Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

27/06/2023

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 First Minister

Good afternoon and welcome to this Plenary session. The first item will be questions to the First Minister, and the first question this afternoon is from Peredur Owen Griffiths. 

Support for Mortgage Holders

1. How is the Government supporting home owners in South Wales East who are facing increased mortgage payments? OQ59749

Llywydd, we're doing everything we can to support people through this cost-of-living crisis by providing targeted help to those who need it the most. Forty million pounds has been allocated to bring forward schemes to support people in mortgage difficulty at an early stage to enable them to stay in their own homes.

Diolch, Prif Weinidog. It's good to hear that those plans are progressing, because many, many households are in a desperate situation. One of my constituents showed me his mortgage statement, which shows that, on 30 November this year, their current payment, which is £617.81, will rise to £932.96. If there are more interest rate rises in the meantime, that monthly payment might well increase again. They do not know where they will find that extra money. Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak is asking people to 'hold their nerve'. That's easy to say when you've got an estimated family wealth of £529 million. The mortgage rescue scheme is something that Plaid Cymru's Jocelyn Davies developed to great effect during the One Wales Government. As part of the suite of plans to protect home owners, will you consider a rent freeze in the private housing market to protect tenants who will also suffer unless action is taken? The SNP Government has passed legislation that has protected tenants. Tenants in Wales deserve the same security, First Minister. 

Well, Llywydd, thank you to Peredur Owen Griffiths for that set of questions. I agree with him, of course, that so many households in Wales are faced with rising mortgage bills, where they do not know how they will manage with the rises already announced, and do not know what further rises will come in future. The schemes that the Welsh Government is devising with that £40 million will travel under the broad banner of Help to Stay. So, they are aimed at early stage mortgage difficulties, where it's possible to take action that will allow people to remain in their own homes. The scheme to which the Member referred from the One Wales Government has never closed; it's been open over the whole of the period since. Of course, for a long period, with mortgage rates very low, the take-up of it was very modest. But it remains there, and it remains an option for local authorities particularly to help people much further down the mortgage difficulties path. 

As to a rent freeze, it's a blunt instrument; it has many unintended consequences. We know in Scotland that it has led to a reduction in properties available for rent, because people who have bought properties on a buy-to-let basis themselves face mortgages that have now gone up significantly. The Bank of England estimates that it will take a 20 per cent rise in private sector rents simply to cover the additional costs that buy-to-let landlords now incur. Even the Scottish scheme is not a rent freeze for everybody; it is a rent freeze for some people, in some circumstances. In Wales, we believe there are other measures, and less blunt instruments, that allow us to respond to the people who are in exactly the difficulties that the Member described.

First Minister, I'd like to begin with a quote:

'There is no answer to the mortgage crisis without building more homes'.

Those aren't my words, First Minister, but the words of Labour MP, Lisa Nandy, in an interview this weekend. These are incredibly uncertain and worrying times for home owners, and I was pleased to see the UK Government reveal a series of measures to help residents only last week. However, for many people in Wales, the thought of owning their own home is nothing more than a far-flung dream, and that's due to the Welsh Government here overseeing a major housing crisis, and, unfortunately, not doing very much to fix it. The Government is barely building 6,000 homes a year, First Minister, when, in fact, we need around 12,000. We have some 90,000 people here languishing on social housing waiting lists, and we've got more than 10,000 people living in temporary accommodation. Two councils in Wales had households on social housing waiting lists for more than 17 years. That's shocking, First Minister. Most people can see that the key to solving a lot of problems is to, in fact, build more homes. So, First Minister, do you agree with Lisa Nandy that there is no fix to this mortgage crisis without actually building new homes? And if so, given Labour is in power here, and has been for 25 years, when can we see the Government stop shirking responsibility and take action—[Interruption.]—into this?

13:35

We need to have some quiet so that the First Minister can hear the question. The noise was coming from your own back benches, by the way, just in case you need to know that, First Minister. [Laughter.]

I could hear. Llywydd, well, of course, Lisa Nandy was right that building more homes has to be part of the solution to people who don't have homes at the moment. She will have been replying to the retreat of the UK Government from the plans that the Conservative Party had announced earlier in this Parliament—the abandonment under the pressure of Conservative backbenchers that has meant that Michael Gove has had to throw away the plans that he had to build more homes in England. That is the point that Lisa Nandy was making.

Here in Wales, we remain committed to 20,000 new homes for social rent, built to the highest possible standards. While mortgage rates continue to go up under the stewardship of the UK Conservative Government, then of course house builders are not going to be encouraged to build more homes. That is what house builders are telling us. As the cost of borrowing rises, it rises for them, it rises for businesses. We've heard already this afternoon the effect on home owners and people who look to rent their homes. But it's not just that, is it? It's people who run businesses, including house building businesses as well, who now find their bills going up, and the ability of ordinary people to afford houses that are being built goes down. So, this is not simply a matter of building more homes, desirable as that is; it's a matter of the affordability of those homes as well. And that is why the rate rises that we have seen in recent months are having such a choking impact on household budgets and the ability of markets to supply basic needs.

Of course, Lisa Nandy, you, First Minister, and I and everybody in this Chamber knows that this isn't an interest rate crisis; it's a Tory interest rate crisis, created as a consequence of a hard Brexit and economic mismanagement. We all saw—[Interruption.] You can shout as much as you like. We all saw the way that Liz Truss crashed the economy. It's not Liz Truss who is now suffering the consequences of it; it's people that we all represent here, home owners and renters alike. And the Member for London can cry as many crocodile tears as she likes about the situation facing home owners. First Minister, do you agree with me that the Tory economic mismanagement has failed home owners, has failed renters, has failed us all, and the best thing we need is a Labour Government able to rebuild this economy?

Llywydd, of course Alun Davies articulates the most important solution to the difficulties that ordinary people in Wales face. This is a crisis made in Downing Street, by successive occupants of 10 Downing Street. I've listened in the last week to UK Conservative Ministers tell us that austerity was a very fine thing because it prepared us better for coronavirus. I've heard Tory Ministers say that we were lucky to have the crisis of Brexit because the crisis of Brexit meant that we were better prepared for the crisis of COVID. [Interruption.] That is what Oliver Dowden—[Interruption.] That is what Oliver Dowden said; he said it not just once, he said it time after time again. In fact, what he said was that the disaster of Brexit—the disaster of Brexit—meant that we were better placed for the disaster of coronavirus. And now they want to say the same thing again—that their disastrous record somehow entitles them to an opportunity to put that disaster right. It's writ large in the lives of people facing mortgage interest rate rises. Those people know where the responsibility lies. They know where the blame lies too, and that's why we'll have that next Labour Government.

Economic Development in Mid Wales

2. What action is the Welsh Government taking to promote economic development in mid Wales? OQ59767

Llywydd, we're working actively with our partners to explore opportunities for the region through the delivery of the mid Wales growth deal. The collaboratively produced regional economic framework for mid Wales sets out our shared priorities for the region.  

13:40

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. The Welsh Government is, indeed, supporting and creating jobs in mid Wales, and that is key to keeping and attracting more young people to that region. But I read with deep unease media reports about alleged threats to remove investment from Wales if the Welsh Government continues to pursue activity in Gilestone Farm. I also note that the leader of the opposition has tabled no fewer than 60 written questions on this single investment. Can you shed light on the story? And do you agree with me that it's essential that the Welsh Government is consistent and fair in dealing with all potential investors?

Well, Llywydd, the Member makes a very important general point about the importance of growing the economy in mid and west Wales, and particularly jobs that retain young people in the communities in which they have grown up and where they wish to make a contribution to the future success of those economies. It's why we are working with the mid Wales growth deal; it's why we are pursuing those major opportunities that will come from renewable marine energy along the coastal strip of mid and west Wales.

In relation to the specific point that the Member made about Gilestone Farm, the vast majority of businesses and investors we work with approached the Government with professionalism, integrity and a passion for the contribution they make to our economy. Where it is, sadly, made necessary, the Welsh Government will be robust in making clear that ministerial decisions will not be changed as a result of undue pressure or, indeed, threats. And it is, of course, important that all Members consider and test the seriousness of the proposals brought to them to ensure that the cases they advance are genuine and not driven by ulterior motives.

First Minister, it is often said that the backbone of the Welsh economy is small businesses, and that couldn't be more true, of course, in mid Wales. The vision for the Growing Mid Wales plan and the growth deal allude to 95 per cent of businesses in mid Wales being small businesses. An issue that's most raised with me by small businesses, as they feel it's an obstacle to growing their business, is around the planning process. Often, they feel obstacles are being put in their way, and there are often huge costs associated with a planning application that are often too much of a risk for a business then to develop or pursue the growth of their business. I wonder, First Minister, if you could outline what steps are being taken to ensure that the planning processes are more closely aligned to the economic growth priorities for the region. 

Well, Llywydd, the planning processes are there to balance out a whole series of different interests. Businesses have very legitimate and important interests when they're seeking to grow and they need to pursue those through the planning process, but so will people in the areas in which those businesses seek to expand. And the planning process is there to make sure that anybody who has an interest in a planning proposal has an opportunity to make sure that their voice is heard, and that the eventual decision is a rounded decision taking all those interests into account. Sometimes, that can seem cumbersome, but it's because of the need to ensure that everybody feels they have had a proper opportunity to make their contribution known and for it to count in the decision making. The Welsh Government encourages local authorities, where there are scarce planning resources, to combine those resources into wider, regional capacity so that planning applications can be pursued in a timely manner and people aren't held up in being able to make the advances they seek to make, whether that is in business or any other sphere of life. Because of the undoubted strains on local authority resources, pooling capacity, working on a wider footprint is one of the ways in which fragile services can be sustained and strengthened.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

13:45

Thank you, Presiding Officer. In your earlier answers, First Minister, to questions, you seemed to blame all of the ills of Wales on the UK Government. One of the figures that came out last Thursday was quite clearly an area that you have complete control of, and that is the increase in NHS waiting times. An extra 6,000 people were added on the pathway list; now, nearly 750,000 people in Wales are on a pathway. We also saw a miniscule drop in those waiting two years or more; in excess of 30,000 people are waiting two years or more. One in five people who are on an NHS pathway here in Wales are waiting one year or more—one year or more to see themselves progress on those waiting lists. What hope can you give to those individuals who are waiting two years or one year, and those who have been added to the waiting lists time and time again, as each month passes by, that these lists will decrease and that by the end of the year we will see the elimination of the two-year waits here in Wales?

The hope that we offer people is to recognise the enormous efforts that the health service is making and the success that the health service is seeing in those efforts. Two-year waits did fall again last month for the thirteenth month in a row, 52-week waits for out-patients fell again last month, and department performance improved last month. In the figures, challenging as the situation is, there are signs that the investment that the Minister has made, and the plan that she has for the NHS in the post-COVID period, is succeeding. Just to think of it in this way, to help the Member, in the six months to March 2023, the last full year, waiting lists in Wales decreased by 2.6 per cent, while they increased in London by 2.7 per cent—a 5 percentage point gap in performance to the advantage of the Welsh NHS.

First Minister, I want to know what's going on here in Wales and what hope you're offering to people here in Wales. But if you want to use the English statistics, 5 per cent of people are waiting one year or more in England and 20 per cent of people on a waiting list are waiting one year or more in Wales. You talk about the decrease in two-year waits; 261 people came off that two-year wait. There are still over 30,000 people waiting two years or more here in Wales. In England, they have all but been eliminated, and in Scotland as well, so this is an outlier that's happening here in Wales on your watch. This isn't my comment; this is the Royal College of Surgeons' comment, when they say that these figures are a 'wake-up call' to see what the Welsh Government can do now that they might have a bit of space before we get into the winter pressures.

So, again, what actions are the Welsh Government taking to reduce these stubbornly high waiting lists, and will you stand by a commitment to say that two-year waits here in Wales will be eliminated by the end of this calendar year? It's not much to ask, because you used to have a target to eliminate those two-year waits. Have you given up on them?

I notice that when it suits the leader of the opposition to compare what happens in Wales and England, he does so at every opportunity, and the minute I point out something else to him, he tells me he's not interested in what happens elsewhere—he wants to focus on what happens in Wales. So, let's focus on what's happening in Wales for a moment. As I've said to him, those long waits are falling—they are falling in in-patients and they are falling in out-patients. Diagnostic waits and therapy waits continued to fall, particularly in therapy waits, last month. And the median time—the standard time—it takes to be treated in the Welsh NHS, from the minute your doctor refers you to the minute your treatment is concluded, is 20 weeks. That is the standard experience of a Welsh patient: from the minute they are referred to the minute their treatment is over, it takes 20 weeks.

That's why, when the Member always comes here to talk down the NHS, to tell us that there's nothing good he can find to say about it, it does not resonate in the experience of people who rely on the NHS, who know how hard people are working and who know how exhausted our staff are from the enormous demands that they have faced in recent times. The Welsh Government backs them; it backs them with investment, it backs them by resolving pay disputes without the strikes that we have seen in England and will continue to see in England, and it does so by having a commitment to that service that only a Labour Government will ever provide.

13:50

We spend less in Wales per head of the population on health than any other part of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. I used the figures about one-year waits and the elimination of two-year waits in England. You, on two questions, failed to answer whether you'd commit to wiping out those two-year waits here in Wales. Why won't you give some hope and some inspiration to patients that they will progress through, and that those 32,000 that are waiting two years or more, or indeed the 150,000-odd people who are waiting one year or more, can see some progress in their waiting times?

The comment I put to you about it being a wake-up call wasn't my comment, it was the Royal College of Surgeons' comment. Those are people at the coalface who are dealing with these patients day in, day out. I offer you the third and final time today, First Minister, to give that commitment to get rid of the two-year waits in the NHS. I hear some laughing coming from the Labour benches. For the 31,000 people who are on a two-year wait, that's no laughing matter. It isn't unfair to ask the First Minister, who's responsible for the NHS here in Wales, to commit to getting rid of those two-year waits, which has happened in Scotland and happened in England.

First of all, let's make sure that the record accurately reflects spending, because what the leader of the opposition said is simply untrue. Spending per head of the population on the NHS in Wales, and on health and social care in Wales, is higher than in other parts of—[Interruption.] I said health as well. On health it is higher—health and social care. It is higher in Wales than elsewhere, not as the Member said in his opening remarks to me.

The health Minister has set out our ambitions to reduce long waits, including two-year waits and much more besides. Of course we stick to those commitments and we commend all those people who work so hard every day in our health service to try to make sure that those commitments are delivered.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. One of the things that's been wonderful since becoming leader of my party are the warm words coming from people who are pleased to see a Member representing a north Wales constituency being a leader here in the Senedd. I strongly believe in uniting Wales, every part of the nation, but I'm very proud to represent the northernmost constituency. It gives one a different perspective in many ways, including in terms of north-south travel.

Last week, it was nearer breakfast time than teatime by the time I got home from Cardiff after a six-hour rail journey. I don't think I've ever seen Bangor station platform at 3 o'clock in the morning before. But I'm not here to complain about my own journey. It is striking, however, when I and others in this Senedd raise our frustrations about transport, the flood of people raising their own concerns about delays, about cancelled trains, like the couple in their eighties from my constituency recently who had to stand for two hours without access to the toilet on the train from the north to the south. Does the First Minister think that the current rail service offered by Transport for Wales is acceptable?

No I don't, Llywydd, and nor does the Minister. The Minister said very recently that the challenges facing Transport for Wales mean that the service that has been provided in some parts of Wales has not been of a standard that passengers are entitled to expect. It's why the Deputy Minister has been meeting rail users, particularly in those places where those difficulties have been greatest, to hear directly from those passengers, and to work with them and others to improve the service that is available here in Wales. There are a series of reasons that lie behind the difficulties that have been experienced. Travel patterns have altered since the pandemic—that is certainly true on the railways, as it has been in bus services, as we have discussed here on the floor of the Senedd. The rail industry everywhere is having to cope with changes in passenger numbers on the one hand and reduced investment by the UK Government on the other. It's why passengers in his part of the world, on the north Wales coast, have recently had their mainline services cut by Avanti West Coast, which itself puts additional pressure on those local services provided by Transport for Wales.

I'm pleased that the First Minister admits that there is a problem—I think it's quite obvious that there is a problem—and it was good to hear that the Deputy Minister also admits that things aren't good enough. But the worry I have is that trajectory that we're on. These are serious issues: four in 10 trains in Wales delayed, and the latest 12-month figures showing a deteriorating picture. Surely we should be able to expect that things are getting better. In April, I think, the independent watchdog Transport Focus said the situation was untenable, calling on Transport for Wales to put a robust plan in place outlining how they'll restore services and get things back on track for passengers. When Transport for Wales, remember, took over from Arriva in 2018, they said that we would be promised a rail service transformed within five years. Now, five years is up; it has clearly not happened to that timescale. When can passengers expect to see genuine and sustained improvements in the service?

13:55

I don't want to say to the Member that there will be an easy pathway to those improvements. As we've rehearsed on the floor of the Senedd here recently, Network Rail have published an investment prospectus that puts Wales at the very foot of the investment league and that they themselves say will lead to greater cancellations and more delays in the future as a result of a plan that they have published. That is the essential context within which Transport for Wales also operates.

But, in sharp contrast to the lack of investment in Wales by the UK Government, we are investing over £1 billion in the transformation of the core Valleys lines in south Wales alone, with new trains on the Transport for Wales network in every part of Wales, more new trains in north Wales than in any other part of Wales, and more to come—trains built in Wales, trains being operated in Wales, and trains that will lead to a better service for passengers. But the context within which Transport for Wales operates is sharply different to the one envisaged five years ago, let alone the experience that has happened over those five years. I'm not going to stand here and say to any Member that the pathway from where we are to where we want to be will be one that can be travelled quickly.

The First Minister rightly points to the problems of infrastructure and the lack of investment over the years. The Member for Aberconwy says that it's about the rolling stock. Well, rolling stock will get better, but we absolutely need to get the track better, and I'm afraid successive Labour and Conservative Governments have failed over a period of decades to make sure that Wales has its fair share, or anywhere near its fair share, of investment in improving rail infrastructure in Wales. It's that lack of infrastructure that's led to the lack of electrified lines—none at all until recently—and the lack of basic links, like from Pwllheli to Bangor. There used to be a train there. There is still a train, but it takes eight hours. That's not the kind of rail service that we want in Wales.

Meanwhile, taxpayers are still expected to contribute towards the high speed 2 line. That is the very definition of economic injustice. This is a rail development completely outside of Wales, but Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer seem content with that injustice. At the recent Welsh Labour conference, the Labour leader refused to commit to granting Wales its fair share of HS2 funding, should he enter No. 10. Will the First Minister use his direct line to Keir Starmer to ask why, when it comes to this basic economic fairness, he chooses to side with the Tory Government, and not the people of Wales?

I think it is a significant misrepresentation to conflate the positions of a Prime Minister in office, making decisions today to deny Wales the funding that Wales ought to have through the Barnett formula as a result of HS2 investment, and a government that hasn't even been elected yet. Sir Keir Starmer will be weighing up the options that an incoming Labour government will have in front of it when it inherits the economic catastrophe that has been the record of the Conservative Government. He's not going to be offering a long shopping list of all the things that he will or will not do on the day that he comes into office, and nobody should mistake that for a positive decision not to do something. All he is saying is that, at this point, with a year to go to an election, he will be having to, in a responsible way, make decisions in the context in which he will find himself. The view of the Welsh Labour Government and the view of the Senedd has been very plain, and it's not just our view, as we know, it's the view of many independent commentators far beyond this Chamber: HS2 is not a scheme that benefits Wales. There ought to have been a Barnett consequential, in the way there has been for Scotland. Keir Starmer is in no doubt at all about our position on that issue, and I will make sure that we continue to articulate it to him.

14:00
The NHS Estate in North Wales

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the NHS estate in North Wales? OQ59737

Llywydd, the capital programme in health and social care in Wales exceeds £375 million in the current financial year, and rises again next year. Local health boards must prioritise their own proposals for investment in the NHS estate and then submit business cases to the Welsh Government.

First Minister, it'll come as no surprise to you that I'm going to ask again: where is the investment for the north Denbighshire community hospital? We know that, down the road from the proposed location of the north Denbighshire community hospital in Rhyl, we have a hospital in Bodelwyddan that is really struggling. In fact, it has the worst A&E performance against the eight-hour target and the worst A&E performance against the 12-hour target in Wales, and that is unacceptable. We have one in five people waiting over 12 hours in A&E to be discharged. Now, clearly, there needs to be some action.

One of the solutions that has previously been supported by the Welsh Government has been the establishment of a new north Denbighshire community hospital, with a minor injuries unit, to take pressure off Glan Clwyd, but we're yet to see a spade in the ground, and it's been 10 years since the hospital was promised. When can the people of my constituency, and people elsewhere in north Wales, who could be served by this hospital, see that work under way?

I thank Darren Millar for the question. Of course, as he says, I'm not surprised to hear him raise the issue, because he has raised it persistently and powerfully on the floor of the Senedd. As I've said to him previously, however, a strategic outline case that came in at £22 million is now a full business case reported at £72 million, and that is such a material change in the proposal that the discussion between the Welsh Government and the board has to continue. Now, the health Minister met the board and said in terms to them that they, with their partners, have to prioritise the many schemes that the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has in the making. And, when we receive that sense of prioritisation, which is yet to be delivered to the Welsh Government, then we will be able to make decisions in relation to the north Denbighshire community hospital. In the meantime, I fully understand why the local Member goes on making the case that he does.

I agree that we desperately need to invest in our NHS estate in Wales—in north Wales in particular. But I also understand that building costs have increased by 40 to 50 per cent, due to inflationary pressures. A lot of it's caused by Liz Truss's mishandling of the economy, of Brexit, as was mentioned earlier, and that capital funding has decreased in real terms from the UK Government. Neither the Welsh Government's borrowing limit, nor the draw-down limit of its reserves, have been operated since 2016, something that the Institute for Fiscal Studies have argued should have happened. And by not doing this, the Welsh Government has been unable to access the necessary funds of this flexibility to address the serious challenges we face in Wales to the extent that it should be able to. Our budget has also decreased in real terms since it was set in 2021 as part of the UK's spending review, compounding the position further.

So, First Minister, do you agree with me that it's the UK Government that is denying Wales the funding that it should be able to call on to invest more in public services and the public estate, such as our hospitals?

Well, Llywydd, a series of Members this afternoon are making the case for additional investment in infrastructure here in Wales. We heard it from the leader of Plaid Cymru in relation to transport, and Carolyn Thomas makes a powerful case for further investment in the infrastructure of our health service. But here are three key facts in all of that, Llywydd: first of all, inflation is eroding the real value of the budgets we currently have—the £375 million available to the NHS will not achieve the impact that we expected it to achieve at the point that that figure was initially set.

Secondly, not only is the value of the Welsh budget being eroded by inflation, but the cash available for capital investment is going down. In 2024-25, there will be a further 11 per cent reduction in the capital available to the Welsh Government for all the purposes that we have to discharge. Indeed, in the spring statement, Members here will remember that the total additional capital investment made available to the Welsh Government for that hospital in Denbigh, for transport in north Wales, for the housing that we need in every part of Wales, as we heard earlier, was £1 million—£1 million for all of those purposes that we have to discharge here in this Senedd. That is the root of the answer to so many of the questions that have been raised here this afternoon. You cannot invest in the way we would want to when we're denied the investment we need.

And my third point, Llywydd, is this, and it was echoed in what Carolyn Thomas said: the borrowing limits available to the Welsh Government were set in 2016. They have not risen by a single penny since then, despite the fact that every single year, the real value of that borrowing goes down. No sensible person that I know of, other than successive Chief Secretaries to the Treasury—I think my colleague the finance Minister is on her seventh or eighth Chief Secretary since she took office—nobody sensible argues that those figures should not be increased at least in line with inflation. And yet, while the case is made time after time to the UK Government, they refuse to take even that small and sensible step to restore our ability to borrow to the level that that Government agreed was necessary for Wales back in 2016. 

14:05
A Civic Duty to Vote

4. What assessment has the First Minister made of the benefits of introducing a civic duty to vote in Welsh elections? OQ59747

I thank Adam Price for that question, Llywydd. We are committed to reducing the democratic deficit in Wales by reforming electoral administration, widening access to elections and encouraging participation in our democracy. In my opinion, before introducing a formal civic duty, the people of Wales would need to support that change through the manifesto process.

Twenty-six nations have introduced a civic duty to vote—Belgium and Australia among them, where the percentage voting is consistently over 90 per cent. If Wales could emulate that level of participation on elections, it would transform our democracy. Does the First Minister agree with the constitutional committee and with the Senedd reform Bill in the pipeline that this is the ideal time for us to have this debate in Wales? And would the Government be willing to consider commissioning a piece of work on the international experience by the Wales Centre for Public Policy looking at the evidence as part of the project that's been commenced by the Counsel General looking into the health of our democracy here in Wales? 

I thank Adam Price for asking this important question. As he said, evidence in countries where people do vote under the system that he suggested shows that many more people do vote, and that's an important thing in terms of the health of our democratic system. And now is the time to start having that debate, because a Bill will come before the Senedd in the autumn and work is ongoing with other people as well. I can discuss with the Counsel General the case for more research to help us here in Wales to have that debate, but as I said in the original answer, to me—I'm not talking about my personal view—if we are going to move towards a system where we're going to place a formal civic duty on people, we will need to have the debate not just here, but with people in Wales through the process of creating a manifesto and taking it out to people to see what they think. But now is the time to have that debate, and Adam Price has raised it in an important way this afternoon.

14:10

Can I first of all thank Adam Price for the important question that he tabled, and say that I agree with him entirely on the points that he raised in relation to the civic duty to vote? First Minister, I also welcome the great progress that Welsh Government is making in strengthening our democracy, particularly by giving 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote. This is in stark contrast to what’s happening across the border, with the UK Tories making it more difficult for people to vote. Indeed, around 14,000 people were refused the right to vote at recent English local elections. That is surely wrong, and it’s down to new methods of proving your identity.

First Minister, would you agree that compulsory voting could lead to mass participation like we’ve never seen before in terms of the democratic participation of the population of Wales? And has the Welsh Government considered a pilot or trial scheme in Wales?

Llywydd, I thank Ken Skates for those further points. He’s absolutely right that the policy of this Government, supported by others in this Chamber, is to encourage participation rather than to embark on a policy of voter suppression. We’ve seen the results from the English local elections, where thousands of people who wished to vote were denied the ability to vote because of measures that I think Jacob Rees-Mogg described as a simple attempt at gerrymandering. Well, it always was that, and that was firmly exposed by the Minister who was responsible for those measures while he was in office.

Compulsory participation—that was an important distinction that Ken Skates made, Llywydd. Nobody is arguing—I’ve not heard people arguing—for it being compulsory for people to vote. It’s compulsory participation. You can turn up and write ‘none of the above’ on the ballot paper. It’s the act of participation as a sign of your civic duty that we are debating here. There’ll be a further opportunity for Members to discuss it again at greater length tomorrow, and the idea of a trial or a pilot is something that I think is worth looking at. If you were to have a change of this scale, you would want some local as well as international evidence to draw on, and I hope that that idea will be further developed in tomorrow afternoon’s debate.

NHS Dental Appointments

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the number of patients accessing appointments with NHS dentists in 2022-23? OQ59734

I thank Jane Dodds for that question, Llywydd. One point 3 million courses of treatment were delivered to over 1 million patients through general dental services in 2022-23. Nearly 174,000 of these patients were new patients.

Thank you very much for the answer.

I do welcome the change in perspective and the commitment that Welsh Government is making to increasing access to NHS dentists. We’ve seen a real shift in terms of some of the recommendations from the Health and Social Care Committee in their inquiry on dentistry being adopted, such as dental therapists and dental hygienists being able to open and close treatments, such as centralised waiting lists—a real improvement. Thank you for that, and thank you to the Chair of that committee as well in taking that forward.

But those perhaps are medium- to long-term solutions. We have a real problem right now. Many people are saying to me that they still can’t access an NHS dentist, or indeed they’re being turned away from an NHS dentist, and they actually don’t know when they’re next going to get treatment. So I just wonder if you could just let us know how you plan to allow people to know when they can get an NHS dentist, that we have more transparency and communications for people who come to us all the time saying they’ve been turned away from an NHS dentist and they don’t know when they’re going to be able to see one again. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

I thank Jane Dodds, and I thank her for what she said about the changes that we've already seen.

The points that Jane Dodds made about changes in the regulatory environment that allow not simply dentists but other members of the dental team to open and close treatments is a very important—. It sounds very technical; it's actually very important in us taking forward our plan to diversify the profession and to allow more activity to be delivered from the workforce we have there already.

Jane Dodds is also right that a central waiting list will provide answers to the questions that she's raised this afternoon, but not immediately. But the Minister accepted that recommendation of the committee, and officials are working hard now to try to find the most effective way of creating that central waiting list, with the advantages that it would bring. In the meantime, it is for local health boards to make sure that they have arrangements in place that allow people who are waiting to be allocated to an NHS dentist to know how that is happening, when that will happen for them and, where there are people with particular needs that cannot wait for that to happen, that the community dental service, the CDS, is also made to play its effective part in ensuring that people who are waiting in circumstances where waiting isn't an option—that a service is provided for them as well.

14:15

First Minister, you told the UK Parliament's Welsh affairs select committee that there are thousands more appointments in the NHS for dental patients, including in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area, where you said there are nearly 10,000 more appointments available as a result of the new contract. Well, that's certainly not the understanding that I and many others have of the current situation in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area, and I can assure you that access to NHS dentistry in my constituency continues to be a huge issue. Only yesterday, I received an irate message from a constituent who told me that he had a major filling fall out over the weekend, and, when he rang his usual NHS dentist, he was told that they no longer had an NHS dentist and that he would have to go private. Therefore, First Minister, do you still hold the view that nearly 10,000 more NHS dentist appointments have been made available in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area, and, if so, would you be willing to share that evidence so we can inform our constituents that that is the case?

Well, Llywydd, I was wrong to say 10,000 extra patients were being seen in the Hywel Dda area, because the actual figure was 17,305. Those figures are published already. You don't need me to publish them, they are already published by the NHS, and they are published for adults separately to children, and they are published for every health board in Wales. Here are the figures for the Hywel Dda University Health Board: 10,063 new adult patients were treated last year, and 7,242 new child patients were treated in the Hywel Dda University Health Board last year.

Now, that does not mean, I understand, that there are not significant challenges in that part of the world in providing dentistry. There are, and there are plans that we have, extra investment that the Minister has made available, new ways in which services can be provided, and, particularly, the impact of the new contract in meaning that dentists will not be spending their time on routine handle-turning work, work that the British Dental Association said they didn't value and didn't need to be done, releasing that time to treat new patients. It was effective in Hywel Dda, and, right across Wales next year, there's more to be got out of the new contract in discussions with the profession, and I think we will see even more advantages from it next year, alongside all the other measures that the Minister is taking.

Additional Enrichment Sessions in Schools

6. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the success of the trial of additional enrichment sessions in Welsh schools? OQ59766

I thank Rhianon Passmore, Llywydd. An evaluation of the trials was published earlier this year. It found that children and young people, parents and school settings were positive about the opportunities provided. We're considering the findings in the context of the wider programme of educational policies and reforms.

Diolch, First Minister. The £2 million Welsh Government pilot trial offering pupils extra art, music and sports activities as well as lessons has been hailed as a clear and resounding success. Ninety-one per cent of children and young people reported that they'd actually had fun, and this is so important, whilst 84 per cent said that the extra school hours helped them socialise with peers, all set within a context, post COVID, of identified needs here. The trial noted that parents and carers appreciated the wide range of free activities and, critically, it allowed children to try activities that they otherwise may not have done because of financial barriers. The report’s authors recorded that the extra hours of activity also helped well-being, behaviour, school attendance and engagement. So, First Minister, please may I firstly urge and request that the Welsh Government seek to include Islwyn schools in the Caerphilly County Borough Council region in the proposed next round of trials? And also how would you describe the impact of these enrichment sessions on the lives of Welsh children? And isn’t this potentially another huge opportunity for the advancement of Wales’s egalitarian and equitable education system?

14:20

Well, Llywydd, I would describe the impact of the trials in just the same way as the Member has, and I’d do that because I was lucky enough to visit a school in my own constituency taking part in the trial where the headteacher described the way to me in which, on the days when the extended school day was being run, attendance figures went up rather than down. You might not have imagined that; the children who don’t attend school normally attended on the day when there was more school rather than less school. But they did it for all the reasons that Rhianon Passmore has outlined, because they knew that, as part of that extended school day, they would be having access to experiences that would not be available to them in the rest of their lives. And these were experiences that many, many children in many parts of Wales would simply take for granted. This was access to additional sporting activity, to drama, to reading, and children wanted to come to school that day because they knew what that extended school day would provide for them.

So, in the way that Rhianon Passmore has described, Llywydd, that egalitarian impact of making sure that those experiences are available to as many children as possible was very much part of that trial, which is only one part of the wider set of actions that the Minister is taking in pursuit of this Government’s commitment to reform the school day and the school year.

And in relation to the school day, alongside the specific pilot to which Rhianon Passmore has drawn attention, there was, of course, the wider Winter of Well-being pilot over last winter, £6.7 million pounds available for that, I’m very pleased to say; Islwyn schools taking part in that in good number.

Support for People with Vision Impairment

7. How is the Welsh Government supporting people with vision impairment? OQ59728

The Welsh Government is committed to developing accessible, high-quality and responsive services that meet the needs of all blind and partially sighted people in Wales. The disability rights taskforce provides essential support to this work.

Thank you. The social services national outcomes framework for people who need care and support and carers who need support describes the important well-being outcomes people should expect to lead fulfilled lives, and Welsh Ministers must report on the progress made towards the achievement of well-being in an annual report. For people with sight loss, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 places a statutory duty on local authorities to provide a preventative and reablement approach, including minimising the barriers faced by people with sight loss. This centres on increasing preventative services for individuals to minimise the escalation of critical need. Due to the lack of guidance, as referred to in Ann James's and Luke Clements’s submission to the Health and Social Care Committee, and in evidence from Professor Luke Clements and Professor Fiona Verity heard jointly by the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee concerning the state of social care in Wales, and to the lack of understanding among commissioners of what should be provided, there is a failure of local authorities to report well-being outcomes on vision-impaired adults and children. So, what systems are in place to ensure that Welsh Government’s well-being outcomes are reported for people with sight loss? What lessons are being learned and what improvements are being made or planned?

Well, Llywydd, I’d have to familiarise myself with the particular evidence to which the Member has referred, but he is right, of course, to say that the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act places these duties on local authorities. And preparing for this afternoon, I read again the debate that was held here on 15 February on improvements to rehabilitation and habilitation services for people with sight loss in Wales, and there's no doubt at all in that debate that the Senedd agreed that local authorities have to do more to live up to the responsibilities that that Act places on their shoulders. I'm not sure, myself—. As I say, I'll read the evidence, but I'm not sure myself that it is lack of understanding or lack of guidance that lies at the root of the gaps in services that are undoubtedly there and that that debate rehearsed. The Welsh Government is playing our part. We sponsored and paid for the report from the Wales Council of the Blind on future workforce needs in this sector. That is being taken forward through regional partnership boards. There are the optometry reforms that the Minister has embarked upon—the most radical optometry reforms anywhere in the United Kingdom. That will undoubtedly improve services at that community level, while local authorities continue to be held to account for the discharge of responsibilities that lie not with the Welsh Government but with them.

14:25
Equality of Access to Healthcare Provision

8. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to ensure equality of access to healthcare provision? OQ59741

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. The Welsh Government works directly alongside those with lived experience of health inequalities to improve access to healthcare provision. That work is embedded, for example, in the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' and in the advice of the disability rights taskforce.

Thank you for response, First Minister, but the truth is that we are failing in our equality duties when it comes to healthcare. In the past week, we have had a report from the cross-party group on cancer, backed up by evidence from Cancer Research UK and Tenovus, which highlights the experience of the black, Asian and minority ethnic community in accessing care. Ethnicity data is not included in cancer stats, leading to assumptions being made about how patients will respond, despite there being clear differences in how certain cancers affect different racial groups. We also had the report from Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, showing clear evidence of black, Asian and minority ethnic women being treated differently at the University Hospital of Wales. First Minister, it simply is not good enough. When can Wales's BAME community expect to get equality in healthcare?

I thank Altaf Hussain for those very important points. I want to assure him that the Welsh Government takes those points very seriously indeed. I thought the report on maternity services in Cardiff was a genuinely distressing report, and I'm sure it will have been distressing for many of those people who work in that service, who don't come into work in the morning looking not to provide a service that is genuinely available to every woman who uses it.

The 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' has a whole section in it devoted to healthcare, and that is because, as I said, the plan was produced by people who reported their own experiences of using that service, and of working in it as well. There is a challenge for the health service undoubtedly in making sure both that the talents of people from BAME communities who work in the service are properly recognised, people are able to make the career progression that their abilities deserve, but also that the health service, in those thousands and thousands of contacts that it makes with the public every day, is attuned to the notion that treating everybody the same is not the same as tackling inequality. You have to be able to recognise the particular needs of different groups and respond to them in a way that shows that you recognise those particular needs, and that the service is geared up to dealing with them. That's not a journey that is over by any means, but I don't think for a minute that it is a journey to which the health service, and the people who work in it, are not committed. The reports of the health inspectorate, the actions set out in the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan', I think, help us down that journey, and it's very good to have those points raised on the Senedd floor this afternoon.

14:30
2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item will be the business statement from the Trefnydd. Lesley Griffiths. 

Diolch, Llywydd. There are two changes to this week's business. The statement on the Government response to the 'Developing the UK Emissions Trading Scheme' consultation has been postponed, and immediately before the Stage 4 debate on the Agriculture (Wales) Bill, I will make a statement under Standing Order 26.67 relating to His Majesty's consent for the Bill. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Trefnydd, today, there's been yet another dangerous accident on the A494 trunk road in my own constituency, on the Lôn Fawr and Corwen road junction. There was a scheme that was planned to improve the safety of that junction, but, regrettably, the Welsh Government scrapped the scheme as part of its roads review earlier this year. The person involved in the accident was taken in an air ambulance to hospital; I don't know what the situation is in terms of that individual's health, but I'm sure all of us would want them to recover very, very quickly. 

Clearly, this is a junction that continues to be dangerous, that continues to require some investment from the Welsh Government, and I'd like an urgent statement from the Deputy Minister with responsibility for the trunk road network to make sure that this work is done as a matter of urgency, given that we've had yet another accident on this road.

Thank you, and, yes, we'd all certainly send our very best wishes to the individual concerned. The Deputy Minister for Climate Change is looking at safety measures on the road that you referred to, and I'm sure, at the most appropriate time, will come forward with a further announcement.

Trefnydd, I want to follow on from the question from Altaf Hussain to the First Minister there, and specifically about the report by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales that was published last week. A number of people have contacted me who are very concerned in seeing that report, a number of them pregnant women, or their partners, who are very concerned to see these reports. 

So, I wanted to ask for a statement by the health Minister in order to give them assurance in terms of that service, and to ensure that the Welsh Government is collaborating closely with the health board to ensure that everyone, whatever their background, has the care that they need at a time when you feel very weak and you need the greatest support.

Absolutely. And you will have heard the First Minister's response to Altaf Hussain when he raised this in First Minister's questions. And, obviously, as a Government, we are very aware of the publication of the HIW report into maternity services at the University Hospital for Wales, and we're very aware of the concern that we know this will cause people who are currently accessing the service. The health board have responded appropriately to the recommendations. They are seeking to reassure people about the progress and the safety of the service, and we very much welcomed the health board's appointment of a director of midwifery, who will provide that strategic leadership, to build on the improvements that have been made since the inspections. 

Could I ask for two statements, please? One would be good to have as an oral statement, the other as a written statement, possibly. The oral statement I'd like follows on from a visit I made last week to Maesteg fire station as part of national Public Service Day. I was delighted to spend time with the crew up there, but as we know, the crews across south Wales in particular, but also mid Wales as well—. South Wales Fire and Rescue Service attended, on one weekend, 70 deliberately-lit arson wildfires. They're a danger to, clearly, wildlife and the natural environment, but also to lives, as well as property. We are actually world leaders now in how we respond to those wildfires. We export our expertise elsewhere, and train other people in how to do it, but this shouldn't be happening. There's no shortage of good approaches with young people—the Reflect Project, the Phoenix Project, the Fire Cadets and more—which is really good, but this isn't only youngsters; we hear that adults are involved in the deliberate acts of arson as well. So, I'd welcome an opportunity to debate this here on the floor of the Senedd, with an oral statement or a debate.

The second item I'd like as a statement, particularly as we are in the middle here of Co-operative Fortnight, is a statement on employee ownership, as well as the wider work that Welsh Government is doing in the co-operative field. There was an excellent event the other day, led by Cwmpas, formerly known as the Wales Co-operative Centre, in which, indeed, we had opening remarks on video from the Minister, showing the progress that we've made. We had that ambition to double the number of organisations in the co-operative economy; we're well on target to do it. So, I guess we all say now, 'What more could we do, because look at this, Wales is setting the pace on this?' So, I'd welcome, in Co-operative Fortnight, a written update on what we are doing with the co-operative agenda, but particularly on the co-operative economy, and doubling the co-operative economy.

14:35

Thank you. I'm very happy to join you in paying tribute to the skill and bravery of our firefighters right across Wales, particularly in tackling the catastrophe of wildfires. As you say, we do lead the world, really, in relation to this, and we have worked with all our fire and rescue services to bring forward projects. You mentioned the Phoenix Project, which I've seen myself in action—it's very, very powerful. But also, we've invested heavily with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service in specialist skills and equipment for that specific task, and we've been very happy to support them in that way. We've provided extra funding to purchase off-road firefighting vehicles, for instance, and some lightweight personal protective equipment. But, unfortunately, whilst the incidents of wildfires across the piece have reduced significantly—back in 2010-11, it was over 7,000 fires, involving grassland, woodland and crops; the year before last, it was 2,500—as you say, over recent months, we have seen, unfortunately, an increase in the number of them. Some of them are started deliberately, some of them are as a result, probably, of climate change threat—the effect that weather patterns have on our vegetation growth, for instance.

In relation to your second point—and it's good to be reminded that we're in the middle of Co-operative Fortnight—I'm sure the Minister for Economy would be very happy to bring forward a written statement. As you said, we've got a lot to celebrate, I think, in this area; we now have 64 employee-owned businesses located across Wales, and this is something the Minister has been bringing forward. And we have a further three new employee-owned businesses at the legal stage of the transition process, which is coming forward in our programme for government commitment to double the number of employee-owned businesses in Wales by 2026.

I stand to request a statement from the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on Transport for Wales. Last Thursday, those who follow me on Twitter were treated to another episode of Janet's travel journal. Now, despite Harry Styles having graced the capital the night before, TfW thought it fit to have only two carriages on the lunch time train from Cardiff back to Holyhead. People were squashed in literally like sardines; it was unbearable. There were children crying, there were toilets you couldn't even access, and to say the temperature was—. Oh, it was just extremely high. I felt exhausted an hour into the journey, and you're on that train for about four hours. It simply isn't good enough.

Now, I understand that there was some comment made by the Deputy Minister—or it may even be TfW themselves—that the seven 175s that have been taken out of service because of fire safety issues were due to be put back yesterday. Could we have some confirmation as to whether that's happened? I have to say that my journey down yesterday was fine, but the last three weeks, it has been horrendous, and it is just unacceptable. I have got video that is really shocking, and I actually sent it to the Deputy Minister. You would not be allowed to allow cattle or livestock to travel in the kinds of temperatures that you're expecting the people of Wales, and indeed visitors to Wales—. There was a concert; everybody knows all the hotels were booked out on this particular evening. There should have been capacity on the trains, and I hold this Welsh Government responsible. The pull cord had to be activated, because someone was feeling really poorly. This is not a satisfactory rail service and, quite frankly, Deputy Minister, I think you, at some stage, ought to consider your position, because it is no better week after week, after week, after week. You can smile. 

14:40

No, no, I think that's enough now. I think I was extremely generous in allowing you to go on after you'd folded your piece of paper away. I'll ask the business Minister, the Trefnydd, to respond to you.

Thank you. Well, I don't think that's a matter for you. But what I can assure you—. In fact, yesterday, I only saw you from a distance, but you were clearly meeting the chief executive of Transport for Wales and other officials. The Deputy Minister has been very, very honest, I think, about the challenges facing the railway here in Wales, and he is working very closely with Transport for Wales. Like you, I travel every week on the train between north and south Wales, and of course we want to see improvements. And, again, I took the opportunity, actually, yesterday, to have a chat with the chief executive, because I don't hold back if there are issues; I tell him just exactly what it's like. But you know the challenges that we're facing with the lack of investment from the UK Government, but please be assured that the Deputy Minister is working very hard with Transport for Wales and he has vowed that things will improve on the public transport system.

Trefnydd, can we have a statement on planning policy, please? Six thousand homes will be built in the north of Cardiff without proper consideration as to how to deal with sewage generated from the homes. Permission has now been granted for a sewage pumping station to be built on Hailey Park, a park gifted to the people of Cardiff, with the loss of parkland and also concerns regarding flooding. A local Scouts group recently has been testing phosphates in the Taff by Hailey Park and they've seen that levels have increased, demonstrating why we need improved sewerage infrastructure and to treat it, not simply to move it from one part of the city to the next.

This week, a community group called Llandaff North Residents Association, after raising over £40,000 of their own money, will bring a judicial review of Cardiff Council's planning decision regarding the sewage plant at Hailey Park. Whilst I appreciate that you cannot comment on this judicial review, how can communities, such as the Llandaff North community and communities across Wales, be more involved within the planning process without having to resort to costly and time-consuming legal battles? Diolch yn fawr.

Well, the last point you raise is very important, and certainly 'Planning Policy Wales', as it stands, I think, does certainly enable members of the public to engage in the way that I think we would all want to see. Planning policy is regularly updated. The Minister brings forward a written statement, certainly, every time that happens. The issue that you want a statement on really is a matter for Cardiff Council.

Thank you so much, Presiding Officer. Minister, can I please request an update from the Deputy Minister for Climate Change about the reliability and current performances of buses? The reason why I'm asking is because there's been an influx of complaints from residents living in Ynysddu, Wattsville and surrounding villages, all of whom use the 56, 55 and R2 Stagecoach buses to be specific. The problem they're having is that buses are not turning up on time and, in many cases, simply aren't turning up at all. Passengers are being left stranded at bus stops and, in some instances, are having to walk substantial distances due to the buses dropping them off at the wrong location. This really isn't acceptable and is causing huge disruption for people living in those areas. The situation is so bad that one resident has to now book taxis when they need to go to an important appointment, because they cannot rely on this inadequate service. I'd like to know what conversations the Deputy Minister has had with Stagecoach about what is causing these issues and how they can be addressed going forward. It would be much appreciated if the Deputy Minister could update the Senedd as soon as possible. Thank you.

Thank you. Well, you clearly refer to a very local issue, and obviously the Deputy Minister does have discussions with bus operators, but, again, it's important that local authorities work with those bus operators, and I don't think an oral statement is required. 

3. Statement by the First Minister: The Legislative Programme

The next item will be a statement by the First Minister on the legislative programme, and I call on the First Minister. 

Llywydd, thank you very much. In this annual statement today, I will set out the third year of our ambitious legislative programme. By this point in the term, I know that the Senedd is used to dealing with a significant legislative workload, as has very much been the case in the last twelve months.

The Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill received Royal Assent on 24 May, after being introduced in the first year of our legislative programme.

Action on climate change was central to the second year of our legislative programme. The Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Bill was passed rapidly thanks to efforts of Members on all sides of the Chamber. The Bill received Royal Assent at the start of this month. We have introduced the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) Bill, and the Senedd will consider its general principles in the autumn.

Some complex legislative matters will span the whole of this Senedd term. Today, we will be voting on the final stage of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. This is the first phase of our programme of agricultural reform.

The Infrastructure (Wales) Bill was introduced earlier this month. This is the final Bill of the second year of our legislative programme. It will simplify the consenting process for specified types of major infrastructure projects. It will also provide more certainty for communities and developers alike.

I'm grateful to Members for agreeing to fast-track the Health Service Procurement (Wales) Bill. Without that Bill, the idea of a level playing field between England and Wales in terms of procurement for NHS services would have come to an end.

During this second year, the Senedd also unanimously supported the first ever Welsh consolidation Bill, namely the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill, which brings together legislation relating to the historic environment.

A significant programme of subordinate legislation sits alongside and underpins our legislative programme. This includes statutory instruments to implement major Acts passed by the Senedd, including legislation to implement the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 and Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act 2022. The programme also includes subordinate legislation to implement UK Government Acts, including more than 20 proposals for UK Bills in the final Queen’s Speech. All of these contained provisions relating to devolved areas, and they must all be properly scrutinised.

Llywydd, I now turn to those Bills this Government will introduce in the third year of the legislative programme. There is a strong theme of reform running through the Bills we intend to bring forward as we use the law to make positive changes for people in Wales.

The scientific advice about climate change is as clear as it is stark. Climate change is no longer something for the future; it is happening now and it is happening here. If we are to pass on the Wales we love to our children and grandchildren, we must make changes to the way we live now. Transport accounts for nearly 15 per cent of our carbon emissions. We currently have a bus system that puts profit before people. We will bring forward a bus Bill to reform the failed system of deregulation to enable all levels of government to work together to design the network of bus services our communities need.

In this third year, we will also reform laws around coal tip safety and spoil tips more generally, giving communities living in the shadows of these disused tips greater security. Our disused tips safety Bill will draw on the Law Commission's landmark report and responses to our own White Paper to establish a new supervisory authority and management regime for tip safety in Wales. As anticipated by the Law Commission, the regime will apply both to coal and non-coal tips. Designing a proportionate regime that meets this broader lens is complex, and we're determined to get it right, because our proposals will establish a world-first regime for managing disused tips in the era of climate change.

Llywydd, bringing forward primary legislation to support the implementation of the programme for government commitment to eliminate private profit from the care of looked-after children is a priority for this Government. We will also legislate at the same time to introduce direct payments for continuing healthcare, in support of our programme for government commitment, and we will, in the same Bill, make a number of amendments to help regulation and support for the social care workforce operate effectively.

We will act purposefully to increase the number of people who can speak Welsh and to protect our Welsh-speaking communities. Our 2050 ambition is that every pupil in Wales will become a confident Welsh speaker by the time they leave school, and there is a responsibility on the entire education system to work together towards that goal. This ambition will be reflected in our Welsh language education Bill, which we will bring forward in this third legislative year.

At the same time, Llywydd, we will bring forward a Bill to deliver the Government's commitment to reduce the democratic deficit in Wales, and to develop an electoral system fit for the twenty-first century. This Bill will also strengthen electoral administration by establishing an electoral management board, take steps to ensure every eligible voter in Wales is on the electoral register, and reform the processes for conducting community and electoral reviews.

A Bill to reform the Senedd itself will be introduced when we return from the summer recess. This Bill will create a modern Senedd, reflecting the breadth of devolved responsibilities and the Wales we live in today. It will create a Senedd that is better able to represent and serve the people of Wales, with increased capacity to scrutinise, to make laws and to hold the executive to account. The Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform considered how its proposals could support and encourage the election of a legislature that aims to deliver a more representative and thereby a more effective legislature for and on behalf of the people of Wales. Therefore, in a further measure to reform the Senedd, we will bring forward a Bill to introduce gender quotas for candidates elected to this Welsh Parliament.

And finally, in this extensive and ambitious programme of radical reform, we will introduce a local government finance Bill. It will contribute to reforms of our council tax and non-domestic rates systems. The reforms will pave the way for these systems becoming more closely aligned with changes in market conditions, more responsive to the evolving pressures faced by people and organisations, and more tailored to Welsh needs as a result of being maintained within devolved structures. Extensive research experience and our experience of operating these systems over many years make clear that targeted reforms are very much needed in this area.

And, of course, Llywydd, there will be more to come in the remaining legislative years of this term as we bring forward measures to deliver on further important commitments in our programme for government and our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. In those future years, we will introduce legislation for a visitor levy and a statutory licensing scheme for all visitor accommodation, including short-term lets, before the end of 2024.

In line with our programme for government commitment, we will bring forward legislation during this Senedd term to establish an environmental governance body for Wales and to introduce a statutory duty and targets to protect and restore biodiversity. We will legislate to reform homelessness services and introduce a Bill to overhaul the system for building safety. We will also modernise the taxi and private hire vehicles sector, and bring forward legislation relating to the Welsh tribunal system.

Our programme to improve the accessibility of the law is another important facet of our legislative programme, and we intend to bring forward further consolidation Bills during this Senedd term, including Bills dealing with planning and a legislation repeals Bill. The Counsel General will set out more details about these plans as part of his annual progress report on the accessibility programme.

As a result of all of this, Llywydd, by the end of this third legislative year, spanning the halfway point of this Senedd term, we will have: put people before profit in the care of our children and in our public transport system; strengthened the path to 'Cymraeg 2050'; attended to the fears of our coal tip communities; reversed a 20-year hesitation to give people in Wales a Senedd fit for the future, a Senedd that reflects contemporary Wales and a democracy dedicated to widening participation, not its suppression; and we will have tackled deep-seated unfairnesses in the council tax system.

I commend this ambitious legislative programme to the Senedd, and I look forward to working with Members and those with an interest beyond this Chamber on these proposals, which will help to create that stronger, fairer and greener Wales that I believe people in Wales look to us to create. Diolch yn fawr.

14:55

Thank you, First Minister, for your statement this afternoon. It's easy to forget how significant this statement is because it's become a part of the regular calendar of the Welsh Parliament, but, as someone who came in in 2007, I can well remember your predecessor saying some of the most exciting things that ever used to get debated and discussed in here were seed potato regulations from Cyprus and Egypt. That used to contain the excitement of the Senedd, or the Assembly as was, for many hours on a Tuesday afternoon. So, this ability to legislate, and legislate in a Welsh sense, is vitally important, and it's not to be forgotten that, whilst we might have disagreements across this Chamber in First Minister's questions, it is the UK Government in Westminster in 2011 that, obviously, brought forward the legislation that allowed that full law-making power referendum, the two Silk commission reviews that looked in and created the report that allowed for two Wales Acts to come forward, and obviously then those Acts being enacted to allow much of this legislation that the First Minister has talked about today to actually be brought forward by the Government here in Cardiff Bay.

If I could touch on a few pieces within the legislation that the First Minister has highlighted, and if I may be a little bit self-indulgent about the building safety legislation that you talk about, because that's something that's occupied a considerable amount of my time as a regional Member and, I know, other Members in this Chamber as well, could the First Minister highlight exactly what would be in that Bill? Will it convey the rights to the residents and home owners that are encapsulated in the legislation that Westminster has passed, which we've brought many a debate on to this Chamber before, but in particular sections 116 to 124, so that home owners can, if they so wish, seek redress of their own accord through the courts? At the moment, obviously, Welsh residents are unable to actually achieve that against the developers who have put them in such a precarious position.

Could I also seek clarification from the First Minister in relation to the public transport Bill that he'll be bringing forward around buses, and in particular the care of children? Many of these areas I think we will find some common ground on, but it's important that the policy initiatives that are running side by side of these initiatives that the Government are bringing forward via legislation can actually deliver for people, whether that be in the childcare system or, obviously, the bus operators system. Obviously, that's part of the reforms that were brought forward from the Silk recommendations—that we are able to talk about this legislation here this afternoon.

So, can the First Minister give an assurance that, with the legislation the Government is bringing forward, the policy initiatives and the money that will be needed to deliver these improvements will run in parallel with the legislation, rather than us seeing legislation sitting on the statute book that ultimately won't deliver those improvements that we would all wish to see in those key public services?

Could I also try and understand from the First Minister how he believes the 'Cymraeg 2050' goals will be enhanced by the legislation? I think all parties in this Chamber support the goal for 1 million speakers by 2050; I don't think anyone would expect the Government to bring forward legislation that would look to suppress the Welsh language. But, regrettably, time and time again, we've seen, most recently in the census report that came out, sadly, there are fewer Welsh speakers in Wales, despite many pieces of legislation that have come forward and many initiatives that have come forward, not just here, but before devolution in the Wales Acts that were passed in Parliament, and the Welsh language provisions that were passed in Parliament in Westminster. So, could I try and understand exactly what this piece of legislation will seek to achieve, and ultimately, what resource the Welsh Government will be putting behind this legislation to make sure we do achieve that goal of 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050?

Could I also try and ascertain from the First Minister, in relation to the coal tip legislation that he's bringing forward—again, an important consideration for my own electoral area, but I know for many other Members—? The First Minister talked of this being groundbreaking, world-beating legislation. It's important to try and understand what this legislation will convey in terms of rights to residents in those old coalfield areas, and, in particular, what remediation they would be able to seek, by using this legislation, in some of the blights that feature on the landscape within those communities. So, again, could the First Minister outline exactly how this piece of legislation will impact those communities in a meaningful and tangible way?

The First Minister talked about the Senedd reform Bill that the Welsh Government will be bringing forward. I'd be grateful to try and understand from the First Minister what the legal advice is to the Welsh Government in relation to the gender quotas that the First Minister talks of. We all want to see plurality in this Chamber—I'm pleased to lead a group that represents that plurality, although we can always do more and go further—but can the First Minister indicate why there's a need to bring a separate piece of legislation forward in this particular area, if the legal advice that he is working to doesn't give him confidence to incorporate it in the main body of the legislation that he'll be bringing forward about Senedd reform? We might well disagree about the numbers that will sit within this Chamber, but I think we all want to see a vibrant and wholeheartedly embraced democratic settlement here in Wales that people will buy into, so that we are able to increase turnout at Senedd elections and all elections across Wales, in particular when you look at the difference between a general election turnout and a Senedd election turnout.

Could I also seek from the First Minister the ability to understand, when he's talking about the council tax legislation that he'll be bringing forward—? Will that be specifically limited in scope to increasing the bands and a revaluation exercise here in Wales, or is it a broader piece of legislation that will look to capture a more wholesale reform of the council tax system here in Wales?

I appreciate I might be trying the Presiding Officer's patience, because the red clock has gone on. My final question to the First Minister: it is well known that the First Minister has indicated his wish to stand down from the role of First Minister halfway through the Senedd term. Is he going to give a commitment today that, at the end of this 12-month legislative statement, he will be in place to deliver the next legislative statement, so that, obviously, we can understand the direction and leadership of the Welsh Government?

15:00

I thank the leader of the opposition for those questions. He was quite right to remind us all of the journey that this institution has been on during its brief period. In less than 25 years, it has gone from debating the smaller Egyptian potato Order—I remember it well—to the sorts of pieces of legislation that will come before the Senedd in the next legislative year.

The building safety Bill will not be in the third legislative year. As I indicated, it will come in the final half of this Senedd term. It will do the things that the Minister, who's joined us, I see, on the screen, has said many times: it will establish a robust and coherent regulatory system, it will create clear lines of accountability, it will require an annual fire risk assessment of those buildings within the scope of the Bill, and it will place the voice of residents in those buildings where fire safety has been a concern at the heart of that new regime.

I give the leader of the opposition an assurance that, while we are legislating in relation to the future operation of bus services, and to eliminate the taking of private profit in the care of children, the policy initiatives that run alongside that will quite certainly continue. You've hard about the £44 million that the Welsh Government is making available in this financial year to support the transition of the bus industry from the current regime to the regime that will be set out in the Bill. And I'm very pleased to be able to report that there's been a significant acceleration in the programme of regional work by our local authorities to establish new premises for children who are currently looked after outside Wales or outside their local boundaries, and often in private facilities, to bring those children back closer to home and in facilities that will be run directly by public authorities. 

The Welsh language Bill quite certainly will contribute to our ambition to create 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050. I think the evidence is more disputed than the leader of the opposition suggested on the number of Welsh speakers that there are in Wales today. What is certainly not in dispute is the astonishing rise in the numbers of young people receiving their education through the medium of Welsh. When I first chaired—many, many decades ago now—the Welsh language education committee of South Glamorgan County Council, there was one primary school in Cardiff and one secondary school that taught through the medium of Welsh. If you look around the city today, you cannot imagine a more—. I hate using the word 'transformed'—we use it too often—but in this case, I think transformation would be a fair reflection of what has happened in Welsh-medium education, and the Bill will support that into the next part of that journey. 

As far as coal tip safety is concerned, I say again to Members that it's more than coal tip safety; there are spoil tips from other industries in other parts of Wales—slate quarrying in north Wales, metal mining in the Swansea valley, for example—that need to be brought within a regime that reflects safety concerns in an era of climate change. Only last week, I visited the work that is being carried out on the Tylorstown tip in the Rhondda, a tip, as the leader of the opposition will know, that moved during that intense period of rainfall in February 2020. We need a regime in Wales that recognises that safety standards that were adequate in their day and in those circumstances are not what are needed in an era of intense weather events, whether that is intense rainfall or, as we saw last summer, intense temperatures, which had their own effect on the stability of some tips in Wales. The Bill will bring forward that new regime. It will offer that sense to people who live in those communities that there is a body charged directly with ensuring that they remain safe for them into the future. 

On Senedd reform, it was the subject of detailed discussions between the Government and Plaid Cymru, and the advice we had was that in order to ensure that the main Bill can be there and operating successfully for the 2026 election, we should find a way of dealing with any vulnerabilities to challenge that there may be on the gender quotas aspect. We are confident that we have the legal scope here in Wales to legislate in this area, and we will bring forward a Bill confident of the basis on which we do so. But it is an area in which other views may be possible, and where a challenge might be mounted. In order to make sure that the main reforms are not vulnerable to challenge, we've severed the two aspects. I'm not absolutely certain, Llywydd, that a disinterested observer looking at the Conservative benches in the Chamber would regard them as a model of gender plurality, and the gender quotas Bill will help us all to be—[Interruption.] I hear the Member; others outside the Chamber won't hear him. He's asking me about other aspects of diversity, and I agree with him. I agree with him absolutely that there is work for all political parties to do in an expanded Senedd to make sure that other aspects of diversity—people with disabilities, people from BAME communities—in a new and expanded Chamber reflect the nature of contemporary Wales.

The council tax Bill, Llywydd, will be broader than simply bands and revaluations. It will to allow us to take a more efficient approach to the many ways in which exemptions, discounts and disregards have accrued over the years without a proper look at the interaction between all those different elements. So, it will be broader than just the two issues that the Member mentioned.

And I can give him an assurance that there will be no Bill placed in front of Members during the third year that is a First Minister (end of term in office) (Wales) Bill.

15:10

May I thank the First Minister for this comprehensive statement? There are many elements to refer to in the next few minutes.

I'd like to start by referring to one Bill that is reaching the end of its journey today. We on these benches always try to bring the voice of rural communities and the agricultural sector to the Chamber for economic and cultural reasons. I'm very pleased that we've been able to use our influence within the co-operation agreement in a very constructive way to strengthen the agriculture Bill, and I know that farmers appreciate that too.

Plaid Cymru has campaigned long and hard for a clean air Bill, and I look forward to seeing steps being taken to save thousands of lives here in Wales. It's time to do that in order to save lives and also to protect NHS resources.

There are so many elements of the programme that we'll be dealing with over the next few years that I'm particularly proud of, and the contribution that we've made to them, like the attempt to create a more sustainable tourism model, supporting the tourism sector and safeguarding the communities that tourists frequent.

I'm excited to think about what we can deliver through a Welsh language education Bill, and I look forward to us working across parties here in the Senedd to deliver that.

I want to turn to the significant, important and positive step that we are about to take as a nation in terms of the development of our democracy.

The introduction of this Senedd reform Bill will be a landmark moment in the political history of Wales, of that I have no doubt. Almost a quarter of a century after our nation took its first tentative steps into the age of devolution, Welsh democracy is set to get an upgrade, and we will build on the work that has already happened within the co-operation agreement to make that a reality. Welsh devolved competences have developed and changed beyond recognition since I started working here as a journalist many years ago, and there’s been a resultant increase, of course, in the responsibilities and duties of elected Members, but Welsh devolution and the electoral profile of devolution has remained resolutely fixed throughout. There is no doubt that a larger Senedd facilitates more effective accountability and scrutiny of Government, and that is something that all of us in Wales should want to aspire to.

We’re pleased that the Bill will address the glaring need for reforming the voting system, disregarding once and for all the archaic first-past-the-post system that has proved so debilitating, has impacted on voter engagement over so many years, and sapped enthusiasm in the Westminster model. A move towards a more proportional system will ensure that each and every vote cast in future Senedd elections will have a tangible impact on the distribution of seats. We don’t pretend that the Bill as it will be presented delivers everything that we set out to achieve. Our policy as a party remains in favour of the single transferrable vote as opposed to the closed list system. We’ll continue to push for further reform. But we also recognise that no one party has the two-thirds majority required to deliver such important reform, and as such we have worked pragmatically with the Government to develop a set of proposals that will pass that necessary threshold in the interests of everyone in Wales.

Finally, I'd like to remark on the legislative measures to introduce gender quotas in our electoral system—far overdue, again. Whereas great progress was made during the early years of devolution in terms of female representation in the Senedd, which became the first legislature in the world to achieve gender parity in 2003, we have witnessed a disappointing slippage in more recent times. Ensuring a prominent and diverse presence of women in politics is both a democratic and societal imperative, and as such, I welcome the measures contained in the Bills taken together.

To conclude, yes, this Senedd, as the First Minister said, will reflect contemporary Wales. We hope to lead Wales on a journey to independence in years to come, but, in the meantime, we need to ensure that our new Senedd adopts new powers in order to improve the lives of the people of Wales. To conclude, I appeal to and urge the First Minister to work with us to get those powers, not for their own sake, but in order to create the fairer, greener and more prosperous Wales that I aspire towards.

15:15

I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth, and I thank him for what he said at the outset about the constructive way that we have co-operated, and I am looking forward to co-operating with Members from all parts of the Chamber, where there are things we can do together. The ambitious programme before the Senedd for the third year of legislation does reflect the hard work that has happened between the Government and Plaid Cymru, particularly the work that Siân Gwenllian, Cefin Campbell and Adam Price have been part of, to prepare the programme that I have outlined this afternoon. I'm looking forward to continuing in that spirit.

I'll focus just on the Senedd reform issues that Rhun ap Iorwerth concentrated on in the second half of his contribution, Llywydd. Can I say to Members in every part of the Chamber that it's over 20 years since Lord Ivor Richard produced his report on the first Senedd term, a report that said that the Senedd did not have the number of Members it needed to discharge the responsibilities it had then? In the discussion that some of us were engaged with with some young people, somebody said to me, 'I wasn't born when Lord Richard produced that report, and, throughout the whole of my lifetime, successive Assemblies and Senedds have failed to grasp what is, undoubtedly, a challenging issue and one that requires a two-thirds majority on the floor of the Senedd, quite rightly, in order to change the system that we have'.

Now is the moment to do it. I say that to colleagues in every part of this Chamber. We have a responsibility, while that opportunity is in our hands, to do something that has not been possible for over 20 years, and when that Bill is laid in front of the Senedd in September, it will be a landmark moment. It will be a landmark moment when we take that responsibility for making sure that the democratic structures we have in Wales are sufficient to bear the weight of the responsibilities that lie in the Senedd and future responsibilities that many of us hope will come the way of this devolved institution and to do it in a way that makes sure that there are sufficient Members and the organisation that lies behind them to be able to do the hard business of scrutinising legislation. We're a unicameral system here, we don't have a second Chamber to put anything right that we may get wrong. That's why we must have the firepower on the floor of a future Senedd to be able to scrutinise that legislation, make sure that it is as good as it possibly can be, and to hold the Executive, whoever will be in it, to account for the actions carried out on behalf of people here in Wales.

Of course, Rhun ap Iorwerth is right that the gender make-up of the Senedd isn't today as balanced as it was in some earlier Senedds. I am very proud indeed to lead a Labour group where women outnumber men—and by some distance. I'm very proud indeed that there are more women in my Cabinet than there are men, that, in the Government at least, we have an approach that reflects the nature of Wales today, and we want to see a Senedd that does the same, and those of us who are jointly committed on that enterprise will have an opportunity to make that happen when that gender quotas Bill appears in front of the Senedd before the end of this calendar year.

15:20

Can I echo in my opening remarks the comments there on Senedd reform by the leader of Plaid Cymru and by the First Minister? It falls to us to make this the Parliament, the Senedd Cymru that is fit not only for now, but for the future and for serving the people of Wales. It falls to us; we need to get on with it and do it.

But can I ask a few questions on the legislative programme there? First of all, the bus Bill: very welcome. We've been waiting for this very much to come along there. How will this tie in with this idea of streamlined timetables, streamlined ticketing—one ticket, one timetable—does this take us a stage towards being able to do that, because that's our vision for transport in Wales? 

Secondly, the environmental governance legislation you're bringing forward: will that be the one that actually enables us to move towards nature-positive restoration within Wales, replenishing biodiversity, our ecosystem services and nature itself, as well as strengthening that post-EU governance?

And just one final comment, Dirprwy Lywydd, one thing that we particularly welcome here—not just Welsh Labour, but co-operative Members as well—is the proposal around taking the profit out of care for looked-after children, delivering on that priority. And also, taking forward as well, linked to that, the proposals around continuing healthcare, where you can actually introduce direct payments, because that will enable different models of healthcare to be provided, including co-operative models. Thank you.

I thank Huw Irranca-Davies. And of course, as Chair of the special purpose committee established by the Senedd, he speaks with particular authority on the issue of Senedd reform, and it is the report of that committee endorsed by this Welsh Parliament that has been the bedrock of the Bill and all the work that goes into preparing it that you will see, I hope, in September.

The bus Bill will make the public interest the key test in the way in which bus services are provided in Wales in the future. It will mean that local authorities, Transport for Wales, will have the powers that are needed to ensure that the very significant public investment that is made on behalf of the public in sustaining that public transport system is put properly to work on their behalf. That is the guiding principle of the Bill, and I think the Member will see that reflected in that wider agenda to which he drew attention.

I'm pleased to confirm that the environmental governance Bill, when it appears, not in the third legislative term year, but beyond, will have biodiversity targets and nature restoration included within it, as well as post-EU governance arrangements.

Direct payments for continuing healthcare is a topic that has become more significant in the lives of many health service users, as the direct payments system in social care itself has matured, and matured in many of the ways to which Huw Irranca-Davies drew attention. It is anomalous that an individual can be in control of their own budget on a Monday, when the service is being provided by social care, but on Tuesday, when their needs mean that they are now to be provided through the continuing healthcare system, they lose that control. The Bill will make sure that that control can be continuous.

And can I just finally echo what Huw Irranca-Davies said, Llywydd? The Bill will help us to eliminate profits in looked-after children's services. I don't think I will ever forget meeting a group of young people brought together by the then children's commissioner, when a young woman described to me her feelings when she saw herself on a website where her local authority, her corporate parent, invited tenders in from anybody prepared to look after her at the lowest possible cost. Just imagine that—to think that that is how your future is being shaped. This Bill will make sure that that way of providing for young people in Wales will not be part of their futures or ours either.

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

15:25

In the one minute I think I have in order to comment on a massive legislative programme, three very quick things. I do welcome Senedd reform, of course, but I do really want us to move the agenda forward from the least proportional representative system that is being proposed, to single transferable vote, and I do hope that's something that you would consider. I'd be interested in your comments on that. To Plaid Cymru, I say what I said last time: please don't stitch it up again. We want to make sure that we have STV and we want to make sure that we have an open agenda and an open discussion—[Interruption.] You stitched us up last time, I'm afraid, so please—. You went with the proposal for a closed-list system, and I'm really sorry you did, so I hope you'll be behind this.

The second thing is I really do welcome what you've said about taking the profit out of childcare. As a former child protection social worker, I'm really pleased to see that.

And the third thing is the issue around homelessness. I hope we're going to eradicate homelessness. I hope we're not going to reform it; I really hope we're going to eradicate it. So, I really do hope to hear more from you about how you're going to eradicate homelessness across Wales. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. On the homelessness point, the policy of the Government is that, where homelessness is experienced it should be rare, brief and unrepeated, and that is what legislation—not in the third year—when it comes forward, it will reflect those principles.

Can I say to the Member on Senedd reform that you heard Rhun ap Iorwerth say that there are aspects of the Bill that his party would have preferred to see otherwise? There are aspects of the Bill that I would have rather seen otherwise, but we will not get Senedd reform through this Senedd if we all are determined to get everything we want out of that Bill. The Bill will only succeed if we are all prepared to celebrate getting half a loaf where, otherwise, no loaf at all would exist, and that means compromise, and the Bill is a compromise, and nobody, not a single Member of this Senedd, will regard it as the perfect package of measures. But if you hang out for perfection, you will end up with nothing, and my belief is that this is not the moment to allow the search for perfection to drive out the possible. It has been impossible to reform the Senedd for 20 years. It is possible to do it now. But that possibility rests on every single one of us being willing to recognise that some compromises are necessary in order to secure a two-thirds majority where not a single vote of those of us who believe in Senedd reform can be lost along that way.

I also thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon. I have to say that the Welsh Government's legislative programme is a disappointment—a disappointment to my party, but more so, a disappointment to the people of Wales. Why is the legislation to tackle the big problems facing the people of Wales not here? Apart from the bus Bill, a pledge to tackle the management of disused coal tips and reform of council tax, this is once again a legislative programme seeking to buy Plaid Cymru's vote.

First Minister, where is the legislation for a Welsh human rights Act? When my party repeatedly called for the inclusion of the United Nations principles of rights of older people and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into the Welsh law, we were told that, rather than adding rights piecemeal, your Government would introduce new human rights legislation. We are still waiting. Older people's rights are still being ignored, as clearly evidenced during the pandemic. So, First Minister, how much longer do older people need to wait, or is your message to the Welsh elderly population that 36 more politicians is more important than their human rights? Diolch yn fawr. 

15:30

Well, Llywydd, I'm sorry the Member read out his script telling us that he was disappointed; I'm sure it was written well before he heard the statement. And I disagree with him, of course. And the fact that something isn't mentioned in the statement doesn't mean that it may not happen, because there are many, many things on which the Welsh Government is working that are not possible to include in a statement that was, by itself, of significant length and complexity this afternoon.

So, I don't agree with him, of course, that the statement is disappointing; I think it is the most demanding one-year programme that this Senedd will ever have been asked to navigate. It will put enormous obligations on the shoulders of every Senedd Member to find the time to do the job that will be necessary to make these proposals into the best law they can be, and, at the same time, and in the way that I indicated, the Welsh Government goes on preparing legislation for the second half of this Senedd term. 'How long can we wait?' the Member asked, and we're not even halfway through the Senedd term. There are two and a half and more years of this term to go, and there will be other pieces of legislation, beyond the ones that will preoccupy us in the coming 12 months, that will come before you before this term is over. 

Thank you, First Minister, for this afternoon's statement. Certainly, reflecting on the bus Bill, the coal tip safety Bill, is very important, particularly for the region I represent, but also for other parts of Wales. 

I would like to pick up on the point that Huw Irranca-Davies raised with you, just in terms of what's been called by organisations like Climate Cymru the 'nature positive Bill', and the delay once again here. People will be disappointed. As you'll be aware, over 300 organisations wrote to you in March asking for this to be brought forward. In your statement, you emphasised your commitment to the nature and climate emergency, and that we can't wait. Well, that's true in terms of biodiversity. We are losing biodiversity every day, every week that goes by without this legislation in place. We're already behind, post Brexit, in terms of that governance, that environmental governance framework here in Wales. We don't even have the interim properly in place. So, therefore, can I ask: why is this, once again, delayed, and how will it be progressed so that it will become legislation as quickly as possible, so that we do actually react to a climate and nature emergency?

I thank Heledd Fychan for those comments, and I can tell her that, every time we prepare the legislative programme for the year ahead, a lot of conversations and arguments take place internally, and all members of the Cabinet try to get more into the programme. 

And that's how the system works. There are always more bids than there is room. There are always more ambitions amongst Cabinet colleagues than can be accommodated in a single year. And I can assure the Member that the case for the environmental governance Bill getting into the third year was powerfully made during those debates. In the end, we will bring forward a White Paper by January of next year. In the meantime, we will strengthen the interim arrangements, and I certainly pay tribute to the work of Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones, who, I think, has carried out her duties as the Interim Environmental Protection Assessor for Wales in a way that has given people confidence that, while we are still developing the final arrangements for environmental governance, there is a system here in Wales that is actively available and powerfully led. We're going to recruit a deputy to Dr Llewelyn Jones in this interim period, to strengthen the resources she has during this period. And a full Bill, including nature restoration—a nature positive Bill—will be part of that Bill. It's more than just governance arrangements, in the way that I explained to Huw Irranca-Davies. 

Thank you, First Minister. It was, in many ways, an inspiring statement, an inspiring statement that speaks not simply of a legislative agenda, but of our values and our ambitions and our visions for Wales. I think taking the profit out of children's care is something that can unite people across the whole country—maybe not on the Conservative benches, but everywhere else in this country. Ensuring that we have bus services that are fit for purpose for everybody across this country is something, again, that people want and people want us to deliver. Ensuring that children across the whole of this country can access Welsh-language education delivers on the ambition of a million speakers by 2050. Ensuring that people can sleep safely in their homes because the tips that disfigure our Valleys are dealt with is a reason why people vote for our Government.

And I hope, First Minister, in delivering this legislative programme, you can also ensure that we can protect our environment, protect our employment rights, and that, when the Conservative Government in London take away EU law protections, this Parliament will ensure that our voices are heard and that protections that our people want, need and have voted for will remain in place, and this Government will legislate wherever needed to protect the employment, environmental and other rights that we have come to expect and anticipate in this country.

15:35

I thank Alun Davies very much for that, Llywydd. I hope that he can see, and others can see as well, that there is a series of themes that run right through the legislative programme. First of all, we are determined that the public interest will drive the way in which policies and legislation in Wales make a difference in people's lives, particularly when the public makes an enormous investment in those services in the first place. And I hope as well that he will see that the programme is both radical and ambitious. And I can tell you, Dirprwy Lywydd, that there will be vested interests out there who will mount considerable opposition to a series of the measures that the Senedd will have in front of it during the coming year, and the looked-after children measure is one of those. There is a very well-resourced sector out there that has made a huge amount of money out of the lives of vulnerable children. The Competition and Markets Authority has reported twice in the last 12 months on the excess profits that the sector has taken from that work. Every Member of the Senedd, I predict, will hear from that sector, protesting against the legislation that will be in front of us. And on that score, and on others, and Senedd reform is certainly one of them, we will have to hold our nerve. You cannot bring about radical change, you cannot disrupt the status quo, you cannot take on vested interests, without having the political courage that comes in order to bring about change. And I hope the Member can see, in the package of legislation that is in front of the Senedd in the next 12 months, that sense of the public interest on the one hand and the political courage to make those things happen run right through the programme that this Senedd will have in front of it over the next 12 months.

First Minister, thank you for your statement. I was saddened that the word 'food' didn't feature once in the statement, because we know that obesity and other health-related issues are running rampant, and that is something that we need to grab hold of. I know that there is a statement later today looking at food environment legislation, but I would have hoped that the importance of the well-being of our children through our food system would have featured in this major statement of yours today, for the good of future generations. We make a big statement about the Welsh language, and young people learning the Welsh language, which is very, very important, but surely their diet, their food and their well-being is fundamentally important, going forward. I believe we lost the opportunity for a good bit of legislation here—I know I'm biased. But the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee I think agreed with me, and made several recommendations to this Chamber. First Minister, I won't go through those—I haven't got time—but I was disappointed that there was no reference to any of those in your statement. Can you give me some further reassurance—and I know there's already been some in this Chamber—that the recommendations that the food Bill could have brought forward, or the importance of educating our children around food, will feature in your thinking going forward, and this won't be an example of a bit of backbench legislation kicked into the long grass? 

15:40

Well, first of all, I thank Peter Fox for what he said. I recognise his own personal commitment to that food agenda and the work that he put in to the promotion of his own Bill. But, in the way that he recognised, the Senedd this afternoon will hear from my colleague Lynne Neagle about the very significant package of measures that she has announced today, all of which help to contribute to the actions we need to see to protect the future of our children. I chaired a meeting myself, Dirprwy Lywydd, just outside the Chamber, with a series of ministerial colleagues, on the community food strategy. The purpose of the meeting was to energise the system, now that the food Bill itself was not to go ahead, to make sure that every part of Government and every ministerial colleague are contributing everything they can to make that community food strategy as powerful as it can be, and we will reconvene before the end of this term to make sure that those actions are being rapidly progressed. 

Can I say, in a gentle way, if I can, I don't think it helps to try to counterpoise the actions we are taking on the Welsh language against the actions that we will be taking on food? We want, of course, our children to grow up in a healthy food environment and we want our children to grow up in a Wales where the Welsh language is a normal, ordinary, everyday part of their experience, and there really is no contradiction or competition between those two objectives. 

Thank you, First Minister. The word 'poverty' is missing from your statement. The eradication of poverty should be the basis of the Government's whole programme, or every Bill and piece of legislation will be built on sand. The unacceptable levels of poverty in Wales are scarring our children, and, in the words of the chief executive of Faith in Families, a charity that supports children in Swansea in my region, mean that we are storing up a huge problem for the future—a huge, huge health problem, a huge welfare problem and an anger problem. Whilst we are tied to an unequal union and a Westminster Government that prioritises some groups of people and some areas over others on an ideological basis and of electoral politics rather than need, we in Wales will not be able to act fully to eradicate poverty. And, in seeing the Labour Party refusing to commit to providing free school meals for schoolchildren, it's clear that we can't have faith in a government of any colour to take the robust steps that are needed.

So, First Minister, do you agree that we need to accelerate the process of taking the powers that we need to create the nation and society that we want to see, and to devolve powers for welfare to create a safety net that truly would save those people who need to be caught from falling into a slough of despond? And in the meantime, do you agree that there are measures that we can put on the statute book here to try and ensure that every £1 of support that comes to families reaches their pockets quickly and swiftly by creating a Welsh benefits system on a statutory basis? Thank you. 

Well, I thank Sioned Williams for the questions. And of course, I do agree with what she said about the importance of poverty and that poverty is a part of all important experiences in the lives of families, which are so important to us. In the legislative programme, we do concentrate on two things: things where we have to legislate to make a difference and where the powers to legislate are within the competence of the Senedd currently. And there are lots of things that we can do in the area of poverty that don't depend on legislation, as Sioned Williams said. Everything that we've done on free food in our schools—we didn't have to legislate to do that. And in the document that the Minister Jane Hutt has presented on poverty, what's in the document are those things that we can do that don't depend on legislating on the floor of the Senedd, because we don't have many powers at present that run towards legislation and the best way to do that. In the future, I want to see more powers in the Senedd to administer the welfare system that we have, because I think if the powers are there—and Gordon Brown's report does show the way to do that—by doing that, we can do more to help the lives of children and families who are suffering from poverty at present. But that is something for the future.

15:45

Thank you for this very important statement, First Minister, to this place, on the legislative programme for Wales and for the people of Wales. And as the representative of the constituency of Islwyn, I know that climate change is a key overriding Welsh priority for young people, and the role of public transport is integral within that. I know my residents will welcome, and I will urge the Welsh Government to act with great vigour on the forthcoming proposed bus Bill. For far too many communities in Islwyn, public transport is also fragmented and unreliable.

I also wholeheartedly welcome the bringing back of Welsh looked-after children with a qualitative, invested offer, consistently across Wales and not for profit.

Additionally, the disused tips safety Bill will fulfil a direct need for Wales to safely manage our industrial heritage and will apply to coal and other sites. Tŷ Llwyd quarry in Islwyn closed in 1972, and it has shown, 50 years later, that more is directly needed to be done to monitor and manage the legacy of our industrial and mining past for the safety of all of our citizens.

First Minister, further to the transformative enrichment of a Welsh democracy with a Bill to reform the Senedd and create a gender balance, how then will you sum up the importance and, yes, urgency of the Welsh Labour Government's ambitious and radical legislative programme to the listening citizens of Islwyn and beyond?

Well, I thank Rhianon Passmore, Dirprwy Lywydd. What I would want residents of Islwyn to know is that this Senedd is determined to protect the democracy on which their futures depend, and to make sure that they have a Senedd fit to discharge the responsibilities that lie in our hands on their behalf, and that that Senedd of the future, I hope, will go on grappling with those things that make the greatest difference in the lives of the citizens of Islwyn.

And just to take one example of the ones that the Member highlighted, in her part of Wales, many, many villages and families will live with the scars created by the mining industry of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. They live with that every single day. They will know, as a result of the Bill that will come before this Senedd, that there will be a future system in which the management, the monitoring and oversight of those disused spoil tips in Wales will be done in a way that is fit for the circumstances in which we live today.

An enormous amount of work has gone on, Dirprwy Lywydd, as a result of the taskforce that I jointly chair with the Secretary of State for Wales, to establish very basic things like: how many disused coal tips are there in Wales? We simply didn't know. There are 2,566 according to the most up-to-date and accurate information. Where were they? Who owned them? What state were they in? It turned out that we didn't know a whole series of absolutely fundamental things in order to have a regime that will keep people safe in the future. Over 1,000 inspections will have been carried out by the Coal Authority as a result of money provided by the Welsh Government to make sure that the highest risk tips have been inspected regularly, and we're now about to embark on the inspections of tips that are further down that risk hierarchy. All of that work will culminate in the legislation that you will see in front of you next year.

For a Labour Government, Llywydd, knowing the history of Wales, knowing the disasters that people in Wales have had to experience in previous years, the effort to make sure that we avoid any of that in the future could not be more fundamental to our political mission, nor could it be more fundamental to the people of Islwyn, whom the Member represents.

15:50

First Minister, the Children, Young People and Education Committee brought forward the report on radical change for care-experienced children in Wales, and I know this is a key area of work that you've taken a personal interest in. A lot of those recommendations needed legislative change to actually get the radical reform that we need here in Wales. So, on top of what you announced today in the statement, can you outline any measures the Welsh Government is taking to implement some of the recommendations in the report, so that we can actually improve the lives of care-experienced children here in Wales?

Dirprwy Lywydd, I don't think I can do that this afternoon. I'll give the Member and the Chair of the committee particularly an assurance that that report is being taken very seriously inside the Welsh Government. As Members will know, we have six weeks always to make sure that we have an opportunity to at least absorb and take a first proper consideration of those recommendations, and the Minister responsible will come forward with a response to that report, including thoughts that the Welsh Government will have on any further and future legislation in this important field. I'm very grateful to the committee for the work that it's done. It will not be reflected—but I know the Member wouldn't expect—in the next 12 months' programme, but it will certainly have an influence over the thinking of the Government as we plan beyond the third legislative year.

Diolch. I welcome the bus Bill, especially with the current bus emergency, and I know that operators are also welcoming franchising now, which is good. I am a bit concerned about funding for it, and I am looking forward to discussing it at the cross-party group on public transport.

I was going to also ask for an update on the nature positive Bill, and I understand now that it is coming under the environmental governance Bill. I did hear your responses earlier, but we are in an emergency, and nature is declining so rapidly that I hope it can be addressed really quickly. Can you confirm that the Bill will actually be coming forward in this Senedd term? I think I heard you correctly that the White Paper will be coming forward next year. If you could just respond to those, please. Thank you.

Well, I thank Carolyn Thomas. Yes, I confirm, Llywydd, that the intention of the Welsh Government is to bring forward a White Paper on environmental governance at the start of next year, and a Bill on environmental governance is absolutely still an integral part of the plan of the Welsh Government for the second half of this Senedd term.

Dirprwy Lywydd, the Member has been a powerful advocate for bus services, and a sustained advocate for bus services, on the floor of the Senedd. I'm glad to hear what she says about the franchising model being welcomed. I think the Deputy Minister has worked very hard with the industry to create a collaborative approach to shaping that future. Funding will always be an issue; we simply do not have the money to do all the things that we would like to do. But, the bus Bill will provide a new legislative basis to make sure that whatever funding is available is put into the system in a way that promotes the public interest, and that is a theme, as I've said, Dirprwy Lywydd, that runs throughout the programme that I've been able to outline this afternoon.

4. Statement by the Minister for Climate Change: Government Response to the ‘Developing the UK Emissions Trading Scheme’ Consultation
5. Statement by the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution: Tribunal reform and Wales’s evolving justice landscape

So, we move to the statement by the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution on tribunal reform and Wales's evolving justice landscape. I call on the Counsel General to make the statement. Mick Antoniw. 

Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. A fair and effective justice system and the rule of law are the cornerstones of our democracy. The Commission on Justice in Wales, chaired by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, captured the crux of the matter when it stated:

'Justice is at the heart of any system of democratic government of a nation: The justice system is not an island. It is integral to ensuring that the rights of the people of Wales are in every respect protected, enhanced and enforced. The enforcement of law and the just determination of disputes are essential to a fair and just society.'

In May last year, we published 'Delivering Justice for Wales', which sets out many of the innovative ways in which justice is being delivered in Wales. This publication was an important starting point in terms of communicating a distinct and powerful future vision for justice in Wales, witnessed not by promises for the future but through the evidence of practice in parts of the system right now.

Today, I want to make a statement about some of the further practical actions that we are taking to advance that vision.

In particular, we are making important progress in the area of justice where we have the most control, namely the devolved tribunals. Most Members will be familiar with the fact that the operation of a number of tribunals is devolved to Wales in areas such as mental health, education, council tax valuation and the Welsh language, amongst others. Those devolved tribunals provide a commendable service to the people of Wales, but the Commission on Justice in Wales, in its review of justice in Wales, and the Law Commission, in its review of devolved tribunals, are unequivocal in their respective views that reform is needed to both futureproof the tribunal system and to make it better.

Last week, we published a White Paper entitled 'A New Tribunal System for Wales'. The main proposals include the creation of a first-tier tribunal for Wales, to take on the functions of all the existing devolved tribunals, and the creation of an appeal tribunal for Wales, to hear all appeals from that first tier. This will be the first-ever Wales-only appellate body. The new structure will allow a simplified and coherent approach to the appointment of tribunal members, to complaints and discipline, and the creation of procedural rules. It will be more accessible. Crucially, it will also give structural independence, through the creation of a statutory arm's-length body to administer the two new tribunals. The new tribunal system proposed by the White Paper will not only better meet the present needs of tribunal justice, but will also be able to meet the future needs of Wales, going forward.

To give one example: the decision to exclude a child from a school is pivotal to their future prospects. There must be no doubt that, where those decisions are appealed, they are heard independently, by experts, and with a consistent approach taken, wherever the exclusion takes place. Our reforms will pass the responsibility for these appeals from locally constituted ad hoc panels to the education chamber of the new first-tier tribunal. Tribunal reform is important in itself, but it also lays the foundation for a future where justice is devolved and Wales administers its own wider system, including the courts. I have long believed that the devolution of justice is inevitable.

We will, of course, await the findings of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, but in the meantime, in the wake of Gordon Brown's commission for the UK Labour Party, devolution is becoming a very real prospect, and we have a duty to prepare. It is essential that any plans are co-produced with experts and those with lived experience of contact with the justice system. That is why we have commissioned a range of work in the spheres of youth justice and probation, to understand how devolution of these areas could happen in practice and how we could maximise the positive impact of devolving these services to Wales. We also hope to undertake similar work on policing devolution in the near future.

On youth justice, we commissioned Dr Jonathan Evans to lead an informal review of the system in Wales, which will shortly be concluding. This has been taken forward through an advisory group with a wide range of members. So far, this group has produced key insights into how youth justice services in Wales could be strengthened and more aligned with Welsh social justice policy. It poses exciting questions about how public services can work together even more effectively in preventing youth crime, as well as how we treat those children who do commit crimes and, indeed, their victims. Part of that work, too, is to look at the operation of the youth court and whether that could be improved, including whether this is another area where the expertise of members of the current education tribunal could play a role.

I am also pleased to announce that the Wales Centre for Public Policy will be taking forward a similar piece of work on probation. This work will dovetail with that of the probation development group, a group of academics and people with experience of practice, who are already undertaking work considering some components of a vision for future probation services in Wales.

These projects will lay the groundwork for further reflection and activity. We hope to be able to use the outputs as the foundation for broader consultation in the coming months. Our independent expert advisor, Dame Vera Baird KC, will play a critical role in this, providing expert support and ensuring that our plans are put through the necessary scrutiny.

We will, of course, update the Senedd as this work progresses. We also expect to publish an annual review of 'Delivering Justice for Wales' in the autumn, setting out our progress in these areas that I have mentioned today, as well as the wider justice work programme. I hope Members will support our pragmatic approach to preparing for justice devolution, and our proposals for tribunal reform as part of this. These initial steps I have outlined will, in my view, set us up for building a better justice service for the people of Wales. Diolch yn fawr. 

16:00

The UK Wales Act 2017 established the role of president of Welsh Tribunals to oversee the seven devolved tribunals that are the responsibility of the Welsh Government and over which the president presides. In consequence, we recognise the logic in establishing a single coherent system in which these seven tribunals all operate within the same framework, as in England under the UK Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. However, we cannot support the separate issue of full devolution of the justice system for the evidence-based reasons I again summarised here last week and do not propose to rehearse once more. 

Further, in terms of outcomes, the Welsh Government's record on the devolved services associated with youth justice and probation is, to put it politely, not good. However, when I questioned you previously about tribunal reform, I noted that the Law Commission's December 2021 final report on devolved tribunals in Wales included:

'we are persuaded that the non-ministerial department model is the one that should be adopted for the future administration of the system of devolved tribunals in Wales.'

It stated:

'The tribunals service should be operationally independent from the Welsh Government.'

Replying to me on this in March, you stated:

'the points that the Member raises are absolutely fundamental, and that is that that part of the justice system has to be independent of Government...it has to be a model that ensures the independent operation of the Welsh Tribunals unit'.

But you added that while the Welsh Government supports the Welsh Tribunals unit having a much greater degree of independence, it has not committed to creating a non-ministerial department to administer the Welsh tribunals. 

The concept of separation of powers between legislature—i.e. Senedd—Executive—i.e. Welsh Government—and judiciary has long applied in and across the UK to prevent the concentration of power by providing checks and balances. How therefore will the proposal in the White Paper 'A New Tribunal System for Wales' for the creation of a new structurally independent arm's-length body to administer the first-tier tribunal for Wales and the appeals tribunal for Wales operate in this specific context? 

Your White Paper also proposes the creation of a first-tier tribunal for Wales with a chamber structure, and the creation of an appeal tribunal for Wales. To what extent will this replicate the structure introduced by the UK Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, in which tribunals are split broadly into the first-tier tribunal to hear cases at first instance, and the upper tribunal to hear appeals from the first tribunal, with both the first-tier tribunal and the upper tribunal split into a number of specialist chambers? It seems eerily similar. 

Under the UK Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, from the upper tribunal there's the possibility of appeal to the Court of Appeal and from there to the Supreme Court. Will this safeguard also apply to the new tribunal system you propose for Wales? You propose what you describe as simplified and coherent approaches to the appointment of tribunal members and complaints across the new tribunal system. How will these ensure merit, rigour and independence from the executive and legislature?

Finally, I’ve previously raised concerns with you that vulnerable children and their families in Wales are being let down because neither the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales previously, nor its successor body now, has any enforcement powers and cannot take further enforcement action when the relevant public bodies fail to carry out their instructions. Quoting in September 2021 from the president of Welsh Tribunals' annual report then, I stated that the report refers to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales, referring to the

'clear need to ensure that the education of vulnerable children is not compromised'

and to the transition from the SEN Tribunal for Wales to the education tribunal. In your reply you stated:

'I think the issues around the tribunals, the organisation of the tribunals, and the decisions of the tribunals are going to be a matter for what I think will be a tribunals Bill, where all these issues are going to have to be looked at'.

How therefore do you propose to address this now, when this remains a recurrent theme in my casework? The tribunal has confirmed that the new legislation does not change how compliance with tribunal orders are dealt with. Although the orders are legally binding, the tribunal still has no enforcement powers, and although a judicial review could be brought against the local authority in the High Court, this is clearly beyond the means of the vast majority of affected families. Diolch.

16:05

Thank you for the variety of questions, and thank you for the detail and the consideration you’ve given to the report. I think it recognises the importance of these proposals, so I’m very grateful for the fact that you support the logic in terms of the reforms, and you quite correctly do have a number of questions to ask.

If I could just take the question you asked about the 2007 Act and the reforms within England, you’re absolutely right, they are based on those similar proposals. It was the Leggatt report in 2007 that basically called for reforms across the UK. The devolved tribunals were not incorporated within that, but the report was very, very clear at that time. It said that:

'If it is to be capable of handling its workload effectively, and ensuring the consistent development of the law, the Tribunal system must have a coherent structure to enable the effective management of workload, encourage consistency, and further a common approach in decision-making and case handling and management.'

Since then there have been a variety of reports. Of course, the Commission on Justice in Wales covered this issue. Again, there was the Law Commission report, which was commissioned by the Welsh Government, and there was also a report back in 2014 on the review of tribunals operating in Wales.

The difference I think is that at that particular time, because of devolution, and because of the different way in which, on an ad hoc basis, tribunals have developed and come about within Wales, with all sorts of different structures in place, there was a need for quite serious consideration of what reform would be and how it would actually take place. So, it is based on those fundamental principles, and that is that you have a first-tier chamber, and that you create specialist chambers within that, and the specialist chambers are again referred to in the White Paper. They would allow for not only a coherent system, but the development of specialisms, and also the ability and the flexibility to take on other areas. One of the recommendations in the White Paper is of course a general chamber to take on board additional areas that might be devolved to it.

In terms of youth services and youth justice, well of course this has been a matter where the Welsh Government has worked closely with the Ministry of Justice, and it has been effective. It doesn’t deal with the long-term consistency that’s needed, and why there is such a strong case for the devolution of youth justice, which is what we’re working on.

Today’s statement is fundamentally about the reform of the tribunal system and the White Paper that was published last week. In terms of the appeals system, well, it will be the first appeals system that is in existence. It will be a Welsh appeals system that replicates the appeals system, and of course beyond that there will be the normal ability for appeals in respect of judicial review and so on.

In terms of the president of tribunals, special educational needs and the education chamber and so on, I think the transition to that should be relatively seamless. I don't see that it will create difficulties. I think it will also, though, create a much more specialist education chamber that will be able to take on other areas such as those mentioned, for example the exclusions.

What I'd say in conclusion to all the points you made is that, of course, this is a White Paper. It has gone out, it is there for consultation, and there will, no doubt, be a number of particular views, particularly on, for example, the financial system that you mentioned, what is the best system. What I can say very adamantly is that I want to see the maximisation of independence within that. As I said last time when this came up, there are, of course, different views around that, and I'm sure there will be a number of contributions as to precisely what structure that independence should actually take, whether it's an arm's-length body, et cetera, or what the precise format might be. So, that is a matter for, I think, for further debate, but I really do hope that you will not only put your own submission in, your own comments in to the White Paper consultation, but so will all the other bodies that are interested.

In general, the responses I've had to the White Paper have been very, very positive. People are very, very pleased to see that it is there. It is a substantial reform, and we would consider all the responses that come through that White Paper very, very carefully, because we want a system that is independent, that is effective and that properly represents the judiciable issues around the delivery of Welsh services.

16:10

We welcome the launch of the consultation on the White Paper on the new legislation to reform the Welsh tribunal system. As highlighted in the Law Commission's report of December 2021, the current system in Wales is complicated and inconsistent, and, in some instances, unfit for practice. We hope that the proposed legislation will result in a fairer and more accessible tribunal system for Wales that fully reflects the devolution landscape in which it now resides.

Of course, the Law Commission's characterisation of the current state of the Welsh tribunal system could equally be applied to the justice system in Wales as a whole. As we discussed in last week's debate, Wales's anomalous position as the only devolved nation without powers over justice and policing has been highly detrimental. This has led to poorer outcomes in terms of the criminal justice system and access to legal aid. The Minister's statement referred to the need to lay the foundations for a future where justice is devolved, and I'm heartened that the Welsh Government does envisage this legislation as part of a wider programme of much-needed reform. It's essential that the proactive approach to strengthening and enhancing Wales's devolved architecture is maintained across all policy areas.

As part of this process of laying the foundations for the future devolution of justice, it's incumbent on the Welsh Government to ensure that they get effective buy-in from the UK Labour leadership. Given the likelihood of the next Westminster Government being a Labour one, it is especially important. Unfortunately, the signs are not promising with regard to achieving that buy-in. We've mentioned before that the Gordon Brown report on the constitutional future of the UK actually rows back on the Welsh Government's long-held ambitions of justice reform. You've tended to respond to this by pointing to the fact that the Brown report references that there is no reason in principle why matters that are devolved in Scotland cannot be devolved in Wales. Whilst the sentiment is, of course, to be welcomed, it's important not to assign too much value to what is merely a non-committal statement of principle.

In terms of concrete proposals, all that is on the table for Wales from the UK Labour Party at present is the devolution of youth justice and probation services. This falls well short of what the comprehensive and compelling report from the Thomas commission recommended back in 2019. If we want to ensure that the foundations of a future Welsh justice system are robust, surely we should be pushing to get the commitment for full devolution now so that we can actually begin the process of preparing and planning in earnest. I'd like to ask the Minister, and bearing in mind the Minister's comments that the devolution of justice is inevitable, whether he agrees that the process of laying the foundation for full devolution of justice is best served by the UK Labour leadership actively committing to providing Wales with these powers as soon as possible, rather than kicking it into the long grass. Diolch yn fawr.

16:15

Thank you for the various comments you’ve made, and I agree with the general comments you make about the linkage between the justice system as a whole, and that our tribunals are actually part and parcel of that. So, taking it steps at a time, I think reforming our own tribunals, creating our own framework and structure and appellate structure, and of course, as Mark Isherwood mentioned, the creation of the role of presidents of tribunals have been very, very significant developments.

I suppose the starting point really is this: leaving outside the justice devolution issue as a whole, we want to ensure that we have a proper and an effective and an independent tribunal system. Some of the changes that have been made, the enhancing of the role of the presidents of tribunals, which is recommended, I think is something that is very important. These are significant judicial positions—the people who will actually sit as presidents and members of the various chambers. They are significant judicial positions, and this is a significant development of this part of the justice system that is within our control and that is part of the devolution process at the moment.

In terms of the Brown report, I think what was important in the Brown report also was that he made specific reference to the fact that we have our own commission on the constitutional future of Wales, and there was deference to that, and that was, as I’ve said in this Chamber before, absolutely correct. It would have been totally wrong for that report to have basically said, 'This is what Wales needs and this is what Wales should actually have', rather than say, 'Well, you have your commission under way. Here are the principles, really, for the further constitutional reform of the UK, and it's really now a matter for you to consider, and to constructively engage'.

Let me also say, of course, nothing happens—there is no change in terms of the devolution of justice—if there is another Conservative Government. So, this is all totally dependent in terms of justice devolution, on the election of a Labour Government in a year or so's time. I am confident that that is something that will happen. But what I can also say is that making changes to the justice system, and incorporating it, is no mean task. It is a very complex system with many facets to it and whichever way we were to proceed with it, takes time to ensure continuity and stability of the justice system, but also to ensure that what we’re doing actually improves the existing justice system, which is why I think the approach we've taken so far is absolutely correct. We are no longer talking about the case for the devolution of youth justice, or the case for the devolution of probation; we are actually preparing for it to actually happen, how it can happen, in what format it should be, what the legislative requirements are to actually make it happen, and that is significant, and I think you can probably take that as a sign of confidence that these are things that we believe will actually happen. I hope I've answered all your points.

Thank you very much for all the considerable work that you are putting into demonstrating how we could deliver a justice system closer to the people of Wales once we have those powers. I particularly welcome your decision to ensure that anybody excluded from school should be seen by a tribunal to examine whether or not this was an appropriate act, because it seems to me that exclusion from school is such a serious issue, it should be a rare and almost-never event. So, I think that's an excellent demonstration of how a tribunal can give properly independent scrutiny of such a decision.

I wonder if I could just ask you about the review of the youth justice system that Dr Jonathan Evans is undertaking. And I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about who is on the advisory group that's working with him? Does it include people from education and also a speech and language therapist?

Thank you for the question, and I welcome the comments you make in terms of exclusions, because that is very much recognised; an exclusion is something that has a very dramatic impact on a young person, and I think it is absolutely appropriate that there should be a coherent and consistent system in respect of exclusions.

Issues such as admissions, of course, are still going to be dealt with locally, so they won't be part of this tribunal system. In terms of the work that's going on on the youth justice system, basically, it's a group of academics and experts in the education field who are being led, and in due course, when that work is actually completed, it will probably take us significantly forward. But I'm satisfied that within that, the people who are being consulted, who are engaged, and the individuals who are particularly working on it, are ones who have expertise within this field. This won't be the only piece of work, of course. There is also the question of the legislative structure that will need to take place, and, of course, the work of Dame Vera Baird I think is going to be very important within this. The actual skill and practical operating expertise that she has—and I think there are others around who also have that who I think would want to contribute towards ultimately putting together a devolution package, which is not talking about how you do things but saying, 'This is what we want to happen and this is how it should happen', and so that we can hit the floor running the moment the opportunity arises.

16:20

Cwnsler Cyffredinol, the consultation ends on 2 October. Could you just tell us what the timetable is after that? I'm pleased, as Jenny Rathbone mentioned, that school exclusion panels are included within the tribunal, but I was disappointed to hear you again saying that school admissions panels are not included. They suffer from the same issues as exclusion panels. They are also ad hoc, with members of the panel being appointed by the decision maker, namely the local authority, and the legal adviser of the appeal panel is a local authority employee. Their inclusion within the tribunal system would increase the workload of the education chamber, which is very important, because as you said several times, the lack of cases within the Welsh tribunals are a real concern. Does the Counsel General have an initial view on why the admissions panels are not included? I can't see the local argument being a strong argument, because that could be still incorporated within the tribunal system through unpaid members like magistrates.

I'm also pleased to see the further work being undertaken by the Welsh Government in devolving probation and youth justice. However, I just wonder, by limiting it to those areas, as the policing work hasn't started yet, is that a concession by the Welsh Government, that, due to the Brown report, it's the only likely part of the justice system that will be devolved to Wales? And do you agree that piecemeal devolution would not address the jagged edge issue? Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you, Rhys, for those comments. In terms of the timetable, I think you heard the First Minister earlier today say that, not within the third year, but before the end, there will be a Bill that will be introduced. It's not for me to say precisely what year that might be taking place, but as you know with legislation, the ongoing development of policy work and the planning for legislation is stuff that goes on over a period of time ahead of the announcement and the actual decision to actually table specific legislation. What I am confident of is that, by the end of the term of this Senedd, we will have in place a reformed tribunal system and legislation will have been passed. And, of course, as you know, we have now a new president of tribunals, former appeal court judge, Sir Gary Hickinbottom, who I have met with and the First Minister has met with, and no doubt we will want to engage with in terms of proposals for the structural reform.

In terms of the issue of admission panels, well, you're right that it's an area where there have been differing views. During the consultations, there was certainly disagreement that admissions were something that were so local, that there were so many local features, that it was something that should stay where it is. And of course, this, again, is a White Paper, so there are opportunities for positions to be put in that actually say, 'No, the alternative should be the case and that these should be—'. I think it was felt with the White Paper that the exclusions were something that definitely had to come in. The significance of an exclusion from school had such a dramatic impact. Admissions in terms of choice into particular schools involves so many local features in terms of the school, the capacity, the geography, and so on that it was felt, certainly at least for the time being, that those were things that should remain where they are. But, as I say, within the system, we want a tribunal system that has flexibility. There may be other areas of legislation involving new Welsh law and new appeal structures which, again, we might want to look, in the future, to be incorporated within our tribunal system—a system that will actually grow and reflect, increasingly, Welsh law, and also the capacity to use Welsh and develop expertise amongst lawyers and those who participate within that tribunal structure itself. So, there are very important things there.

In terms of policing, there is work that is going on in terms of policing and in terms of policy development around that. That is still ongoing. But in terms of the Brown report, and any limitation, well, Gordon Brown made it absolutely clear—there are no limits. Subsidiarity is the key thing that as much should be devolved, apart from those things that are necessary in terms of the interdependency between countries. So, the principle is there, but he was absolutely right in also saying that, depending on what the independent commission on the constitutional future of Wales and the conclusions they come to, it is something where there should then be constructive engagement with the next Government. I suspect the only constructive engagement will be with the next Labour Government, and that's why it's so important that, as I know we all want to see, a UK Labour Government is in place as soon as possible.

16:25

I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I say how much I welcome the statement that's been made this afternoon and welcome the approach that the Counsel General is taking in these matters? I think there's going to be broad agreement across the Chamber on the work that's been done to reform the tribunal system, and I think that is something that can unite all parts of the Chamber.

My concern this afternoon—. And what I welcome about the statement was the beginning to chart a course for the devolution of policing and justice. A victims Bill is, of course, in front of the Westminster Parliament at the moment, and I'd be grateful if the Minister could outline any conversations he's had with UK Government about how that Bill may be used in order to start the work of devolving or preparation for the devolving of particularly youth justice and probation—the areas that he has focused on this afternoon.

But also, in his answer to Rhys ab Owen, be began also, I felt, to chart a course for the future in terms of the wider devolution of policing and justice. And I share with him the agreement on the principle of any subject that is devolved in, for example, Scotland can be devolved to Wales as well. But what does that mean in practice? Where does he see the timescales in this, in terms of the constitutional convention reporting to, I presume, the Welsh Government, conversations then taking place with Gordon Brown, and then how does that reach the statute book in terms of legislation in Westminster? So, I think it's important that we can understand and begin to chart that process so that the work that he's begun, and the work I very much welcome on youth justice and probation—and I think he said policing as well—can then begin in earnest to prepare for the devolution of true criminal justice to this place to ensure that the people who are currently suffering a deficiency of that system—

Thank you for that. The Member is right, of course, to, again, raise, as others have, the issue of policing. Policing is an integral part of the justice system. In many ways, much of the operation of policing is devolved in a hybrid way in terms of the fact that structures have been created for that engagement, and through the police and crime commissioners and so on. And there is an asymmetrical dysfunction, isn't there, within the UK, that certain parts of the UK already have the devolution of policing. Wales doesn't, and there is no logical reason why that should be the case. So, I think that that is also something that is an inevitability and something that will happen. And it's interesting that, when Gordon Brown talks about his report, he refers to the devolution of youth justice, probation and policing. But we're working on the basis that there are some very specific references to youth justice and to probation. Those are the ones we're focusing our work on. We're not ignoring the issue of policing. There is work and further research that is going on on that as to how it might work, how the powers might be exercised, the inter-relationships and so on. So, that is under way.

In terms of the constitutional commission with Rowan Williams and Laura McAllister, I understand that it will be reporting by the end of this year. I hope that is a report then that will be discussed sensibly, not only in this Chamber, but in all political parties and in civic society a little bit more generally as well. The key point in, I think, Gordon Brown's report relating to that is that there should then be constructive engagement with the next Labour Government.

We will, of course, if the general election hasn't taken place by then, seek to engage, of course, with the UK Government, but there is a reality in terms of the position that has been adopted by the UK Government, which is irrespective of the merits or otherwise; this is basically an ideological position that's been taken in terms of the centralisation of power, even though there would be merits in the devolution of areas of the justice system in any event. So, those are discussions that will take place then, and I think we'll have a real opportunity to discuss them in December, when that report comes out, which I very much look forward to.

16:30
6. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: National Immunisation Programme for Wales

Item 6 this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services, a national immunisation programme for Wales. I call on the Minister, Eluned Morgan, to make the statement. 

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm really pleased today to update Members on the development of the national immunisation framework and the incredible work that has been going on in recent months to create a vaccination system for Wales that is fit for the future. According to the World Health Organization, vaccination is one of the best health investments money can buy and it helps to prevent up to 3 million deaths a year worldwide.

We all remember the joy and the relief that came with the COVID-19 vaccine. It's impossible to overstate the impact that vaccination programme has had on all our lives. But it's not over. Today, I'm delighted to report that the COVID-19 spring booster programme will end this week. It has delivered well over 0.25 million vaccinations. The spring programme came hot on the heels of the winter respiratory vaccination programme, which ran from last September until 31 March. So, what that means is that for 10 consecutive months we've been offering the protection of COVID-19 vaccination to the most vulnerable in our communities, and this was the third consecutive year our NHS delivered a COVID programme as well as the flu programme, at pace and under pressure. Over 12 million doses of COVID-19 and flu vaccination have been administered to the people of Wales since 2020, in a population of just over 3 million people. This is something we could never have envisaged before the pandemic, and I’d like to express my sincere thanks to everyone involved.

Critical to the success of the programme has been the engagement of the public in coming forward for their vaccines. I’m so grateful to people for that, but we cannot and we must not take that engagement for granted.

It was the huge success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme that set us on the journey of reform that is described in the national immunisation framework. I want Wales to have a world-leading approach to vaccinations that ensures that, at every stage of life, our citizens are protected from diseases that could lead to serious illness or death. But I must be clear: a one-size-fits-all approach will never be suitable for vaccinations. That said, our ambition is to create a system where a national approach is adopted when and where appropriate. This will be a system that has a relentless focus on removing inequities to ensure that every citizen enjoys the health protection benefits provided by our vaccination programmes.

To develop the system I describe, I've provided the NHS Executive with funding to establish a team to oversee the operational delivery of all vaccination programmes. The new system has partnership working at its heart. The speed with which we established our mpox vaccination programme in response to last year’s outbreak is an example of how our transformed system can deliver quickly for the people of Wales.

A core aim of the national immunisation framework is to develop the digital infrastructure needed to deliver an effective and efficient vaccination system that works seamlessly for practitioners and for patients alike. This work will be crucial to the successful delivery of the framework, and, I must be frank with you, we have a long way to go. But I'm pleased to say that discovery work is well under way, and I expect to see plans for how this work can be progressed very soon. 

Using the learning from the pandemic, and acknowledging the level of risk currently held by general practice for the current model of flu vaccine procurement, I have made a commitment to introduce a centralised procurement model. Again, this is going to be a complex piece of work, which will be developed and delivered in partnership, but I'm hopeful it will be possible to introduce the new model in time for the 2025 flu season.

Ensuring equitable access to vaccination is a key priority that underpins every aspect of the national immunisation framework. All health boards are developing plans to deliver the ambition of reducing and eventually eliminating the inequalities that currently exist, ensuring that everyone has equal access and opportunity to receive their vaccinations.

The pandemic caused disruption to our vaccination programmes, particularly those delivered in schools. I'm really pleased to see catch-up programmes in place and significant progress being made to ensure that children and young people who missed crucial vaccinations while we were living with restrictions can get them now.

While I'm sure that Members will agree there is much to celebrate, I'm keenly aware that the pandemic also saw an exponential rise in vaccine misinformation and disinformation. We will continue to work with NHS organisations to ensure that clear, accurate and trustworthy information about our vaccination programmes is easily accessible to all.

But I'd like to take this opportunity now to share with you changes that will be introduced to some of our vaccination programmes later this year. Recently, I have accepted advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that recommends that the vaccination schedule for human papillomavirus changes from two doses to one; that's the HPV virus. The committee saw compelling evidence that showed that a single dose of HPV vaccine provides good and long-lasting protection when offered in early adolescence. The HPV vaccine protects against head and neck cancers as well as cervical cancer. Studies have shown an almost 90 per cent reduction in cervical cancer cases among vaccinated groups. The change to the schedule will be implemented in the coming academic year.

We are also gearing up for a significant change to the shingles vaccination programme. Who knows what 'yr eryr' is? [Interruption.] Oh, 10 out of 10. Yes, it's shingles. There is a new vaccine available, and there will be a wider age range eligible for the vaccine. Shingles, or yr eryr, can cause severe illness, particularly in older people. One in every 1,000 cases can be fatal. By vaccinating people to prevent them from contracting the virus we are protecting individuals and protecting the health service.

For the first time ever, the structures put in place by the national immunisation framework will enable these changes to be introduced seamlessly, while other routine programmes continue and the winter respiratory vaccination programme for 2023 is delivered.

Once again, I would like to thank everyone involved in planning and delivering our vaccination programmes. The work that our vaccination teams do is incredible and ensures that the people of Wales can access the best possible protection from disease. I'm grateful to the NHS for embracing the changes introduced by the national immunisation framework and for helping to create sustainable vaccination services, benefitting individuals and our communities and supporting the resilience of our NHS. Thank you. 

16:40

Can I thank the Minister for her statement this afternoon? I don't think there's an awful lot to disagree with. I'm very supportive of much of what the Minister has said this afternoon. I remember—. The Minister talked about the joy when the vaccination was developed, and, of course, we were particularly good in the UK and Wales in rolling out the vaccination at pace as well, which had so much of an impact on getting us back to normality again. 

Minister, you talked about the spring booster programme coming to a close this week and that you delivered 0.25 million vaccinations, but I suppose the question there is to assess how successful the programme was over the spring period. Can you tell us how many people were eligible for the vaccination or give us a percentage in terms of uptake? 

Of course, I understand there was a step down of funding for vaccination centres. I understand why that was the case—that was the correct approach, to redirect funding elsewhere—but what that has meant is that people, often, in rural areas are travelling a lot further, those who are eligible, for their COVID vaccinations than previously— people perhaps travelling over an hour. So, can you help us to understand a little bit about—? GP surgeries, yes, they're offering what we refer to as the flu jab, but, yes, people are travelling over an hour away for their vaccination for COVID, so perhaps tell us a little bit about how you feel that you can incentivise or encourage GP practices to take up offering the COVID vaccination as well.

Minister, you talk about the centralised waiting list—sorry, centralised procurement model—so, I'm listening to that with interest as well. I think you talked about that last year, and at the time you were talking about it possibly being ready for 2023-24, but it now looks like 2025. You talk about a piece of work that's complex, so perhaps it would be worth just expanding on what is complex about that work. I can imagine it is, but perhaps you can outline that to us. And also what are the benefits of a centralised procurement model? I can accept that there will be benefits, but perhaps you can outline what they are over the current system, and are there any disbenefits that you foresee in terms of a centralised procurement model? I know that the British Medical Association in Wales have previously raised some concerns about a move to a centralised procurement system, because they're concerned that GP practices could be less well funded and that could have implications for reinvesting in other services. So, can you just confirm that you are having discussions with BMA Wales about this?

You also, Minister, talk about misinformation about the vaccine. Misinformation, I agree with you, is very dangerous, when we see a lot of this information that's posted, and perhaps you could just outline—. You talk about, in your statement, how you're going to work with NHS organisations to ensure that there is clear and accurate and trustworthy information about, but how are you going to do that, or how are the NHS organisations that you talked about going to achieve that?

You've also talked about the vaccination programmes that were under way before COVID in terms of the general vaccination programmes, delivered particularly in schools as well. So, you talked about the catch-up programmes. To what extent has Wales caught up, and to what extent are vaccinations, compared to pre COVID, now taking place? Have we seen an uptake? What's the analysis? Is there a feeling that there's more uptake in general vaccinations, or a decrease? Perhaps it would be good to get some sense around some of those issues as well. I think that covers my questions. Thank you, Minister.  

Thanks very much. So, I can give you some details on the situation in relation to the spring booster in terms of figures. So, what we've had is the delivery of 277,000 booster vaccinations—that was up til 22 June—and that includes about 76 per cent of care home residents, and 71 per cent of people over the age of 75. What’s really good is that we have achieved that offer of a vaccine to 100 per cent of those eligible people, so it was there for them if they wanted it. They’re not bad figures. What we have found is that, every time we offer this, it goes down slightly. That seems to be the case across the rest of the United Kingdom. So, we’ve got to get the balance right, and we can’t do this without the public. There’s a danger of vaccination fatigue, so we’ve still got to keep this going, because it is the best protection for the individual and the NHS, so that’s why I think this new approach is so critical.

You asked about the one size fits all. Well, what’s clear is what’s right, perhaps, in a built-up urban area may be very different from a rural area, and that’s why there’s a recognition that it’s not right to have a one size fits all. Local health boards may want to respond differently, local communities may want to respond differently, and what we have, for example, with GPs, is that it’s up to GPs to what extent they want to get involved, and certainly what we do in relation to flu vaccinations is there’s an incentive for GPs to administer the flu vaccination. As far as possible, I think there are real opportunities here to co-deliver flu and COVID, but some of this will depend on timing and how we maximise the timing of the administration of the vaccine, so that we protect people at the time when the protection is most needed. There’s quite a lot of detail to work out here, and the logistics are not easy. That’s why we’ve got a really crack team on this who've really understood—they learned such a lot during the pandemic, and they’re now driving that through the whole vaccination system. So, that’s good.

Then the centralised procurement model: I think, again, what we learned from the COVID pandemic was that, actually, procuring that centrally meant that we knew exactly what was going on, who had the vaccinations, who didn’t have them, and we could work the system around that. The issue with flu vaccinations is quite often they’re procured by the GPs themselves, and sometimes they under-procure, and they have to come and ask us centrally to make up for it. So, we know we can do it now centrally. We’ve got a lot of faith and confidence in that system, and the point is that all of this is being done in partnership. It’s not being done to people; it’s being done with people, at all levels of government.

On misinformation, a key part of this is the digital shift that is going to happen. We’ve now got the NHS app, there’ll be an opportunity for people to see what vaccinations they had on the app, and there are real opportunities around that. I think having the safety of an NHS app that can be relied on, which has taken—. People keep asking me, ‘Why has it taken so long, this app?’ and I’ve been asking that, I can tell you—I’ve been asking that question as well. And some of it is because people need to be absolutely sure that they can rely on this, and that whatever they see on that app is reliable. So, that is a source of information for the future where people can go where they won’t be misinformed.

And just in terms of catch-up programmes, well, we’re doing much better on the catch-up programmes there are. I think if you look at the routine immunisations, we’ve got the six-in-one vaccine that children have when they’re very young, protecting against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, flu type B, hepatitis B—there’s a whole list here. What I’ll do, if you don’t mind, is I’ll get some information sent to you, so you get a sense of where we’re at on that catch-up programme.

16:45

Thank you to the Minister for her statement, and for giving us sight of it beforehand. This announcement is to be welcomed, and of course it is important to ensure that as many people as possible are vaccinated here in Wales. It is an undeniable fact that vaccination and immunisation have saved and do save millions of lives across decades.

Now, the statement refers to misinformation that is being shared about COVID vaccinations, whilst we also know about misinformation about MMR vaccines too, and it's surprising how many people continue to be doubtful of flu jabs, even. You mentioned one way that you hoped to roll out a broader understanding, and that was by use of an app. Of course, with Rhun ap Iorwerth and Mabon ap Gwynfor, you could turn to Plaid Cymru for information on apps. [Laughter.] But I wonder how you will ensure that people download the app. And how will you tackle things like The Light paper that provides disgusting misinformation across the country, and how do you ensure that mainstream news learns of these important things and the importance of vaccination, as well as encouraging people to use the apps? How are we going to get that information to permeate through to the public?

The Minister will be aware of GPs' concerns about the proposal to centralise procurement. Russ mentioned the concerns of the BMA about this too. Their concerns, of course, are their inability to negotiate their own prices for vaccinations. When similar plans were introduced in Scotland, the Government there provided £5 million in order to support GP practices so that they could convert to the centralised system. So, whilst the Minister's statement mentions funding the NHS to establish a team to oversee the delivery of vaccination programmes, there's no talk about how much money or what kind of support and what kind of budget will be available for GPs to help them in the process of transitioning to the new system. So, I wonder if the Minister could expand on how GPs will be supported to cope with the transition to this new central procurement system and follow the example of Scotland.

Last year, when Plaid Cymru asked the Minister about financial support for GPs if this Government were to adopt a central vaccination procurement system, the Minister mentioned at that time that there were examples of GPs not ordering enough vaccines, and the Government having to step in. The Minister mentioned that in her response to Russell George a little while ago. But the BMA's Welsh council isn't aware of any significant shortages in the procurement of vaccinations by GPs. I do note, however, the recent advice of the Minister to GPs not to procure flu vaccinations for people aged between 50 and 64 this winter. We have to bear in mind that if there were to be a change in the Minister's thinking on this issue now, then there would be a shortage of flu jabs this year as a result of that advice. So, can the Minister provide some detail as to how many GPs she's aware of that have under-procured vaccinations in the past, and also acknowledge that if there is a shortage in flu vaccinations this winter, that that will be as a result of her own advice rather than anything else?

The Minister also referred to digital infrastructure, and it's good to see this at the heart of the framework that is being introduced today. This will be an important development, not only that modern technology can enable better order, but it's also extremely important in ensuring that patients get the right vaccinations. But I've mentioned in this Chamber previously about the different computer systems being used within the NHS in Wales. So, will the Minister expand on this new digital system and give us an assurance that this new system won't be held up amidst the complexity of all the different digital systems currently being used in the NHS, and that it will work seamlessly, as they say, with other digital systems in the NHS? Thank you.

16:50

Thank you very much. I want to thank you not only for the joke, that was quite good, fair play to you, but also for the fact that you know what shingles is in Welsh. That was fairly impressive, I have to say.

In terms of misinformation, I do think that this is a serious subject. It does affect people, some people listen to the nonsense they see online in particular. That's why it's important that people can go to websites and other places where they can have confidence that the information that they are getting is factual, scientific information that they can rely on. That's why I think there is a prominent role, not only for the app, but also for the NHS locally in ensuring that people have that confidence. People still have a lot of confidence in the NHS and the people who lead the NHS.

So, in terms of the centralisation of procurement, it's clear to me that if you are going to negotiate a price, you're going to have a better price if you're negotiating for 3.1 million people compared with 30,000 people. So, it makes sense for many reasons. But this isn't just about money. What we've learned from the pandemic is that we had someone in the Welsh Government who knew exactly how many vials were available in every part of Wales, and having that overview meant that we could move things around the system when we needed to do that. So, I do see that that does mean that you take some power away from the local GPs, but I think that the provision on the whole for Wales, well, it does make sense for us to follow that path.

In terms of the flu and what's happening next year, what we know is that people, for example, who are over 50 years of age and under 65, that the risk of contracting flu is less, or that the impact of the flu on them will be lower. Evidently, money is tight at the present, and we have to consider these things, and we have to ensure that we do get value for money. If there was more funding, then we would come to a different decision, but what we do know is that we have to focus the support that we provide on those who are most vulnerable.

Regarding the digital infrastructure, we are doing a lot to transform our digital systems in the NHS. I'd like to do a lot more if I had more funding. I think it's an area where we would get great value for money, but there are problems, evidently, in financial terms at present, so what we're trying to do is ensure that the computer systems are in place, and our digital team is spending a lot of time ensuring that that is in the right place.

16:55

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I want to thank you, Minister, for your statement today, and I'm going to focus my contribution, my whole minute, on the human papillomavirus, the HPV vaccine. We know that it protects against cancers caused by HPV, including nearly all cervical cancers. HPV is an extremely common viral infection, and it's been estimated that 80 per cent of people will be infected by this virus at some point in their lifetime. For most people, that won't have a major impact on their health, but for some, it can have devastating consequences, and results in HPV-related cancers, like cervical cancer, show us that this vaccine will prevent—and probably has prevented—many deaths, going forward. I'm pleased to see that you're going down to one dose, because it might help facilitate uptake, which you've mentioned has dropped since the COVID pandemic.

I want to focus also on the equality of access to this vaccine, because it's offered in all schools in all areas of Wales, and there is again evidence that demonstrates quite clearly that people from areas where there are significant levels of deprivation are also found to have higher levels of cervical cancer within those areas. So, that equality of access to the vaccine is absolutely critical.

And finally from me, I'm going to ask what you're doing as a Government to inform people, young people and their parents, about the advantage of the uptake in the offer of the vaccine, because again, there's been an awful lot of stigma surrounding this particular vaccine, and some parents perhaps aren't aware of the advantages and, therefore, are not passing that on to the young people.

17:00

Diolch yn fawr, Joyce Watson. You're absolutely right—I think it makes sense also for us just to focus a little while on the situation in relation to HPV. As you've suggested, at the moment we give it in two doses, but expert advice from both the WHO and from the JCVI has suggested that you get the same level of protection if you give it to a young person as you do if you give two doses, so we're following that expert advice. That means all girls aged 12 to 13 are offered that, and boys, obviously. What we've found is that the uptake of the first offer is about 82 per cent, but the second one is around about 70 per cent. So, we'll hit the target, and we've just got to bear that in mind, but that still leaves—and I think this addresses your equality issue—quite a few people. It's almost 20 per cent who are not protected. What we've learnt during the pandemic is that you really have to chase these people down, really make sure that they feel like they've got access, that they get the information they need, and we've developed a degree of expertise around that, about how to reach out to those communities that are traditionally more difficult to get to. What we know is that if it is given to girls and boys who are 12 and 13, you are less likely—. There's 87 per cent less of a chance that you're going to get cervical cancer in your 20s compared to people who are unvaccinated. That's the thing to sell, that actually the evidence supports it; if you want to protect yourself, this is what you do. But, again, we've got to make sure we get that evidence out there and get that communication right.

7. Statement by the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language: Welsh Linguistic Infrastructure

Item 7 this afternoon is the statement by the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language on Welsh linguistic infrastructure. I call on the Minister, Jeremy Miles.

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. 'A good word is to be treasured as part of our heritage'. So goes the Welsh adage, and today I'm here to introduce a policy that deals with words, and how to find them in Welsh, namely our Welsh language linguistic infrastructure policy.

When we talk about linguistic infrastructure, we mean the resources that help us use Welsh from day to day—things like dictionaries, termbases, corpora, and all the research and standardisation work that enables these resources to grow and develop. We sometimes take them for granted, but they're incredibly important for people who want to use Welsh.

Like a great many of us, I sometimes use Microsoft Translator or Google Translate to quickly find a word or term in Welsh. These resources are useful in some situations, but I also know that there's a danger that the answers I get won't always be 100 per cent accurate every time. And that's the problem: we have several fantastic projects here in Wales, but people aren't always aware of them.

Work on Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, the standard historical Welsh dictionary, commenced in 1921, for example, and it is by now the basis for all other work on Welsh words and terms. Other resources, such as Bangor University's Porth Termau, and BydTermCymru in the Welsh Government, have arisen more recently, in response to gaps in the demand for up-to-date terms. But this area of work remains reactive, with terms only commissioned if there's a great demand for them.   

The question arises, therefore: is this good enough? If it comes to light that work is being planned in a new policy area, or that a certain industry is coming to Wales and that Welsh terms will be needed for the workforce, who should be responsible for ensuring that appropriate terms are available in time? These are some of the questions we asked in our consultation on the draft version of this policy. I'd like to thank everyone who responded to that consultation. 

The main messages from the consultation: that there are several resources, but there are times when this becomes a problem, rather than making it easy; that it's not always obvious which resource is the most appropriate one, and people need to jump from one website to another to search for a word or term; or that the answer in one place is different to an answer in another place.

The proposals in the linguistic infrastructure policy address these issues, and acknowledge that someone needs to be responsible for having an overview of this important area, now and in future. We’ve already started taking some of the things in the policy forward, such as setting up a unit in the Welsh Government to co-ordinate our linguistic infrastructure, and to make the different elements work together better. We’ve also set up a Welsh language standardisation panel to begin resolving linguistic problems, focusing initially on matters of orthography.

In conjunction with Bangor University, we’ve conducted a process to standardise equality terminology in the field of race and ethnicity, which included consulting with relevant stakeholders and individuals to create a contemporary list of terms. You can see these on the Welsh Government’s website. And we’ve started planning a website for everyone who wants to use Welsh, with the aim of helping people to find the most appropriate resources for them.

The steps outlined in this new document will be essential as wider Welsh language policy continues to develop. For example, we’ve just consulted on a White Paper that included proposals that will form the basis of a programme of work that will include a Welsh education Bill. The aim of the proposals in the White Paper is improving linguistic outcomes for learners between the ages of three and 16. But, it also suggests expanding the role of the National Centre for Learning Welsh to be a specialist organisation that supports the acquisition and learning of Welsh for learners of all ages in Wales. Ensuring that dictionaries and termbases that are easy to use are available to learners of all ages, as well as teachers, school pupils and parents, is essential for the success of these proposals, and for the success of the Curriculum for Wales in its entirety.

We’ve also set up a new company called Adnodd to maintain an overview of resources for learning and teaching. It will commission appropriate resources for the Curriculum for Wales and the new qualifications. Consistent terms are needed for these education resources so that they can be published simultaneously in Welsh and English. So, the relationship between the new unit, the language technologies unit at Bangor University, which is responsible for the Termiadur Addysg project, and Adnodd will be very important. The unit will also have one additional responsibility to what was proposed in the draft policy: its officials, along with Cadw officials, will lead on our commitment to safeguard Welsh place names, which stems from our programme for government and the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. We’ve set out our initial steps in relation to Welsh place names in our Welsh language communities housing plan, and we will be announcing more detailed steps on the basis of research that will be completed by the end of the year.

There’s no doubt that we need to improve the way in which Welsh language infrastructure works. With this policy, we now have a solid foundation to begin co-ordinating the different elements, commissioning terminology work according to need, and ensuring that resources are marketed effectively, so that they’re easily available to all. We believe that this will make it easier for everyone to use the language confidently, whether they’re new speakers, parents of schoolchildren, people using Welsh professionally at work, or even Members of the Senedd trying to find an