Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

29/03/2023

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

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

1. Questions to the Minister for Social Justice

Good afternoon and welcome, all, to this afternoon's Plenary meeting. The first item on our agenda this afternoon will be questions to the Minister for Social Justice, and the first question is from Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Poverty

1. Will the Minister provide an update on the steps being taken by the Welsh Government to tackle poverty on Ynys Môn? OQ59349

Thank you very much for your question. We are doing everything within our powers to prevent poverty and mitigate its impact on the citizens of Ynys Môn and the whole of Wales. This financial year, we have provided support worth £1.6 billion, through programmes that help families experiencing hardship and that protect disadvantaged households.

Thank you very much for that response. We know that we are facing serious problems of poverty across Wales. In 2017, the Office for National Statistics announced that Ynys Môn was the area with the lowest gross value added in Britain. Last year, Holyhead was named as the place with the lowest net income in north Wales. And we know that, when we're facing a crisis, a cost-of-living crisis as we are now, it's the vulnerable and the poorest that are worst hit. Now, last month, the latest Bevan Foundation report again highlighted the importance of direct financial assistance from governments. I'm concerned that we are missing out on many elements of help—the UK Government not providing enough assistance with energy costs, and the Wales fuel support scheme came to an end in February. Now, I note of course the extra funding for the discretionary assistance fund, the excellent scheme to provide free school meals in order to tackle the issue of families living in poverty, but will the Minister provide an assurance that everything possible will be done by the Government to ensure that support does reach areas such as Ynys Môn, which is facing very grave problems in terms of poverty?

Diolch yn fawr, Rhun ap Iorwerth. Of course, this is crucial. In these times of challenging costs of living, projections for those who'll be plunged into poverty aren't forgiving, and people are facing incredibly difficult decisions. As you say, in terms of the funding allocation from the UK Government—the powers and levers, of course, so much lie with the UK Government—it's insufficient, the funding allocation we've had, to enable us in fact to repeat many of our schemes that we've been taking forward. But I am pleased that we are able to continue and increase substantially our discretionary assistance fund, and also, as you say, it's as a result of part of our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, the fact that we have those commitments for primary school pupils of free school meals that have rolled out. Can I just also say that it's really important that it's extending to free school meal holiday provision, being available now for children for Easter and Whitsun school holidays, and up to £9 million available for that purpose.

Now, I was very pleased to recently visit Ynys Môn, and you'll be aware that I was very pleased to go and open Canolfan Glanhwfa in Llangefni, with Ieuan Wyn Jones, a former colleague and former Deputy First Minister, and to hear that, with their partner, Age Cymru, they provide a warm space, a cuppa and a cake, and a chat, every Tuesday, and children are already involved. The important thing is that this was £250,000 awarded from the Welsh Government community facilities programme, and a further £50,000 awarded last year as well—so, reaching all generations, as I saw when I visited the centre that day.

Minister, I'm sure you'd agree that the best and possibly the most sustainable way of helping to lift people out of poverty is to ensure that there are good-quality jobs and that there are businesses that thrive on Anglesey to support those jobs. And that's why I was so pleased to see the recent news—and welcomed yesterday by the Minister as well—that the free-port announcement for Anglesey is moving to the next stage, which is great partnership working across many groups, in particularly the Welsh Government working closely with the UK Government, to see that being delivered. So, I wonder, Minister, how you in your role will work with the Minister for Economy to ensure that people in Anglesey can access those new jobs that the free port will bring about?

I thank the Member for that important question, following that announcement last week. Clearly, we have a strong economic mission to transform the Welsh economy, and that will create a stronger but fairer, as well as greener, future. But just to recognise, as you do, the announcement last week was enabling us to proceed to the next stage of the process, and it builds on significant investments and partnership we've made in these areas over many years. And I think it's important that we do create not just a stronger economy and labour market, but that it helps to tackle the poverty agenda and reduces in-work poverty in Wales. And it's about the way that the Welsh Government's economic contract was included in the prospectus, which, I think, makes our free ports different to other free ports in England and Scotland, but very much prioritising social and environmental needs.

13:35
Welfare Sanctions

2. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of welfare sanctions upon claimants? OQ59363

Diolch, Luke Fletcher. Recent analysis shows a worrying trend in the increase in sanctions, which have almost doubled since pre-pandemic levels. The announcement made by the Chancellor in the budget statement on strengthening the sanctions regime is also a cause for concern. 

Diolch, Gweinidog. I think we should all be very concerned about the Department for Work and Pensions' latest pilots in England and Scotland, which mandate face-to-face attendance for up to 10 days every two weeks for claimants, with the threat of sanctions if this isn't adhered to. Areas within my region rank consistently high on the Welsh index of multiple deprivation, and if these proposals were to come to Wales—and there is every likelihood that this could happen—it would only serve to punish vulnerable claimants and risk plunging them deeper into poverty. These are people with caring responsibilities, people with disabilities, and those with limited public transport options. In response to my last question to you, Minister, you said that you wanted to revisit the idea of bringing together the UK-Welsh Government inter-ministerial advisory board on social security. Are you still looking to advance this work and, if so, what steps are being taken to do so?

Thank you very much for your question. 

It's very important that we recognise the evidence, and there's been a five-year study from the Economic and Social Research Council of welfare conditionality. It finds that sanctions generally deliver poor outcomes and don't incentivise people to get into work. I actually backed recommendations from the Institute for Public Policy Research to say that sanctions should be suspended, and particularly in these circumstances of the cost-of-living crisis. And I, actually, also recognise—and it became clear last week after the Chancellor's announcement—what the Child Poverty Action Group are saying, that the budget announcements are more stick than carrot, using punitive methods, such as sanctions, forcing parents into low-paid jobs, and also having an impact on disabled people. So, can I just say that I am continuing to press for that inter-governmental advisory committee to be set up, but also to see that that's in the context as well of the work that we're doing to explore the devolution of administration of benefits in line with our co-operation agreement?

The majority of sanctions, including universal credit, can be resolved quickly by claimants rebooking and attending their next appointment, and if information that amounts to a good reason comes to light, the sanction can be overturned and money repaid. I'm assured that there are hardship payments that are available as a safeguard via the DWP, if a claimant can demonstrate they can't meet their immediate needs because of a sanction. And it would be remiss of me not to point out that the most recent UK Government budget has made significant changes to help claimants, including parents, back to work, through, for example, paying universal credit childcare costs upfront, rather than in arrears, leaving people in debt. However, I'm disappointed that, while the UK Government has extended 30 hours of free childcare a week to all working parents of children aged nine months to four years, this won't be applied in Wales according to your First Minister. So, what efforts are you making to extend the free childcare offer so that Welsh parents can get off benefits and into a better future?

Well, I've already cited the evidence from the Economic and Social Research Council, and also the Institute for Public Policy Research, about how sanctions deliver poor outcomes and don't incentivise people to get into work. What we need is a social security system that actually focuses less on compliance and more on helping people—helping claimants into work. What we need is personalised job support, not sanctions. This is where we need to develop our approach, and I ask the Department for Work and Pensions to publish their research on benefit sanctions so that we can see how they can justify that.

But I have to say, in terms of the fact that we have a got a more generous childcare offer, and indeed, with Flying Start, a much more generous childcare offer for those who most need it as well, in terms of parents returning to work through education and training, that's not being offered in the UK Government childcare offer.

But let me just go back to the sanctions. The fact that primary carers of children as young as one or two will be required to search for work even when one parent is already working, and again the conditionality and the sanctions apply—. It's very hard for those who are most vulnerable, who are hardest hit by sanctions. Can I just give you the evidence from Wales? Across the UK and in Wales, there are a growing number of individuals seeking advice from Citizens Advice in relation to these inappropriate conditionality requirements and, in fact, recently, between 2021 and 2022, there was a 20 per cent increase in the number of people on universal credit asking for help with issues relating to conditionality, claimant commitments and sanctions. This is not a welfare state. I think also it's going to be really difficult in terms of the impact on disabled people trying to access employment and state benefits. 

13:40

I'm really disappointed to hear about sanctions, rather than compassion, because that's what we're talking about here. And I just hope that the individual who thinks it's okay never finds himself in need, because then he'll know how it feels. But the point I wanted to ask you, Minister, is what conversations you've had to try and educate the Tories in Westminster about providing proper free childcare for 48 weeks, for example. You've already mentioned it covers in Wales education and training opportunities to help those individuals educate themselves or find some training for the right type of employment for their area. And, whilst we hear them repeatedly trying to claim what they can't, that their offer is better than ours, a little bit of compassion instead of another sanction that says, 'You can only have this if you work, but you can't have it to help you get into work'—. 

Thank you very much, Joyce Watson. It is important that we remind our colleagues in the Welsh Conservatives about what is happening in Wales as to childcare. We're already investing heavily to expand childcare and early years provision to all two-year-olds in Wales—a commitment in the co-operation agreement. We're investing more than £100 million in childcare in Wales a year already. Our childcare offer provides 30 hours of funded childcare a week for up to 48 weeks a year for three and four-year-olds. Parents in training and education get help with childcare costs, and we're already rolling out high-quality childcare to two-year-olds across Wales through our Flying Start programme. And funded childcare is supporting, as Joyce Watson said—it's supporting—more parents back to work, but not with the force of sanctions and conditionality that are forcing people, as the Child Poverty Action Group said, into lower paid jobs. We could spend too much time on this, but, at the moment, England is offering 30 hours of childcare for working parents for 38 weeks of the year, 15 hours funded childcare for some children aged two and three, and, of course, the planned changes in England will not take full effect for at least another two years.  

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Joel James. 

Thank you, Llywydd. Will the Minister make a statement on last week's announcement by the Ugandan Parliament that it is now illegal to identify as LGBTQ and a criminal matter for individuals or institutions to even support LGBTQ rights? Thank you. 

I thank the Member for this question. I am sure everybody in this Chamber will agree that it was horrifying to see not only the reports on the passing of the anti-homosexuality Bill in Uganda recently, but those scenes within the Ugandan Parliament. I have to say they genuinely made me feel physically sick to think of the position and what must be the absolute fear of the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda. And Wales very much stands in solidarity with LGBTQ+ communities everywhere, and we know that Uganda's LGBTQ+ people are suffering, and this new Bill will inflame the already discriminatory and marginalising narratives and abhorrent rhetoric against gay, lesbian and bisexual people that we find in too many communities and too many countries around the world.  

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your strong condemnation, and I share wholeheartedly, and my group share wholeheartedly, the sentiments you have just expressed. However, given the very nature of this Bill and the consequences that it will now have, I think it's entirely pertinent for this Government to now clarify how it intends to keep safe those people who volunteer or participate in Welsh Government-funded projects in Uganda and who identify as LGBTQ, and I ask, Deputy Minister, whether you now think that Welsh organisations in receipt of Welsh Government money should still be sending volunteers and staff to Uganda.

13:45

The people and Government of Wales have a long-standing relationship with people and communities in eastern Uganda, as the Member is aware, and it's very important to make it clear that the Welsh Government does not have any formal relationship with the Government of Uganda. And our Wales and Africa programme, which I know the Member is familiar with, works in partnership with the people of Uganda and not the Ugandan Government.

But he does raise some very valid points in terms of the safety, not just of LGBTQ+ people within Uganda, but also people travelling to that country, and clearly there is advice that will come from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which we will be adhering to very closely. And this is something that myself and my good friend and colleague Jane Hutt have already arranged to look at to make sure that that support is in place, and we are taking these things very much into consideration.

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your clarification on this matter and, as you've alluded to, I recently saw first-hand some of the projects in Uganda, particularly those projects looking to help communities by improving sustainable agroforestry. And I was pleased to see how they also help tackle gender inequality. But no matter how you look at this situation, the case is now clear that partner organisations that receive Welsh Government funding cannot publicly share our values. 

Last week, the First Minister released a written statement about ministerial overseas visits linked to St David's Day, where he re-emphasised the Welsh Government's commitment to making Wales the most LGBTQ+-friendly nation in Europe, and I'm left deeply troubled about how this makes Wales look hypocritical. This Government makes these statements about being LGBTQ-friendly, you condemn, rightly so, Uganda for their LGBTQ stance, but you're perfectly happy to accept hospitality from Qatar, a country that has the death penalty for homosexuality, and you're perfectly happy to spend money on products in Uganda, which imposes life imprisonment for homosexuality and has now made it illegal to even identify as LGBTQ. So, with this in mind, Deputy Minister, how can you morally justify Welsh taxpayers' money being spent, no matter how small, in a country that is in fundamental opposition to our values as a nation? Thank you.

Whilst I do welcome the Member's interest in this area, I'll not take lectures from the Conservative Party on support for the LGBTQ+ community. And clearly, it raises very valid concerns about the role that we play in terms of our diplomatic engagement and relationships and how we use our influence, where we do have it, in terms of support for the LGBTQ+ community globally. And you raise the issue of Qatar and it's very much part of our LGBTQ+ action plan to actually look at those relationships and have an ongoing review of them and make sure that we are analysing that and that we are working in a way that not only tries to advocate for those communities, but does so in a way that doesn't make the case worse for them. And I recognise, whilst these are questions for the Welsh Government, I hope that Joel James, whilst he was visiting Uganda, might have considered these issues, particularly when he met organisations and also the Anglican seminary there as well.

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, yesterday—last evening—MPs debated the UK Tories' Illegal Migration Bill, and illegal it certainly is, because it's a Bill that has been deemed by dozens of human rights organisations and legal experts as incompatible with the international human rights treaties of which the UK is a signatory, including the European convention on human rights, the 1951 refugee convention and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Minister, there can be no doubt that this deplorable Bill undermines Wales's aim to be a nation of sanctuary and our desire to expand the rights of refugees and asylum seekers to access services, not limit them. These are people, not a 'problem', as the leader of the Welsh Conservatives despicably stated on social media yesterday—not creating 'mayhem', in his shameful words, but our brothers and sisters, seeking our support. If we had the powers, we could ensure this inhumane, anti-refugee Bill would not apply in Wales. As that is unfortunately not the case, Plaid Cymru MPs yesterday laid an amendment to require the UK and Welsh Governments to jointly produce guidance, setting out how measures under this Act could be exercised in a way that is consistent with the Welsh Government's commitment of being a nation of sanctuary, and no guidance being allowed to be published unless it has been approved by this Senedd. It was disappointing that no Labour Welsh MPs were among those who signed the amendment. Minister, do you agree with Plaid Cymru that this Bill is an affront to the values of the people of Wales, at odds with international human rights treaties and counter to Wales's stated ambition of being a nation of sanctuary? And, if so, what action can the Welsh Government take to ensure that, contrary to the title of this Bill, nobody who seeks sanctuary in Wales is illegal?

13:50

Well, diolch yn fawr, Sioned Williams, and can I really thank you for this question today? It is horrific what is happening in terms of this Bill making its way—forced through Parliament, forced, without proper scrutiny, through Parliament. And I did write to Robert Jenrick on 14 March—I shared my letter—and I said in that letter that we cannot support a Bill that the UN Refugee Agency has described as amounting to an asylum ban and which would breach the refugee convention and also, importantly—and I think this must be discussed when we look at this as a Senedd—the Home Secretary has herself stated that she cannot see that the Bill is compliant with the human rights convention. So, it is an illegal Bill in itself. 

As you say, we're striving to make Wales a true nation of sanctuary. I said this to Robert Jenrick, as I did in terms of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 before it. It fundamentally undermines our ability to implement policies to achieve this, and particularly I would say, in terms of this Bill, in relation to children and young people. And just to say on that point, we have actually in our programme for government a commitment to uphold the rights of unaccompanied asylum-seeker children and young people. We're proud to take a child-first, migrant-second approach that upholds the best interests and rights of children. 

Diolch, Gweinidog. I would also like to talk about the events, the despicable events, in Uganda. Plaid Cymru, of course, has been proud to work with Welsh Government on the LGBTQ+ action plan to make Wales the most LGBTQ+-friendly nation in Europe, but the plan also commits, of course, to demonstrate Wales's international duty to show leadership on equality. People who identify in Uganda, as we've heard now, risk life in prison and could be given the death penalty in some cases, after the Parliament passed that new Bill last week. The Bill is being described as one of the toughest pieces of anti-gay legislation in Africa. As well as making identifying as gay illegal for the first time, friends, families and members of the community would have a duty to report individuals in same-sex relationships to the authorities. Amnesty has said:

'This deeply repressive legislation will institutionalise discrimination, hatred, and prejudice against LGBTI people...and block the legitimate work of civil society, public health professionals, and community leaders.'

We know, of course, and have just discussed the many links with Uganda through the Wales and Africa programme that the Welsh Government has, working in partnership on various projects and programmes. So, Minister, how is the Welsh Government going to make sure that those engaged in those projects, who may be at serious risk from this hideous legislation, are protected? How are we going to make them safe and how are you going to ensure that the Wales and Africa programme more generally is aligned with the international commitments in the action plan?

Well, I thank you also, Sioned, for raising that question, and obviously thank the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership for responding so fully and clearly to the question from Joel James earlier on. I think it is really important that we make our statement here today, and it's a statement that's coming from across the whole of the Senedd. And recognising, again, as the Deputy Minister has said, that the Wales and Africa programme works in partnership with the people of Uganda and not the Government. And just to say that we have been encouraging people who have gone to Uganda to discuss these issues, to discuss issues relating to LGBTQ+ rights, with the hosts. And in fact, I can say that I have also discussed them with visitors who come from Uganda. It is a key opportunity and responsibility to discuss these issues. This is obviously to attempt to promote better understanding and tolerance and to reach out to people who want to hear from us, including LGBTQ+ people in Uganda. Now, obviously, we await to see this Bill. It's been passed back to President Museveni. He's got 30 days to provide assent or send back to Parliament with changes. I think it is important that it's addressed today and, as the Deputy Minister said, that we look at this in terms of not just our working relationship with those NGOs in Uganda, but also acknowledge that, actually, we have to ensure travel advice as well, to warn anyone who is visiting, in terms of their needs and rights, that we take this into account as well with the FCDO.

13:55
Prepayment Meters

3. Will the Minister provide an update on discussions with the UK Government regarding the forced installation of prepayment meters? OQ59343

Thank you very much, Jack Sargeant. I wrote to Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, on 13 March. I once more called for the removal of prepayment meters installed through force via this unsafe warrant process over the course of the last six months.

I'm grateful to the Minister for her consistent understanding of the seriousness of this issue and consistent support for those on prepayment meters. Once again this week, the failures of the UK Government and Ofgem to get a grip on this prepayment meter scandal were laid bare. Figures released on Monday showed that just three suppliers—Scottish Power, British Gas and Ovo—were responsible for 70 per cent of meters forcibly installed via court warrants. Minister, I have repeatedly told Ofgem that this problem extended beyond just British Gas. It was obvious to me from the scale and the speed of the warrants being issued. But, rather than seeking to establish the scale and move to protect customers, they placed the emphasis on me to prove this. The delay and refusal to listen to the evidence in front of them has left vulnerable residents in Wales and across the United Kingdom at real risk. As I've said before in this Chamber, Minister, this is a matter of life and death.

Minister, you'll be aware that this week the Senedd Petitions Committee has launched a parliamentary inquiry, and it is my expectation as Chair of that committee that the chair of Ofgem and the chief executive of Ofgem, and the executives of these suppliers, attend and answer questions from committee members. Minister, will you express my frustrations at the scale of the problem and the scale of the failures to them in the conversations you have with them? And will you also instruct them to engage with the parliamentary inquiry under way?

Well, thank you very much, Jack Sargeant, and for your continuing leadership in this field. You are standing here as an elected representative, representing your constituents, who clearly have responded to you in that powerful survey, which is influential, and indeed the Minister for Climate Change and I are meeting the chief executive, Jonathan Brearley, in the next couple of weeks. We will be both then again expressing our concerns about the ways in which your response in past times in terms of meetings with Ofgem hasn't been treated with the full respect and recognition that it should.

But I just want, again, for colleagues to know what has happened, just to repeat what Jack Sargeant has said. Just three energy companies—three—British Gas, Scottish Power and Ovo Energy, and I name them here today, fitted 70 per cent of the total of those forced installations. And just to say, the overall number of forced meter installations increased by more than 40 per cent last year, when fuel bills were rocketing and the winter fuel poverty crisis looming. Scottish Power installed the highest number of prepayment meters relative to the size of its customer base. It's just shocking. We have to keep, in this Senedd, and I think it's important that there's strong support across the Senedd, I believe, making it very clear how we in Wales are not going to stand for this treatment, and we will make this very clear to Ofgem and to the UK Government, who've got the power to make changes here. But can I just say, I welcome the Petitions Committee, the cross-party committee, chaired by Jack Sargeant? I will be saying—. I will, hopefully, give evidence, and also urge the chief executive and chair of Ofgem to do so as well.

In your written statement on the cost-of-living energy crisis yesterday, you welcomed both the decision to bring prepayment energy charges in line with customers who pay by direct debit, announced in the UK Government budget, and Ofgem's extended ban on the forced installation of prepayment meters. You also stated:

'it is regrettable it took a media investigation to highlight the issue'.

Will you therefore acknowledge that the then business Secretary, Grant Shapps, who you referred to, wrote to the energy suppliers before the media investigation highlighted the issue, stating that they should stop forcing vulnerable customers onto prepayment meters? And given your reference to the further injustice of standing charges that prepayment customers face, what discussions are you having with the UK Government and Ofgem since the UK Government asked Ofgem to report back on options for ending the highest standing charges paid for by prepayment meter users?

14:00

Thank you, Mark Isherwood. Clearly, there were some aspects in the budget that we welcomed. We called for them. We called for the halting of that rise to £3,000. We called for it. We also called, in terms of Ofgem, for the fact that the ban on forced installation should not stop at the end of this month. It's supposed to be stopping at the end of this week, but it should continue. Indeed, I say that it should continue indefinitely, and I hope you would support me on that point.

I am meeting with energy suppliers tomorrow. I'm meeting energy suppliers and I hope it will include those three energy suppliers who have already been exposed today, in terms of the highest levels of forced installations. I'll be raising the standing charges with them. Of course, Mike Hedges raises this, as he did last week in the Member debate, on every occasion. It is for the energy suppliers, but also for the UK Government to act on this.

Isn't it frustrating that we have to wait for the Tories in Westminster, who are not exactly known as the champions of social justice, to act on this? But that's maybe more of question for the Counsel General on the devolution of justice.

As I said in Jack’s debate recently, the forced installation of prepayment meters is one of the greatest modern-day scandals in our society now. It has been responsible for families going cold, pensioners sitting in the dark and, inevitably, people dying. It is symptomatic of how people who are not well off are treated in the UK. The same attitude and exploitative practices are deployed by many bailiff companies towards people in debt. With that in mind, can the Minister explain what influence and powers she has to not only tackle victims of forced installations of prepayment meters, but also those who have fallen victim to excessive charges imposed by bailiff companies? I'm particularly keen to hear of any updates concerning dialogue with the Enforcement Conduct Board.

Thank you very much, Peredur. I just want to say that, yesterday, I had a very useful and constructive meeting with the Enforcement Conduct Board. Following contributions and representations made in this Chamber, I had approached the Enforcement Conduct Board and asked them if they could play a role in accrediting those who were enforcement agencies for utilities. And I have to say that I was very pleased to hear from them, and indeed I had a meeting with Dŵr Cymru earlier this week. Dŵr Cymru is putting into the standard—you can see it on their website—the standard condition that the Enforcement Conduct Board is now stated. It's been set up so that those who are subject to enforcement action must be treated fairly, and it will provide independent oversight of the enforcement industry, with a special regard for those experiencing financial difficulty or other vulnerable circumstances. So, they are saying, Dŵr Cymru, that 

'organisations that we work with...will be requiring all enforcement agencies that work on our behalf to be accredited by the Enforcement Conduct Board.'

Now, I think that's a step in the right direction and the Enforcement Conduct Board said that it's thanks to the leadership in Wales—Government and Senedd, I would say—that, actually, it's having some bite in terms of the utilities. So, I'm going to be waving this in the faces, or virtually, of the energy suppliers on Thursday.

Volunteering

4. What steps is the Minister taking to promote volunteering in South Wales West? OQ59350

Diolch yn fawr, Altaf Hussain. I'll just find the answer to your question. It's very, very important that we do recognise the importance of the voluntary sector in Wales, and I think it's also very important to recognise that the voluntary sector in Wales in your region has been playing a key part and role. It's just looking at this in terms of our network of county voluntary councils and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, that network, of course, is complemented by Volunteering Wales, our free-to-access online portal.

14:05

Thank you, Minister. I recently attended the centenary celebration at the Maesteg division of St John Ambulance Cymru. My colleague Luke Fletcher was there as well. The Maesteg division was the very first St John Ambulance unit in Wales, and for 100 years, children and young people from Maesteg and the surrounding areas have signed up to become St John Ambulance Cymru cadets. The cadets provide a place to learn first aid, develop leadership and communication skills, and volunteer to help others. They provide valuable transferable skills to young people and help them become active citizens. Minister, will you join me in congratulating the Maesteg division, and will you work with your colleague the Minister for education to explore ways to promote the opportunities of the St John Ambulance Cymru cadets to young people?

Diolch yn fawr. Thank you so much, Altaf, for bringing us news about this wonderful centre in Maesteg that you visited with your colleague. Just to say, it's an inspirational example, isn't it, about the volunteering spirit of our children and young people. I think what's very important is that our volunteering is very intergenerational, and it is supported, of course, by our county voluntary councils in the way that I've described. But also we will look—and I'll certainly look with the Minister for Education and Welsh Language—at ways in which we can particularly learn from those examples. Just to note that this is something where you will be recognising that children and young people are coming forward in so many ways to support each other, older members of their communities, but also learning skills, and that's crucial in terms of their development.

Minister, earlier this month, it was a pleasure to welcome you to my constituency of Bridgend, so that you could visit the Sussed Wales fantastic shop in Porthcawl as part of Fairtrade Fortnight. Sussed is completely run by volunteers, and is a co-operative model shop, offering a wide range of products, including clothes, food and accessories, all of which of fair and equitable trade. I know that you and I really enjoyed buying some of those products. One of such is Jenipher’s Coffi, which is produced by an African fair-trade co-operative organisation supported by the Welsh Government. So far, Jenipher’s Coffi has supported 3,664 farmers and planted over 25 million trees, both promoting fairer work and fighting for change, and I'm sure the Senedd will join me in saying that that is remarkable progress. Also, it was wonderful that we had Jenipher here recently in the Senedd as well to show everybody the coffee.

But fair trade doesn't just have to happen outside of Wales. In 2008, Wales became the first fair-trade nation in the world, and since then, 83 per cent of consumers surveyed by Fair Trade Wales stated that they have faith in fair-trade products, and a further 99 per cent have said that they wanted to see Wales continue to be a fair-trade nation. So, Minister, whilst fair trade is becoming more and more common in Wales, there are only 34 fair-trade towns left in Wales out of an initial 63. Whilst I am glad that Porthcawl is one of those remaining towns, what more can we do to promote fair trade across Wales, which is primarily led by our wonderful volunteers, campaigners and co-operative members? Diolch.

Diolch yn fawr, Sarah Murphy. It was a great pleasure to visit Sussed Wales. Can I also encourage Members across the Chamber to visit this fantastic fair-trade shop in Porthcawl, run entirely by volunteers—back to the previous question as well? To know that Sussed, the fair-trade business in Porthcawl, has had a huge impact on the town and made it truly a fair-trade town. Margaret Minhinnick, who is one of the key people in Sussed is also—I think she was telling me—either has been or will be president of the chamber of trade. Now, that's the kind of influence we need to have to get fair trade embedded in our towns, because, actually, we have got a number of fair-trade towns in Wales, but we need to make sure that we move forward.

We're formally renewing the status with the UK Fairtrade Foundation, and we continue to fund Fair Trade Wales. I issued a statement on this a couple of weeks ago. But I don't know if colleagues will remember and recall that it's the fifteenth anniversary of Wales becoming a fair-trade nation. We will have some celebrations later this year and we'll be announcing new and stronger criteria, and we're actually working with Scotland on this, because we want to make sure that we can learn together, to get more people in Wales to hear about the importance of fair trade. In fact, on Friday, I'm looking forward to judging a fair-trade competition that children and young people have put forward, on the themes of fair trade. I look forward to doing that in my constituency on Friday.

14:10
Refugees from Ukraine

5. How is the Welsh Government helping refugees from Ukraine to seek sanctuary in Wales? OQ59347

Diolch yn fawr, Ken Skates. Our team Wales approach has led to over 6,500 Ukrainians finding sanctuary in Wales. We're continuing to support guests, helping them to move on into longer term accommodation and be supported. As part of our 2023-24 budget, we're investing a further £40 million in our humanitarian response.

Thank you, Minister. That really is very heartening to hear, and I'll be meeting with Ukrainian refugees in my constituency on Friday. We know that local services are utterly essential in ensuring that our guests feel welcome and secure here in Wales. Minister, I was also pleased to see the additional money that the Welsh Government is providing for local authorities to deliver these essential public services, with a £40 million package of funding, including, of course, the continuation of free public transport, and this is in very stark contrast to the disappointing UK Government decision not to continue tariff funding into year 2. Have you any updates at all from UK Government Ministers providing clarity on what funding they will now be providing to support Ukrainian people here in Wales?

Thank you very much, Ken Skates, and it is important that we made that commitment, that £40 million package of funding. We made that commitment in partnership and consultation with our local authority partners, who have been so crucial, and the third sector, in delivering support for Ukrainian refugees in Wales. We're awaiting clarity from the UK Government in relation to funding. They've announced a £150 million homelessness prevention fund, but we haven't heard what the allocation for Wales will be. But I have written, with Councillor Andrew Morgan, who's the leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, to seek urgent clarity on this, because it is support for the move-on that we want to seek. Of course, we need to see what our share will be, because the UK Government has cut the year 2 integration tariff—you'll have seen that in my written statement in December. So, we lost £29 million in that decision alone.

But I will say that I'm pleased we've made a decision to extend hosting payments into the second year after arrival and to uplift thank you payments for those hosting them to £500. This again had been cut by the UK Government, in the sense they had a confusing way forward in terms of those thank-you payments, not giving them to more, but we are going to make that payment. But I will say that I'm in regular contact with the UK Minister for Homes for Ukraine, Felicity Buchan, and it's useful to have feedback from the Senedd for those meetings.

Last year, Denbighshire welcomed Ukrainian refugees, and I would like to praise my constituents for their generosity to Ukrainians. And I'm pleased that Ken Skates has raised this question today. Equally, I was pleased that the UK, Welsh and local governments worked together to play our part in the war effort. However, some Ukrainian refugees in Denbighshire have decided to leave the area for other parts of the UK, due to a lack of good transport links and facilities across the area, and that's fact, as I met some of them in the summer of last year. Therefore, what is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that refugees from Ukraine don't have to find other parts of the UK to live in?

Well, I think one of the most important points that I would make is that we have extended the welcome ticket—we've extended the welcome ticket public transport scheme until 30 June this year. There is no such public support transport scheme in England, I have to say. I do wish the Ukrainian guests who are obviously going to be moving across Wales, into Wales and outside of Wales, I wish them well, but I do want to make it clear to colleagues, and to yourself and to those you represent, that we have got that welcome ticket. That's been so important in terms of people being able to access work and enable them to move around, and I know that that's been welcomed by local authorities across Wales.

Good afternoon, Minister. Just following on from that question from Gareth as well, I also met with Ukrainian guests and their hosts in Powys last week, in Talybont, and one of the issues that they did raise with me was transport, particularly in a rural area. There is a concern around the freedom pass coming to an end at the end of June, so my first question is: I wonder if you would consider extending that to allow for them to continue to have that free bus transport. But another issue was around their driving licences and the ability for them to continue to keep those driving licences after a year of being in the UK. It is the situation that after a year being here, they have to take the UK driving test. I'm sure many of us who currently drive in this room would be horrified at the idea that we needed to take a driving test in this country. So, I wonder if you would consider being in touch with your colleagues in the Department for Transport to see whether Ukraine could be added to the list of countries where the driving licence can be exchanged for a UK driving licence. Diolch yn fawr iawn.  

14:15

Diolch yn fawr, Jane Dodds. It is helpful to have this feedback from Members across the Chamber from Ukrainian guests. That feedback about the welcome pass is important, because it was very tough to get that extension with limited finance, but it's useful for feedback. I will raise these issues about access to UK driving licences with the UK Government; obviously, it's within their powers. They're able to use their existing licence to drive on UK roads, as you say, for the first 12 months, but beyond this, they have to convert their Ukrainian licence or take a UK test. This is something that I will be raising with the UK Department for Transport, and I will get back to Members. I'm sure our colleagues in the Welsh Conservatives will want to raise this as well.

I just wanted to ask you about the plight of Afghan refugees. We've just been told that they're going to be forced to leave hotels and move into a single offer of accommodation, or they'll just be on the street. Given they've been here for 18 months since the Afghan withdrawal, there's clearly concern that people will be in jobs, they'll have children in school. So, how is the Welsh Government able to ensure that these people are provided with suitable housing offers to not disrupt the links they've already made, and prevent them from becoming homeless? Has the UK Government provided you with any information about money to be made available to local authorities, who will suddenly have a huge new wave of people who will be presenting as homeless? 

Thank you very much, Jenny Rathbone. I can inform Members that yesterday afternoon, officials in the Welsh Government had a call from the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to talk about their plans, which have now been made public this afternoon, to close all Afghan bridging accommodation. The statement has been made by Johnny Mercer, Minister for veterans' affairs, this afternoon. We are just taking account of and absorbing that information, but we understand all bridging accommodation will close within months, and that it appears that three months' notice will be given. We will have to wait to see what this means in terms of Home Office, DLUHC and Department for Work and Pensions teams visiting each site. 

We do anticipate there'll be around 400 people affected in Wales. I've asked already—and I'm expecting a call from the Minister—how funding would be made available in Wales. There is very little clarity. I understand that there may be money channelled through local authorities, but that's not clear. I haven't seen a statement yet. So, we need to get more of a sense of what this will mean, but I understand that Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan local authorities and the Wales Strategic Migration Partnership were informed last week. 

North Wales Fire and Rescue Service

6. Will the Minister make a statement on the funding of the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service? OQ59362

Fire and rescue authorities in Wales are funded by levying contributions on their constituent local authorities. This is determined by the fire and rescue authorities themselves, and is not subject to external constraints. The Welsh Government does not directly fund fire and rescue services, and FRAs do not receive core funding from the Welsh Government.

Thank you for that explanation. Of course, the employer settlement of the fire services throughout England and Wales with the Fire Brigades Union will increase the funding deficit in the north Wales fire authority to £2.4 million. It's hard to believe that the agreement was struck without any additional money on the table from the Government in London. Bridging the financial gap will mean one of two things: either restricting services or increasing the levy on residents, who you mentioned, who are still facing a cost-of-living crisis. The taxpayer levy could increase by 20 per cent in this case if there is no central support. So, could I ask what input has the Welsh Government had into these discussions? It appears that fire authorities in Wales are facing a huge challenge because there is no money available from the London Government to maintain staff salaries. Isn't this yet another argument for devolving responsibility for the services to Wales?

14:20

I thank Llyr Gruffydd for his question. Obviously, we're pleased that a pay deal has been agreed for firefighters, and has obviously averted the need for industrial action, but I acknowledge, as he does, that it places significant further financial pressures on the fire and rescue authorities and their constituent authorities as well. This is something on which I’m in close conversation with not just North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority, but the three authorities across Wales. Also, I met just last week with the WLGA in terms of the impact of that. We are working closely with the FBU as well, because obviously the national joint council is a body that we recognise and respect as the negotiating council, but we do recognise that this absolutely places further pressures on the services in Wales. We’re working very closely to see what we can do in the future to perhaps make sure we address that.

I’ve met with your colleague Luke Fletcher with regard to issues and challenges within the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, and very much the offer’s there open to you to have further discussions following on from today about some of those medium to longer term challenges particularly facing the north Wales fire and rescue authority. We will both know full well the way in which the retained fire service plays a significant part across north Wales as well.

Public Services for People with Hearing Loss

7. Will the Minister make a statement on the provision of public services to those with hearing loss? OQ59329

Thank you, Mike Hedges. The Welsh Government has set up a working group to focus on access to services as part of the disability rights taskforce. This working group is integral to driving forward access to all services in Wales, including those with hearing loss.

I thank the Minister for the response. The deaf and hard of hearing community consists of those who are born with hearing loss and those who have lost their hearing as they’ve got older. Many deaf people use British Sign Language as their main means of communication. Phone-only services do not work for people with hearing loss. 

Thank you, Mark. Perhaps that could be passed on to some GP practices who demand that people ring when it’s basically impossible for them to do so. How can the Welsh Government ensure that those with hearing loss who are dealing with Welsh Government-funded bodies either deal with someone who uses BSL or has access to an interpreter?

Thank you for that question and for that particularly important follow-up, which relates to how people can access our services. I'll certainly look into that, Mike, in terms of those we fund in delivery of our commitment. Obviously, it is a commitment in terms of BSL. We've got a report just coming through from the British Deaf Association audit on BSL provision in the Welsh Government, with a view to signing up to the BSL charter. So, this is collectively important work, but it's good feedback to factor into that. 

Anti-racist Wales Action Plan

8. Will the Minister provide an update on the progress of the Anti-racist Wales Action Plan? OQ59359

Thank you, Jayne. Since we published our anti-racist Wales action plan we have established our governance structure and the external accountability group are now in place to review and monitor implementation and reporting of the plan. I am hosting a summit in May to review progress and next steps on implementing the plan.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. It’s good to hear the progress on that. This year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Windrush generation arriving in the UK. Many came to Wales and my home town, Newport, and it was wonderful to see the exhibition ‘Windrush Cymru—Our Voices, Our Stories, Our History’ at Newport’s Riverfront theatre earlier this month, as part of its tour around the country. It was a pleasure to hear from some of those who are part of the Windrush generation and who are leaders in our communities, such as Vernesta Cyril, a highly respected midwife in Newport who has passionately campaigned for equality and against racism for years, and continues to do so. The Windrush generation and their families have made an invaluable and lasting contribution to Wales. They came to the UK to answer the call for post-war workers and they deserve recognition. How is the Welsh Government supporting the Windrush generation to mark this special anniversary, and what more can be done to promote the important contribution of elders now and for future generations in Wales?

14:25

Diolch yn fawr, Jayne Bryant. As you say, it is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush, and we are committed to supporting the Windrush 75 celebratory activities. We have a Windrush 75 grant scheme that's going to be publicised soon. We've seen the 'Windrush Cymru—Our Voices, Our Stories, Our History' exhibition. We just have to say again that the Welsh Government recognises the immense legacy of the Windrush generation—men and women from across the Commonwealth who helped to build modern Wales and made the country their home.

Also, it's important to recognise that this is very much part of Black History 365, not just Black History Month—it's all year round. We're very privileged to have so many Commonwealth citizens as part of our communities, but particularly recognising the contributions of some of those elders—for you, Vernesta Cyril, who was midwife of the year in 2006. She spent many years challenging discrimination and promoting racial equality, but as a midwife, I have to say again, over the course of 30 years she delivered more than 2,000 babies and won UK midwife of the year, as I said, and was awarded OBE for her services.

I think we will all play a part in the Windrush Day events. Those grant schemes are out for Members to hear about. I will also be pressing for the full implementation of Wendy Williams's report. It was being watered down by the Home Secretary, in terms of some of those recommendations, and we have to make sure this year that those recommendations are fully supported by the UK Government—we certainly do. 

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

The next item is questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, and the first question is from Jenny Rathbone.

Race-hate Messaging

1. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers about any legal mechanisms available to the Welsh Government to prevent the promotion of race-hate messaging? OQ59356

Thank you for your question. The Welsh Government is committed to ending racism, as demonstrated through our anti-racist Wales action plan, which aims to build an anti-racist Wales by 2030. Racism and all forms of hate and bigotry have no place in Wales.

The police in the Vale of Glamorgan have recently had to deal with a small group of people descending on the area in the hope of persuading local residents that accommodating refugees in their community is in some way a risk to their well-being. It hasn't worked; on the contrary, the people in Llantwit Major, at all levels of the community, have loudly proclaimed that they support Wales as a nation of sanctuary.

But disinformation is the stock-in-trade of the far-right groupuscule involved in persuading other people to come into Wales and protest about anything to do with refugees. They've had serious form up in the north of England in disinformation to ordinary people who had thought that in some way this was going to impact on them. So, what can the Welsh Government do to ensure that the law against race hate is being upheld?

Firstly, can I recognise the tremendous support that was given by the local community, in the events that you refer to in the Vale of Glamorgan, in standing up to those far-right individuals—those racists that attended? I'm particularly impressed by the position that was taken by the local football club, which have a number of refugees who actually play for them. I think it really does such credit to a community when it comes together to stand by standards and by rights.

What I would say, of course, is that there is a lot of misinformation and there is a lot of rather unpleasant messaging that takes place on social media. Of course, race hate is a criminal offence, as is incitement to racial hatred, and I think where such messages appear that may contribute to provoking those sorts of incidents or provoking racial hatred, then such incidents should be reported to the police or to the relevant authorities.

I have to say that some of the comments and some of the messaging that has been coming out from the UK Government recently, playing what I would call the 'race card' for political advantage, has not been helpful in this situation and has contributed, I think, to that misinformation and to that growth of those far-right groups.

14:30
Constitutional Reform

2. Will the final recommendations of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales influence the Welsh Government's input into future proposals for UK constitutional reform? OQ59332

Thank you for the question. The fact of the matter is yes, of course, it will be of—oh, sorry. I believe that the work of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales is, and will be, a vital contribution to the discussions already taking place here in Wales and across the United Kingdom.

Thank you, Counsel General. It's long struck me that some of the most innovative proposals for necessary reform of the union are coming from Wales, rather than coming from Westminster and Whitehall itself. But be that as it may, would he agree with me that, if reforms are brought forward that are seeking not only to have a different relationship but a more modern relationship between the nations and regions of the UK, it should be not just for those of us here in Wales but for all those in Westminster and elsewhere throughout England to actually take the opportunity to engage with such proposals that might actually seek to put forward a reformed and stronger union? We all have different opinions within this Chamber, but, surely, that's an imperative for anybody who believes that the current situation is simply not sustainable.

Thank you. You raise a number of, I think, very important points. I suppose the first thing I would say is that, whereas over the past two decades the discussion on constitutional reform has been well advanced within Wales and Scotland, and indeed in Northern Ireland, but had been rather dormant in England, what is encouraging now is the recognition of how important the decentralisation of power actually is in terms of actually empowering people and communities, and particularly in England.

So, the comments that have been made by Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, I think in terms of criticising the over-centralisation of Westminster Government, and talking about decentralisation, and the commissioning of the Gordon Brown report, are extremely important. Because that debate taking place in England is as important to us as well, because it is a recognition of the need to realign those structures and to rebalance them. Our own independent commission, of course, is about our say about what we think the future of Wales should be, and how that relationship should change—it's not something being decided elsewhere. But of course, alongside that is the Gordon Brown report, which also recognises a number of those issues that we are concerned with—subsidiarity and our parity in terms of powers within Scotland. And I think that the important point that was made in the Gordon Brown report—and Gordon Brown has, of course, given evidence to the independent commission, as indeed I will be, and as indeed I think the other Ministers will no doubt, in due course—is the talk about constructive engagement. So, it's about that recognition of the need for modernising our constitutional relationship, to have change, but also that it has got to be something that carries the consensus of people in the nations and regions across the whole of the UK.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.

Diolch, Llywydd. The Welsh Government's 'NHS Wales Induction Guide for Independent Board Members' includes:

'The aim is to have a single set of values which guide how we work, change culture and shape the way we behave. Living these values means being autonomous yet accountable, being both brave and bold and creating a culture that is open and transparent...

'Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

'The role of the Board is to...hold the Chief Executive and senior management team to account through purposeful challenge and scrutiny'.

And,

'Board members do not instruct the Chief Executive or any member of staff on operational matters but can challenge and question'.

In this context, what advice as Counsel General did you give to the health Minister before she forced the independent members of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to resign?

Can I just say that the decisions that are taken by the health Minister in respect of her functions as a Minister are properly addressed to that Minister and not to myself?

Well, what advice would you now give to the health Minister, in the context of the statement I've received on behalf of all the former independent members of the health board—respected people in north Wales—stating,

'We believe she is setting healthcare in north Wales back a decade'.

And including,

'Each CEO has told us that they have found the executive team unmanageable, made worse by ineffective workforce HR support. We therefore sought the advice of Welsh Government officials. On each occasion, as with all matters relating to the executive team, we are required to have explicit Welsh Government support and approval. Some well-intentioned executives have been tarnished and undermined by the behaviours of their colleagues, such that the team itself became dysfunctional and ineffective as a group. The Minister says that she delegates the running of the health board to the independent members. This is inaccurate. Welsh Government and the executive team run the health board, with the board an afterthought at times. And through her actions, the Minister has wiped the memory of the organisation. Those who battled to see the organisation learn from past failings have been replaced. Good staff are leaving, and those who remain are struggling to get even basic decisions made—

14:35

I'm going to have to remind you that these are questions to the Counsel General and the Minister for the Constitution. I'm struggling with where you're going with this particular question, so, if you can bring it to the question. 

No, no. I just need to hear your question, basically, is what I was saying there, and I couldn't see where you were going with it. 

And I'd therefore be grateful if the Counsel General could answer the question I put at the beginning: what advice would he now give to the health Minister in the context of this worrying statement?

Well, the health Minister yesterday responded to similar questions that were put. She explained the decisions that have been taken, and the basis on which those decisions were taken. Those are a matter for the health Minister, and should be properly addressed to the health Minister. 

Well, I'd suggest it goes a little bit further than that. And this, I have to say, reeks of an unethical Government, with the Minister following her predecessors in seeking to silence the truth tellers and bury accountability. 

However, moving on, the Windsor framework, agreed by the Prime Minister and European Commission President, replaces the old Northern Ireland protocol, providing a new legal and UK constitutional framework. It delivers free-flowing trade in goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by removing any sense of a border in the Irish Sea for goods staying within the UK. These goods will travel as normal through a new green lane, without red tape or unnecessary checks, with the only checks remaining designed to prevent smuggling or crime. And to give businesses and individuals the time to prepare, the implementation of the agreement will be phased in, with some of the arrangements for goods, agri-food, pets and plants movements introduced later this year, and the remainder in 2024. 

These regulations insert a new schedule into the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which implements those aspects of the Windsor framework relating to the involvement of the institutions of the 1998 agreement, and all parties represented here in the Senedd supported the framework in Westminster. 

Given your responsibility for the co-ordination of work on the common frameworks, and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 within the Welsh Government, what advice have you given Cabinet colleagues to prepare their departments for these changes?

Well, the biggest concern that we have in terms of the issue on frameworks is not actually to do with the Windsor agreement. The Windsor agreement is something that, I think, as a Government, we welcome. We wait to see precisely how it will operate, but anything that facilitates the economic links, the economic trade, and also the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Government is really important to us. 

In terms of the frameworks, the biggest challenge to the frameworks is not in terms of the Windsor agreement, it is in terms of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, and also the retained EU law Bill. It is the retained EU law Bill that still has very significant implications, both for Northern Ireland, for Wales, and for the rest of the United Kingdom. That is where my focus will be over the course of the coming weeks, and, of course, I made a statement on that yesterday during the legislative consent motion discussion, and will, of course, bring forward further statements in due course. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Well, we in Plaid Cymru have welcomed the Windsor framework as a basis on which to re-establish power sharing in Northern Ireland. We're also clear that it raises a number of questions for Wales, to which we have not yet had satisfactory answers. As we have discussed in this Chamber, it raises particular questions about the regulation of the flow of trade through Wales's Ireland-facing ports. In response to a question posed by one of my party colleagues in the House of Commons, the UK Government has suggested that the new green lane created under the framework will apply to goods transiting to Northern Ireland via Holyhead and Dublin. I remain unclear as to how this might be made possible, what new regulatory obligations might flow from it and how it would interact with the new free-port status granted to ports in both Pembrokeshire and Ynys Môn. Can I ask what assessment the Welsh Government has made of the Windsor framework's impact on Wales? And, specifically, what conversations have been had with UK Government counterparts about the framework's implications for market access via Welsh ports? Diolch.  

14:40

Can I say that most of the discussions that are taking place in respect of those trade aspects are discussions that have taken place with the Minister for Economy? Of course, I have an overall interest in terms of the operation of the frameworks. At the moment, it's still too early to be precise or to be clear how they will work. It is something that is under review. There may well be issues that are of concern that need to be sorted. Those do remain predominantly within the ambit of portfolio responsibility of the Minister for Economy. If there are specific legal matters, no doubt the Minister will engage with me on those.

I suppose the best thing I can say is, of course, the point I made in the last point, which is that one of the biggest concerns we have arising out of this still remains the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, and the extent to which that may undermine or override the frameworks, and that, in conjunction with the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, we don't know what those consequences would be. So it is still a sort of moving feast at the moment, but, of course, it's something that is of high priority, it is something we're paying very close attention to, and we'll bring further statements in due course to this Senedd, as we know more and understand more about the processes. 

Thank you, Minister. The issue of trade regulation is one on which we need urgent clarity. Another issue for Wales, raised by the Windsor framework, is that of the democratic deficit. Last week, the framework's Stormont brake was approved by the House of Commons. It provides for what could become, essentially, a unanimous veto on certain kinds of regulatory change in Northern Ireland. While the UK Government has arguably now overcorrected for any democratic deficit in Northern Ireland resulting from the Northern Ireland protocol, it has shown no concern at all for any such deficit in Wales, where there is no protected role for the Welsh Government in the governance of the protocol. This is despite the impact that it has had in Wales, including the trade through our ports. The Windsor framework does nothing to address this.

Further, what is Wales's inability to prevent the kinds of post-Brexit changes to its regulatory regime that are liable to flow from the retained EU law Bill and that have already stemmed from the internal market Act if not a democratic deficit? Does the Minister agree with me that we need a Senedd brake on the new EU regulations, including to protect Welsh access to European markets, and, if so, will he outline what steps the Welsh Government is taking to secure one?

Thank you for that. We are meant to have some sort of Senedd brake in terms of the Sewel convention, but it's not a very effective brake and it doesn't have any judicable status. I'm afraid I can probably only really take the questions you raised by, to some extent, just enlarging on some of the points I made earlier. That is, at the moment, we're still trying to have to assess how this would work, what the implications are for the common frameworks and the implication of the retained EU law Bill.

You're right that the engagement has not been good on this. I know there is further engagement, and I know that the Ministers do engage with their counterparts now on these issues at every opportunity that arises. All I can really say that is helpful is that the situation is under very, very close review, and further statements will be brought forward as we understand better what is happening and how these will work. And I think that applies to everyone who's participating within it, and, of course, we wait to see what will happen in terms of the DUP's position with regard to that and what may then happen in terms of whether or not there's going to be the re-establishment in Northern Ireland of the devolved Government.

14:45
Illegal Migration Bill

3. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers regarding the impact on modern slavery and human rights in Wales of the UK Government’s Illegal Migration Bill? OQ59348

Thank you for the question. The Welsh Government has been very clear in its opposition to this cruel and unjust Bill. We will continue to use all available avenues to object to this Bill and in particular the impact it will have on modern slavery and human rights protection.

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

I thank you for that answer. I'm deeply concerned, as others in this Chamber are, at the impact the UK Government's Illegal Migration Bill is going to have on efforts to combat human slavery and protect human rights in Wales if it's passed at Westminster. As chair of the Senedd's cross-party group on human trafficking, I've seen for myself how modern slavery continues to pose huge challenges in our communities and the devastating impact that it has on those caught up in it. I've heard that this pernicious and cruel Bill would fatally undermine the work to combat modern slavery and deny survivors the ability to report trafficking and, importantly, access assistance. Last week, a coalition of more than 60 organisations, and it's been mentioned already, including the Women's Institute, Amnesty International UK, a cross-party group of MPs and academics wrote to the Prime Minister to set out their deep concerns and opposition to this Bill. Will you join with me and all those who are standing up for the victims of modern slavery in urging the Government to withdraw this appalling Bill?

Thank you for the question, and, again, I endorse the comments that were made by my colleague the Minister for Social Justice on this specifically earlier. The UK Government provided the draft Bill to Welsh Government on 6 March 2023, the afternoon before it was introduced in the House of Commons. Disappointingly, no prior notification was given of the Bill's content.

I can probably best answer the point you raised by saying, yes, I think there's a clear majority in this Senedd that fully support and endorse the comments you made. The starting point, of course, is that the Bill is non-compliant with the European convention on human rights and is almost certainly in breach of the UN convention on refugees. Those are matters of considerable significance, because I could not imagine why any parliamentarian would sign up to a piece of legislation, or endorse a piece of legislation, that was, effectively, unlawful. Unfortunately, we have seen too many occasions at UK Government level where there has been a majority of Members of Parliament prepared to support unlawful legislation in their own Parliament. That is something of deep, deep concern.

I might refer to three comments that have been made that deal with the point you raised. Beth Gardiner-Smith, the chief executive officer at Safe Passage International, a third sector organisation, said, 

'The Government’s plans are not only morally bankrupt, they are completely unworkable and will not stop refugees from risking their lives to seek safety here. This is more of the same failed approach',

and called on the Government to

'focus on opening safe routes for refugees'. 

That's a point, of course, that was raised by the shadow Minister today and, indeed, yesterday in the House of Commons, by Yvette Cooper, who said,

'After 13 years of failure, today's figures underline the shocking mess the Conservatives have made of the asylum system.'

She said,

'The Home Office is still taking a third fewer decisions each year than it was seven years ago and they have let the backlog rise by another 60% to a record breaking...160,000'.

The state of incompetence at Westminster level has really now resulted in a knee-jerk response, which is, again, to play the race card. If you think those quotes are partisan and unfair, well, let's refer to what recently Theresa May, a former Conservative Prime Minister, said. She said,

'My fear with this Illegal Migration Bill is that it will drive a coach and horses through the Modern Slavery Act, denying support to those who have been exploited and enslaved and, in doing so, making it much harder to catch and stop the traffickers and slave drivers.'

I think the UK Government must realise that their legislation is not only unlawful, I think they must recognise that it is also something that will not deliver what it proposes to deliver or solve the challenges that they have identified. You have to ask the question, then, politically: why have they raised this Bill in this particular way, with all the surrounding social media around it? The only conclusion I can come to is that it is playing a race card in a period where you have a UK Government that is desperate with a potential upcoming general election.

14:50
HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail

4. What advice has the Counsel General given the Welsh Government in respect of the UK Government’s classification of the HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail projects as England-and-Wales projects? OQ59342

Well, I echo the comments of both the First Minister and the Deputy Minister for Climate Change that the UK Government should not fund the Northern Powerhouse Rail in the same way as HS2. Northern Powerhouse Rail should be classified as an England-only project, with Wales receiving a population share of this funding.

I'm grateful to the Counsel General for that answer. It's clear, isn't it, that the Tory Government in Westminster once again have short-changed Cymru, classing yet another England-only project as an England-and-Wales project. The money we should have received from the HS2 project and the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme is £6 billion—£6 billion. Counsel General, this could have revolutionised Wales's rail network, but instead it's simply another example of how the Conservative Party in Westminster have no interest in Wales. Counsel General, do you agree with me that there is one solution for the people of Wales to get what they are owed: a general election and a Keir Starmer, UK Labour-led Government?

Well, I totally agree with the last point that the Member has made. I'm sure he's probably not surprised to hear me say that. Wales is due £5 billion as a result of HS2. Wales is due a further £1 billion as a result of Northern Powerhouse Rail. So, to suggest that these English projects benefit Wales is a complete nonsense. The money would be transformational for Wales's transport network. The UK Government needs to do the right thing and to pay up. I believe what we actually have is an abuse of the Barnett formula. I can say that these issues are raised at every opportunity and through the current inter-governmental machinery, and Welsh Government is not leaving it there where it is at the moment. 

The Tories seek to deny geographic reality with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail and to claim that, for England-only projects, we should somehow see Wales as well. I am dismayed that Keir Starmer hasn't yet assured us that he would correct this injustice and repay Wales the billions we're owed, but, in any case, this messy injustice we have surely arises from the fact that arrangements over consequential funding are subject to the whims of Westminster. Do you agree with me, Counsel General, that we should move to a place where the Barnett formula or, far better, a fairer replacement formula should be enshrined in law so that we no longer have to simply rely on some 'good chaps' principle of hoping that Westminster will do what's right in terms of funding, because, as this episode and countless others have shown us, Westminster does not do what is right for Wales?

Well, I think the first thing to say is, of course, Barnett, for all its faults, is a redistributive formula, and we don't want to do away with a redistributive formula; we just want a fairer formula and one that has clear guidelines and rules as to how it should operate. It cannot be something that is subject to the political whims of a particular Government at any particular time. So, I think you are absolutely right that there is a need for a newer formula, a refreshed formula, and a formula that has clear constitutional status in the way it is operated and the way in which any disputes over the operation of that formula should operate. 

Welsh Tribunals

5. Will the Counsel General make a statement on the Welsh Government's latest response to the Law Commission's report on the Welsh Tribunals? OQ59355

Thank you very much for the question. As I made clear in this place just last week, we have accepted the thrust of the recommendations made by the Law Commission and we are committed to reform. We will publish a White Paper in the coming months and will legislate to make the reforms happen.

14:55

Thank you very much, Counsel General. I was delighted to hear the Welsh tribunals being discussed here in the Senedd last week. This is an important part of the justice system that very often is overlooked, and it’s part of the justice system that’s already devolved to Wales. What I wanted to ask you, Counsel General, is what is the timetable for the White Paper, and when do you hope the united tribunals system and the tribunals appeals system—which will be historic, as the first appeals system in Wales for centuries—will be established. Thank you.

Well, thank you for the supplementary question. The timetable for a White Paper, I would hope, will be imminent. Obviously, it’s up to the First Minister to make statements on the announcement of the legislative programme. Of course, in the 'Delivering Justice' paper, we make very specific reference to tribunal reform, and, of course, the intention of Welsh Government is to legislate within this term in order to implement the recommendations of the Law Commission, of course, after the White Paper consultation. So, it is every intention that we will do that, that we will reform the tribunals. I think it will be an exciting and historic legal reform, with many opportunities in terms of how it may provide an embryonic base for the further development of the Welsh justice system, and I will of course make further statements in the not-too-distant future.

Devolution of Justice

6. What action will the Welsh Government take in preparation for the potential devolution of some or all justice functions to Wales? OQ59335

We have a number of projects being established to build our understanding of the practical next steps towards the devolution of the justice functions we believe have a good prospect of being taken forward by a future UK Government. I will update the Senedd on our progress in due course.

 Thank you very much, Counsel General.

Now, of course, the Gordon Brown commission didn’t go as far as you or I would wish with regard to the devolution of justice, but, nonetheless, probation and youth justice are a very important aspects of the justice system. For that, we need to build capacity and capability within Welsh Government and within this Senedd to deal with those matters. So, is now the time, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, to establish a Welsh ministry of justice and for me to come to this Senedd in a few months' time and address you as a Minister of justice rather than a Cwnsler Cyffredinol?

Of course, you conflate two areas there: the role of the Counsel General and, of course, the roles of a justice Minister. Quite often, they are separate functions and those are obviously things that would want to be considered. There is no doubt that further devolution of justice, I believe, will happen, perhaps starting with probation and youth justice. Policing, to a large extent, is almost operating as a devolved function; it’s the lack of that legislative framework that properly enables the cohesion and the hegemony in terms of all those factors to operate that holds us back, to some extent. But those are areas that not only open the door in respect of the devolution of justice, but, of course, they also provide a framework for a complete change in the way in the which our combined services that contribute to the justice system actually operate.

The point you make in terms of capacity is an important one. My belief that these are very serious things will be addressed by the next Senedd, and I hope will be addressed in some of the legislation that will be coming forward. I think we do need an increase in Senedd Members and in terms of the size of the Government to enable that to happen, and, of course, it was one of the recommendations of the Thomas commission. One of the things that we have done, I suppose as the interim, as we move towards that situation, is that I work very closely with the Minister for Social Justice, so we bring those two elements together, almost as an embryonic justice function. But, in the next Senedd, and with Senedd reform and an increased size of the Senedd, it certainly is my view that the Thomas commission recommendations on the creation of a justice ministry and department will, effectively, come to fruition at that stage.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

7. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the legal protections that the people of Wales may lose as a result of the UK Government’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill? OQ59338

15:00

Thank you for your question. As currently drafted, the potential impact of the Bill on regulatory standards and protections that the people of Wales currently benefit from, and also on the democratically established devolution settlement, is deeply damaging. We have consistently reiterated our concerns at both an official and ministerial level to the UK Government.

Thank you for that answer, Counsel General. As you will be aware, resolving the nature crisis and protecting biodiversity are issues that are high on my agenda, and, under the UK Government's EU retained law Bill, we are set to see habitat regulations that provide protections for nature against threats of building developments and other projects being torn up by the Tories. So, what advice have you given, Counsel General, to the Welsh Government regarding legal protections for biodiversity in Wales as a result of this Brexit failure? Thank you.

Can I just say that the points you raise are really important ones in terms of the debates that have taken place, legislatively? To many people, the UK Government's retained EU law Bill sounds like a piece of technical legislation, but it is far more dangerous in reality. It has the potential to scrap many hard-won rights and protections, including, for example, parental leave, but also food standards and also protecting wildlife, which is a point, I think, that you are making. Our society, our communities, face a biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, and that has massive implications in terms of our future sustainability as a society. What the retained EU law does is that it—. The current legislation that we have, the retained EU law, provides the basis for so many of our fundamental environmental and other protections. It is wholly irresponsible that the Bill that has been introduced, the retained EU law Bill, threatens to remove them, and any proposals for reform must not undermine the protection afforded by these regulations. Welsh Government is absolutely committed to doing everything that we can to retain and improve standards in all those particular areas.

The Constitutional Future of Wales

8. How is the Counsel General ensuring that the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales is properly engaging with the public as part of its work to present options on the constitutional future of Wales? OQ59352

Thank you for your question. The commission is of course independent of Welsh Government and therefore how they engage with the public on their work is a matter for them to determine.

Thank you, Counsel General, for your answer. I suppose, therefore, I would ask you what your assessment is of the independent commission—or supposedly independent commission—and how it came to its conclusion that the only three options for the constitutional future of Wales are more devolution, federalism and independence. I would ask: what about the other political viewpoints that these didn't cover? Now, we know polling consistently shows that the status quo is a preferred option, and 'abolish' is as popular as independence—neither of which I agree with, I should add. But what credibility do you think that this commission can possibly have when it excludes so many other political opinions across Wales? If it's—. If its consultation—. If the consultation process does not demonstrate that there has been properly adequate engagement across Wales and public opinion, what is your assessment in that regard?

Well, thank you for the supplementary question. Can I just say, in terms of the innuendo in the first part of your supplementary question, 'supposedly independent', that the commission is independent? It has representatives from all political strands as well as people of no political strand whatsoever. I think it is completely improper to suggest that it is 'supposedly independent'. It is independent. It has been given that clear—[Interruption.] It has been given that clear independent status and it is wrong to suggest otherwise. Now, what I'd say in terms of your own submission is that, of course, the commission has been attending all political conferences. There have been opportunities to engage and for these points to made by every strand of politics. I understand they attended the Conservative Party, the Plaid Cymru, the Liberals, and indeed the Labour, conference to actually talk about the work they're doing. There was absolutely no hindrance or restriction on anything that could be asked. I would also ask that every single Member of the opposition, if they feel as you do, that they should put in their own submissions. I don't know; I wouldn't like ask now—. Perhaps hold your hands up anyone who's put in a submission to the commission. I don't see any hands going up. I wonder whether your party has put a submission in. I hope that your party has put a submission in.

But the point that you raise, in terms of how it reflects all those views that you've been expressing that are out there—it is open to people to put any submission in, and those will be taken into account by the commission. But it is not for me for Welsh Government to tell them how to do their job. We set the guidelines, we provided the framework in which they operate, and they will report in due course.

I was very impressed with the interim report because, quite often, the fault with interim reports is they actually are interim reports that basically tell you what they're going to conclude in their final report. Well it didn't. It left open a completely wide range of opportunities on how democracy can be improved within Wales. Can I just say that there is still a real opportunity for you to contribute to this, to make input into it? It is something that's been established by this Senedd, by the will of this Senedd, and I hope you'll give it the credit for that and participate in it fully.

15:05
Equality and Human Rights

9. How does the Counsel General ensure that the Welsh Government complies with international law and conventions on equality and human rights? OQ59333

Compliance with international law and human rights conventions is at the heart of everything we do in Wales. We do not see these obligations as optional extras, but consider them fundamental to the functioning of a progressive democracy. As law officer, I consider these obligations very seriously.

I welcome that response, and I noted the earlier response of the Counsel General to a question by my colleague, Joyce Watson, in respect of the UK Government's aptly titled Illegal Migration Bill. Can I note how strangely ironic it is that UK Ministers highlight in the very title of that Bill that the proposals that they're bringing forward are judged by many international authorities to be illegal in risking contravening international law and conventions? Yet this is not the only piece of legislation that introduces the strange predicament for Ministers in devolved nations of being asked to be part of the Executive function, because of directions from the UK Government, in discharging illegal actions. How does the Counsel General feel about that, and how do his Welsh Government Cabinet colleagues feel about being asked to take forward things that contravene international law and conventions?

Well, thank you for the supplementary question. Sadly, on so many occasions, we have seen this occurring, and we've had to discuss it and to raise it in this Chamber. We did it in terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which was clearly unlawful, and of course we've seen all the previous incidents that ended up in the Supreme Court, where the unlawfulness of what was happening by the Westminster Government was rightfully challenged. In fact, the irony is the response of the UK Government to those challenges was, 'Well, how can we then restrict the actual operation of the Supreme Court itself?' And we see internationally what happens when Governments try to actually undermine the independence of the judiciary and the operation of the rule of law.

What I would say, in terms of our record within this Senedd, in terms of our obligation under section 108 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which prevents us from passing any regulations or legislation that is not compliant with those international obligations, is that we were the first UK nation to make the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child part of its domestic law; our Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 adopts the principles of the UN’s sustainable development goals; children's rights are enshrined in Welsh law in the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011, and I could go on and on, and we know, in terms of the legislation passed in this place, that reiterates and complies with international obligations.

Can I say what is fundamentally disturbing about the immigration Bill that has been tabled in Westminster that is being pushed through Parliament now, with very little proper engagement and adequate time for scrutiny, is that the purpose to having a statement on the front of it is to say that the Human Rights Act 1998, the European convention on human rights, has actually been considered and complied with, that the legislation is in compliance? There is not a get out of jail card to say, 'Well, actually, we don't think it complies', et cetera. I really question whether legislation should be allowed to actually be tabled if it is incapable of being able to have a statement by the law officers or by the appropriate Ministers that something is in compliance with international obligations. Otherwise, you're effectively tabling legislation that says, 'This legislation is probably unlawful, but nevertheless we're going to pass it.' What does that actually say about parliamentary democracy and the rule of law? I think it is a really disturbing development in Westminster, and something that really needs to be addressed in terms of the constitutional status of the way that these things are dealt with.

15:10
RFA Sir Galahad

10. What discussions has the Counsel General had with UK Government law officers regarding requests by the families of Welsh service personnel for the declassification of all documents relating to the 1982 inquiry into the sinking of the RFA Sir Galahad? OQ59341

Thank you for this particular question. The defence and operational matters fall within the responsibility of the UK Government, however I would urge the UK Government to release all information relating to the inquiry.

I'm very grateful to the Counsel General for that answer and his urging of the UK Government to release those documents. I've been contacted by campaigners on behalf of the bereaved families, who want and deserve answers. Will you use the influence not just today on the floor of the Senedd, but in the meetings you have with UK Government, to urge them again to be as transparent as possible and also to join with me in calling, when you do meet with those officials, not just on the floor of the Senedd today, but when you meet with those Ministers and officials of the UK Government, that they should release all of the documents related to the 1982 inquiry into the sinking of Sir Galahad so that bereaved families and those survivors can get the answers they so desperately want, but also so desperately deserve? Diolch.

Well, thank you for that supplementary question. I have the great honour each year to attend the memorial event in Ynysangharad park in respect of the Galahad. It's a very moving event, and it's one where I think it is growing year by year as we increasingly recognise, I think, the actual role of armed services personnel and the sacrifices that individuals make, and perhaps events internationally make that even keener in our particular memory.

I'm well aware that Welsh Guards officers have now called for the declassification of the Galahad documents, and, as I say, these aren't things that are within our devolved responsibilities, but I think we've always supported, as with Orgreave and with other events, Hillsborough and so on, the maximisation of transparency, openness and accountability in terms of events that took place. The Galahad events were in 1982, some considerable time ago, and there would have to be some really exceptional reasons as to why documents would not be declassified. I think we would do everything we can to support the declassification of those documents so that the families of those who lost their lives can be satisfied that they fully understand what happened and any questions they have are fully answered.

3. Questions to the Senedd Commission

Item 3 is questions to the Senedd Commission. The first question will be answered by the Llywydd. Heledd Fychan.

Visits by Children and Young People

1. How is the Commission securing opportunities for children and young people to visit the Senedd in light of rising transport costs? OQ59365

The Commission provides opportunities for schools and colleges across Wales to come to the Senedd on educational visits. These visits, conducted with an educational officer, are two hours long and include a tour and educational session in Siambr Hywel. A travel subsidy of £1 per mile is available for visits from outside a 10-mile radius of the Senedd. The scheme has been in place for over 10 years, and this higher rate was agreed to attract schools to visit the Senedd, and is higher than the standard HMRC provision, which is only 40p per mile.

15:15

Thank you very much for that response, and I'm sure that we've all been involved with some excellent visits, and we've seen the superb opportunities that exist for our children and young people and how they and we benefit from these visits.

But one of the things that's concerned to me in speaking to schools in my region, and considering that South Wales Central is that region, is that more and more say that the cost of buses specifically does mean that they are perhaps bringing the school parliament, which is a smaller group that therefore fits in two cars, rather than giving an opportunity for every pupil to come. So, I want to ask whether an assessment has been made in terms of the cost increase of buses specifically, in order to ensure that there are opportunities and that we do emphasise to local authorities how important these visits are, so that everyone benefits, not just small groups of children and young people.

Well, that's a very fair point, bearing in mind that the system that we have we've had in place for 10 years, as I said, with the subsidy of £1 per mile for travel. But, of course, we're very aware that during the last year to 18 months the cost of transport and bus hire in particular has risen very high for all kinds of events. So, I will take the question that you've asked and I will ask officials to look to see whether there are different patterns, smaller perhaps, as you've mentioned, smaller groups who are visiting the Senedd as a result of transport costs, and we will have to look at that, if that is a pattern that we are seeing that's depriving children, from all parts of Wales, of opportunities to benefit from visits here. So, thanks for the question, and we'll look into it.

I know you agree with me, Llywydd, that it's essential for Welsh democracy that the Senedd promotes itself to the people of Wales, and especially to children and young people. And in light of transport costs, I wonder what more the Commission could do to ensure the Senedd takes advantage of major events, when they're happening, when people are already in Cardiff Bay, particularly on weekends. So, for example, I know last weekend the bay was full of people for the 10 km run, which included a fun run for children, and apparently the Senedd was closed. So, looking ahead to other major events—I suppose with the coronation, for example, of the King and Queen Consort on the horizon—can you confirm the Senedd will be open as normal for the Saturday and what special activities are being planned to celebrate the coronation, but also promote and engage with families over that weekend?

Well, can I confirm, first of all, that the Commission has had to take the unfortunate step of having to close the Senedd on a Sunday due to cost pressures and the call on us by Members from across this Chamber, especially in your party, to look at cost reductions and reductions in budget, and therefore the Senedd is not open to the public on a Sunday? You'll know, of course, that we are looking to reduce our budget even further for the next financial year, and therefore that has implications as well.

When you make these calls on us, I'm sure you make the calls, understanding that they will require more money and, therefore, I hope that when we next look at the Commission budget, as we go forward over the next six months, that in your scrutiny of that budget, you'll think about what you want this Senedd to do on the basis of what it will cost for the Senedd to do that as well. And I'm sure that you'll reflect on your aspiration, and my aspiration as well, to be open seven days a week, but that has a cost implication, and we will need to increase our budget in order to do that.

Events on the Senedd Estate

2. How is the Commission simplifying the booking process for hosting events on the Senedd estate? OQ59351

The Commission is reviewing the existing booking process for hosting events and meetings on the Senedd estate, following changes in the use of the estate post pandemic. The changes that will be introduced immediately include amending the booking form to create separate categories for room and event bookings and to be able to process requests more quickly. The new form will be tested and implemented during the summer term. We're also consulting to gather Members' comments on any possible changes for the future.

Thank you, Llywydd. Thank you for your answer. I'm very pleased with your answer, Llywydd. My concern is, there's great difficulty for me and my office when we seem to be trying to host an event in the Senedd. So often I'm told that there's a six-month delay before any event can be organised, and then other times I get told, 'We can't allow that date because it's too far into the future.' But I would appreciate a much more streamlined way of MSs and their offices being able to book meeting rooms in the Senedd. It would be helpful to see what's available, so we can look ourselves and make judgments, and that way it would be a much smoother way; it seems to be quite a bureaucratic way at the moment. But I do hope that the changes that you've talked about can be progressed, Llywydd. Diolch yn fawr.

15:20

Yes, we are aware that there are frustrations with the system currently about the availability of rooms and the booking of those rooms. And in light of the considerable changes, really, in how events and meetings carry on and want to carry on into the future as a result of COVID, especially hybrid meetings or virtual meetings being part of what we can offer now, as well as onsite meetings, then we're going through a consultation exercise with Members to make sure that we're capturing Members' aspirations for what they want to see happening on the estate. So, hopefully everybody will engage with our officers to see what's possible and what can be done to suit the work that Members want to do on this estate.

And also, the point that you also made in your question to make it a bit more open for Members and their staff to see what's already booked, and whether we can progress the idea of an online booking service for some parts of our estate in order to take some of those frustrations out, and to make it all a bit more efficient into the future.

Endometriosis

3. How is the Senedd Commission supporting staff suffering with endometriosis? OQ59340

Thank you for your question, Jack. The Senedd Commission continues to make supporting the physical and mental health of its staff a priority—excuse me—with a well-being strategy in place outlining—excuse me—how we support this.

Can I thank Joyce Watson for that answer? Can I also thank Joyce Watson for her consistent support for those who suffer from endometriosis and other conditions, and for everything you do as the Commission to champion women's equality? I'd also like to place on record, Deputy Presiding Officer, my thanks to campaigner and petitioner of the Senedd, Beth Hales, for her tireless work and inspirational campaigning within this area. This is the month of Endometriosis Action Month, and, as an employer, the Senedd has to be more endometriosis aware and more understanding of employees impacted. Can I ask you, Commissioner, will you look to engage with the endometriosis-friendly employer scheme, and become possibly accredited with that scheme? And will you also look further at what more the Senedd can do, and the Commission can do, to support staff suffering with other conditions?

Right, I can speak now.

We do have a system in place where we have, in the past, promoted physical and mental well-being with campaigns, and one of those campaigns was Endometriosis Awareness Month last year. We do share communications with staff and include a staff blog sharing personal experience of working with endometriosis, and an internal webpage providing specific information and support for those who are suffering with endometriosis. And we do know that 10 per cent of women are known to suffer and are affected by that condition.

In terms of your wider question about whether we will become champions, I think the Senedd is pretty good at championing the welfare of its workforce, but if Endometriosis UK want to get in touch with us, or any other society, to help inform us to make life easier for those people who have conditions that affect them in the workplace, or if anybody within the workplace equally wants to advise us where we can improve, we're always open to that.

15:25

As you said, Joyce, 10 per cent of all women have endometriosis, and I did think about this when I was on the march on Sunday, as to how we might have menstrual health discussions with female Members of the Senedd and staff, because a lot of people don't understand why they're suffering the way they are with their periods, because people who work here today won't have had the benefit of the relationships and sexuality education that we're now giving to young people. 

I think that's a fair point, Jenny. We have a lot of information around and about, but it's at different stages, very often, of women's lives. It's not just endometriosis; it's the menopause, it's other factors for different people. So, I think, where we can, increasing that information—whether that's putting a poster up somewhere—would be a good thing and, yes, we'd be open to that.

Procurement Policy

4. Will the Commission provide an update regarding the procurement policy for materials on the Senedd's estate? OQ59367

The Commission’s procurement policy is in line with the principles of the Wales Procurement Policy Statement. With regards to the purchase of materials, whenever we procure goods with a value in excess of £25K we undertake a sustainability risk assessment. This assessment looks at key life cycle impacts of the materials we buy.

Thank you very much for that response, Llywydd. Last week, I asked a question to the Minister for agriculture on using the Government’s procurement power to use Welsh wool, for example, in carpets on public transport. Likewise, what consideration has the Commission given to ensuring that Welsh wool is used on the Senedd estate, and that the procurement policy notes the need for Welsh wool, for example in the fabric seen on the floor of this Chamber or on the walls of this Chamber, particularly when we see the Chamber extended?

Yes, I’m aware of your support for that very important material, namely, wool in Wales. I share your ambition for that very sustainable material. We are in the eighteenth year in this Chamber, and the wool on the walls and the floor has lasted as long as that, which shows how good that product is. As you mentioned, there will be a period, if legislation demands it, when we will need to extend this Chamber, and possibly at that time we will need to consider whether wool will last, and will need to be bought anew for this Chamber. If we do buy wool at that time, then I hope that it will be a more interesting colour than the grey that was purchased 18 years ago.

Electric Vehicles

5. Has the salary-sacrifice scheme for electric vehicles been introduced for MS support staff and Senedd staff? OQ59331

Yes, I'm very pleased to confirm that the scheme was formally approved and has been launched today. More details are available on the intranet site, and there will be a webinar for Members and staff tomorrow. Immediately after the Easter recess we'll also hold an on-site event, and obviously this scheme fulfils the commitment that we made in our carbon-neutral strategy to help make electric vehicles more affordable. They'll be available for Members, Members' staff and Commission staff, and there'll be a good range of vehicles covering all pay grades.

I have to say that's quite taken my breath away. I will now expect that every time I ask a question in the Senedd demanding something, it gets provided immediately. So, Ministers take note. 

But, seriously, can I thank Ken and the Commissioners and all the staff for the work behind the scenes that has gone into this? And if I could ask now for that active engagement with those staff members, particularly staff members of MSs. You've mentioned the webinars and the other engagement that will be taking place over and after the recess, not just to promote the advantages of the scheme in terms of the uptake of electric vehicles, but also the role this can seriously play in helping them do their own bit in dealing with climate change and air quality. Will there be an active engagement on that, Ken?

15:30

Thanks, Huw. Just to say that, online, on the intranet pages, there's pretty comprehensive information available to all employees, whether staff members of the Commission or of Members themselves. There's also information from the service provider on all the vehicles that are available. I should just point out that, because electric cars are so much in demand, patience will be required for some of the more exotic and popular vehicles, such as the Audi e-tron. There are more modest and lovely vehicles that are available in a matter of weeks, such as the Funky Cat. I'd encourage everybody to take a look at what is available. The scheme is going to be hugely important as we try to encourage people to switch to hybrid and electric vehicles, and the addition of hybrid vehicles in the offer helps to cater to people who may not be able to install electric charge points at their homes. So, we're trying to appeal to all people, regardless of their income or their circumstances at home. And as part of the webinar tomorrow, and the event after the Easter recess, I can promise you, Huw, and all Members, that we'll be actively engaging with everybody.

Disinformation

6. What steps has the Commission taken to prevent the dissemination of disinformation on the Senedd estate? OQ59358

The Commission has strict rules in place around the use of the Senedd estate. All events are reviewed to ensure that they meet our requirements, which include the prevention of activities that are considered discriminatory or offensive. Our communications team have tools in place to monitor the media and social media, in order to identify disinformation about the Senedd. The rise in disinformation is a risk, and I belive that, as Members, we all have a responsibility to help stop its spread, both in our Senedd and in our communities.

Thank you, Llywydd. You will remember, I'm sure, that, on St David's Day, you hosted an event in the Neuadd to celebrate the contribution made by people who'd chosen to make Wales their home, including people who'd fled Nazism as children, and who'd obviously enjoyed the rest of their lives in Wales. At the same time, there was somebody outside the windows of the Neuadd promoting disinformation about relationships and sexuality education, which was very unfortunate, in all sorts of ways. There was nothing that anybody could have done about it at the time, but it was just not good. I suppose there should have been some intervention by the commissionaires, perhaps, but I can see the difficulty of ensuring that we're not seen as an institution that suppresses information that we disagree with.

On a wider issue, GB News, which has been found in breach of Ofcom guidelines around COVID vaccines, has many items broadcasting disinformation or hateful views, and it's currently broadcast on our internal televisions. I just wondered if any thought had been given to whether it was appropriate for an organisation that might continue to disseminate disinformation to be broadcast through our systems to our staff and Members.

On the first part of your question, I was there, and I did witness myself the opportunity taken by the protestors outside to take advantage of the fact that our walls are windows, and to make sure that those of us sitting inside could read their placards. That is both an advantage and a disadvantage of our building. In that moment, I don't think anything could or should have been done, other than it didn't make for a particularly comfortable situation within the Senedd at that point.

Coming on to your second point, it's something that I haven't given any thought to at all. I'll need to take away the issue that you've raised about GB News as a news channel—I think it's a news channel—that is transmitted within the Senedd. I make no comment at all on it, actually, because I've given it no thought at all, but I will since it's been raised by you.

15:35
Photosensitive Epilepsy

7. How does the Senedd estate accommodate people with photosensitive epilepsy? OQ59354

Thank you for your question. We do strive to be a Parliament that is accessible to everyone who works on or visits our estate. The designers of the Senedd building worked closely with disability access groups to ensure that the building complies with the best practice for accessibility. A comprehensive health and safety risk assessment is undertaken for on-site events and activities, for staff using computer monitors and screens, and as a core part of equality impact assessments for improvements and refurbishment across the estate.  

Diolch. Through the Equal Power Equal Voice programme, I'm mentoring a fantastic campaigner from my region, Becci Smart, from Coytrahen in Bridgend. Becci has organised an event I'm sponsoring at the Pierhead building next month to raise awareness about premenstrual disorders, and she is also a long-standing campaigner on epilepsy, a condition she herself lives with. The point of the Equal Power Equal Voice programme is to break down barriers to democratic participation, and increase diversity of representation. The Senedd estate itself therefore must play its part if the Commission supports these aims.

Becci has photosensitive epilepsy, which means she can experience seizures triggered by flickering or flashing lights. To ensure equality of access to buildings for people like Becci, LED panel lights need to be used in buildings like the Senedd, as opposed to other forms of lighting, whose flicker can also cause problems for some autistic people and migraine sufferers. The Senedd Commission could also help by ensuring any defective lighting be switched off as soon as a fault is noted, to ensure the continued health of susceptible visiting public, and replaced as soon as possible, and also that all videos created or funded by the Senedd Commission don't contain flashing images.

Will the Senedd Commission commit to implementing these steps, and engage with epilepsy campaigners like Becci to see what additional measures can be taken to make the Senedd estate more inclusive?

Thank you very much. Anything that we can do, and any information that we can have to help us be better able to support and encourage those people, whatever conditions they have, sharing that information with us, to our advantage, is more than welcome. The majority of the lighting is LED downlighting in the Senedd, and estates and facilities management are currently exploring options to replace the last remaining fluorescent strip light that is in the Senedd security area, and also the Pierhead main hall, which is the point of your question. I will have conversations, and if we can have more information on that event and facilitate that change, we certainly will. We don't have any flashing or flickering or strobe lights or geometric patterns, and we don't have any festive lights, or lights at festive times, that flicker. We do use flat-screen tvs and monitors. So, we're doing an awful lot of work in this space, but if there's more work that we can do, and are able to do, of course we welcome those conversations and I'll work with you to that end.

4. Topical Questions

Item 4 this afternoon is the topical questions and I call on Gareth Davies to ask his topical question.

Glan Clwyd Hospital's Emergency Department

1. What assessment has the Minister made of Healthcare Inspectorate Wales’s report on the emergency department at Glan Clwyd Hospital? TQ757

The Healthcare Inspectorate Wales report notes the hard work and commitment of staff at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd's emergency department and there have been some encouraging improvements following the previous inspection. However, it is very disappointing that many of the issues have still not been fully resolved.

I appreciate your response this afternoon, Minister, and I'd like to thank the Llywydd for accepting my topical question this morning. I'm very pleased that it has been accepted as I've read the HIW report into emergency services at Glan Clwyd Hospital today and I'm shocked. I'm shocked that this is the third inspection within a 12-month period and we're seeing scant evidence of any progress being made on the recommendations supplied by the inspectorate. Let me make it clear that this is no attack on the front-line workers in the department, who are working way above and beyond their job descriptions, but they are firefighting. They are firefighting a high concentration of acutely unwell patients, staff sickness and a lack of space in the department to practise safely. But why are staff going off sick? There is good evidence that staff are going off sick because they are overworked, stressed, burnt out and becoming unwell, and it's a vicious cycle with the issue not being solved. The consequence of that is the perennial hiring of agency staff, which then costs a fortune.

As I've mentioned many times in this Chamber to you before, Minister, the people of the Vale of Clwyd, Denbighshire, Conwy, Flintshire and across north Wales have had enough of bad news after bad news within this health board, and are tired of years and years of no action and deflection of blame and accountability. When you combine this with the recent news that Betsi Cadwaladr has been returned to special measures in the last month, with the chair of the board and independent members being forced to resign by you, instead of the executives, then you can hardly blame my constituents for feeling this way. But I want to be constructive with you, Minister, today. Now you have survived the confidence vote last week, and have the backing and mandate from the First Minister, I want you to find a way out of this situation that we are currently facing in north Wales, and resolve some of these chronic issues in Betsi Cadwaladr. That will help everybody: my constituents, patients, staff and the overall culture within the board.

I have a few questions in my supplementary that I'd like to ask you this afternoon, Minister, if I may. What communication have you had with the new chair of Betsi Cadwaladr so far regarding this matter at Glan Clwyd Hospital? Are you satisfied that his and the new board's aims and objectives match that of the needs of the problems at the emergency department? I'm aware that you are unhappy yourself, Minister, with the current structural size of the emergency department—[Interruption.]

15:40

You have one question, effectively, but not a load of questions, so please keep it to the short and minimum, okay? 

Okay. I'm aware of the structural issues that you've got with the department, so what discussions have you had with the estates team to maximise that capacity and make a safe working environment for all staff and patients?

With the staff sickness problems within the department, what liaison have you had with the executives and the individual operational departments to improve the staff culture and issues within the board? You may say this is not within your gift to achieve, but let's remember, Minister, the health board is now in direct control of the Welsh Government, so it is in your and your department's remit to tackle some of these internal issues, and the liaison with all relevant departments is crucial in tackling this problem. 

What assessment does the Minister make of the internal triage system within the emergency department in consideration of heart attacks, stroke and sepsis, which require rapid treatment, rather than waits of up to two hours? What potential approved clinical pathways have you observed, both in theory and in practice, when visiting hospital sites, that could be implemented as a solution to this problem? And, finally, Minister, do you genuinely believe—[Interruption.]

Thank you very much. Do you genuinely believe that the emergency department at Glan Clwyd Hospital has the potential, in the long term, to improve its fortunes, and be in a position in the future to get waiting times down and be a reliable service for patients in north Wales going forward?

I appreciate they are technical questions, Minister, but I hope they are also helpful to you in formulating some ideas to improve the situation, as I was elected by my constituents on the basis that the technical skills that I acquired in my time in the NHS would be effective and influential for Ministers. Thank you. 

Thanks very much. Obviously, I'm not happy with the progress that's happened in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, and, obviously, I did have sight of this report prior to me putting them into special measures. I was very concerned, and it was one of the many factors that made me lead to that action that I took.

Staffing is a real issue. It's not an issue just in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd; it's an issue throughout the world. I was in a conference recently in Denmark, and the talk of the entire conference was about how difficult it is to recruit people to the health service. I've been talking, today, to the medical director in Betsi about what opportunities there are in relation to improving staffing facilities and recruiting more people in Betsi Cadwaladr, but specifically to see what more we can do in relation to providing that additional support in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. 

You'll be aware that we've escalated this particular facility from targeted intervention to special measures; that means that, obviously, with the special measures, we will become more directive. I think it's really important that people understand that that doesn't mean that we are running the health board. So, it's really important that people understand that the responsibility for running the health board is still with the chair and the chief executive; I'm not running the health board. It's really important that people understand that what we're there to do is to make sure that we support them and we become directive in terms of what our expectations are.

I think it's really important that we try to ensure that people understand that the majority of people who have care, even in this emergency department, continue to receive good care and a good experience, but there are too many people who are not having that good experience. One of the things that I've been very keen to do is to make sure that we give more support to urgent and emergency care, and that's why we've earmarked £25 million across Wales. But, in addition to that, there has been a specific allocation of £418,000 to emergency departments in Betsi, because I do appreciate that, actually, this is not going to go away in the sense that the demand is constant. Obviously, we've got a lot of work to do on flow, but I want people, while they're waiting, to have a more pleasant time than they are now, which is why we're putting some additional facility and support into the capital and the infrastructure in emergency departments.

There's a lot of work to do, clearly, around the staff culture in relation to what is happening in the emergency department. There are, I'm sure, many, many able people; there are people who are working extremely hard. But, also, I think it is important to note that this report suggests that some of the staff were not always kind and courteous to patients, and we have to make sure that there is a no-tolerance approach to that. It's clear that things need to change in relation to the culture in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, and in particular in the emergency department. I hope, this time, that the health board will pay heed to this report and that we will not see another poor report from HIW again. 

15:45

Here we are again—another damning report. We are talking about an inspection that had placed the emergency department at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in May of last year under the designation of a service that needs substantial improvement. Let's be clear that this is the highest tier of concern that can be expressed, and nothing could be more of an incentive for the Government to act to ensure that things do improve significantly.

We could look at the positives, and note that the most recent report, after the most recent inspection, said that things had improved somewhat by that point, but what we read, I'm afraid, is—and I quote—that there have been 'minor improvements'. Now, I hope that I'm correctly quoting the Minister when she said:

'Many of the issues have not been fully resolved'.

Well, it's not that they haven't been fully resolved; there have only been minor improvements. There is one sentence that really struck me, namely that, 'Inspectors from Healthcare Inspectorate Wales had to assist one patient who needed help but no member of staff was to be seen'. How appalling is that—that inspectors are not only seeing those deficiencies, but they actually have to step in to help? It is quite frightening.

Through all of this, the staff are praised, and we, as a Senedd here, can praise those staff too. Their relationship with local managers is also praised, and it's worth noting that. The problem, and what we have to ask again today are questions about those senior managers—the executive board committee—and many of them have a lack of understanding of the problems in Betsi Cadwaladr emanating from the fact that they are at a physical distance from the area, as well as in terms of their understanding of the situation in Betsi Cadwaladr—many of them are interim positions of course. Now, the question is: why has the Government allowed things to drag on for so long? This is a copy of a report from nine months previously. If placing the board in special measures was the solution, why wait for nine months? But now that you, as a Government, have a hold of the board through those special measures, what steps will be taken to ensure that those staffing problems are resolved—that there is a new overview of how to tackle the staff rota problems and so on?

Unfortunately, what we have here is a board that has shown time and time again that it is broken and a Government that is failing to tackle the situation by taking those brave steps—taking those far-reaching steps of giving us a new start in Betsi Cadwaladr. The Minister can't use cost as an excuse for not reorganising because it has cost more to try and put things right and fail, and the Minister cannot use as an excuse the fact that that would be disruptive. There is nothing more disruptive than the lack of confidence and the lack of faith that people and staff in Betsi Cadwaladr have now in the ability to turn things around. So, let's have a fresh start. Will the Minister agree to my question once again today to put a plan B together, because I'm afraid that people's confidence in plan A—continuing with Betsi—has long since dissipated?

15:50

Well, I think the Government has acted—we've stepped in and given an opportunity to the board to act, and what we saw were not the kind of improvements that we would have expected to see. This report is not acceptable. The report does praise the staff to a certain extent. Some of them are critical of some of the staff and it is important that we monitor that because that's part of the culture that needs to be changed, particularly in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. I do agree that we need to look at the role of the senior managers here and I know that the new chair is looking into these issues.

Regarding staffing, I am pleased to say that they are now in a position where there are two new consultants in the department, so it's up to a full complement in terms of what's expected in an emergency department. And we've also seen recruitment for bands 4, 2 and 5, and now what's happening is that there are monthly sessions that are being held where managers listen to the concerns expressed by staff and ensure that staff have an opportunity to have their say on their concerns.

I share the astonishment at the fact that we have yet another report before us that regurgitates many of the same concerns that we've seen twice before. I note that this inspection by HIW actually took place in November of last year. Why on earth has it taken so many months for these reports to see the light of day? And the Minister may well say that there have been improvements, and there do appear to have been some improvements, certainly in terms of record keeping, but we know, from our own post bags, as local Members of the Senedd, that there are still huge problems in that emergency department. Just this week, I was contacted by a constituent whose husband was conveyed to Glan Clwyd Hospital in an ambulance in a serious state and wasn't seen by a doctor, to be examined, for 28 hours—over a day. That is obviously unacceptable and potentially put that gentleman at serious risk of harm.

The situation is not getting any better from a patient perspective. It seems to only be getting worse. I want to see these improvements driven forward. It's very clear in this report that the staff did not feel supported, and, I quote from the report,

'did not feel supported by health board senior leaders.'

These are the same senior leaders that you, Minister, have allowed to stay in post. When will we have an accountable NHS so that people like this, who are failing to resolve long-standing issues in that emergency department—when will they be sacked? We need to see the back of them. We won't see improvements before they are moved on. It's unacceptable and my constituents and other people in north Wales deserve a lot better than this.

Thanks very much. Obviously, it's not my report to publish, it's HIW's report, and they're the people who determine the timescale on which that happens. Look, I acknowledge that there are still very, very serious problems, in particular in relation to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and in particular in relation to the emergency department. That's why I've had serious discussions with the medical director to ask about what exactly is being put in place. Of course it's unacceptable if somebody is not seeing a doctor for that length of time. Triage, of course, is really important, but there are occasions when triage is taking too long, as well.

What's interesting for me is that there seems to be a specific problem here with the emergency department in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, because I visited the emergency department in Wrexham Maelor recently, and it seemed to be far more organised and under control, they knew what they were doing, and it was in a much better place. So, one of the things I think we've got to encourage is to learn best practice from the other emergency departments that are working better in Betsi.

I don't know how many times I can say this: I do not have the ability to sack people who I do not employ. I cannot sack executives, and I think it's really important that people understand that the chair will obviously be looking at what needs to be done in this space, and I know that he's looking at that very seriously.

15:55
5. 90-second Statements

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. The twenty-fourth World Transplant Games will take place next month in Perth, Australia. Since the very first games in Portsmouth in 1978, they've been held all around the world, serving as a celebration of the gift of a second chance at life, the demonstration of the success of transplant surgery, a promotion of the need to raise awareness of organ and tissue donation, and a beacon for transplant recipients, donors, families and supporters.

The seven-day programme mixes high and low-impact sports with social and cultural events. This year, 2,500 competitors from over 60 nations will take part, including Cerys O'Connell, an inspirational 14-year-old from Mountain Ash. When she was just four, Cerys was diagnosed with severe aplastic anaemia. The only treatment for this life-threatening condition was a bone marrow transplant. Luckily, her sister Megan was a blood match, and, following intensive chemotherapy, Cerys received her transplant in 2013.

This hasn't stopped Cerys being a keen competitive swimmer. After winning three golds and a silver medal for Wales in last year's British Transplant Games, Cerys was selected as part of team GB. Cerys needed to raise funds to cover the cost of her trip, and I'm pleased to say that she smashed her JustGiving target, thanks to the generosity of all who donated. The very best of luck to Cerys and team GB.

This week marks World Autism Acceptance Week, which aims to change attitudes towards autistic people and their families. As part of its sixtieth anniversary year, the National Autistic Society collaborated with autistic people to create a vision of a society that works for them. Through interviews, workshops, social media and non-verbal creative activities, the charity invited autistic people, their families and subject experts to describe a world that works for autistic people.

The resulting 'The Moonshot Vision' report outlines five key future realities, as well as short, medium and long-term milestones. It found that an autism-friendly society:

'Values autistic individuals. Understands and appreciates what autism is and how it is unique for each individual'.

And it:

'Maximises autistic power'.

It empowers autistic people

'to control how they live their lives and make distinctive contributions that influence the world'.

It also:

'Guarantees support. Provides seamless diagnosis, support and care for autistic people from all backgrounds, at all moments of need throughout their lives.

'Adapts public spaces and services'.

And it ensures that they're

'inclusive, with flexible adjustments that recognise that not all autistic people have the same preferences'.

And it:

'Is free from discrimination. Rejects stereotypes and stigma, removes the expectation to mask, and doesn’t accept being told to fit in'.

At least one in 100 people in Wales is on the spectrum, so it's crucial that we all consider the part we can play in making this ambitious vision a reality. Diolch yn fawr.

16:00

Y Dinesydd, at 50 years of age: it’s my great pleasure to note in this Senedd that half a century has passed since the establishment of the first papur bro—community newspaper—in Wales, and that here in our capital city. Y Dinesydd was the vision of the late and beloved Mered, and a number of prominent Welsh speakers played an integral role in its inception, including the very industrious Shân Emlyn, the unique David Meredith, and the experienced journalist Vaughan Hughes. In the midst of their busy everyday lives, many volunteers have worked diligently and often thanklessly to ensure that Y Dinesydd is celebrating its fiftieth birthday. The dream was realised in the first issue, namely to enrich Welsh-speaking life in the capital and to bring Welsh speakers closer together. The establishment of Y Dinesydd led to papurau bro—community newspapers—throughout Wales and beyond—and, if you're wondering where 'beyond' is, the Angor in Liverpool, edited by D. Ben Rees, is that 'beyond'—over 59 of them, including Llais Ogwen, the second to be established in 1974, Tafod Elai in the Pontypridd area and Clochdar in the Cynon Valley and the Gloran in the Rhondda Valley. Cardiff has benefited over the years from Welsh speakers moving to the capital. Certainly, this is at least one example of Cardiff’s contribution to the Welsh-speaking life of our nation. Please buy the bumper edition next month. Thank you very much.

6. Motion to amend Standing Orders—Proxy voting

Item 6 this afternoon is the motion to amend Standing Orders on proxy voting, and I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion—Siân Gwenllian.

Motion NDM8240 Elin Jones

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:

1. Considers the report of the Business Committee, ‘Amending Standing Orders: Proxy Voting’, laid in the Table Office on 22 March 2023.

2. Approves the proposal to amend Standing Order 12, as set out in Annex A of the Business Committee’s report.