minister for Finance and Local Government this afternoon regarding the second home and holiday lets levy in Denbighshire specifically? I've been contacted by many people in my constituency recently who are, quite frankly, aghast at the 50 per cent additional council tax levy on their properties and feel put off from investing in the area. They and I believe that the 182-day threshold is far too high and unrealistic of reality. In my brief time so far as a Senedd Member I've only come across one person in my constituency who made the threshold, on just one year only, in 2012, and you could argue that that was an abnormal summer, due to the hot weather, London Olympics and Euro 2012. So, could I have a statement from the Minister explaining what discussions she has had with Denbighshire County Council in regard to this levy and reassure me and my constituents that Denbighshire is open for business and that local people can feel safe in investing in their properties? Thank you.

I think the Minister for Finance and Local Government has been scrutinised many times on the policies that you refer to, so I don't think there's a need for a further statement.

May I make a request for a regular series of statements with regard to the work that is being done to strengthen and reopen Pont y Borth? I've written to the Deputy Minister today. We've heard that work is to start soon on the bridge. We've heard that the bridge will open with a weight restriction early in the new year. We hear that there are issues being considered to mitigate traffic. We hear about considerations with regard to support for business. But we need clear communication with people with regard to what exactly is happening and when. So, can I ask the Government to build into their timetable regular statements to communicate with those people who live on Anglesey and in the Menai area with regard to the nature of the work and the timetable of the work to move towards reopening the bridge, please?

I will certainly ask the Deputy Minister to provide an update before Christmas.

3. The Agricultural Holdings (Fee) Regulations 2022

You've been three for the price of one this afternoon. You've been the First Minister, you've been the Trefnydd, and now you're about to be the rural affairs Minister. I'll ask you to propose the regulations on agricultural payments—Lesley Griffiths.

Motion NDM8133 Lesley Griffiths

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Agricultural Holdings (Fee) Regulations 2022 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 25 October 2022.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Llywydd, and I wish to move this motion. This is a composite statutory instrument to increase the prescribed statutory fee that can be charged by a professional authority for the appointment of an independent arbitrator to resolve disputes or to make certain records in relation to agricultural tenancies governed by the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. The current fee of £115 has not been updated since 1996, and this no longer covers the cost of delivering the appointment service. The regulations will increase the fee to £195, in line with inflation, and the Senedd is asked to agree to the regulations.

I'd like to take the opportunity today just to raise a few concerns regarding the regulations laid before us. As the Minister explained, the fee that can be charged for the appointment of an independent arbitrator has not been updated since 1996, so it's proposed that it will rise from £115 to £195. While we're not talking about big bucks here, it's still a huge percentage increase, especially at a time of high input costs and inflation. So, I'd question if the timing is right. Tenant farmers are suffering because of rent increases as well as input costs for their businesses. Should this therefore not be delayed until after the current economic crisis, or indeed taper the increase? The Welsh Government have stated that they have consulted with members of the tenancy reform industry group, but is that consultation representative of the body of tenant farmers in Wales and, therefore, does it actually reflect the views of tenant farmers here?

On another note, the explanatory memorandum indicates that a regulatory impact assessment has not been prepared for this instrument as it increases the statutory fee in line with consumer price inflation. But we know that the incomes of many tenant farmers have not risen in line with inflation. I'd be interested therefore to hear whether we know how often professional arbitrators are used to resolve any disputes that may arise in relation to tenancy agreements in these instances in Wales. If so, what impact will the fee rise have on tenant farmers who require the services of an arbitrator? Although produced in the context of England, the recent Rock review report from the tenancy working group expresses concern about the way in which agents operate in general and how arbitration is in need of some oversight and reform. The report highlights the need for a commissioner or an ombudsman to oversee the operation of arbitration, and our view, therefore, would be that this should have been done before this announcement today, and I'd urge the Minister to look at establishing something along these lines as soon as possible.

Finally, in any decision to lay new regulations, we would want to be assured that the Welsh Government had taken into consideration the recommendations of the Bichard review on the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' royal charter, and in particular recommendation 3, to ensure that there is a separation between the RICS portfolio of commercial activities and its other, wider activities. Given these issues I have raised and the concerns expressed by some in the sector with regard to the fee increase and associated issues, we will be abstaining in the vote today. We'll be willing, however, to lend support to Government regulations once the concerns expressed have been adequately addressed. Diolch.

14:45

Thank you very much, and thank you, Mabon, for those questions. I do agree it is a significant increase, and hindsight's a wonderful thing, but it perhaps would have been better to have not waited quite so long to increase. I know back in—I think it was—2019, DEFRA increased the same fee in relation to their tenancy reform, and I think it was about £195 three years ago.FootnoteLink So, it's sort of in keeping, although they're probably looking at whether it should be increased again. So, I absolutely understand what you're saying about the increase, but, as I said in my opening remarks, it is equivalent to the rate of inflation since 1996 until now. A regulatory impact assessment wasn't prepared as the regulations make a minor technical amendment to increase the statutory fee. So, that was the reason why we didn't do that. You asked about the members of the tenancy reform industry group. I don't know if they cover absolutely every tenant farmer here in Wales's views, because I would imagine there are mixed views, but certainly the members of that group agreed that that level of fee should be applied for fairness and consistency. You asked me how many times that arbitration happened. I haven't got that figure in front of me, but I'd be very happy to write to you in relation to that.

I thank the Minister. The proposal therefore is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes, there is objection. Therefore, we will defer voting until voting time. 

Voting deferred until voting time.

4. Legislative Consent Motion on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Item 4 is next, which is the legislative consent motion on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, and I call on the Minister for the Constitution to move the motion—Mick Antoniw. 

Motion NDM8132 Vaughan Gething

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6 agrees that provisions in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in so far as they fall within the legislative competence of the Senedd, should be considered by the UK Parliament.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I move the motion. It is a huge concern and disappointment to have to address this Bill. Despite the myriad of changes in the UK Government over recent months, little has changed. Little progress appears to have been made, and we remain with the prospect of this ill-judged and irresponsible Bill becoming law. The UK's international reputation has already been harmed so much recently that I'd hoped UK Ministers would have had the wisdom not to cause even more harm with his absurdity. I still hope that the latest Prime Minister will have the sense that his predecessors were bereft of, and find the wisdom and statesmanship that is required to make genuine progress. 

We have brought forward this motion so that the Senedd can consider issues around the Bill and to decide on whether to give consent. Members will see that we, in the memorandum, state that the reasons for refusing consent are good reasons in terms of both the law and constitution. Members will also see that the Welsh Government believes that the Senedd's consent is required for the Bill. This is true of the whole Bill, apart from clause 1. I see that the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee's report agrees with us in general terms. 

But let us, first of all, look at the claimed policy objectives of the Bill and the context. The main aim of the protocol was to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. That continues to be the aim. They said that the protocol was a new pragmatic and effective solution to a complex problem. The then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was given great praise for this.

The protocol makes specific arrangements for Northern Ireland to safeguard the Belfast agreement, the Good Friday agreement. It ensures that businesses in Northern Ireland can still have unfettered access to markets in the European Union and the rest of the UK. It also safeguards the EU single market, and, surprisingly, less than five months after agreeing the protocol and bringing it into international law as part of the UK Brexit agreement with the European Union, the UK Government stated that it created barriers that were unacceptable to traders within the UK internal market. 

14:50

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

Brexit was always going to require a border somewhere between the EU single market and the UK internal market, yet successive UK Governments that supported Brexit have naively and stubbornly refused to acknowledge this point. I of course accept that any agreement can be the subject of technical review and, indeed, the UK and the EU have entered into formal and informal discussions on technical changes to the protocol, and these must continue. Regrettably, the UK Government has decided that it needs to have powers through this Bill to make changes to the operation of the protocol in domestic law. It seems to believe that the existence of such powers gives it a stronger position in negotiating changes to the protocol with the European Commission, and yet 52 of the 90 Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly elected in May, from three parties, wrote in June to Prime Minister Johnson to oppose this Bill.

The UK Government's approach is tactically naive and politically inept. The UK Government's approach has real disastrous consequences for Wales and for the trade and co-operation agreement, which envisages the UK associating to the Horizon research programme. Its predecessor programmes have hugely benefited the Welsh and wider UK and European economies over decades. Many research programmes at Welsh universities have been funded through it, yet our continued participation in the round of programmes and funding that has already begun is now jeopardised through this Bill. The Commission has been unwilling to proceed with UK association to the programme, most likely because of the bad faith caused by the Bill. We, along with universities and businesses across the UK, have pressed them to reconsider their approach, but the ultimate cause is this Bill. 

Now, I'll address the specific arguments for not recommending consent. Firstly, the Bill may well, in all probability, breach international law. Notable legal scholars have commented that the UK Government's international law defence of necessity for breaching international obligations is not only weak, but even hopeless, as described by the former head of the UK Government's legal department. We are unwilling to recommend consent to a Bill that has the potential to breach international law on an unjustifiable basis. As set out in the memorandum, this has serious implications for Welsh Ministers' obligations to comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations under the ministerial code. I note that the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee shares these concerns regarding the UK Government's position. In our opinion, it would be ethically and constitutionally wrong for this Government to recommend consent to legislation that is in itself potentially unlawful.

Secondly, many of the regulation-making powers drafted in the Bill are so broad that they lack any real clarity of purpose, and this has significant potential implications for Wales and for our devolution settlement, both in the sense that we cannot fully understand the nature and potential scope of the powers that could be conferred on Welsh Ministers, nor can we properly assess the extent to which Ministers of the Crown powers could be used to encroach on devolved matters. This is clearly not transparent, it is certainly not good law, and it's certainly a threat to fundamental constitutional principles and our devolution settlement. I note that the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee also shares concerns over the extremely wide delegated powers in this Bill.

Thirdly, I should reiterate that, yet again, the Welsh Government was given no role. We were given no role in the drafting of this Bill and, just as with the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and the dreadful Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, we disagree with the UK Government's tactical approach. It should continue constructive negotiations with the European Commission on the ongoing technical issues. I do not want the Welsh Government and the Senedd to be party to any further damage to the UK's international reputation. I'm pleased that all three Senedd committee reports on the memorandum, despite the relatively limited time for consideration, address concerns about the possible damage to UK-EU relations and stress the need for a negotiated settlement. I am grateful for their diligence and support and for the important work done to scrutinise the legislative consent memorandum and the Bill. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.

14:55

I call the Chair of the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee, Delyth Jewell.

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. The Culture, Welsh Language, Communications, Sport and International Relations Committee has considered this legislative consent motion. We as a committee were concerned about the lack of time that we originally were given to consider its full implications, because the Bill, as we've already heard, will have far-reaching implications. And although we were ultimately given an extension, the timetable was changed after our committee reported on legislative consent, and due to the seriousness of the issues that emanate from the Bill, we as a committee wanted to take our time to hear more evidence from stakeholders, including Welsh Ministers and Westminster Ministers. However, this was not possible, unfortunately, due to the original timetabling.

Although I understand that the expedited legislative process for this Bill was partly responsible for the timetabling, it's also true that the Welsh Government has been sitting on this LCM for longer than usual. We as a committee acknowledge the reasons why this happened, but, despite this, we felt that the time allocated to us to scrutinise the LCM was the bare minimum, as compared to the time that the Welsh Government had to consider it. As we've already discussed and heard, we are very aware of the reasons why this happened, but we would want to note that, in the future, we do feel as a committee that it would it be vital for the Government to allocate sufficient time to committees to be able to scrutinise LCMs in full, particularly those with so many serious implications.

The committee has a number of serious concerns relating to the LCM itself. As we've already heard, the far-reaching delegated powers contained within the Bill cause us concern as well. As drafted, the Bill would enable Ministers of the Crown to make any changes they deem appropriate to the Bill both in the future and in retrospect. Any subordinate legislation under those powers could modify this place's legislative competence or, indeed, make changes in devolved areas without the involvement of our Senedd or Welsh Ministers.

But, away from any constitutional questions, our committee has concerns that relate to our international relations remit. We note that the Bill poses a risk to the UK's international reputation and credibility in international law. We agree with the Welsh Government that the Bill represents a

'gross failure of diplomacy and statesmanship'.

Wales's reputation could well be affected by association, and we are concerned that the Bill marks a deterioration in UK-EU relations. That could affect how the Welsh Government's international strategy is delivered, and could indeed negatively affect Wales-EU relations. Because of our particular areas of interest as a committee, we are also concerned about how this Bill could impact Wales-Ireland co-operation. There could be a great many unforeseen consequences arising from this legislation. We are, again, dismayed that so little time has been given for a more thorough scrutiny process. And we would add our voices to those urging both parties to seek a negotiated solution to those issues raised by the protocol. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd.

I call on the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee—Huw Irranca-Davies. 

15:00

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. We laid our report on the Welsh Government's memorandum in respect of this Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on 9 November, and my thanks to our clerking team and also Members for their consideration and diligence.  

Our report expressed our concern with the Bill, for many reasons. Firstly, on introducing the Bill, the UK Government said it envisages the non-performance of its international obligations. We are therefore concerned with the Bill's potential to break international law, as the Minister has indeed said. The UK Government is relying on the doctrine of necessity to justify its approach. The Welsh Government has stated that it believes that this is a 'very controversial' way of escaping international obligations, as noted by the Minister in the memorandum. Many legal commentators also point out that invoking the doctrine of necessity in these circumstances is a weak defence that is unlikely to succeed.

As the lead committee for international agreements, we believe that adherence to them is of paramount importance. We also agree with the Counsel General that the potential breach of international law by the Bill creates a constitutional problem for this Senedd, because we are being asked to consent to something that effectively legitimises unlawfulness.

As the Senedd will know, my committee does not normally make a recommendation as to whether the Senedd should give its consent to provisions within UK Bills. However, due to the profound constitutional implications of this Bill, we believed it was right to do so in this instance. All of our members except for one believed that the Senedd should withhold its consent to the Bill. We come to that conclusion because a decision by the Senedd to consent to this Bill could contribute to a breach of international law, and would mean the Senedd acting incompatibly with its international obligations. This would, without doubt, go against the spirit of the devolution settlement.

We also share the Minister's concerns that recommending consent to the Bill would call into question Welsh Ministers' adherence to the ministerial code, which includes a specific duty on Ministers to comply with international law and with treaty obligations. If Welsh Ministers are expected to exercise the regulation-making powers under the Bill, doing so could amount to repeated breaches of that code.

Turning to those regulation-making powers in particular, we noted that the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee called all the powers in the Bill, in quotes, 'super Henry VIII powers'—a striking observation. They gave them this name as the powers within the Bill allow Ministers to make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament, including modifying the Bill by regulations after it is enacted. So, we agree with them; the extremely wide delegated powers in this Bill are concerning. They would allow UK Ministers to effectively make any changes they wish to the Bill in the future—including retrospectively—without any role or involvement for Welsh Ministers or indeed for this Senedd.

Our concerns in relation to the wide delegated powers in the Bill remain the same regardless of whether those powers are exercised by UK Ministers or subsequently in the future by Welsh Ministers. Of further concern to us is the fact that it is not yet known which new delegated powers for the Welsh Ministers may be created as a consequence of the Bill, or which procedures may be applied to those powers, and that UK Ministers will make all those decisions.

It is also unclear to us, frankly, why all this is necessary, since the withdrawal agreement's own mechanisms have not yet been fully explored, and that includes article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which allows the UK and EU to take temporary safeguarding measures if the protocol leads to certain difficulties or to trade diversions. We are concerned, as has been expressed by the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee, that the UK Government's approach is likely to have a negative impact on the UK's relations with the EU.

Turning to specific clauses within the memorandum, we agree with the Minister that the clauses listed in the memorandum fall within a purpose within the legislative competence of the Senedd. However, we also believe that clauses 6, 7, 11, 18 and 24 of the Bill fall into that category too. The memorandum states that clauses 2 to 4 and 13 to 15 of the Bill modify the legislative competence of the Senedd. We agree with that assessment, but we also believe that clauses 8 and 20 modify legislative competence as well. We do not believe that clause 12 requires the Senedd's consent, and I know that's a view that's not shared by the Minister, so we'd welcome any observations on that, Minister.

Before I bring my remarks to a close, I would like to raise the committee’s disappointment once again with the UK Government’s poor engagement with the Welsh Government ahead of the introduction of legislation that affects areas of devolved competence. We recognise that this was one of the reasons why the memorandum was laid 15 weeks after the Bill’s introduction. However, we also nevertheless believe that the Welsh Government could itself have acted sooner to allow for more sufficient scrutiny by Senedd committees, especially considering the Bill’s international and constitutional implications, picked up by my fellow Chair. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

15:05

I'm disappointed, I have to say, but not surprised to hear that the Welsh Government will be voting against this legislative consent motion today. And of course I rise to contribute to this debate as both an Irish and a UK citizen, and someone who has been a long-standing member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, whose committee on European affairs I actually chair. So, I've given some long consideration to this legislation before us, and I've come to the conclusion that it is, reluctantly, necessary to support it, because the truth is that the UK Government has been working very hard at trying to negotiate a reasonable solution to some of the problems that the protocol has thrown up on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Northern Ireland in terms of trade.

And I think that the Bill that we have before us, should it be enacted—should it be necessary for it to be enacted—will actually deliver on the most important issue that we all need to be cognisant of, and that is that we must protect the Good Friday agreement. We will be marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Good Friday agreement next year. That has given us peace and stability in Northern Ireland over the past quarter of a century, and we need to ensure that the bedrock of peace and stability, that agreement, is fully upheld as well in the future. And of course, one of the important aspects of that is to avoid this hard border on the island of Ireland, and I believe that we can do that if we implement the principles in this Bill, whilst still safeguarding the UK market and ensuring the integrity of the UK's own internal market as well.

There have been over 18 months now of intense discussions with the EU without agreement, and the UK Government would, of course, far rather a settlement that is negotiated between the EU and the UK, but unfortunately the refusal to budge on the EU side has meant that it's necessary to try and bring forward an alternative solution. So, this Bill, I believe, will fix those practical problems with parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, which have come about as a result of parts of that protocol. It will protect the parts of the protocol that work, and those unintended consequences that have arisen as a result of the implementation of the protocol can be dealt with.

There are four key areas, principally, that the UK Government is trying to address. The first is the burdensome customs processes that businesses are facing across Northern Ireland and in the UK; the second is inflexible regulation; the third is tax and spend discrepancies between Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and the fourth is around governance issues. It's going to introduce green and red channels to remove unnecessary costs and paperwork for businesses trading within the UK, whilst ensuring that full checks are available for goods that end up entering the EU. It will give businesses the choice of placing goods on the market in Northern Ireland according to either UK or EU goods rules. It will ensure that Northern Ireland can benefit from the same tax breaks and spending policies as the rest of the UK, including VAT cuts on things such as energy-saving materials and COVID recovery loans. At the moment, they can't do that because of the EU protocol. And of course it will normalise governance arrangements so that disputes are rightly resolved by independent arbitration and not by the European Court of Justice. 

I've heard many references to this issue of whether this will amount to an unlawful breach of international law. The position of the UK Government is clear, and it's published in detail its legal position and the legal advice that it has received, and that is that the legislation is lawful under international law on the basis of the doctrine of necessity. It supports the balance provided for in the Good Friday agreement, which is, of course, as I say, the paramount thing that needs to be protected here, whilst dealing with these issues, the small number of problems that the protocol has thrown up. And we know that if we don't deal with these problems that are exhibiting themselves as a result of the implementation of the protocol, that it will continue to feed community tensions in Northern Ireland. The reality is that those community tensions that currently exist and that have been causing the Executive not to be formed since the last elections in Northern Ireland are largely as a result of this protocol, of these barriers, if you like, which have been put up in the Irish sea. So, we need to address them; we need to do it in a fair and balanced way. I'd rather there was a negotiated settlement, as would the UK Government, but that is clearly not possible at the moment, and bringing forward this Bill will hopefully bring an end to the impasse and deal with these issues once and for all.

15:10

Thank you, Counsel General. That's one stance that is contrary to what we feel as a party, and we will also be opposing today.

Minister, as you will already know, Plaid Cymru opposes the use of legislative consent motions as a matter of principle. We believe that decisions on devolved matters should always be debated, scrutinised and approved by Senedd Cymru, the Welsh Parliament, rather than being made by the UK Government on our behalf. Such practices undermine devolution. The nature of this legislative consent motion emphasises the validity of Plaid Cymru’s stance, as it calls on the Welsh Government to be part of measures to unilaterally disapply elements of the Northern Ireland protocol, in contravention of international law. And this is despite the fact that the UK Government agreed to these commitments fewer than three years ago as part of Boris Johnson’s 'oven-ready' post-Brexit deal—a description that appears more unfortunate every day, bearing in mind the hash that this Conservative Party has made of governing the UK.

Minister, Plaid Cymru opposes consenting to this LCM for three reasons. First, as I have already mentioned, the Bill in question is an attempt by the UK Government to abnegate its commitments under international law. Although the UK Government has tried to justify this course of action on the basis of the doctrine of necessity in international law, a number of legal scholars have disagreed strongly with such a rationale. This demonstrates once again that the UK Government hadn’t fully understood the terms of the deal signed to great fanfare back in December 2019, or that it had no intention of ever honouring it in the first place.

Minister, I’m sure that you’ll agree that the UK Government has destroyed any credibility it had with the international community over the past few years, but, here in Wales, where our politics is a deal more mature and responsible, our Senedd’s good name need not be impacted by Westminster’s rash behaviour, and this Bill is but one example of that.

Secondly, far from safeguarding the Good Friday agreement, as the UK Government has cynically suggested, this measure has heightened tensions on the island of Ireland, first caused as the Conservatives pursued a hard Brexit. The idea that this measure somehow sustains the principle of cross-community support is undermined by the fact that parties in favour of implementing the protocol won a sweeping majority of seats in the most recent Northern Ireland Assembly election. Instead of striving to respond to the Brexit disquiet on the island of Ireland, this Conservative UK Government has placed the Good Friday agreement in greater danger than at any time over the past 24 years.

Finally, we must consider the implications of this Bill from the Welsh point of view, and the potential damage that could be caused to Wales’s vital collaboration networks with Ireland. As our nearest European neighbour, Wales’s relationship with Ireland plays a significant part in the Welsh Government’s international strategy with regard to trade and culture. It is, therefore, crucial that this Senedd conveys a clear message to our Irish friends and colleagues that we reject any measures that could harm our close bonds of collaboration. As well as this, as the Counsel General has already mentioned, the fact that the Welsh Government was not consulted when this legislation was drafted, despite its clear relevance to Wales, suggests the Westminster Government’s lack of respect towards devolution. It also underlines how empty their rhetoric is when they say that the UK is a union of equals. 

For these reasons, Plaid Cymru strongly opposes this legislative consent motion, and we are pleased that the Welsh Government shares our view on this issue.

15:15

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you to all the Members who've raised points in this debate. I know there clearly is a stark difference and disagreement over this. I think what we all do recognise, though, nevertheless, is the fundamental importance of this issue to peace in Northern Ireland, and also to economic and trade well-being.

If I could just address a couple of the points that have been raised. The point has been made in respect of the 15-week period between the Bill's introduction and the laying of the legislative consent memorandum. I think it's probably not completely fair—I think the Minister for Economy did, in his letter to the Llywydd on 27 June, explain that laying the LCM would be delayed because of the absence of meaningful engagement. Clearly, there are very complex issues that had to be given careful consideration—and the summer term, the state funeral and so on. But I do recognise, as always, the importance of trying to ensure that the Senedd has the period of time that is necessary for scrutiny, and I don't take that away. It's something that's always very much in mind. Obviously, there were difficult circumstances.

In terms of the point Darren raised, my concern is that I don't think you can solve what is a political problem by means of legislation. I think attempting to do so not only will aggravate tensions, but create new and additional tensions, and it doesn't resolve the matter.

Probably the best summary I can give is just to give two quotes that I think summarise very succinctly the issues and reflect the Welsh Government's position. The first one is from Baroness Ros Altmann, who is a Conservative former pensions Minister who participated in the Committee Stage debate on 25 October. She said:

'The problems with this Bill are far deeper, more fundamental, and indeed more important, than Brexit. This is about right and wrong, about protecting parliamentary democracy and about the values that our country believes in and holds dear—the importance of keeping our word, trustworthiness, honesty, integrity. This Bill drives a coach and horses through these things: it seeks to tear up an international agreement signed recently, supposedly in good faith.'

And then the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's seventh report on 7 July:

'The Bill represents as stark a transfer of power from Parliament to the Executive as we have seen throughout the Brexit process. The Bill is unprecedented in its cavalier treatment of Parliament, the EU and the Government’s international obligations.... We are...at a loss to understand why the Government have introduced a Bill which has failed in so many ways to accord with the principles of parliamentary democracy'.

I read through the Bill again today, and there's a phrase in there,

'A Minister of the Crown may, by regulations, make any provision which the Minister considers appropriate'.

That appears in 13 sections of the Bill—

I'm grateful for that. Your own leader in the UK Parliament, Sir Keir Starmer, has accepted this—and I quote. He said:

'I’m not pretending there aren’t issues and challenges with the protocol'.

He accepts it needs to change, and yet he's offered absolutely zero in terms of what he would change and how he would achieve that change. Can you tell us: how would you address the problems with the protocol that your own leader accepts exist?

Well, first of all, I wouldn't have introduced the Bill, because the Bill drives a coach and horses through the whole concept of international and legal obligation. Secondly, if it was really so desperate that you had to do something, it would have been to invoke article 16, as the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee said, because this would enable safeguarding measures to take place and would enable negotiation to take place. I think the Bill is a reflection of a knee-jerk reaction, a political and ideological response to a particular voice in Northern Ireland, and I think you'll come to rue it if you proceed with this particular Bill.

If I can perhaps just conclude, the Welsh Government cannot support consent for this Bill. It is legally flawed, tactically disastrous and it brings the UK's international standing further into disrepute. I therefore ask all Members to withhold consent for this Bill. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.

15:20

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Thank you. I will therefore defer voting under this item until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

That brings us to voting time. Unless three Members wish for the bell to be rung, I will move immediately to voting time. The first vote this afternoon is on item 3—

The bell was rung to call Members to the Chamber.

15:25
5. Voting Time

The first vote this afternoon is on item 3, the Agricultural Holdings (Fee) Regulations 2022. I call for a vote on the motion tabled in the name of Lesley Griffiths. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 41, 9 abstentions, none against. Therefore, the motion is agreed.

Item 3. The Agricultural Holdings (Fee) Regulations 2022: For: 41, Against: 0, Abstain: 9

Motion has been agreed

The next vote is on item 4, the LCM on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. I call for a vote on the motion. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 15, no abstentions, 35 against. Therefore, the motion is not agreed.

Item 4. Legislative Consent Memorandum on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill: For: 15, Against: 35, Abstain: 0

Motion has been rejected

6. Statement by the Minister for Finance and Local Government: Response to the UK Government Autumn Statement and Economic and Fiscal Forecasts

We'll move on to our next item, item 6—a statement by the Minister for Finance and Local Government in response to the UK Government autumn statement and economic and fiscal forecasts. I call on the Minister, Rebecca Evans.

Diolch. Last week, the UK Government published its long-awaited autumn statement and the Office for Budget Responsibility published its forecasts indicating that we are facing the biggest fall in living standards since records began. This was a bleak statement from the Chancellor after 12 years of Conservative Government, published in the wake of the disastrous mini-budget, alongside an even bleaker economic outlook from the OBR.

Multi-year extensions to freezes to both income tax and national insurance thresholds mean that we will all be asked to pay more in taxes, increasing the tax burden to its highest level in 70 years, at a time when inflation is at its highest level in more than four decades, and we are entering what both the OBR and the Bank of England believe will be a lengthy recession. GDP is expected to shrink by 2 per cent, which will result in real and significant costs for people across the country, and the rate of unemployment is expected to increase substantially. This could result in 20,000 to 25,000 more people out of work in Wales alone. Perhaps most shocking of all is the fall in real disposable household incomes. Over the next two years, this is expected to fall by 7 per cent per person. This would be the biggest fall in history.

Last week, the Chancellor was keen to blame global events for the UK's dire financial outlook, including the pandemic and Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine. While there is no denying that these have had a severe impact on our economy, the situation has been made worse by the ongoing mismanagement of the economy and public finances by the UK Government. The UK enters recession in a worse position than any of the G7 economies, and it's the only G7 country not to have regained pre-COVID levels of GDP and employment.

The UK Government has unleashed a series of economically damaging, self-inflicted shocks on our economy and country over the last 12 years, from austerity to Brexit, and the disastrous mini-budget, which created a huge hole in our public finances. The Chancellor has sought to plug that hole through a mixture of tax rises and punishing spending cuts. The vast majority of those spending cuts will come after 2024-25, delaying difficult financial decisions until after the next UK general election, and giving us pain today and pain tomorrow.

The first decade of austerity made the UK economy £100 billion smaller; widened the gap between rich and poor; made young people worse off than their parents were at their age; reduced home ownership; and created the current crisis in the private rented sector. And now, the UK Government is poised to repeat this flawed and failed experiment to fix the mistakes that it made. But we don't need austerity 2.0; what we need is investment in education and skills, business support and transport, to help boost economic growth and attract investment.

Before the autumn statement, we were facing the worst financial outlook since devolution. This remains the case. Our overall settlement over the three-year spending review period is still worth less in real terms than when it was announced last October. We will receive an extra £1.2 billion over the next two years as a result of spending decisions made in England, but our overall budget in 2024-25 will be no higher in real terms than in the current year. Our capital budget will be 8.1 per cent lower. Almost half of the increase in funding next year comes from non-domestic rates measures in England, not from extra spending on public services. The extra funding does not come close to what we need to meet the pressures across all areas of our budget, including protecting public services against the immense challenges caused by record inflation, pay pressures and energy costs. Our settlement could be up to £3 billion lower in real terms than expected, and up to £1 billion lower in 2023-24 alone.

In the face of these pressures, we must be realistic about what we can afford. We have multiple pressures and priorities that need to be accommodated or reprioritised. Funding received as a result of the autumn statement will only go so far in protecting delivery of the programme for government, mitigating the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, addressing public sector pay demands and continuing to support our humanitarian response to the situation in Ukraine. Challenging decisions and choices still need to be made, alongside ongoing consideration of the extent to which we are able to mitigate the loss of EU funding.

The capital outlook has deteriorated. While we will look to all of the levers at our disposal, we will have little choice but to scale back our capital plans and think more creatively about the funding of major capital priorities going forward. This will impact on our new Wales infrastructure investment strategy. As part of our ongoing budget preparations, we face incredibly difficult decisions. And while there are no easy choices, I remain committed to working with our partners to deliver the best possible outcomes within the funding that we have available. To be able to respond to the fiscal uncertainties, it's essential that we remain flexible and agile when making decisions regarding our future budgets. I remain committed to publishing our draft budget on 13 December.

The Chancellor did not allocate any additional funding in relation to the current financial year. Any changes to our settlement this financial year will be subject to the UK supplementary estimates process in the new year. The Chancellor has also stated there will be a spring budget, which could impact on plans for our final budget. So, despite this context, we do remain committed to continuing to work to prioritise our budgets, to shield the most vulnerable and to maintain our commitment to create a stronger, fairer and greener Wales as we prepare our draft budget for 2023-24.

15:35

Thank you, Minister, for the statement. I acknowledge that things have been difficult, as I referenced here I think the last time we spoke on these matters. However, it is clear that the Chancellor has taken decisive and welcome action to set the country on a more stable path within just a matter of weeks. The issues that we are facing are due to a combination of unprecedented once-in-a-generation global shocks, as, Minister, you've recognised—COVID and Putin's illegal war. And to respond to these things, we've seen public spending increase quickly and significantly to provide people and businesses with the support that they need. Let's not forget that, at UK Government level, around £400 billion was spent during the pandemic, supporting businesses and ensuring 14.5 million jobs. There's also been some £55 billion provided this year to help people and businesses with their energy bills—one of the largest support packages in Europe—on top of billions to help with the cost of living. But contrary to what some think, there is no blank cheque; this spending, whilst absolutely needed, has to be paid back at some point. What the Chancellor did last week was present a plan to get public finances back onto a more sustainable, stable footing. This means that difficult decisions have had to be made. Extraordinary times require significant interventions, as we saw throughout COVID.

Inflation affects us all—it makes us poorer, and it puts pressures on finances of all tiers of Government and the services they provide. As I've said before, I know what it's like to have to balance budgets during restrained public spending—levelled, I have to say, for many years by this Welsh Government. And whilst I welcome the current energy and cost-of-living support, I have always been clear that the Government has to keep an open mind to providing the support that people need as things change over the next few months. But we just simply cannot afford to keep spending almost £100 billion on debt interest alone, in part due to rising interest rates. This money would be so much better spent on public services. What was disappointing was that the shadow Chancellor in Westminster didn't propose any alternatives to the plans laid out by the Chancellor as a fix to our finances. Indeed, her response was shallow and weak, as we've come to expect, sadly, from her. And again, we've seen criticism from the Welsh Labour Ministers, without much indication of what the alternative is. One moment, the Welsh Government were up in arms about tax cuts, and threatening to re-impose income tax banding, then they're up in arms that these measures have been reversed. Like I've said before, every time the Welsh Government states its position, it's just basically the opposite of what the UK Government says—that's not particularly constructive.

I would be interested, Minister, if you could outline—[Interruption.]

Okay. So, I would be interested, Minister, if you could outline exactly what Labour's plan is. How would a Labour Government tackle the erosive effects of inflation, which make the cost-of-living crisis worse, and bring down the national debt? Deputy Presiding Officer, there are, of course, things to be welcomed in the autumn statement, which will very much help people in these difficult times. Because, listening to the Minister's statement, you'd never think that there were positives, which people would welcome, and that the Welsh Government actually wanted. No reference at all in the statement, in these announcements, is there to those helpful things that can help the most vulnerable in society, such as the uprating of benefits and the state pension in line with inflation, as well as the significant increase in national living and national minimum wages; the £900 payment to those on means-tested benefits; the £300 payment to pensioner households; the £150 for those on disability benefit. But whilst the Minister says that the UK Government could have proposed more cost-of-living support, so too could the Welsh Government, and this is another thing that was missing from the Minister's statement.

So, Minister, what consideration have you given to using some of the consequentials provided to Wales through the autumn statement to uplift devolved grants to give people additional support? And, on the subject of consequential funding, could you explain how you are planning to allocate this in the upcoming budget? For example, will you direct the majority of further support for health and education and local government sectors, which, as you know, are under significant strain at the moment, or are you planning to spread the additional funding more evenly across departments? 

Finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, I would like to briefly touch upon the supply side reforms that were announced by the Chancellor, which are important to get our economy moving once again. That is, changes to regulations in the five growth industries, including advance manufacturing and green industries, to better support the introduction of growth of new and emerging sectors, as well as looking at using investment zones to encourage research and development growth. 

I would be interested to know what discussions you are planning on having with the Treasury on the role that Wales already plays in hosting and growing such technologies, and how both Governments can work together to ensure that any such reforms work in the Welsh context as well as a UK context, so that we can better direct investment and ensure that all our communities can feel the benefits of this. Thank you.

15:40

Thank you very much to the opposition spokesperson for the questions this afternoon. I will just begin by reflecting again that it does seem to be the approach of the Conservative Party to entirely blame the financial situation that we're in at the moment on the pandemic and on Putin's war in Ukraine. But that's not the full picture, of course, because £30 billion of the hole that the UK Government is seeking to fill relates completely and entirely to the mismanagement of the economy through that ridiculous mini-budget. We will look back on it and—the damage it's done is just incredible. It's not just some ridiculous joke that happened by a bunch of clowns in Westminster, it's actually something that is having a real-life impact now. And we will be paying now and we will be paying long into the future for their arrogance and for the mistakes that they made.

Let's not let Brexit off the hook either, because the Office for Budget Responsibility has confirmed that recent data is consistent with its earlier assessment that Brexit is damaging our economy. The OBR expects that, under the deal that was agreed by the UK Government, over the long run, the UK economy will be at least 4 per cent smaller than would otherwise have been the case. Actually, the consensus amongst independent experts is that the economic costs could be even greater if the full range of impacts, many of which are difficult to quantify precisely, are included. Research that includes such impacts does find that the total costs could lie in the range of 8 per cent to 10 per cent of annual GDP. I think that we do have to be looking at the impact of Brexit, which we're only just beginning to start to feel, as part of the overall picture here as well.

What would Labour have done differently? Well, we wouldn't be in this mess had Labour been in charge because, yes, we would have had the pandemic, yes, we would have had Putin's war, but we wouldn't have had the implications of the mini-budget. So, a lot of the problems that people are being asked to pick up the tab for are entirely self-made by the UK Government. The way in which he's approached the budget also does put off a lot of the problems for the future as well. The fiscal tightening is heavily backloaded, with the vast bulk of those public service spending cuts actually pencilled in for after 2025, delaying all of the really difficult decisions until after the next UK general election. 

The Chancellor has also had to relax his fiscal mandate. He's pushed out to five years now the point at which he says he wants debt to be falling as a fraction of national income. The spokesperson talked about debt, and at around £100 billion a year by the end of the forecast period, spending on debt interest will be higher than spending on any single department in the UK Government, apart from the NHS, and that just shows again the long-term impacts that we're going to be facing as a result. 

The Member talked about some of the things that could be reasonably welcomed, at least in the first instance. The Welsh Government was calling for the increase of benefits in line with inflation. Even though the decision was taken by the UK Government to do that, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that that would still leave their real value on course to be 6 per cent lower than their pre-pandemic levels. That's equivalent to almost £500 per year for the average out-of-work person. Of course, that assumes that they are still able to access the full amount of support as they do at the moment under the energy price guarantee after next April. We've already heard about the impacts on disposable income for families: over the next two years, falling by 7 per cent. That's absolutely unprecedented, and we are going to be seeing those impacts feeding through to pressures, further pressures, on public services.

And we've also heard about the UK Government's approach to tax, and, of course, the UK Government has now announced those multi-year freezes to every major income tax or national insurance threshold, and, by freezing those thresholds, and particularly the personal allowance, the UK Government is raising income tax in now what is much more of a regressive way than if they'd just raised rates. And as more workers are now drawn into paying higher tax, a greater amount of their pay will be immediately lost, and, of course, because of the way the pay levels are here in Wales, more people in Wales are more likely to be worse off as a direct result of that particular intervention as well. 

So, in terms of our own plans, I will, of course, set out those plans when we publish our draft budget on 13 December. Now that we have those final figures from the UK Government—and I say 'final', because they could yet change ahead of or just after our final budget—we have an intensive period of work now across Government to provide colleagues with the numbers within which they'll be working and then to finalise our draft budget for publication. 

15:45

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Last week's autumn statement by the UK Chancellor, I think confirmed, didn't it, really, what we've feared for some time. In response to the absolute mess that they've made of the economy, the Tories have decided to unleash a new wave of austerity, with devastating consequences for communities across the length and breadth of Wales. After a decade of cuts, under investment and inequality that has already left our public services on their knees, it has plunged millions of households into poverty; it's inflicted the most prolonged squeeze on living standards since the Napoleonic wars. Once again, we're faced with a privileged clique of multimillionaires placing the burden of their hubris on the shoulders of the hard-working people of Wales. And while the Tories, no doubt—and they've already done it this afternoon—will expend much hot air claiming that they've taken difficult and necessary decisions, I can tell you that we won't swallow that Tory spin.

Let's be absolutely clear—and you can shake your head as much as you like—austerity is, and always has been, a calculated political choice. It was a political choice when Cameron and Osborne told us—do you remember—that, 'We're all in it together'. Do you remember that? All in it together, yes, whilst they were feathering the nests of their corporate backers at the expense of ordinary people. And it's a political choice now, as this out-of-control and out-of-touch Tory Government once again puts the interests of party ahead of the interests of people. And I can tell you this: we know that the consequences of your choice will have an impact on livelihoods and on lives here in Wales. So, we know that the autumn statement will have profound implications for public spending here in Wales, which I'm sure will be reflected in the Welsh Government's upcoming budget. 

But on this year, first of all, Minister, you remind us that there's no additional funding for this financial year. So, what plans do you have, then, in light of that, not just for the usual supplementary budget process and a supplementary budget, but for a wider, more fundamental recalibration of the Welsh budget for this financial year—reallocation of budgets, utilising any unallocated funds and any underspends that will be in the budget? Could you tell us a bit about your intentions for this particular financial year? 

Now, unfortunately, of course, the constraints of the current devolved settlement—however prudent and well-founded our plans here in the Senedd might be, they will always be conditional on the impulses of Westminster whilst the constitutional status quo remains. But there are some devolved measures, however limited, that could be deployed here to at least insulate the Welsh people from some of the worst excesses of this economic tempest. So, can you tell us whether the Welsh Government will be seriously exploring now the option of utilising some of your powers over the Welsh rates of income tax to generate some of the funding that we need to close the gap, the gaping hole, that has opened in front of us? And on capital funding particularly, you say, in your statement, that you will, and I quote again, 

'look to all of the levers at our disposal'.

Would you be able to expand a little bit on that? Because, clearly, borrowing is one key area, but you have lent more heavily in this spending review period on borrowing than maybe previously, so I’d like to understand where you think you can go in relation to capital funding.

Now, the current devolved settlement, as I said, is a straitjacket on the Welsh Government’s ability to respond to these UK Government fiscal events and fiscal decisions. You tell us that the Government will remain flexible and agile, but do you accept that that is quite difficult when you can only tinker, effectively, with macroeconomic decisions imposed on Wales by a Tory Westminster Government that of course we never voted for here in Wales? And if you do, then is it not time to demand that these macroeconomic levers are transferred to us here in Wales so that we can better protect our people and make sure that the UK Government stops holding Wales back?

15:50

I’m very grateful for those questions and would certainly associate myself with your comments at the start of the contribution, which set out that we are seeing what is, essentially, a new wave of austerity. We’ve barely managed to catch a breath since the last one, and it will have impacts in terms of squeezes on living standards, on increasing poverty, on increasing the number of children growing up in poverty, and, as Llyr Gruffydd said, that is a choice—austerity is absolutely a political choice, and a calculated political choice.

We know that there are other ways in which the UK Government could have responded. The Resolution Foundation has said that there’s been a 19-year downturn in wages, and the weak forecast for pay and high inflation mean that wages won’t return to their 2008 levels until 2027. Had wages grown at the same rate as before the great financial crisis in 2008 they would actually be £15,000 a year higher. And, again, this is all part of the response, really, to the way in which the UK Government has introduced austerity and is looking to do so again, which is obviously of great concern to us in terms of what it means for people here in Wales.

In terms of this year’s financial management, of course you’ll be aware that we published our first supplementary budget earlier on in this year, and it’s the intention to publish a further supplementary budget in February, but, as I’ve mentioned before to colleagues in the Chamber, we have been doing a piece of work looking across Government to see what we might have to do in terms of reprioritisation to be able to meet the pressures of inflation in this financial year, and to do so whilst protecting public services, at its core, protecting the support that we provide for the most vulnerable.

So that work is ongoing at the moment. There are tremendous pressures right across the piece, particularly in health, but also elsewhere. But, when we do come to finalising the supplementary budget, we’ll be able to provide more detail in terms of where we’ve been able to reprioritise funding from to meet some of those pressures, and what the implications of that will be. But we’re always really conscious of cumulative impact assessments and the importance of understanding the impacts that our choices have on those people who have protected characteristics, or a number of protected characteristics. So, we look through that particular lens. But, as I say, I’ll be able to say more on that when we do come to the point of the supplementary budget, but that is absolutely the kind of space that we’re in at the moment.

The First Minister, in his discussions with the Prime Minister, was able to set out a range of things that the UK Government could do that actually wouldn’t cost a lot of money—things such as abolishing standing charges on prepayment meters, support for credit unions and providing a guarantee against loss of funds to help individuals secure loans there—not terribly expensive things that UK Government could be looking to do. But he also asked that the borrowing and reserve limits agreed as part of the 2016 fiscal framework are updated in line with inflation, and that’s something that I’ve also raised with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. That seems a pragmatic thing that the UK Government could do.

On borrowing, in every year since we’ve had borrowing powers, we’ve always intended to use our full borrowing powers within that financial year, but it’s usually the case that, by the end of the year, the UK Government provides us with additional funding very late on in the financial year, which means that we don’t have to borrow in that particular year. To help us account for that, in this financial year I did overprogram capital by £100 million. Of course, this was a decision taken prior to the existing inflation and existing scenarios, so it does make management this year particularly challenging. But I think it is the right thing to do, to maximise the funding that we do have available to us. But we’ll continue, and I know others will continue, to make the case that we should have an increase in our annual and aggregate borrowing limits, and we support the arguments that have been made by, I know, members of the previous Finance Committee that we should have prudential borrowing limits here in Wales, so that the Senedd can agree what's an appropriate level of borrowing and agree our repayment plans. And I think that still remains the right way forward. 

On Welsh rates of income tax, of course, we consider this every year. It just feels that this year there seems to be much more interest in it, bearing in mind everything that's been happening across in Westminster, and also the extreme pressures that households are under. So, yes, of course, we always consider the levers that are available to us, but we do so being mindful of people's overall tax burden. So, you will have heard me say at the start of the statement today that the tax burden is at a 70-year high, and, obviously, we've heard what the impacts will be in terms of disposable income on households. So, when we do take those decisions, we're mindful of the wider context, including council tax and what local authority leaders are telling us about how they might need to respond to using that particular lever as well. So, it's a decision taken in the round, but we will provide the Senedd with those decisions, alongside the draft budget, on 13 December.

15:55

I welcome the Minister's statement. I sum the Westminster Government's autumn statement up as very disappointing, but not disastrous. After 12 years of Conservative Government in Westminster and a decade of austerity, the UK is in a deep recession and households are facing the biggest fall in living standards on record—the 'just managing' have become the 'just not managing'. The £1.2 billion over two years additional funding for the Welsh Government will not fill the big budget gaps. Does the Minister agree that the challenge for Welsh Government is to use the money wisely, concentrating on key outcomes, not on fiscal inputs? In a recession, the challenge is to grow the economy. That means greater concentration on high-skill, high-wage sectors and increasing skills, a move, I would suggest, to implementing endogenous growth theory. Finally, on capital, has the Minister thought of using capital receipts? 

Thank you very much for raising those particular points, and I absolutely agree that it is the case that we should be looking to use the money wisely, and to be thinking particularly about what the outcomes are in terms of the decisions that we make, which is why it's important now to take this amount of time that we need to get under the figures that were provided to us after the statement on Thursday. And those come through in a series of spreadsheets and additional supporting documentation, so we need to really get under that to understand precisely what the consequential funding relates to. There are often very, very immediate requests for us to provide reassurances of certain levels of consequential funding as a result of those decisions on the part of the UK Government, but we are very firm that we do need to spend some time getting underneath those particular issues to understand, but also to understand the negative consequentials. Because people are always very keen to talk about the positive consequentials and to ask for the fair share of that, but they're probably less keen to ask for the fair share of the negative consequentials. We already know that we will be required to be £70 million worse off next year and the year after as a result of the UK Government's decision in respect of national insurance contributions for employers. So, again, that's something that we have to factor into our particular ways of thinking as well. 

On capital, we've been really keen to impress the UK Government on this issue, because I've talked today about how our capital budget is shrinking over the period of time ahead, which is obviously a real worry. But then, when you do look at what some of the experts are saying—the National Infrastructure Commission, the growth commission, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development—all of them are saying that, in a time when you want to grow the economy, you need to be investing. You need to be investing in human capital—so, investing in skills, as Mike Hedges says—and also investing in green infrastructure—so, investing in green energy and so on—and having that particular focus that Mike Hedges talks about in terms of the high-wage sectors and the opportunities for us to grow in those areas, which will put us on the world stage and make us attractive to investors, whilst also nurturing our own talent that we have here in Wales. 

So, absolutely, that's the kind of space that we need to be in. The capital settlement does make it harder for us to operate in that space, but we are looking, as I say, at all the ways in which we can potentially maximise our capital. 

Minister, on top of hearing that the modest additional funding for social care and schools will not cover the funding gap, capital funding continues to be cut as well, and there's no consequential for the high speed 2 line for our railway infrastructure, which is concerning. The UK Government also had an opportunity to invest in public services, to grow the economy that way, by investing in jobs, in teaching, in social care, planners—we needed planners as well—and we must remember this when the Welsh Conservatives come along with their shopping lists. I notice there are only three here now; there were four just before, but they've gone.

Councils are facing a funding gap of £802 million in the budget as well, so they've been forced to take impossible decisions, which will profoundly impact on our services and people's health. Minister, the headline was that there would be a £1.2 billion extra for Wales, but do you agree with me that the reality is that this would be totally negated, swallowed up, by rising inflation, energy bills and pay costs, created not just by Putin's war, but also Brexit and the UK Government's decisions? We talked earlier about, under Truss, a £30 billion black hole created. So, I'm deeply concerned about that, and just your views on that, and getting the truth out there. Thank you.

16:00

Yes, I'm really grateful for those points, and Carolyn Thomas always makes a strong defence and a strong case for local government. I had the opportunity to meet with local government leaders and chief executives yesterday morning, to talk through the implications of the budget, and again, they were making those very, very strong cases in terms particularly of social care, education and all of the pressures across the services that they provide, and talking about the implications for delivery if that funding gap is not met. So, I think it's helpful that we do now have that overall picture in relation to consequentials.

It is important as well to recognise that, although we don't have to obviously do the same thing here, it is helpful if people have a picture of what the consequentials relate to across the border in England. So, 44 per cent of those consequential moneys actually relate to a new non-domestic rates scheme, which the UK Government is introducing across the border, so obviously we're looking very closely at that. It in part includes transitional support for those businesses that are seeing an increase in their bills, as they move to the new ratings list, because the Valuation Office Agency has just completed a revaluation. So, again, we need to look at the implications for that for us here in Wales. But of the consequentials next year, there are £666 million; in England, that's £294 million in relation to non-domestic rates. And the year after, we have £509 million consequentials, and the figure that relates to non-domestic rates in that year is £146 million. So, I think that that does show and gives a bit of colour to the funding that we've received.

That said, I know that you've also been very keen that we look at other ways to help local authorities, such as potentially moving more funding from the specific grants into the revenue support grant—that's something we're actively looking at at the moment. Capitalisation of some costs has been something that we've been asked to explore again, which is what we're doing, and also local authorities have talked to us about the extreme pressure that they and their officers are under in so many ways at the moment, responding to the cost-of-living crisis. So, they've asked us if there are things that we could look at potentially delivering over a longer period of time to release and relieve some of that pressure. So, again, that's something that we're actively looking at at the moment.

One question: given that the March 2010 budget statement by the last UK Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling, stated that the scale of the deficit meant the UK didn't have enough money—defined as austerity—and he was therefore cutting borrowing, spending and growth forecasts; given that current inflation rates are higher in 23 European countries, and 16 out of 27 EU member states, than in the UK; given that the International Monetary Fund has forecast that half of the eurozone countries, at least, are heading for recession; and given that the UK central bank interest rates are lower than in many major economies, including the US and Canada, wouldn't only a very silly-billy claim that the current cost-of-living crisis was made in Westminster?

I agree with Joyce Watson on that particular point. But, yes, I think that it's all very well quoting some selective facts, but, no, it is an absolute fact that the mini-budget cost this country, cost all of us, everybody in Wales, billions of pounds, and that is an absolute fact. That was just a direct result of the absolute arrogance of the people who were making those decisions at the time. We all have to make—[Interruption.] They're gone, but they've left an awful long tail of trouble behind them. And, you know, the International Monetary Fund had plenty to say about the UK Government's mini-budget as well. It's absolutely extraordinary for them to intervene in the way that they did, so I think that that judgment there is very clear as well. We can look at the way in which the various economies have been moving, but we're entering a recession now in a worse place than any other G7 country; we're the only one that hasn't recovered its pre-pandemic levels of national income and employment, so clearly we're in a much worse place to ride out what is a storm that is being felt in different ways in different places.

16:05

Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. I agree with my colleagues Joyce Watson and Carolyn Thomas. This unfine economic mess that we're in is not just purely the fault to be laid at Putin's war. 

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, today—today—has reported that the UK is one of the worst performing economies in the world amongst the richest economies. So, I fail to know which part of that doesn't sink in. I'm quite happy to send the report across to the party opposite. It's the first assessment of the UK economy by a major international institution following the Conservative UK Government's first Liz Truss mini-budget fiasco, and now the further public sector Sunak attack plan. The marking of this homework purely puts the UK at the bottom of the class. I'm quite happy to circulate the report.

Rishi Sunak is now one of three UK Prime Ministers so far in 2022, and one of four Chancellors in 2022. So, it's neither strong nor stable. And whilst the Prime Minister will feature—

—in future trivia pub questions, his policies of austerity are not trivial. 

My question—I will come straight to it, Deputy Llywydd: what more can the Welsh Government do to mitigate this misery being inflicted unrelentingly on the people of Islwyn and Wales by this UK Conservative Government's political choices?

I'm very grateful for the chance to conclude the statement this afternoon by setting out some of the things that the Welsh Government will do to support the most vulnerable and to protect citizens here in Wales, because that really is the job that's ahead of us now as we start to finalise and formalise our budget for laying on 13 December. It is the chance that we have to take to do our very best for people, to target the support to the most vulnerable and to prioritise our public services. Both of those things are absolutely necessary.

Already in this financial year, we've invested £1.6 billion in schemes to provide direct support to people, such as the £200 winter fuel support payment. Let's remember that that was only available here in Wales, and available twice in the calendar year. And we've also provided a range of programmes that put money back into people's pockets at the time when they need it most, including our council tax reduction scheme, free school meals, and pupil development grant access, for example, which helps families with the cost of sending their children to school. So, we can absolutely provide the reassurance and the guarantee that our budget will be built on our strong values of being fairer, stronger and greener, and that's the work that we have ahead of us now in the coming weeks.

7. Statement by the Minister for Social Justice: Women’s Justice and Youth Justice Blueprints: Progress report and next steps

Item 7 is next, a statement by the Minister for Social Justice: women’s justice and youth justice blueprints, progress report and next steps. I call on the Minister—Jane Hutt.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Our blueprints for women's justice and youth justice represent the Welsh Government and UK Government's joint vision and strategy for supporting women, children and young people who offend or are at risk of offending. We published the blueprints in 2019 in collaboration with HM Prison and Probation Service, the Ministry of Justice, policing in Wales and the Youth Justice Board. This partnership approach is particularly important as justice is currently a reserved area, but interfacing closely with devolved services. I continue to meet with UK justice Ministers to discuss the blueprints and wider justice matters with the Counsel General, to discuss our joint work and our future vision for Welsh justice.

But, today, I want to update you on progress against the blueprints. In May 2022, we published our implementation plans, highlighting the progress we're making to divert women and young people away from crime. The Counsel General and I were updated on this work recently by the South Wales deputy police and crime commissioner, Emma Wools, and Dominic Daley, director of engagement and innovation for the Youth Justice Board, the senior responsible officers for the women's and youth blueprints respectively. I would like to share with you some key elements of the ongoing work, focusing firstly on the women's justice blueprint.

The women's pathfinder whole-system approach concentrates on early intervention and prevention, taking a holistic and rehabilitative approach to divert women away from crime, and supporting women to access community-based services through one-to-one support. The practical help and guidance provided is essential, especially in light of the cost-of-living crisis. A recent evaluation underlined just how effectively this project is improving the lives of vulnerable women in Wales who may not otherwise have engaged at that point in their involvement with the justice system. Under the blueprint, diversion services are now in place for women across all of the four police force areas in Wales.

Another development is a new gender- and trauma-informed training package for those working with women in the justice system. Aimed at upskilling staff with the expertise and confidence to take a gender-informed approach, this training is currently being rolled out to all agencies working in the criminal justice landscape.

The Visiting Mums service, jointly funded by Welsh Government and HMPPS, helps Welsh mothers maintain a positive relationship with their children throughout their prison sentence, offering specialist support to preserve and strengthen vital family ties. Between June 2021 and August 2022, the programme has supported 68 families.

Previous visits I've undertaken to HMP Eastwood Park and HMP Styal have enabled me to see first-hand the encouraging work being delivered by the women's justice blueprint, including the Nelson Trust ONE Women's Centre at HMP Eastwood Park. This will provide a single, holistic service for all women at the site up to 12 months before their release into the community, linking a range of services together.

I can also confirm that discussions are ongoing with the Ministry of Justice and other key stakeholders on the proposed residential women's centre. The centre will provide holistic, trauma-informed support for women in the criminal justice system, and an alternative to disruptive and unnecessary custodial sentences.

Dirprwy Lywydd, we know that 57 per cent of women currently coming into contact with the criminal justice system are victims of domestic abuse. Sixty-three per cent of girls and young women serving sentences in the community have also experienced rape or domestic abuse in an intimate partner relationship. There are also links between poverty and violence, with strong evidence highlighting that high levels of income inequality are a strong predictor of violent crime. The residential women's centre is a pilot for the UK to demonstrate that there can be an alternative to imprisonment.

I now turn to the youth justice blueprint, which is embedding a trauma-informed, child-first approach to justice. Under the blueprint, enhanced case management is now available to all youth offending teams in Wales for children in voluntary and statutory contact. This psychologically led, multi-agency approach recognises the trauma that young people have experienced, and identifies how to help them build the resilience they need to thrive and live crime-free lives. Additionally, the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee is now providing funding to support the forensic adolescent consultation and treatment service. This has embedded a psychological, trauma-informed model for youth offending teams across Wales, enhancing the support provided to vulnerable young people.

Work is progressing on a youth justice prevention framework to support children at risk of entering the criminal justice system. This builds on existing investment, such as promoting positive engagement, which is funded from the Welsh Government children and communities grant, and the grant funds projects on diversion, prevention and support for young people, to facilitate change in their behaviour.

In January 2021, we outlined our vision for children to be accommodated in small homes close to their communities, and having access to services and specialist wraparound support that meet their needs. A small homes programme board, led by the Welsh Government and involving the Ministry of Justice and the UK Government Department for Education, will drive this ambitious work.

This is only a brief snapshot of our achievements, which are set out in full in the implementation plans. On 26 October we also published an evaluation, which gives a powerful sense of the impact the blueprints are making in practice. On Thursday, I will be speaking at the women's justice blueprint conference, providing a further opportunity to share the outcomes of the programme. Delegates will also hear from women including Danielle John, who has received life-changing support from the blueprints and who has offered invaluable expertise to our work, including through sharing her own lived experience.

The blueprints are being held up as an exemplary model for delivering key, cross-cutting policies in partnership, which is now being replicated elsewhere. Our VAWDASV national strategy, published in May, is being delivered through the same blueprint approach, with a strong focus on survivor experience and influence.

I welcome the Equality and Social Justice Committee's inquiry on women in the criminal justice system. I look forward to receiving the committee's report, which I know will reflect the challenges women in the justice system still face. Women are still being sentenced to unnecessary and disruptive custodial sentences, which can have a profound impact on their children and create substantial knock-on issues in areas such as health and housing. I am pleased that the blueprints have helped to mitigate some of these issues, but only a radical change to how women are treated across the system will truly address the underlying causes of these challenges. That's why we continue to drive forward work on the residential women's centre, and on informing sentencers about the impact of imprisonment.

The support provided to women, children and young people through the blueprint is now more important than ever before. The cost-of-living crisis is putting pressure on families and communities across Wales, and at times like these it is crucial to ensure that women and young people are supported to access the services they need.

To close, Dirprwy Lywydd, I would like to mention briefly the important next steps on our vision for justice, which was set out in May in our publication 'Delivering Justice for Wales'. Our vision focuses on prevention, recognising that only in delivering social justice can we truly address the underlying reasons for pressures on the justice system. We want to talk about the shared vision we think exists for a distinctive Welsh approach to justice, and I will keep Members informed as these discussions evolve.

I would also like to acknowledge the recent publication of 'The Welsh Criminal Justice System: On the Jagged Edge' by authors at the Wales Governance Centre, Robert Jones and Richard Wyn Jones. This book will provide a useful contribution as we seek to progress this shared vision.

As justice remains at present a reserved matter, we will continue with our collaborative and productive approach to reducing crime and reoffending, to create a better Wales for all under the current system, alongside work to progress the case for the devolution of justice in Wales. Diolch yn fawr.

16:15

The Welsh Government and UK Ministry of Justice published women's justice and youth justice blueprints in May 2019, to improve partnerships, as the Minister indicates, between devolved and non-devolved services, developed jointly with HM Prison and Probation Service and the Youth Justice Board. I'm sure the Minister will agree with the statement by the UK Government justice Minister at the time that:

'It is important that within the context of the existing devolution framework, we have a distinct local approach for delivery on the ground in Wales—one which provides tailored support for offenders to boost rehabilitation and diverts people away from crime for good.

'These new blueprints will build on the work we're already doing to better support offenders in Wales and help to break the cycle of offending.'

These blueprints were designed to set out the Welsh Government's key aspirations and guiding principles for women and young people in or at risk of entering the criminal justice system, focused on early intervention and prevention, and recommending a holistic and rehabilitative approach. To what extent does the Minister therefore recognise that this aligns with the UK Ministry of Justice's prison strategy White Paper to rehabilitate offenders and cut crime; the UK Government's female offender strategy to divert vulnerable 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?

The commissioning partnership, established between police and crime commissioners, His Majesty's Prison and Probation Service in Wales and Welsh Government enabled last month's evaluability assessment for the Wales women's justice and youth justice blueprints. What action plan do you therefore have or propose to deliver on its specific recommendations for evaluating the youth justice blueprint focused on working with the Youth Justice Board and Ministry of Justice to undertake a systematic baselining exercise and establish the mechanism needed to enable trends in data to be monitored over time? This is particularly pertinent where recommendations for evaluating prevention include using child and adolescent mental health services referral-to-treatment time data to show service supply versus demand. I continue to receive regular casework regarding neurodiverse children refused assessment or misdiagnosed.

What further consideration have you given to the recommendations in the 2010 Assembly Communities and Culture Committee report, 'Youth Justice: The experience of Welsh children in the Secure Estate', when I was a committee member, including that the Welsh Government engage with the UK Government towards enabling the development of new secure estate placements in Wales—obviously only for those children who can't be addressed otherwise—using the Hillside secure unit in Neath as a model, and including the development of provision in an appropriate location in north Wales?

What action plan do you have or propose to deliver on the evaluability assessment's specific recommendations for evaluating the women's justice blueprint, which calls, for example, for an expansion of the women's offending evidence base? It states:

'Baselining and tracking service user’s progress through the Blueprints’ priorities is essential. To achieve this, we recommend developing a sufficiently resourced multi-agency performance and monitoring framework prior to any evaluation.'

In consequence of the UK Government's female offender strategy, you wrote to Members stating that you'd been working closely with the UK Ministry of Justice and that one of the pilot women's residential centres, announced by the UK Government as an alternative to imprisonment, would, with your involvement, be located near Swansea in south Wales. How would this have helped vulnerable women offenders in north, mid and west Wales to access the services they need closer to home? Further, in September, plans for this centre were 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?

Finally, the Senedd's Equality and Social Justice Committee recently visited His Majesty's Prison Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire, where 148 of the 340 prisoners are from Wales. On the visit, MSs were told that, when released from the prison, nine out of 10 Welsh prisoners go on to reoffend, compared to one in 10 of those from England. So, how do you account for this, where the UK Government has responsibility for criminal justice functions, including prisons, but the Welsh Government is responsible for housing, health, social care and education when these women return to Wales?

16:20

Thank you very much, Mark Isherwood. Of course, this is about how we are working together, the two Governments, the Welsh Government and the UK Government. In terms of developing these blueprints, the women's justice and youth justice blueprints, the way we are developing is actually shining a light on development and progress in Wales, which I think can also be useful in the rest of the UK. We have made great progress to date, because it is about collaboration with our justice partners, and it's about the key aim, which is to improve outcomes for women and young people in contact with the justice system.

It is clear that, if we empower women and young people to live healthy, crime-free lives—. There is an emphasis on prevention and diversion as we take these blueprints forward. As you said, they were published back in 2019, and they are being delivered in partnership, not just with HMPPS, the prison and probation service, but also the Youth Justice Board, and we engage very closely with the Home Office and the police and crime commissioners, but also, indeed, all of those who engage in the provision of services. That will include the devolved services in terms of local government, health, housing and education. 

I think it is important to recognise that what we are doing in Wales—and we're going to focus on it in the conference I mentioned, on Thursday—is the innovation that we are succeeding to bring forward. Obviously, the Equality and Social Justice Committee has been looking at this very carefully in terms of evidence. There's the innovative women's pathfinder, with this whole-system approach. There's the 18 to 25 early intervention service that is being delivered in South Wales and Gwent, recognising the impact of those interventions. There's the fact that, actually, we have also got an independent evaluation of the service—you asked about evaluation—showing how the service is actually supporting women to address needs and vulnerabilities. And there's the positive impact of the service that has ensued as a result of that intervention.

It is important, when we look at the youth justice blueprint, that it's actually a children-first, children's rights approach. This means working in a child-centred way rather than a service-focused way. It's about meeting the needs of children in the justice system, or for children who risk coming into it. I do think we should look at some of those key outcomes, like the forensic adolescent consultation and treatment service, delivering a really comprehensive psychologically led and trauma-informed model, as I mentioned, to youth offending teams in Wales. We've now got an effective practice award, which has raised the level of practice across Wales.

You did refer to the small homes project and the fact that we're working together to find a way in which we can see children in the welfare and justice systems in Wales fully co-located in the same building or site. We were in accord when I met with the then Minister in the Ministry of Justice to look at the way forward when we actually move forward. Obviously, Hillside has had a very important role to play, our children’s centre, and Julie Morgan, the Deputy Minister for Social Services, and myself have visited regularly. We’ve put more money into that, but we are now looking at the small homes shadow project board, looking at the way we can have these combined small homes fully co-located in the same building or site. Of course, these small homes mean that we will be able to then give that provision across Wales, and not just as it is at the moment, located in south Wales.

I want to just give an update in terms of the women's residential centre; you asked about that. This is about providing a more holistic trauma-informed approach to delivering services for women. It is a pilot; we are seeking to look at the pilot as an alternative to imprisonment. It is crucial that we look to this as an opportunity in Wales to provide that pilot project, to look at the outcomes of it when we establish it. It will be very important that, as a pilot, it can then be replicated. Of course, Mark, we've discussed this in questions from yourself before. Because I would like to see that pilot replicated in other parts of Wales, of course, but we need to get the women's residential centre established.

In the meantime, we have some good developments in terms of the female offending blueprint in terms of accommodation and support initiatives for women in the justice system. I look forward to the outcome of the report that’s been commissioned—independent research from Wrexham Glyndŵr University in collaboration with Llamau to better understand the accommodation needs and barriers of women from Wales at different points in the criminal justice journey. We hope to have that report shared with us in the next few weeks and months. I also look forward to playing my part in visiting the new ONE Women’s Centre in HMP Eastwood Park. But also, there's going to be another centre run by the Nelson Trust, which is running the one in HM Eastwood Park, in Cardiff as well, providing that all-important women's centre day service approach, which can enable women to actually access who have got sentences but are not custodial, who can actually be able to then live in the community and benefit from all the support services that are provided.

So, we are making progress; there's more to come, but I think just particularly in relation to youth offending and the Youth Justice Board, this children's rights approach has been widely recognised outside of Wales. Youth offending numbers are going down, and I think it's the early intervention and enhanced case management that are having such an impact. But it's also about devolved services engaging fully, which I think makes a very good case for devolving youth justice to Wales.

16:30

Thank you, Minister. In your statement, and we've heard about the inquiry of the Equality and Social Justice Committee, and I'm a member of that committee—. I had an extremely valuable experience on that visit to HMP Eastwood Park. Because that's where I was able to understand in full the implications of the way that Welsh women are disadvantaged by the criminal justice system by being imprisoned, and being imprisoned in England, and the clear discrimination that they face based on their gender, which undermines rehabilitation programmes, and the way that wholly inadequate and unnecessary short sentences cause damage and destruction to lives and to families of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, who have been exploited and, often, abused, as you mentioned.

We heard from the governor there that the average sentence given to female prisoners at Eastwood Park was 42 days—long enough for a woman from Wales to lose her house, her family, her medical treatment programme, but not long enough for a woman from Wales to be able to benefit from programmes that could support, strengthen and help her to be free from harmful behaviours, to help to tackle mental health and health issues, and opportunities to deal with the trauma and violence that she has suffered.

Minister, it really brought home to me how that jagged edge of intersecting, unaligned, but shared devolved and reserved powers and responsibilities over which the criminal justice system operates in Wales is such a sharp one for women, which, of course, has been demonstrated so clearly by the book published recently by Professor Richard Wyn Jones and Dr Robert Jones of the Wales Governance Centre, which you acknowledged as a useful contribution. The questions that their book asks about the feasibility of doing joined-up policy in such a complex legislative landscape, with two Governments controlling different areas and levers and accountability, are, indeed, crucial to consider when evaluating and progressing strategies like the blueprint and, indeed, the devolution of justice to Wales.

The recent evaluation assessment to which you referred in your statement underlines the authors' point, I think, regarding the lack of disaggregated data. I was in a seminar over recess where they were telling me that they were having to use freedom of information requests in order to get some of the data they needed to do their analysis. This is specifically the case as regards the outcomes for Welsh women in the criminal justice system. So, what is being done to address this?

In his written evidence to our committee's inquiry, Dr Robert Jones stated that, since the female offending blueprint was published in 2019, for example, the UK Government, in pursuit of its own policy priorities, has unveiled a series of criminal justice initiatives and reforms that, according to its own projections, will undermine the pledges set out in the female offending blueprint. This includes the blueprint's commitment to reduce the number of women in the Welsh criminal justice system. So, Minister, do you agree with that analysis, and what conversations is the Welsh Government having with UK Government about the effect of its policy priorities on the aims of the shared blueprint as regards female offending specifically?

It was also extremely worrying yesterday, in the Equality and Social Justice Committee evidence session on this inquiry, to hear the chief executive of the Magistrates Association share with us that 50 per cent of his members, in a survey they'd carried out, were not familiar with the blueprint and its aims. We heard that magistrates, even at senior levels, who are, after all, as sentencers a key linchpin in this strategy, didn't feel they had been involved in the blueprint. Minister, could you explain this, and could you tell us how you intend to ensure that the voices of all the stakeholders are being heard and how the aims of the blueprint are being communicated to and incorporated in all aspects of the agencies involved in its implementation and evaluation?

And a key one for me, and I think I probably speak on behalf of some of my fellow members of that committee: following the conversations I had at HMP Eastwood Park, I was asked, 'Will what we've told you this afternoon make a difference? Will things change?' Can you please tell us how any progress is being communicated to and felt by the women who are living on that sharp, jagged edge? Diolch.

16:35

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned Williams. I do have to say that I really look forward to the outcome of your inquiry and the recommendations that will come forward to Welsh Government, but also because it will be a report that will be shared much more widely, not just with Welsh Government, but also with the UK Government, in terms of all of the partners within the UK Government, and the criminal justice system in terms of sentencers. This is also where my engagement with the Counsel General is so important, as we look at this jagged edge, which we absolutely recognise, and that's why 'Delivering Justice for Wales' was such an important paper to help lead us forward and, obviously, that's something that we're working with and raising with UK Government Ministers separately. 

I just want to go to that point that you made—will this make a difference—because I know that you were going to HMP Eastwood Park and, indeed, HMP Styal, which I think your members of the committee went to. Went I went to both those prisons, you cannot forget what the women said to us. The shock of why they are in there in the first place—and I mentioned the statistics earlier on about the domestic violence and abuse; the trauma that they'd faced in their lives—and then the situation that they were in in terms of the provision in terms of rehabilitative provision and circumstances to move forward.

The important thing—and this is why the female offending blueprint—. Women's justice is what this is about. I just have to say that there are six guiding principles behind the women's justice blueprint, and the first one is the involvement of women with lived experience and a commitment to co-production. So, we must demonstrate that that is happening. My statement today is a part of that scrutiny, and I would want to be sharing this. I am visiting HMP Eastwood Park in January with the Counsel General, and so I will be able to speak directly to—some of the women that you met may have left prison now, but it is important that we have those discussions. But also that the other principles are evidence led, and the evidence that we're getting together and the access to data is critically important. This is a big issue for the Ministry of Justice. We want that data. We've actually got an agreement with them that we should set up parameters for the data that we need. It should not have to have been that Dr Robert Jones had to go through the FOI route to get that information. That data now, we've had a recognition that that needs to be provided.

Person centred, trauma informed and gender responsive are crucial—these are all guiding principles. But the crucial thing, really, in terms of delivery of justice, is better integration of devolved and non-devolved services. And if you look at it, yes, the provision of services for women in custody is the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, but the legislative line of responsibility changes from English services to Welsh ones when they've left prison and when they're in the communities in Wales. And therefore, health, education and substance misuse are the responsibility of Welsh local health boards and local authorities.

There are many things that have been developed, and you will have heard of them from your visits and from your inquiry. The accommodation pathway co-ordinators at each probation delivery unit across Wales are really important in terms of the pathway to secure accommodation. I've mentioned the Visiting Mums service. I've mentioned domestic violence. The Safer Wales independent domestic and sexual violence adviser—that's a post in HMP Eastwood Park and Styal, and that's helping women resettle back in Wales. But also, the referrals coming through that route in terms of offender managers resettlement team and the ONE Women's Centre. Pobl, providing the prison link in Cymru south—you'll be aware of that work with Welsh women, to look at all aspects of accommodation needs. And I have mentioned the research that's been done with Llamau and Wrexham Glyndŵr University as well, to look at these wider accommodation needs. I hope we will get that response back in time for your inquiry outcome as well.

But I think that it is important that we have got the third sector very involved—Safer Wales, the Nelson Trust and, indeed, in terms of the women's pathfinder, many other organisations—Newport Women's Aid, at a local level—. The fact that, also, we are looking at the needs of ethnic minorities as well—. Speci