Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

12/12/2023

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

A warm welcome to this Plenary meeting. The first item this afternoon will be questions to the First Minister, and the first question this afternoon is from Mabon ap Gwynfor. 

Bus Services in Dwyfor Meirionnydd

1. Will the First Minister provide an update on the viability of public bus services in Dwyfor Meirionnydd? OQ60440

I thank the Member for the question. We work with Transport for Wales and Gwynedd Council to improve the provision of local bus services in the Dwyfor Meirionnydd area. This includes recent improvements made to TrawsCymru services in the area, and Welsh Government investment in a fleet of electric buses.

I thank the First Minister for that response. I visited an employer who has to close in Blaenau Ffestiniog recently. They pay a good wage, bearing in mind the wages in the sector, and they have other workplaces in north Wales too. But, unfortunately, the experienced and talented workforce that they currently have in Blaenau Ffestiniog can't find alternative employment because they don't have another way to reach those workplaces. They don't have private vehicles, and no buses travel on time to take them to other parts of north Wales. The lack of buses is having a direct impact on our economy, and leading to other issues, such as social problems and mental health issues too. I know that there is a bus Bill in the pipeline, but these problems are having an impact now. So, what steps will you take in the short term to improve public transport and ensure that people can get to work and to education settings?

Well, Llywydd, bus services are under pressure everywhere. Fewer passengers means less revenue to support the bus route network. But, in the Dwyfor Meirionnydd area, Gwynedd Council will establish a new T22 service early in 2024, which will improve connections between Porthmadog, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Caernarfon. That will run seven days a week, and, hopefully, that will help those people who live in the area, particularly in Blaenau Ffestiniog, as Mabon ap Gwynfor set out. 

The Chancellor's Autumn Statement

2. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to mitigate any impact from the Chancellor’s autumn statement on public services in Wales? OQ60412

Well, Llywydd, for more than a decade, the Welsh Government has taken action to mitigate the impact of falling budgets on our public services. The return to full-blown austerity in the autumn statement will make mitigation ever more difficult. We will use the force of social partnership to guide our actions.

First Minister, public services are at the heart of our communities, providing health, transport, education, housing, to name just a few, as well as being a major employer. More than a decade of austerity, loss of EU funding and massive inflationary pressures following the Truss budget have left services at breaking point in the autumn statement. The Chancellor said they need to be more productive and efficient, yet they have already had a decade of restructuring and reorganising, becoming lean, and, with the cost-of-living crisis, they are needed even more than ever in our local communities. First Minister, may I ask: what is your assessment of the situation here in Wales?

Well, Llywydd, Members don't need to rely simply on my assessment; they could rely on the assessment of the Centre for Social Justice, set up by Iain Duncan Smith, which reported yesterday that the social divide in the United Kingdom today is of a depth that has not been seen since the Victorian era. That is what the Centre for Social Justice—that right-wing think tank, set up by a member of the Conservative Party when he was leader of the Conservative Party— that is what it concludes has been the product of the last 13 years of Conservative Government. Britain is broken, the report says. That's my assessment as well, Llywydd. The impact on our public services is such that people across Wales and across the United Kingdom no longer feel confident that the UK Government is prepared to make the investments necessary to support the services on which they rely, and the autumn statement, which used £20 billion to give a tax cut, provided not a penny for investment in those public services. It's no wonder that the Centre for Social Justice, and others—the Resolution Foundation report of the week before—finds that there is a depth of need, a depth of need, in our communities, which this Government has created on the one hand and is absolutely unprepared to meet on the other.

13:35

First Minister, the updated fiscal framework that you signed with the UK Conservative Government in 2016 factored in the Holtham recommendation for the Barnett formula to include needs-based assessment. This was a really positive step. The revised agreement ensures Wales will never get less than £1.15 for every £1 spent per person on health and education in England, recognising the additional need here. Indeed, on signing off the fiscal framework, First Minister, you said the agreement ensures fair funding for Wales for the longer term. However, we know that only £1.05 is being spent in the health service, and we know that things have gone adrift with our education system—we saw that with the Programme for International Student Assessment last week. So, First Minister, whilst all acknowledge there are huge pressures on public services—pressures that will require your Government to prioritise heavily—can you outline the strategy the Welsh Government has regarding the health and education budgets, recognising those recent disappointing PISA results and unacceptable NHS waiting times?

Llywydd, let me be clear, there is no needs-based assessment in the funding in the fiscal framework; it is a funding floor of the sort that Holtham recommended. But the idea that it is needs based is simply not true—the Barnett formula is not needs based in any way. We have called many, many times in this Chamber for a properly reformed funding mechanism that recognises different needs in different parts of the United Kingdom. The fiscal framework was never designed to do that, and the figures in it have never been updated. So, when they were set in 2016, they did provide the Welsh Government with the tools we needed to manage the budget we had at that time. Seven years later, those figures have never been uprated to deal with inflation. They are worth 17 per cent less to us today than when those figures were agreed. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and others have called on the UK Government to do that very simple thing. Let's not for a moment argue for even more, in terms of borrowing—I think you could make that case—but let us at least ask the UK Government not to allow the real value of what we negotiated and agreed in 2016 to be eroded and never to be replaced. In the Welsh Government's very difficult discussions over recent months in trying to agree a budget that will be put in front of the Senedd, of course, public services, our health service, those services provided by local government, have always been at the forefront of our considerations.

I'm grateful to you, Presiding Officer. We know that the autumn statement led to greater inequality, both within individual societies and across the United Kingdom. That's already been demonstrated by the analysis of the autumn statement. But, last night, something interesting happened, First Minister: the UK Government made an offer to Northern Ireland, which did include a needs-based formula, which did include financial freedoms, which did include all those different financial tools that you and this Government and this Parliament have been asking for for many years. Is it now the case that if the United Kingdom Government accepts that a needs-based formula is good enough for Northern Ireland, then it's good enough for Wales?

Llywydd, I thank Alun Davies for that, because he's right to say there was a great deal of interest to Wales in what the UK Government was trailing in relation to Northern Ireland. If it's a genuinely needs-based formula that they are proposing for one part of the United Kingdom, then, clearly, that formula would have to apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. But the trail by the UK Government also claimed that they were putting £2.5 billion on the table to ease the return of an Executive in Northern Ireland. Now, I don't regret £2.5 billion being made available for public services in Northern Ireland. I'm quite sure that sum of money is needed, but it is equally needed in England, in Scotland and in Wales, and if there is money for public services in any one part of the United Kingdom, then the funding arrangements that are agreed between us are very clear: the same uplift must be provided to all. And I look forward to hearing both that there is an agreement in Northern Ireland and a return to an Executive, all of that will be very good news, but if there is money available to deal with their difficulties in public services, then we quite certainly face the same, and anybody who reads about the state of the NHS in England will know that funding is urgently needed there too.

13:40
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Could I, first of all, as this is the last session before Christmas, wish everyone the compliments of the season? And, hopefully, they'll have a happy family Christmas and a prosperous new year as well.

First Minister, yesterday, the Member of Parliament for Gower said that the interview given by the Deputy Minister on Politics Wales on Sunday was a 'cynical attempt to rewrite history'. Do you agree? 

Well, Llywydd, since that interview, the Minister has written to me asking that those allegations should be investigated under the ministerial code. So, I've agreed to that. There'll be an independent investigation of the allegations, and when that investigation has taken place, then the results of it will be made known.

I'm grateful to you for making that known today, and I look forward to the outcome of that investigation. Can you confirm the timelines for that investigation, and will it report before Christmas? 

Well, Llywydd, the letter from the Deputy Minister was received this morning. I have immediately instructed, through the Permanent Secretary, that such an investigation should be carried out. The timing of it is not in my hands. The timing is in the hands of the person who will carry out that independent investigation, and I'm not going to place any constraints on their investigation. It's up to them to decide what they need to see, who they need to speak to and how long it will take them to do that.

First Minister, you do not have an independent adviser to look into these type of things. You are, though, ultimately the arbitrator on the ministerial code. It is important to understand the timelines, terms of reference and who that independent person might be. Can you confirm that the independent person will be someone from outside of Government, and ultimately that the timelines to report will be within the shortest possible timeline, because, obviously, the allegations levelled against the Deputy Minister are serious, by a colleague of hers in the Labour group—Labour Party, I should say—and she was on the radio this morning making the point about how you can trust somebody who has let you down? There are vulnerable individuals who have been let down. Hearing about the investigation that you have instructed the Permanent Secretary to undertake, those individuals will want to know an answer to the questions I've just put to you. I hear what you say about it not being in your gift to set predetermined timelines, but an understanding of who that independent person will be, the terms of reference and, importantly, when it might report is of critical importance for people following this story.

Well, Llywydd, first of all, let me just put on record my thanks to those people who came forward with the allegations that led to the independent review carried out within the Welsh Rugby Union. They were brave women to come forward, and the WRU has benefited hugely from the light that they cast on the culture within that organisation. Let me say, as well, that I believe the WRU has, since it came to that initial recognition, acted itself to commission independent advice. It has accepted all the recommendations of that independent report, and I think there are promising signs of the way in which a new chief executive, a new chair and new members of the board are determined to put things right within that organisation. The WRU has a lot to prove still, but I think it's made a start on that journey. 

As to the investigation here, it was the Deputy Minister who regarded the allegations made against her to be so serious that she wished her name to be cleared, or not, depending on what the investigation concludes. It will be carried out, in the first instance, by the director of ethics and propriety within the Welsh Government. That is the first starting point within the ministerial code. That report will come to me, and it'll be my decision, as the leader of the opposition says, as to how I will respond to that. I won't set a timetable for that investigation. I hope it will be carried out expeditiously, of course. I hope it will be for the Deputy Minister, who will want to see the matter resolved. But it isn't for me to place artificial constraints on a process that is carried out without my involvement in it.

13:45

Thank you very much, Llywydd, and I'd also like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas in this final session before Christmas. 

I was going to ask today for the First Minister to refer, under the ministerial code, an investigation into the accounts given around the actions of the Deputy Minister. My question, quite simply, now: given that the conflict in the accounts of Tonia Antoniazzi and the Deputy Minister is today what it was almost a year and a half ago, and that there have been requests for action to be taken to get at the truth for many, many months, why on earth has it taken until now for this to be referred in this way?

Well, Llywydd, I don't recognise what the leader of Plaid Cymru has said at all. There were debates earlier on in the process. The Deputy Minister appeared in front of a Senedd committee and gave extensive evidence there. No calls were made by that inquiry for the actions that I've taken today. They happened today because there have been some fresh views expressed by the Member of Parliament for Gower. And, having expressed those views, I've taken action.  

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Prif Weinidog. I began by wishing people a merry Christmas; I should also add a happy new year. It's certainly planning to be an eventful new year politically, with a general election being one of two elections on the way. The problem with UK general elections is that it's a struggle for Wales's voice to be heard. That's where Plaid Cymru comes in. As Starmer and Sunak vie with each other for the votes of middle England, Plaid Cymru will stand for fairness, for ambition and for Wales.

That sidelining of Wales has been seen in pretty graphic form in the UK COVID inquiry also. Yes, that UK inquiry will visit Wales soon, but the chair admitted from the outset that there just could not be in-depth scrutiny of what happened here, and the frustration at that reality has been heard loud and clear in recent days by the COVID bereaved families in Wales. As the First Minister reaches five years in office, I suggest to him that that refusal to accept proper scrutiny through a Wales-specific inquiry was one decision that reflected very badly indeed on him and on his Government. As he reflects on his time in office, and by way of acknowledging the hurt and grief of the COVID bereaved, will the First Minister now consider righting that wrong?

Well, Llywydd, it's not a wrong; it has always been the right decision to give those families the answers that they need. They simply would never have got those answers through a Wales-only inquiry in which, as UK Ministers have made it plain, they would not participate. And if we've learned anything in the last few months, surely it has been that in order to be able to understand the actions that were taken here in Wales, you have to place them in the wider context of decisions that were being made at that UK level. Rip the context away, as you would suggest, and there would be no answers that make sense for anybody. Having a Wales-specific module within the inquiry, sitting here in Wales, will allow the focus to be placed on the decisions that were made here. I absolutely want that to happen. But you will get a proper understanding of decisions that were made here, because they are inescapably—as the evidence that has been so vividly in front of the inquiry over the last few weeks has demonstrated—made in a UK context, and a Wales-only inquiry would never make that apparent to people.

13:50

Of course the wider context is important. I didn't object to having a UK inquiry; the question was around that forensic investigation of what happened and why, at what time, and decisions taken by who in Wales, so that we could learn lessons for future pandemics, which will happen.

I mentioned a second election, of course, taking place next year—that's the hotly anticipated election for the Labour leadership in Wales. And the question of a COVID inquiry, actually, is important, because, as the First Minister prepares to stand down, he could be setting an example to his successor in terms of what real accountability should look like. As the party leader, Keir Starmer, studies the runners and riders on who's likely to be doing his running for him in Wales next, he will see three candidate names coming up time and time again: the Ministers for health, for the economy and for education. And whether it's on the lack of a winter plan, on poor Programme for International Student Assessment results, or the most ambiguous of economy strategies, goodness me, those are three areas where accountability has to be accepted. In the spirit of Christmas, I invite the First Minister to make a Christmas wish. If that wish were to come true, who would be in his place a year from now?

Well, Llywydd, the leader of Plaid Cymru continues his obsessive interest in the affairs of the Labour Party. If we heard a little bit from him about the affairs of his own party, we'd be better informed than we are. These things are nothing at all to do with him.

Let me return to the one question he asked me that was worth pausing on this afternoon, and that is his very badly informed allegations about the UK inquiry and its inability, as he believes it to be, to focus on the work that it will do here in Wales. There has been a module 2B meeting of the inquiry this morning. The counsel to the inquiry has said that they have received from the Welsh Government so far 30,838 documents and that it has issued 274 rule 9 requests here in Wales. If the inquiry wasn't going to do a proper job, Llywydd, as the leader of Plaid Cymru alleges, why would it go to the trouble that it goes to make sure that it has information on the industrial scale that it will have acquired from individuals and through the documents that have been provided to it?

I am very glad that the counsel to the inquiry has recognised today the hard work that the Welsh Government has undertaken to respond to its many requests, the gratitude that was expressed for the co-operation of the Welsh Government, the reassurance that the inquiry feels from the Welsh Government's actions in providing disclosures by the end of November—textbooks, texts, notebooks, as well as formal documents. The inquiry is going about its work in Wales in exactly the same thoroughgoing way as it has demonstrated over the weeks that we have seen people before it in London. I have confidence that the inquiry will do the job it has been asked to do. It will shine a forensic light on what has happened here in Wales, it will be able to do that within the context that it has established by looking at what happened at the UK level, and, in that way, I hope that, for those families who look to the inquiry to give them the answers and the insights that they wish for, that will be very amply recognised.

Primary Care Services in Mid and West Wales

3. Will the Minister make a statement on the condition of primary care services in Mid and West Wales? OQ60449

Primary care services remain under real pressure in Mid and West Wales. Yet across the country more than 1.5 million contacts with the service take place every month. Diversification of the workforce has been key to sustaining primary care in an era of prolonged austerity.

Thank you very much. First Minister, around a month ago, I met some 50 residents in the village of Laugharne in Carmarthenshire following a request made by the surgery partners to close that particular branch. This would require residents to travel to the nearest surgery, which is St Clears, which is some 6 miles away. There's only a bus once every two hours to St Clears, and a taxi, one way, costs something between £15 and £20. They understand the pressure on the surgery in St Clears in terms of recruitment, but they're also very concerned that if people can't afford to physically go to the surgery in St Clears then people aren't going to go there at all, and that ultimately means that people will become more unwell, and it will lead to far more complex health conditions down the line. We know about the serious decline in primary care services in rural areas, so would you now accept that the primary care sector is facing a very serious situation, and critical, possibly? So, how will the Welsh Government address this issue?

13:55

As I said in my original response, Llywydd, primary care is under pressure in all parts of Wales, and that is true in Hywel Dda too. I'm aware of the fact that the GP practice in St Clears has asked the health board to withdraw some of the services that they've provided in Laugharne. Doctors appointments haven't been available in Laugharne for more than two years. They've used the branch that they have to do other things, but without having appointments to see the doctor.

The health board, as they have to, have spoken to local people. Their work concluded last week. Now, the health board will have to consider the views of the local people and they will have to consult and work with the GP branch in St Clears to see what the best way forward is.

More generally, of course, we are trying to do things to recruit more people to work in our primary care service. We've put additional funding on the table to help to attract people who are training into GP practices in rural areas in the future, and we extended that scheme to Carmarthenshire back in August. It has succeeded in attracting more people to Pembrokeshire and north Wales, and now we're going to provide the same opportunity for people who are currently training to go to work in Carmarthenshire, and there is £20,000 available every year to help people who are willing to do that. 

I'm grateful to Cefin Campbell for submitting this question. There's rightly a lot of concern in the village of Laugharne following the announced closure of its surgery. My team and I have been in discussion with residents and the mayor of Laugharne, Pam Jones, sharing their concerns. One of the models that the Welsh Government has often talked about in terms of health delivery is ensuring that there are services local in the community to those that need them. Given that GP services are looking likely, sadly, to leave Laugharne, is there any opportunity of any other services being brought into Laugharne, closer to the community, using the available facilities that are there already, so that the village of Laugharne doesn't get completely cut off from vital primary healthcare services? Diolch, Llywydd.

That will be for the health board to determine in its discussions with that local community and with those family doctors who operate out of St Clears and who, up until now, have provided services directly in Laugharne. As I said in my answer to Cefin Campbell, there have been no doctor's appointments at that branch surgery for over two years. Whether it will be possible to use the facilities for other local primary care services is a proper question to ask. I'm sure it will have been raised in the public consultation, and it will be for the health board to think about that as it comes to its determination.

Good afternoon, First Minister. Another aspect of GP services is making sure we have a really robust Welsh ambulance service. One of the issues that GPs are raising, particularly in rural areas such as mid and west Wales, is that they are sometimes called to provide that emergency response to attend to a patient in the community who should be getting an ambulance, in order to ensure that they have somebody with them, for example, and being able to give that emergency response. But of course, GPs are not trained to provide that response. So, I just wondered if you could just comment on how we can support our GPs not to be those first responders, not to be those emergency responses, making sure we have a good Welsh ambulance service that goes to our communities, particularly in rural areas like mid and west Wales. Diolch, Llywydd.

14:00

Well, Llywydd, all Members here will have received a letter with an extensive report attached to it from the chief executive of the ambulance trust. I think it was issued to everybody last week. It talks about the plans of the trust for this coming winter, and one of the things that the report focuses on is strengthening immediate responses to people, because an ambulance won't always be an answer that can be mobilised immediately. So, in those circumstances, what the chief executive talks about and sets out in his report are the plans that the trust has, working with others, and all aspects of the system. It's a whole-system response that you have to mobilise here, and working with other aspects of the system to strengthen ways in which a first and immediate response can be provided, so that the ambulance isn't, in fact, the one thing that is available to respond to people in an emergency.

Tourism in North Wales

4. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to boost tourism in north Wales? OQ60409

Llywydd, we take steps to lengthen the tourism season in Wales, to encourage visitors to enjoy the wider range of attractions we have to offer, and to spend more money while they are in north Wales and beyond.

Thank you, First Minister. I think it's only a fair assessment and a fair remark to make that the stats on tourism in Wales are pretty frightening, particularly when you represent, as I do, a part of Wales that relies on the tourist economy. Of course, the lasting effects of your COVID-19 lockdowns and the cost-of-living crisis play a huge part in reducing tourism, internationally, but the latest figures on international inbound visits to Wales show that, between January to June 2023, there were 403,000 fewer visits to Wales, down 12 per cent on the same period in 2019. Simultaneously, the amount of money that visitors spent in Wales dropped an eye-watering 24 per cent from 2019, and the picture in other parts of Great Britain isn't anywhere near as dire as it is in Wales. And locally in the Vale of Clwyd, we're all too aware of the drop in tourism under your premiership. In just the past few weeks announcements of the sad closure of two of my constituency's most established tourist destinations—Rhyl SeaQuarium and Pontins in Prestatyn—have left many families uncertain of future work and in the cold this Christmas. We desperately need to put as many incentives in place to encourage visitors to Wales, but we are not seeing this. In fact, the polar opposite of that is true, because the visitor levy plans— 

—have so far been disastrous. Okay, thank you for your generosity. So, in light of all those remarks I made, First Minister—the dire tourism figures, the flurry of industry closures across the north Wales coast, the inward looking tourist-repelling visitor—

What is your Government doing to reverse this trend and boost tourism in north Wales?

Well, well. Where to start, really, with a Farage—. Farage—he'll be there with you soon, I expect. Let's begin with just one. Let's begin with just one point. The decision to close the borders so that tourists weren't able to come to Wales was not a decision that the Welsh Government made—it was made by the UK Government and then we had to pass regulations to fall in with what they decided. So, any idea—any idea—that the drop in numbers of visitors coming to Wales during the COVID epidemic was because the Welsh Government shut those borders—

You don't need to listen to Janet Finch-Saunders when she's not taking part. You need to answer the question from Gareth Davies.

I'm simply trying to correct a very misleading impression that the Member made in his supplementary question, that somehow the fall in international visitors to Wales was because of unique actions made here in Wales. It was no such thing. And as I say very often to Members of the Conservative Party, if they spent a fraction of their time talking up Wales and the tourism possibilities of Wales as they do in running it down, running it down in a question that went on for a great deal longer that it needed to, then the prospects for the tourism industry would be improved. In fact, I think tourism in north Wales is a success story. I think it contributes millions of pounds to the north Wales economy. I think there are many, many reasons why people do come and should come to north Wales, and if the Member could just pause for a minute to add his voice to that instead of running down everything that happens in his own area, he'd have made one contribution worth hearing this afternoon.

14:05

The First Minister will be aware that Natural Resources Wales is reviewing its visitor centres, and there is a threat to the future of the Coed y Brenin centre near Ganllwyd, Ystradllyn near Cader Idris, and the centres at Ynyslas and Bwlch Nant yr Arian in Ceredigion. Now, thousands of people visit these centres from near and far on an annual basis and they contribute significantly to our local economies, and as part of preventative healthcare. I'm sure the First Minister would agree with me that the closure of any of these centres would be a damaging mistake, so what steps is the Government taking to ensure the future of these centres?

Well, Llywydd, thank you very much to Mabon ap Gwynfor for the positive things that he has said today about what is available here in Wales for people who want to visit us. Natural Resources Wales, like every service here in Wales, is under financial pressures. There will be difficult choices for them to make, just as we have had to make over the past few years, but I'm sure that when that agency makes those decisions, they will listen to the points that the Member has made and the other issues that local people want to raise.

Presiding Officer, no matter what the Tory comments are week in, week out here, we hear the realities of the negative impact that Tory policy will have. Another such reality, Presiding Officer, is the impact that was buried in the autumn statement: the changes to holiday entitlement for seasonal workers. We're seeing changes that will see seasonal workers, their holiday entitlement, ripped from their very hands. First Minister, I wonder if you could enlighten us on the support that you can offer these seasonal workers—important workers in my constituency, and in constituencies right across Wales—and the impact that will have on Welsh business in the tourism industry.

Well, Llywydd, I thank Jack Sargeant for that. It's an important question in the tourism industry, because he's right that buried away in the autumn statement was another mean measure by the Conservative Government to reduce the terms and conditions of seasonal workers. Where they used to qualify for holiday pay on the day that they began work, now they will have to build up that entitlement over a 12-month period, and this will take £250 million or so out of the pockets of seasonal workers across the United Kingdom over that next 12 months.

So, when it comes to tourism and our ability to sustain that industry, we know it relies on a seasonal workforce, and now those workers will be worse off than they were before the autumn statement. The Chancellor is able to do that, is able to take money out of those people's pockets, because the UK Government is no longer tied by the working time directive—another Brexit bonus, then, for those workers.

Lung Healthcare

5. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with health boards regarding lung healthcare? OQ60419

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. The Welsh Government has regular discussions with health boards regarding services for people with lung conditions. That includes immunisation uptake, accurate diagnosis, chronic condition management, preparedness for winter, and the investigation and treatment of lung cancer.

Diolch, First Minister. Across all of Wales, lung disease is sadly the third biggest killer, and it's estimated that 12,000 emergency hospital admissions happen every year due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and similar conditions. That's 14,000 hospital beds needed, with about 5,000 of those coming in the winter period, when our NHS is under its biggest pressure. That's why I'm pleased to say that, last month, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, which covers my constituency of Bridgend, was the first health board to complete a pilot project into lung cancer screening. In collaboration with the Wales Cancer Network, they offered approximately 500 patients a computed tomography scan to search for lung cancer and other lung diseases. It's the first of its kind in Wales, and it's a quick check-up, easy, and produces reliable information to detect lung cancer. Sinan Eccles, the consultant leading on this project said:

'Catching lung cancer early, before there are any symptoms, can make a huge difference',

and it really can save lives. Therefore, First Minister, can you confirm whether this pilot is being looked at, to be rolled out across Wales, and if so, what other innovations into healthcare does the Welsh Government intend to roll out in the future? Diolch.

14:10

I thank the Member for that supplementary question, Llywydd, and she is right to draw attention to that pilot programme. Its novelty is that it offers CT scans to asymptomatic patients. So, doctors identify people who smoke, because smoking remains the single greatest cause of lung disease here in Wales, and following a telephone triage, those people who are eligible have been referred on for the scan. Now, we will use that experience, of course, as part of our acceptance of the UK National Screening Committee's recommendation for a targeted lung screening programme for people aged 55 to 74, not just here in Wales but across the United Kingdom.

The Minister has very recently provided additional funding to Public Health Wales for them to scope out how that national programme can be delivered, and that scoping work is necessary. Llywydd, we need to know the level of activity we will need in Wales. When you know the level of need, you will know the level of staffing and of equipment that will be required to meet that need, the important issue of integration with wider smoking cessation services and, of course, that scoping survey will have to establish the costs of providing a national programme. Because, let me be clear, Llywydd, the approach we intend to take in Wales is there will be a national programme; it will not be left simply for local health boards to decide. When we've done that, then learning from the Cwm Taf pilot and pilots that are taking place in England, we will deliver on what the national screening programme recommends, which is a programme based on the evidence that will be assembled, addressing the implementation challenges and then delivering a programme that I think will meet the innovative criteria that the Member has highlighted.

Last month, First Minister, I attended—as did other Members in this Chamber—a drop-in event hosted by Asthma + Lung UK Cymru, who were in the Senedd to launch their latest report, 'Saving Your Breath: How better lung health benefits us all in Wales'. Now, the report was certainly an eye-opener to many, and I hope the Welsh Government as well, but it emphasised that lung conditions like COPD and asthma are often overlooked, despite being the third cause of death in Wales. Now, the report outlines several cost savings based on policy recommendations, and stated that very little progress had been made since the quality statement for respiratory disease was published. So, can I ask, First Minister, what has the Welsh Government's response been to the report, and if you have responded, can you provide an update on the progress of the implementation of the quality statement?

Well, Llywydd, the Welsh Government has welcomed the report. We're always grateful for the work that the society does in representing people who suffer from asthma and other lung conditions here in Wales. The Minister will have referred it to the group who advise us, that group of experts who provide the services at the front line here in Wales, and then we will see, as we always do, where such a report can help us to improve the services available to Welsh patients.

Sexual Health Screening

6. Will the First Minister provide an update on the availability of sexual health screening in mid Wales? OQ60401

I thank the Member for that, Llywydd. In Wales free online test kits for sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne viruses are available from the Sexual Health Wales service. This offer increases access to sexual health testing across mid Wales. Test kits will also be available at community outlets in Powys from January 2024.

I'd like to thank the First Minister for your answer. First Minister, sexual health screening in my constituency, as you've said, is predominantly done by Sexual Health Wales, but recent data has shown that the uptake on that has been relatively low in comparison to other constituencies. Other recent data has shown that chlamydia and gonorrhoea, along with other diseases, are on the rise in my constituency, so I think it's vitally important that we give as many people the opportunity to be screened, so they don't go undiagnosed with life-changing conditions.

One way that we could potentially do this, First Minister, is by offering pop-up clinics across my constituency. It was part of an independent review that was actually recommended to Government. I've a number of venues in my constituency that'd be happy to do this. So, would you, First Minister, work with the health Minister and Public Health Wales to make sure clinics like this are available so nobody can go undiagnosed with conditions in my constituency? 

14:15

Llywydd, I thank the Member for those points and for the work I know he has done to highlight this issue in his own local area, because it is a very serious issue that faces communities. Actually, the availability of screening in mid Wales has improved since the pandemic. It's one of the relatively small number of things where we can say that the pandemic changed the nature of the service, moving it online, and far more people use the online service than ever used the walk-in service, and there are reasons we could easily imagine why that would be the case. And the take-up of the online service has actually been very good in rural Wales where those walk-in clinics were always less likely to be found.  

I agree with what James Evans has said, Llywydd, about the need to do more than that. That is why the test kits are now going to be available at community venues—in pharmacies, in leisure centres, in libraries in his own constituency—and there is other work that we can do. Young farmers' clubs, for example, have been receiving training sessions covering sexual health matters. So, there is more that we can do, and, I'm afraid, in this area, the more you do, the more you find. So, when the Member refers to rising rates of disease, we're never sure whether we are just finding more rather than there being more; we're certainly finding more as the service reaches more people. The Minister will want to work with the Sexual Health Wales service to go on finding ways to make sure that the service is easily available in a way that is acceptable to people, so that we can build on that more recent success. 

Communication Needs of Disabled Pupils

7. What action is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that the communication needs of disabled pupils are met in schools? OQ60411

I thank the Member for that, Llywydd. Our education reforms, including the new curriculum and the additional learning needs system, help ensure disabled children’s needs are met by the right people in the right place. Our investments in speech, language and communication support enable further action to be taken in those vital early years.

Diolch. Developmental language disorder, or DLD, is diagnosed when children fail to acquire their own language for no obvious reason, which can result in their having difficulty understanding what people say to them and struggling to articulate their ideas and feelings. On 17 October, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in Wales held an event in the Senedd to mark Developmental Language Disorder Awareness Day, where I met the DLD ambassador for Wales who is also a north Wales constituent and whose son is diagnosed with DLD. She told me they were able to obtain WJEC language modification general certificate of education exam papers for him in some subjects, but were told they're not available in all subjects. Further, their son's school had never heard of them.

The royal college subsequently wrote to WJEC stating this was the first time they had seen modified papers from an examination board, and requesting further detail. WJEC responded positively, offering a discussion to learn more about how they can support all candidates taking their examinations. What action will the Welsh Government now take to ensure that modified examination materials such as this are hardwired into future provision across Wales?

I thank the Member because it's an important point that he raises, and I think the system more generally is more alert to and responsive to that range of young people with communication needs. It's good to know that the WJEC has made such a positive response and, having made a start with some of their papers available in that way, I'm quite sure they will want to learn from that and see if more can be done. But it is part, as I say, Llywydd, of a wider trend in Wales. British Sign Language is a language recognised in the new curriculum. The curriculum can be taught through BSL to those young people who find that a more effective way of communication. So, I thank the Member for the points, because I think what he is highlighting is a renewed or a new sensitivity across the system to those particular needs of young people who have communication challenges, and we should encourage that right through the system up to and including examinations.

14:20
Bus Services in Swansea

8. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for bus services in Swansea? OQ60403

I thank Mike Hedges. Llywydd, by the end of this financial year, over £200 million of Government funding will have been provided to protect our bus network since the onset of the COVID pandemic. A regional network planning team is devising a future network of bus services for Swansea and its neighbouring authorities. 

Can I thank the First Minister for that response? In the twenty-first century we live in a culture of subsidy capitalism. Be it farming, leisure facilities, festivals or buses, they want subsidies to pad their bottom line. We know from published data that in 2023 the First Group's adjusted operating profits increased to £100.6 million. We also know bus services have significantly reduced in Swansea, with travel times to work and college being affected, although some have now been returned. From Government-published data we know that £52.8 million has been given to bus companies this year. How will the bus Bill help with much-needed reform so that people can get around by bus?

I thank Mike Hedges for that. He points directly to one of the reasons why the bus Bill is so important, because these are private companies, they make profits out of the public money that is invested in them, and the public has a legitimate right to be assured that the money spent on their behalf is being directed to the service provision rather than, at an unfair rate, where that happens, to the bottom line of the company itself. Now, the bus Bill, when it is introduced, will ensure that public services provided by bus companies are run with the public interest at heart, and that will be a fundamental shift in the way that these services are provided and designed through our local authorities. It will reverse the enormous damage done by bus deregulation, which has allowed the pursuit of private profit at the expense of the public interest. That's what the bus Bill is designed to rectify.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item will be the business statement and announcement. The Trefnydd will be making that statement. Lesley Griffiths. 

Diolch, Llywydd. There are several changes to this week's business. The Minister for Health and Social Services will make a statement on escalation and intervention arrangements for maternity and neonatal services in Swansea Bay University Health Board, and as a result has withdrawn the statement on an update on 'More than just words: Five Year Plan 2022-27'. The statement on the update of the establishment of the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research and publication of the Welsh Ministers' statement of priorities has been postponed. Finally, the debate on the Plant Health etc. (Miscellaneous Fees) (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2023 has been reduced to 10 minutes. Draft business for the next three weeks—sorry, for the next three sitting weeks—is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically. 

Can I call for a statement from yourself or the Minister for Economy on the disappointing news that Denbighshire County Council and Mikhail—I think it's pronounced—Hotel & Leisure Group have decided not to take forward their proposed partnership at the Queen's Market in Rhyl? The Welsh Government injected nearly £25 million into Rhyl town centre, particularly the Queen's Market project, in recent years, and I'm all in favour of revitalising Rhyl town centre, of course I am, and I'd love to see the Queen's Market open and thriving. But seeing Mikhail hotel pulling out is worrying, and I'm concerned that the vision of a thriving place of business, accommodation and leisure activities is in jeopardy. We have seen multiple staples of the north Wales coastline disappear in recent weeks, and the people of Rhyl need reassurance that they will reap the rewards of the money that's been invested, and it won't be in vain. So, please can you, Trefnydd, outline what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure that Queen's Market is an attractive place for businesses to invest, and what the Government is doing to incentivise business to come to Rhyl? Thank you.

Well, the Welsh Government has put in significant funding around the regeneration of Rhyl over many years. I, myself, did visit that area that you specified, on a visit as the Minister for north Wales. I wasn't aware of what you've just said about the hotel. I don't know whether the Welsh Government has been having discussions, but I will certainly ask the Minister to ensure his officials do speak to the owner, if that's applicable. 

14:25

Trefnydd, earlier this afternoon I wrote to the Llywydd on behalf of the Plaid Cymru Senedd group, asking for the Senedd to be recalled next Wednesday to provide the earliest possible opportunity for the Senedd as a whole to scrutinise the draft budget. All the indications are that this will be of huge significance to the lives of people across Wales, and is, therefore, of urgent public importance. I'm sure your inbox is just as full as ours with so many organisations and individuals getting in touch so concerned about all the things that have been in the press. 

Can I, therefore, ask: will you be supporting this request and would you add to the calls so that we can have that discussion, rather than wait until January?

Well, I haven't seen the letter, obviously, that you've written to the Llywydd, but I wouldn't see the necessity to recall the Senedd next week, no. 

Recently, Minister, it's come to my attention that the Royal Mail office in my constituency, due to jobs being scrapped, has now had to tell the remaining staff who are working double time at the moment—like overtime—to deal with the volume, that they should prioritise parcels over letters. It's not just Christmas cards that might be delayed, it's also very important appointments from the NHS and other letters of similar importance that arrive by post. So, I was just hoping that Welsh Government would be able to provide an update or a statement on conversations that they have had with Royal Mail about the impact that their cuts to jobs is having.

And secondly, I would like to request a statement about the skilled jobs losses and impact on our Wales news coverage and Welsh democracy because the NUJ, the National Union of Journalists, has written to every Member of the Senedd with serious concerns about latest developments, that Reach plc—the largest newspaper publisher in Wales—is going to make further cuts. It looks like 450 job losses with 320 editorial roles. It would be wonderful if we could get a statement from Welsh Government about discussions that they've had concerning this threat to our journalism in Wales. Diolch. 

Thank you. As you're aware, Royal Mail and the Post Office are, obviously, both reserved matters, but, of course, we are very concerned about issues that affect jobs and the people of Wales. I'm sure, like many of my colleagues in the Chamber, we have enjoyed our visits to the Royal Mail. We normally get invited during the Christmas period and it's just incredible to see the amount of parcels and letters that they do deliver. 

Losing so many staff, as you referred to, would make things very difficult for any business to continue to operate in the way that it has done, and doubly so at a time of year when, obviously, that demand is significantly increasing. I am aware that the Royal Mail has recently been fined £5.6 million by the postal services regulator, Ofcom, for missing its delivery targets in 2022-23 and that's, obviously, going to remain a problem this year too. So, I think it is really important that they look at those numbers of job losses, as you say. 

In relation to your second point, I will ask the Deputy Minister to bring forward a written statement. 

I'd like a statement, please, on Ffos-y-fran. Ffos-y-fran was the site of illegal coal mining for more than a year until the company finally ceased mining last month. Over the 15 months of illegal activity around 500,000 tonnes of coal were mined, adding 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere, not to mention the dust that's coated the surrounding area and, no doubt, gotten into the lungs of local people. The Coal Action Network informs me that this will cause an additional 362 climate-related deaths.

Now, I worry, deeply, about the consequences of the Government's inaction for those 15 months as other unscrupulous companies watched this climate vandalism unfold unchecked. So, I'd like a statement, please, setting out why the Welsh Government failed to issue a stop notice, what urgent action it's taking now to ensure the site is restored as was promised in 2007—even if the company abandons the site with a black hole of more than a £100 million—and if the Government will commit to a public inquiry into this scandal. My understanding is that the Government is now able to speak freely about this situation.  

Well, the Welsh Government has been working hard. They've been supporting the council, they've been working with Natural Resources Wales, they've been working with the Coal Authority to consider what actions do need to be taken. Restoration absolutely remains the responsibility of the mine operator, but please don't think the Government has been inactive; they have been working in partnership. 

14:30

Leader of the house, is it possible to have a statement from the Minister for health in relation to the winter preparedness for the Welsh NHS? All NHSs across the UK come under severe pressure during that particular festive period. Many of us are enjoying the time with our families, but our dedicated health workers are there on the front line, looking after patients who are either in hospital or presenting at our A&E departments.

It's not uncommon when Members return back to this place in January that, sadly, many of those pressures come to the fore in experiences that constituents have relayed to their elected Members here in the Chamber. Members over the recess period, if they have an up-to-date statement over the preparedness of the NHS, and the plans that the NHS has put in place for the festive period, and into the new year, hopefully, will be in possession of the most up-to-date information that they can convey to those constituents who might be frustrated, or might be concerned, that there are issues about accessing health services in their locality.

So, could I implore the leader of the house to press on the health Minister to bring forward an up-to-date statement next week, so that Members can be in possession of those facts?

Well, I think you raise a very important point about the number of our public service staff—and that obviously includes the health service and many other services—who work extremely hard, as they do every day, over the Christmas period, when, as you say, we enjoy some time off with our family and friends.

The NHS works very hard to prepare for winter. It probably prepares for winter for the majority of the year, and a whole-system approach is always undertaken to make sure that our primary care, our community provision, our social and urgent services absolutely enhance capacity during predicted periods when demand on services is likely to increase. 

Trefnydd, could we have a statement on improving public transport in the Valleys, and my region in particular? This follows on from the news that the long-awaited line between Ebbw Vale and Newport will not be opening this side of Christmas, as promised. We have been told by Transport for Wales that they hope it will open sometime in January, which is worryingly vague. I have to say that I don't have full confidence that this prediction will not slip. We were told on the fourth of this month that the line would be open within a week, only for that promise to be broken days later.

People living in the communities between Ebbw Vale and Newport have been waiting for this service for more than two decades. I know the South Wales Argus ran a popular campaign in the early 2000s to get the link up and running. The patience of the people of Gwent is wearing thin on this matter, Trefnydd. They want promises that are not going to be broken, and they want a service that they can rely upon. If this Government is to restore confidence in public transport, and encourage more people to ditch their cars, a dependable service needs to be delivered swiftly. Diolch.

Good afternoon, Minister. I'd just like to ask for a statement, please, from the Minister for Economy regarding the plans for Banc Cambria. Within our communities, we're seeing bank branches closing all the time, which has a significant effect, particularly on the older community. Some good news: on Friday, I'm attending the opening of the first banking hub for us here in Powys, in Welshpool, and I'm looking forward to that. And that could be the answer moving forward. But I wonder if you could find a way of us getting an update on the future of Banc Cambria, particularly for our communities as they see their bank branches closing. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Thank you very much. I think it is imperative that the priorities of our banking sector regulator are more clearly focused on ensuring that the people of Wales do have access to this very vital service. It's very good to hear about the event that you'll be attending on Friday. I know that the Minister for Economy's officials are continuing to work with Cambria Cydfuddiannol Ltd and other external organisations to consider forward options, and I'm sure the Minister will update us when he has further information.

3. Statement by the Minister for Climate Change: Water Quality

The next item will be the statement by the Minister for Climate Change on water quality. The Minister, therefore, to make that statement. Julie James.

Diolch, Llywydd. In October, we passed a significant milestone, with water companies submitting their business plans for 2025 to 2030 to Ofwat as part of the current price review process. The plans are now in the hands of Ofwat to scrutinise, so I cannot comment at the moment on the specific details. However, I do want to reiterate two things.

Firstly, we expect water companies in Wales to work much harder to deliver excellent services to customers across all areas of operation. And, secondly, it is vital to strike a good balance between taking effective action whilst keeping customer water bills affordable, especially in the context of the cost-of-living crisis and inflationary pressures. I know both water companies in Wales have adopted proactive measures to assist households struggling with their water bills, including highly visible messaging on how to access assistance. Currently, water companies in Wales are supporting more than 145,000 households through various schemes.

Meanwhile, from the Welsh Government’s perspective, protecting and improving our water environment sits right at the heart of our priorities. Our programme for government includes several commitments aimed at improving overall water quality. We have committed to begin to designate Wales's inland waters for bathing, replicating the continued success of coastal bathing waters, where 98 per cent of designated coastal bathing waters met our stringent environmental standards in 2023.

Over the course of the 2023 bathing season, Natural Resources Wales ran a pilot bathing season, which included a mixture of seven different rivers, lakes and reservoirs. The pilot, led by NRW, sought information, such as bathing numbers, facilities, risks and issues, and likely water quality at each of the pilot sites. This was a key opportunity for NRW to better understand the operational differences and practicalities between inland and coastal bathing waters. Furthermore, this work will enable us to better understand the benefits and challenges of designating more of our inland bathing waters, and ensure that our waterways deliver on our environmental commitments, and also, importantly, support the public’s well-being.

We have also committed to strengthen water quality monitoring. The Welsh Government is working closely with Natural Resources Wales, industry representatives and academics to develop a more integrated and agile monitoring network. We are supporting Cardiff University to undertake a project that will explore options for an open-data gateway that best meets the needs of data providers and users. Reliable and real-time monitoring data is essential for understanding water quality trends and putting in place effective policy interventions. There is scope for us to utilise new technologies, modelling platforms and citizen science. Llywydd, citizen science in particular has been rapidly expanding in recent years, and reflects the interest and concern of the general public in water quality matters. This public engagement is often driven by communities in their effort to improve the quality of watercourses in the area where they live.

Meanwhile, a third Government commitment is to legislate to strengthen the requirements for the use of sustainable drainage systems—SuDS—that provide wildlife habitat. In 2022, we commissioned Arup to undertake an independent review of the current SuDS regime. One of the recommendations of this review was to establish and support a new SuDS advisory group, to share lessons and best practice for both applicants and SuDS approving bodies, and to take forward the recommendations of the review. So, Llywydd, I am delighted to say that the new SuDS community of practice met for the first time last Friday. Given the range of environmental and community benefits that well-designed surface water management systems can deliver, our focus will be on ensuring that, where needed, we enhance current requirements and the associated processes so that SuDS approving bodies can deliver an effective and efficient regime.

But improving our water quality is not just about delivering on our programme for government commitments. Water quality is impacted by a huge number of complex and interrelated factors, including waste water, urban run-off, misconnections, diffuse rural pollution, physical modifications, pollution from abandoned metal mines, and invasive species. To achieve improvements in water quality, the Welsh Government continues to advocate for a team Wales approach. Our ambitions can only be realised if we have full engagement from Government, regulators, and all relevant sectors in Wales working together. This is why we are taking a holistic approach to improving our water quality.

The management of combined storm overflows—or CSOs—will of course play an important role here. Members will be aware that on 26 October we published the 'Storm overflow evidence for Wales' report, commissioned by the better river quality taskforce, under its environmental regulation of overflows action plan. Whilst the report does not contain specific recommendations, the options presented within it will help to inform the taskforce in developing both an achievable and affordable programme of work to better regulate CSOs and prevent ecological harm in Wales's waterways. In addition, this year, both of Wales's water companies have published drainage and waste water management plans—or DWMPs—for the first time. The DWMPs will provide a valuable insight into the pressures of the network and highlight opportunities for effective collaboration across the sector.

The latest pollution source apportionment analysis undertaken by Dŵr Cymru and Natural Resources Wales, and quality assured by an independent assessor, demonstrates that phosphorus pollution in our special areas of conservation rivers comes from a variety of sources. It identifies rural land use as the leading contributor of phosphorus loading in six of Wales's nine SAC rivers, including four of the five SAC rivers that are currently failing the phosphate targets. Phosphorus pollution currently dominates land use planning considerations in many predominantly rural areas because the levels of pollution are above set thresholds. This further reinforces the need for a multisector, team Wales approach to improving water quality.

Llywydd, I am really delighted that the recently launched Teifi demonstrator catchment project, a multi-year initiative led by NRW and supported by Welsh Government, will build on this collaborative approach. The cross-sector project aims to improve water management in the Teifi catchment by thinking differently and using innovative solutions. I issued a written statement about the project on 27 November.

I am also pleased that we have taken great strides to address these issues through our three river pollution summits, the most recent of which I chaired on 30 November. We had continued strong engagement from all key sectors around the table, including regulators, water companies, housing developers, local government, farming unions and academia. We discussed the progress made against the action plan agreed at the second summit in March, established renewed areas of focus and set the direction for the coming months. I look forward to the next summit in March 2024, which will be chaired by Natural Resources Wales.

Llywydd, I could go on and on, but I would run well over my time slot. In summary, we have made significant progress towards improving water quality throughout 2023. But water quality is a complex issue that defies easy solution and there is a long way to go in the coming year and beyond. However, by continuing with our team Wales approach, I am confident we are on the right track to achieve our collective ambitions. Diolch. 

14:40

Well, we know, don't we, that in Wales we are desperately short of housing? As many as 10,000 properties have been postponed due to the introduction of phosphate regulations, with over 1,000 of those being affordable homes. In Wrexham alone, 3,500 units within around 100 planning applications have been sat on desks, simply waiting for the phosphates issue to be resolved. However, thanks to the special efforts of Sarah Atherton MP, the Five Fords waste water treatment works has recently been granted an environment permit by NRW, meaning that planning applications can now progress. It is now three years since NRW introduced phosphate guidance. Do you acknowledge that NRW's actions and Welsh Government's failure to rapidly assist local planning authorities has harmed our housing sector? The First Minister hosted a summit on 18 July 2022, in which eight areas of intervention were identified, including No. 3,

'Identify and implement appropriate short-term measures.'

So, will you clarify what short-term measures have been implemented? And what progress do you expect to be made by the next summit on 18 March?

NRW have also been tasked to undertake a review of water discharge permits, prioritising those from waste water treatment works affecting social housing and in failing SAC catchments. So, whilst I appreciate that NRW have until 2024 to complete the review, how many permits have they been able to consider so far? Have they now assessed the headroom in relevant permits? And the data from the assessment would be particularly helpful in guiding local planning authorities with suitable areas for housing development.

A report analysed the performance of 11 sewage treatment works in Wales from 2018 to 2023. Again, it was found that 10 had been releasing untreated sewage in breach of their permits. Enforcement needs to be reformed, so that it actually results in improvements to the combined storm overflows that are causing a lot of concern in all our communities. In England, in the event of an environmental permitting regulation breach, the Environment Agency can accept an enforcement undertaking. In Wales, that is not currently an option open to NRW, and there is little opportunity for Dŵr Cymru to offer these environmental undertakings. So, will you regulate to enable NRW to allow companies, like Welsh Water, to accept an enforcement undertaking, so that they improve the environment local to the harm, rather than simply sending money to the Treasury? 

Now, we are aware that seven months were lost in waiting for you to come forward and publish the delayed storm overflow report. As you know, there have been no recommendations, but there are some helpful costings. What assessment have you made of those costings? And how have they influenced your action, Minister, in how you are really going to tackle the ongoing scourge of water pollution here in Wales? Diolch. 

Well, Llywydd, I'm slightly flabbergasted at the idea that a Tory MP had any influence whatsoever on the licensing of the waste water treatment works in north Wales. Perhaps Janet would like to write me a letter explaining exactly what influence she had in the granting of that very technical licence by NRW. As far as I'm concerned, Llywydd, NRW worked very hard indeed with Dŵr Cymru to upgrade the treatment works there, which has allowed us to put some of the housing applications through in the north-east Wales area, releasing some of the housing from the phosphate problem. 

Janet, I just do not know how you manage to flip from one day to the other to completely different points of view. You've just advocated—I'm not sure if you realise—that NRW should not be able to fine people but should instead be able to make arrangements with them. I'm pretty sure that Members of your bench stood up and shouted at me about them not fining them on the outflows on the coastal—[Interruption.]

14:45

Janet Finch-Saunders, you've had the opportunity to make clear your representations to the Minister. She is now responding to what she heard. 

The Minister always listens properly. Please don't go down the route of being abusive to a Minister. So, can we allow the Minister to answer?

Thank you, Llywydd. As I said, we've already had an example where Dŵr Cymru has worked very hard with the water treatment company in order to not fine the company and return the money to the Treasury, but instead to put in place a recovery and action plan that will allow that treatment works to be upgraded, and I completely agree with that. I think that's absolutely the right way to go. So, it is nice occasionally to agree with you, Janet, although I'm not sure you're agreeing with yourself. 

The other two issues that you made are really interesting—[Interruption.]

I've said several times in this Chamber that the storm overflow report doesn't have recommendations in it because it was never intended to have recommendations. I actually just repeated that in my statement. Possibly, you should adjust your lines when you're answering me after you've heard the statement. The whole point of that was to inform the better water quality management framework and the action report from the outcome of the summit. Llywydd, we've published the action report. It's available on the Welsh Government website. So, Janet, if you want more details on it, I suggest you get your researcher to look it up.  

Clearly, it is time for change. Surfers Against Sewage have highlighted how serious the situation is. Last year, sewage was discharged across these isles on more than 399,864 occasions, which is around 1,000 a day across these isles. And it's highly likely that this estimate is far too low. Licence conditions were breached by Hafren Dyfrdwy and Dŵr Cymru alike in 2022, and they discharged sewage for a total of 613,618 hours. That equates to discharges for 25,567 successive days non-stop. These data are given retrospectively. So, would you agree, Minister, that we must improve methods of gathering data in real time so that we can communicate this information to the public if it isn't safe for people to bathe or to even go near some of these water courses? And, of course, gathering the data is just the beginning. We must reduce the amount of sewage being discharged in the first place.

One of the significant problems—and this has already been raised—is the lack of capacity within NRW to tackle this issue. Natural Resources Wales, of course, has a vital role to play in regulating our resources in Wales by monitoring and protecting. But a lack of resources all too often leads to delay or insufficient action. Minister, do you share my concern—and I acknowledge what you've already said about this—that the fact that the action is insufficient sometimes or that there is delay does give a message to water companies that they can continue to breach these rules without fear of that much of a penalty?

And to turn to the question of bonuses being paid to company executives, bearing in mind the degree of cuts being made in environmental protections, and the increasing cost of improving infrastructure, do you believe that it is appropriate for companies to pay such large bonuses? I understand, of course, that this isn’t a matter for the Government itself, but do you again share my concerns about the optics of this, and how they make the people whom we serve feel that nothing is going to change, and that they will receive these bonuses regardless? How can we ensure that those optics don't continue within the scope of powers that you currently have? But also, how can we ensure that the costs of improving infrastructure won't be shouldered by customers, particularly those customers who can't afford any additional costs due to the cost-of-living crisis? Shouldn’t the polluter pay instead?

Do you agree that we must see the devolution of powers over water and the renationalisation of this industry to improve accountability? Of course, we need a permanent environmental governance system in Wales too. That brings me to my final point, Llywydd and Minister. Doesn't this appalling situation regarding sewage discharges in our rivers make the case for a permanent environmental governance system, and doesn't it make that case even more pressing? We in Wales are the only nation in these isles without such a system in place, and there is a gap there, and I think that it could be a damaging gap, even a dangerous one. Plaid Cymru has called for the the introduction of such a system to be accelerated. So, do you agree that we need action on this as a matter of urgency, to ensure that change does happen?

14:50

Diolch, Delyth. Just on that last point, we have agreed, of course, as part of the co-operation agreement, the timing of the new environmental governance and biodiversity target Act—that's its working title for the moment. The White Paper that will introduce that Act formally to the system is due to come out in the second week of January next year. There is then a very tight but achievable timescale from there, to get the responses back in, to get the draft of the Act in, and then to get it translated and into the Senedd process in time for it to be implemented by the end of this Senedd term, which has always been our aim. I very much hope to work with the committees to make sure that some of the enabling parts of that go alongside the Act, so that we can actually establish the environmental governance body pretty much on receiving Royal Assent, rather than having to have a gap. That's very much part of the co-operation agreement. So, it will be very interesting, once we get the White Paper out there, to see how it lands with the sector, which I hope will be very well, because we have done a lot of work with the biodiversity deep-dives and with all of the stakeholders, including the summit process, to make sure that we are there or thereabouts in what we are going to consult on. I have been very grateful for the co-operation of Plaid Cymru as we have gone through that as well.

Turning to some of the other issues that you raised, I'm very pleased that the water companies have submitted their business plans to Ofwat. It will be now for Ofwat to make sure that those business plans are fit for purpose. They include all of the things that you asked me about in terms of remuneration and so on. I am not going to comment on that. It would not be proper to do that until Ofwat has said something about those business plans. Obviously, the Welsh Government put its notice of direction into that process, and I have met with the water companies and with Ofwat during that process, and we await the outcome of that. 

This is a system driven by a market where infrastructure investment is done off the back of the bill payers. I am on record as saying—and I will say it again now—that that isn't the only way of doing this. It means that it will take much longer to get us to the environmental quality that we would like because, obviously, it constrains the amount of investment. I have never really understood why investment in good environmental quality isn't considered to be the kind of economic investment that, for example, paving the countryside has always been considered to be, and I continue to make that point. It's a system that requires major reform, in my view. But anyway, in the meantime, we are making sure that the influence that we do have will hopefully get an investment programme in place that will very significantly improve the water quality that we have.

The summit process also goes into the other areas of water quality pollution. Now, I do think that it's important to acknowledge that. I know that you are asking me a narrow set of questions on that. The CSO system is very impacted by house building and missed connections in the sewage system, and the lack of an upgrade of the sewage system by other areas, not just the water companies. So, we have been working very hard with our house builders to make sure that the sustainable drainage systems that we put in place work adequately and actually bring other environmental benefits into play. So, often there are subterranean water tanks, and they can't have much benefit there, but other ways of doing it are possible. So, it's perfectly possible to have natural flood protection systems that also act as drainage systems, for example. So, it'll be really interesting to work through the Arup report and see where we get on that.

In terms of the CSO point, though, I would love to see CSOs never discharge at all, even in high rainfall, flood conditions, but I'm very determined that, as we correct the situation with CSOs, we do the worst first. We haven't got enough money to do all of them, there's no point in pretending otherwise. So, it's been very important to me to work with both water companies to understand where the most environmental impact is and that isn't always the length of time it discharges for; it's what it's discharging and how and where. So, I think it's actually very important to just make that distinction. The numbers of hours discharge are awful—don't get me wrong—and I absolutely think that it would be great to not have them at all. But we must understand which of them is the most polluting, what are the things that are going in at that point, and how we can best treat the worst first. So, that's what we've been concentrating on, and part of the summit process is to get other people who contribute to the sewage systems and the drainage systems to come on board with trying to divert water away from the system.

And the last thing I would say on that, Llywydd, is that Members may have noticed me announcing the new Welsh housing quality standard. You may think that that has nothing much to do with this, but, actually, part of the new Welsh housing quality standard will be to get all social homes in Wales fitted with a water butt. The amount of water that that diverts from the sewage system is just extraordinary, so if I could just encourage every other person in Wales to put a water butt on their roof and stop that water going into the drainage system, the number of CSOs would fall dramatically.

14:55

I thank the Minister for her statement. I want to talk about phosphates in rivers. Phosphates act as fertiliser in rivers such as the Wye, and cause a proliferation of algae to form algal blooms, which are replacing the water buttercup. The algae smothers other vegetation and uses up vital oxygen supplies for freshwater wildlife. The soils and silts carrying the phosphates smother the formerly clean river gravel, which are so important as nursery beds for spawning salmon and trout. The silt can also clog the gills of freshwater invertebrates and the pores of freshwater plants, reducing the diversity and abundance of our natural river wildlife.

The nutrient management plan clearly identifies the key agricultural pressures leading to phosphate pollution as: livestock farming practices—overgrazing, soil erosion and manure; poultry production—the generation and spreading of poultry manure and litter; arable farming—the overapplication of organic and inorganic fertilisers and run-off often channelled into watercourses; and horticulture—heavy fertilising application, bare soils and subsequent soil erosion and nutrient loss. What action is the Welsh Government intending to take to reduce this pollution?

Thank you very much, Mike. I absolutely agree with you. Actually, the Wye has the highest level of phosphate pollution of any river in Wales, although we do have several rivers in Wales that are failing as a result of that. I do just want to not overstate that, however—we do also have rivers in Wales that are excellent; I don't want to be giving the impression that every river in Wales is failing. But we do have problems, particularly in the Wye and the Usk catchment, with that, and we've been doing a number of things, not least the summit process that we've talked about, which is an action plan that brings all sectors together across Wales to try and tackle every source of pollution.

It's true, on the Wye and the Usk, that agricultural run-off pollution is, by far and away, the highest problem we've got there. And so, at the most recent summit, which I chaired on 30 November, we had a presentation from one of the farmers, who was excellent; he actually got a round of applause at a round-table—I've never seen that happen before in all of the years I've been attending these things—because people were so impressed with what he's been able to do. He's part of a collective called Stump Up For Trees, if Members have had the chance to go and look at that—it's very impressive indeed. He was a very impressive individual, a committed farmer, absolutely determined to stop his land from polluting a river he clearly loved. And he outlined a series of small things that he'd done on his farm that have completely stopped the agricultural run-off. And that will very much be what we're reflecting in our new sustainable farming scheme, so that we can assist farmers to make use of what is actually a valuable resource—so, either to package it up and send it elsewhere where it's needed, because, actually, phosphate, really oddly, is a hard-to-get-hold-of thing in most parts of the world, and there just happens to be a lot of it around in Wales—. So, we need to stop it getting into the rivers and we need to package it up and send it off to the places that actually need it. So, the action plan, which is published on the Welsh Government website, has a whole series of things that we're doing to assist farmers in Wales to do the things that Richard, the farmer who made the presentation, outlined. He has given of his time freely, as have a large number of people in his collective, as have all of the people on the nutrient management boards and the better river management quality boards—I always get that the wrong way round. The real big one is that we're developing a common nutrient calculator so that we can give farmers the baseline that they're looking for, so they can understand how and when and what to spread, and, frankly, whether it's doing the land any good at all or not, or whether, in fact, they should be doing something else.

So, it has been going very well so far. My colleague the Minister for rural affairs is going to be releasing for consultation the new sustainable farming scheme very shortly now. People will be able to see the real influence that farmers like Richard have had right across Wales.

15:00

Minister, as you're aware, there is a particular problem in west Wales where Welsh Water's Cardigan site has allowed untreated sewage to enter the River Teifi without the works being at full capacity. As I've said before, this is totally unacceptable. The Cardigan site serves over 7,000 people and discharges into the River Teifi, which is designated as a special area of conservation. I accept you've made reference to the Teifi catchment area in your statement this afternoon.

More worryingly, a recent report by Professor Hammond revealed that the long-term breaches at the Cardigan site were known about by Natural Resources Wales, who allowed the discharges to continue for up to 10 years without taking significant action. You've mentioned Natural Resources Wales on several occasions in your statement today, and as a regulator, Natural Resources Wales has a critical role to play in penalising and, I believe, in prosecuting water companies. If they aren't adequately doing that, then the Welsh Government must, of course, intervene.

Therefore, can you tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure that Natural Resources Wales is doing its job of monitoring water companies effectively? Can you also tell us how the Welsh Government measures the effectiveness of Natural Resources Wales in carrying out its duties? Finally, Llywydd, if Natural Resources Wales is shown not to be suitably holding water companies to account, what action will the Welsh Government take to address that issue?

Thank you, Paul. We've already debated this a number of times in the Senedd, so just to reiterate, I slightly disagree with some of your characterisation there, although I do agree that it's something that we really need to look at.

Part of the reason why we've chosen the Teifi as the end-to-end catchment pilot is because of some of the issues coming out of that. It's one of the only SAC rivers in Wales where agriculture pollution isn't the highest, so we specifically wanted to target CSO and waste water issues in the Teifi. So I'm really chuffed that that river has been chosen. We'll be working with landowners all the way down the river from the source to the sea, to make sure that we understand exactly what's happening in that river, and that, of course, includes Dŵr Cymru, who've already said that they're investing £20 million in the new waste water treatment works in Cardigan.

I won't go into the ins and outs of it, but I'm more than happy to have a chat with you about this. There are very specific issues that come out of the Cardigan thing, where it's pretty obvious that NRW were working with Dŵr Cymru for a long time, getting them to put that higher up their programme for investment. Indeed, we've seen the investment announced, and I await the Ofwat outcome on the business plan to do that. Dŵr Cymru have also absolutely bought into the Teifi end-to-end catchment work, so we hope that they'll be able to do some more work in that area, because you're right, it's a significant river of real cultural significance, actually, but it's also, of course, of huge biodiversity and, indeed, water quality significance for a whole series of reasons.

The bathing water quality standard there actually isn't as poor as you'd expect given the publicity and what's happened there, and there is a very long and technical explanation for that. The Llywydd will be very cross with me if I start reading it out, as it runs to several pages, but I'm happy to share it. It's a matter of public record. Perhaps I'll write to you and do that. 

Minister, you referred in your statement to the two water companies in Wales that supply customers, but there are two other companies who operate in Wales, United Utilities and Severn Trent Water, who extract billions of litres of water from Wales, exporting to England for next to nothing. We can't do anything about that at the moment because the powers to regulate them are still retained in Westminster. Otherwise, we could set a water export levy in order to generate the funds that would help us to tackle some of the infrastructure challenges that we face here in Wales. Have you made a request to devolve the powers over those companies under the Government of Wales Act 2017? If those powers were to come to Wales, would you also set aside the powers that the mainly English regulator, Ofwat, and the Drinking Water Inspectorate still, have over our sector here in Wales?

15:05

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

Thank you for that question. As I said to you—I think you asked me a question during one of my question sessions, or possibly in an earlier debate—we’ve got a series of officials working on what exactly we need to do in order to make sure we have the maximum devolution of powers over water. There are some nuances, as we went through last time you asked the question, about whether, because of the way that the last devolution settlement worked, all of it is quite as straightforward. But I’ve got a set of officers working on that. I’m quite happy to report back to the Senedd as soon as they report back to me, which they haven’t yet.

I did very recently meet with—. I’ve forgotten their name, but it was 'west water something' group. Anyway, it's the group of people who look to see where the water goes for the whole system in the UK. Apologies, I can’t remember the exact name of it now. I had a very interesting discussion with them about how the extraction licences work and what the mitigation effects were and what powers we had—which we do have—to prevent harm coming from that, and actually to try and make sure that we get biodiversity enhancement from some of the water extraction. So, it is perfectly possible, for example in very dry spells, which we had the summer before last, to make sure that the extraction of that water actually benefits the rivers that have gone too low, for example. So, there was a very interesting discussion. I’m more than happy to write to the Member and explain exactly how that discussion went and what the timescale is—I'm afraid it’s slipped my mind—for coming back to you on the devolution point.

Thank you very much for bringing this to the Chamber today. The single greatest pressure on water quality in Wales is from agriculture and rural land use. I spent two years on the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee scrutinising the Agriculture (Wales) Bill, so I know that there has been tremendous work done to find that right balance.

My constituency, though, of Bridgend and Porthcawl is surrounded by coast, so with most of the people who are getting in touch with me, it is about the Dŵr Cymru sewage spills, as I’ve raised with you before, Minister. Newton Buoyant Bluetits had a protest of 200 people recently about the sewage spills. I get a message every time there is one and they can’t go swimming. They try to swim every day, and there does seem to be a discrepancy between what is being reported and what they are telling me. So, I agree with you that an agile, integrated reporting system is going to make a big difference. In the meantime, Minister, can you please ask Welsh Water and other companies to engage with that community, though, so they can answer their questions and they can feed back and feel like they’re being listened to?

Secondly, in the river clean-up that we had down by the estuary in Ogmore Vale, 2,000 tyres were pulled out. Alun, who had been organising it, is planning on having a week next June to pull out a further 10,000. I know, Minister, he would probably love it if you could come, and I would like him to be able to reach out and invite you, if that is okay. We’re writing to all supermarkets to ask them also to make sure that those trolleys do not end up in our waterways, and we’re trying to get everybody to sign that too. I just wanted to pass that on. Thank you, Minister. 

Thank you very much, Sarah. I’d be delighted to come. If you want to write and formally ask me, I’d be very happy to do so. We’ve had a brief discussion about this already. I should declare an interest, of course, because I’m also a member of the Bluetits in my local area. I particularly like cold water sea swimming, so I’m very happy to come and, indeed, have a little dip while I’m at it. That would be very nice indeed.

I know you know that the sampling was taken the day after you did the big river clean-up, and therefore we’ve got some results that we think are probably skewed in terms of what the outcome is, but we are making sure that NRW take a range of testing there to make sure that we get a true result. We’ve had other disappointing results, though: both of the new bathing waters, the one in Ogmore-by-Sea and also the one at Watch House bay, we’ve had poor results for. So we’ve got additional monitoring in place there to make sure that we understand why that’s happened and to make sure that we can correct that, because we want to designate them as bathing waters and we therefore want them to have the excellent quality the rest of them have. The amount of tyres that came out of the river was quite astonishing, wasn't it? And I know that you know there are many more to come, so I'd be very delighted to come, and I'm more than happy to broker a meeting between you, NRW and Dŵr Cymru to see what we can do to monitor that better.

15:10

Minister, thank you so much for the statement. There's clearly been a lot of work and it's ongoing, and thank you for your ongoing commitment. It's good to see that we're raising the issue of water pollution here in the Siambr, in the Senedd, and it's great to hear as well that you're working with those different communities, including our farmers, who are really working hard to make sure that they play their role and take responsibility. I feel it's really important that we note the hard work that they're doing and that we don't blame our farmers; they are doing as much as they can in relation to making sure that they balance making a living and making sure that they don't pollute our lands.

But I wanted to come back to Dŵr Cymru, I'm afraid, and the ongoing concerns that there are around their responsibility. We've heard about some of the other agencies involved in our water quality here in the Siambr, but we continue to have concerns around Dŵr Cymru, particularly their accountability and that their bosses are still being paid a relatively good salary, as I understand it—although I still can't find what they're being paid this year, which is a very interesting challenge for us; maybe you're able to enlighten us. But I just wonder what actions the Welsh Government will be taking to dramatically strengthen the penalties against Dŵr Cymru, given their extremely lackadaisical response to some of the concerns around water quality in our rivers. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Thank you, Jane. There are a couple of things there. I do think that most farmers love the land that they farm. Actually, it was really interesting to have the presentation at the summit about the small changes in traditional practices that could be made that made a significant difference to the amount of run-off that went into the local river. I can share the slides. The farmer, who's part of the collective Stump Up For Trees there, had the most extraordinary response in the summit; I've never seen that before. People were really enthused.

What he was basically saying was that really small things, like the way that you drill your field, will channel the water in a particular direction, and actually, drilling it ever so slightly skew-whiff will just turn the run-off away from the river, for example. It's about not going right to the edge, making sure that the buffer zone is there, making sure there's a small band. He was describing things of a few inches tall that just stop the run-off in heavy rain. It was extraordinary.

Clearly, they're doing it on the ground, so I do think that what we need to do is make sure that farmers understand what could be done with small changes in agricultural practice that would, across most of our rivers, make a very significant difference to what was happening, as well as all the other tools, of course, that the summit process is putting in place—the nutrient management tools. We absolutely need farmers to understand what their baseline is so that they can understand what they can and can't put on the land and what is beneficial and isn't beneficial; that's not universal at all.

Turning to Dŵr Cymru, though, it's not in my control what they're paid. I have no control over that whatsoever. We feed into the Ofwat process and we put the Welsh Government's views as to what the water companies in Wales should be doing into that process. We've had better results this time from Ofwat. It's been a struggle in the past to get the Welsh Government's voice heard, if you like, in the price reviews. I wasn't doing it five years ago, but my understanding from my officials is that we've done much better this time in the influence of that, although the proof will be when it comes back out.

We've been at great pains to make sure that Dŵr Cymru are as transparent as we can make them. I know that Llyr, for instance, has invited them into the committee. I think it's really important to keep them under that level of scrutiny. Although it's a not-for-profit company, it's a private company, it's not nationalised or anything, so it's important to make sure that their feet are held to the fire and that they do what they say they will do. So, they say that they're transparent about what they do, they meet with me whenever I've asked them to, and I have a very regular meeting with them to go through things. As I said to my colleague Sarah over there, if you are having problems getting them to come, then invite me as well and I can make sure they do come.

I welcome, following the lead of Ministers, that stakeholders are now taking responsibility and working together on delivery plans to address pollution of our rivers and unlock planning, especially in north-east Wales. Many landowners are not maintaining culverts, ditches and watercourses, causing flooding of public highways and houses and contamination. I'm discovering that there's still a presumption that the councils, river authorities or someone else will step in and maintain them. Would Welsh Government issue a statement saying that landowners do have that responsibility and encourage stakeholders such as NRW, councils and farmers' unions to provide information on responsibility?

15:15

Yes, that's a very good point, actually, Carolyn. I'm very happy to make it clear whose responsibility what is. One of the things our colleague Joyce Watson always brings up is the paving over of front gardens, for example. You need planning consent for that. That is not widely understood, and it's not widely enforced either. So, we have written out to planning authorities, and I plan to do it again in the new year, to say, 'Make a big thing out of this.' The run-off in urban areas is causing serious problems, and much of the problems in the combined sewage outflows is to do with flood water, when it heavily rains, just cascading into the gullies rather than being absorbed in situ by the gardens of people who live in those areas. Similarly, for the farmers and for the riparian riverbank owners. So, yes, I'm very happy to do that.

4. Statement by the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language: Professional Learning Entitlement

Item 4 is a statement by the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language on the professional learning entitlement. I call on the Minister, Jeremy Miles.

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. The single most important influence on learner success within the education system is the quality of teaching and learning. The national professional learning entitlement, which launched a little over a year ago, is already playing a key role in supporting education professionals in their continued development, with the delivery of high-quality teaching and learning at the forefront.

The underpinning principles of the schools as learning organisations model, the school improvement framework and our professional standards together provide a firm foundation for schools and educational settings to identify professional learning priorities and develop a collaborative culture for professional learning and continuous improvement. 

To implement the national professional learning entitlement in full, we remain focused on supporting schools to develop as learning organisations, providing access to high-quality professional learning, and helping schools to understand the impact of professional learning within the context of school improvement.

Today I am proud to reflect on the progress made since my previous announcement on the entitlement in September. I also want to update you on the further steps we are taking to guarantee fair and equal access to high-quality professional learning for all practitioners, to enable high standards and aspirations for all.

In September I announced that Professor Ken Jones had been appointed to chair the national endorsement panel. Today I am pleased to inform you that recruitment to the panel that will work with Professor Jones, to quality assure professional learning, has been completed and the panel is now operational.

The national endorsement panel comprises 12 members, including representatives from the middle tier, together with practitioners from primary, secondary and special schools. The first meeting of the panel was held last week.

In line with the national approach to professional learning, there will be three levels of quality assurance for professional learning in Wales, namely accredited, endorsed and recognised.

Accredited professional learning will continue to be led by individual organisations in line with existing accreditation requirements, and endorsement for leadership provision will continue to be undertaken by the National Academy for Educational Leadership.

The new quality assurance arrangements will comprise an endorsement process for national professional learning programmes, and a recognition process for smaller scale or local professional learning programmes. These new quality assurance processes that will be developed by the national endorsement panel will be informed by established frameworks for professional learning, including the national approach to professional learning, Estyn guidance on inspecting professional learning, and the eight hallmarks of well-led professional learning developed by the national academy.

From the spring term, the panel will begin to quality assure professional learning. Work is under way with Professor Jones to schedule calls for endorsement and recognition. Initial rounds will focus on established national professional learning programmes. A wider panel of subject specialists will be recruited in the spring to provide the core panel with technical expertise to support further calls for endorsement.

In the second part of my statement, I want to provide you with an update on the professional learning area on Hwb, which launched in beta format in September. The aim of the new Hwb area is to provide a single point of access to high-quality, easily navigable professional learning that meets the needs of all education professionals. To deliver this, we are continuing to work with practitioners on the design, development and delivery of the new professional learning area to ensure an optimum user experience. The feedback, which we are actively seeking from stakeholders via our user-focused study, is being analysed at regular intervals, with key themes being addressed and refinements made to the professional learning area as part of an iterative development process.

The practitioner group, which we established to support this work, has completed an initial review of the resources available in the area, which will be built on by the work of the national endorsement panel. This will provide practitioners with the assurance that the professional learning provision available via the professional learning area meet required quality standards. We are working with Welsh Government policy teams, our key partners, and other professional learning providers to ensure the professional learning offer in the professional learning area delivers the content our professionals need. This work will continue hand in hand with the work of the national endorsement panel. Our investment in quality provision and resources for all practitioners will further strengthen support for learners and schools as we accelerate our reform journey.

Professional learning in Wales has rightly focused on the realisation of curriculum reform. The Programme for International Student Assessment results last week were, of course, not what any of us would have wanted. But the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, who are responsible for PISA tests, reflected positively that recent engagement in professional learning in Wales is higher than the OECD average. In line with international evidence, we will build on this by continuing to prioritise practitioner development and school improvement to ensure high-quality teaching and learning for all.

We are accelerating our journey to realise the aims of the national professional learning entitlement for Welsh practitioners, to deliver high standards and aspirations for all learners across the whole of Wales. 

15:20

Thank you for the advance copy of your statement today, Minister. Can I firstly say that I support the professional learning entitlement? And I welcome the fact this is intended for learning support staff as well as teachers, because it's vitally important that we upskill all our staff in our schools, right the way across Wales. And I do agree that the most important influence on learner success within the educational system is the quality of teaching and learning. As you've said, the PISA results were not as we'd like to see, but if we can invest in our teaching and people in our schools, we'll be able to improve standards right across Wales. We have been waiting a long time for this, and I'm glad to see it actually come forward today. However, we know that there can be variations between schools and the extent to which professional learning is offered. So, it is important that this is monitored, both for contracted staff and our supply staff.

I note you mentioned that the professional learning entitlement launched just under a year ago and the national endorsement panel are now operational, so I do have a number of questions now, Minister, so if you've got your pen at the ready. How will the Minister guarantee fair access across Wales, and how do you intend to make staff aware of the opportunities available to them? In addition to this, Minister, how will you be ensuring that it is closely monitored? And how do you intend to measure the success of the programme going forward? Also, I'd like to understand from you: what is the current level of engagement with the professional learning opportunities in the educational sector? I think it's really important that we understand what engagement is there currently.

The education system, Minister, as you're aware, is currently grappling with a recruitment crisis. I don't like to use that word lightly, as you know, because the retention of our teachers is very, very difficult at the moment. That's evidence that I know we've seen in education committee, as well as evidence I know we've heard in this Chamber. So, what I'd like to know is: how will you ensure that time is allocated for professional learning and continuous improvement in educational settings for our staff when they are facing pressures with staffing structures at the moment? And also, another question is: hundreds of teaching assistants have said to their union, Unison, that they don't have adequate training to deliver the new Curriculum for Wales. So, I'd just like to understand further from you what we're going to do specifically for teaching assistants as part of this programme, to make sure they're upskilled, because I'm a firm believer that our teaching assistants are our next generation of workforce of teachers, if we can upskill them the correct way.

Finally, because I'm very short on these statements, as the Deputy Presiding Officer will be pleased to know—around the financial elements of this as well. I know you want to say you'll have an accelerated programme here in Wales to make it work, but we didn't hear anything in the statement around the financial commitments for this. So, I'll be very interested to know from the Minister today what financial allocations you are putting into this programme, and if that is being protected as part of the budget-round discussions, which I know the Welsh Government—they're ongoing at the moment. Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer.

15:25

Well, I thank the Member for those questions, all of which are very fair questions. So, in relation to the question of fair access, funding, obviously, is part of that, but awareness is another part of it. So, on the funding question in particular, in 2023-24 alone we allocated nearly £36 million to support the development and delivery of professional learning. And to the point that he makes about capacity to engage with this, £12 million of that was allocated directly to schools in order to allow them, through the professional learning grant—it allows time and space for practitioners and leaders to engage with professional learning.

And to the I think very important point that he makes around access to the professional learning entitlement by teaching assistants, I was really, really clear when we designed this a year ago that I wanted teaching assistants to benefit from the entitlement in the same way as teachers do. So, we have looked again at how we calculate the professional learning grant so it isn't simply allocated based on the number of teachers in a school, but also reflects the number of TAs in a school as well, which I hope very much will make a difference.

Just on the last point that he made, actually, teaching assistants from Unison and teaching assistants from GMB as well have been working with us. He will be aware of the programme that I launched to improve the terms and conditions of teaching assistants, and that work is well under way and is progressing, actually, very well, and is led by teaching assistants themselves, which I think is very important, because we then get a very clear sense of the things that matter most to our teaching assistants in that process. And one of the early achievements or accomplishments in that process was the development of the entitlement and access to teaching assistants.

So, that's already part of the system, but clearly there is, I think—. It's a year old, and I think there is a lot going on in schools, isn't there, and I think it's a constant challenge for us, really, to make sure that we ensure that everyone knows about the entitlement. It's a new thing, and it brings together the level of provision that's already there. I actually think that the launch of the space on Hwb, which is already, as you will have heard, in beta, is a really good way of making this practically accessible, because most teachers and teaching assistants, as the Member will know, use Hwb, and therefore having a bespoke area on that is really important. We've had—. He was asking me about the level of engagement. Over the last, I think, two months, we've had 18,000 teachers just in the last two months using the new pages on Hwb, and it's obviously very early—it's beta, isn't it, so it's very, very early at this stage.

He asked a very fair question about how one measures success in this. Well, some of that is about the numbers that we see using—. Just engagement is a starting metric, but I think what I have reflected in this area is we need to be—and I hope that we are, actually—in a constant state of listening and readjusting when it comes to professional learning, because at the end of the day it needs to be easily accessible and it needs to be easy for practitioners to know what's reliable and what isn't. I think you will have heard the figures that we invest in professional learning—it's very, very significant funding. I think, in a sense, one could make the argument that there is too much of it available, so it's challenging for practitioners who are under time pressure to navigate their way through it. So, the work we are doing is really to try and make it more, on the one hand, easily navigable, and on the other hand to give it a level of quality assurance, so practitioners can find it and know what they're finding is reliable. And I expect, and, indeed, hope, actually, on one level, that that process will, in fact, reduce the volume of professional learning that's out there and make it more manageable, if you like, for practitioners. 

Lastly, on the question of variation, well, we're talking about professionals here, so there's a level of professional and personal engagement with the process; that's how our system is designed to deliver. But he'll remember that, when we launched the national entitlement last year, at the same time I made sure that practitioners in any region in Wales were able to access the professional learning available in any other region, because, at the end of the day, what we are trying to deliver is a curriculum for Wales, not the aggregate of individual curriculums in different regions. 

15:30

Thank you for your statement, Minister. I'd like to follow up on James Evans's point in terms of the budget. I note what you've said about the budget for this year, but can you confirm, in relation to the budget for next year, or give us an idea as to whether there will be an impact because of the current financial situation? Clearly, from the teaching unions' perspective, you wouldn't be surprised that they are emphasising the importance of the funding that you have allocated for this in the past, because, clearly, for this to be delivered, we do need that level of investment. 

If I could also ask about the conditions for teachers to be able to undertake this work, as we all know, there is a recruitment crisis in teaching. We've seen a reduction in the number of teachers. I know that you've been working with the unions on issues such as workload and so on. So, could I ask you how are we going to ensure that the workforce has the time to undertake this development, that schools have the capacity to release teachers to undertake their right to professional learning, as well as teaching assistants, of course?

This is extremely important, so two simple questions, on the budget and securing adequate time for everyone to undertake these development activities. 

Well, the two questions are related, aren't they? I can't make a statement on the funding next year, for reasons that the Member will understand, but that will become clearer in the next few days, of course. But I don't think that funding alone is the answer. As I mentioned in response to James Evans, there are a great deal of professional learning resources out there and available already. The challenge at the moment is not to add to those necessarily; it's about ensuring that people can access what is there, and ensuring that what is available meets demand, and that there is quality assurance that follows as a result of the provision that we've made available. So, I don't think that budget is the only yardstick here. But the Member makes a fair point, as James Evans did, about ensuring that we can create the capacity in terms of time at school. I referred to the professional learning grant in a previous response, and the purpose of that is to create that capacity in school. 

Just one point in terms of recruitment. More people are qualifying this year in terms of initial teacher education than we expected. So, the figures do look better than they did. In terms of retention of staff in schools, we're succeeding far better than other parts of the UK in ensuring that people don't exit the profession. I don't say that lightly; I understand, of course, that we need to always seek ways of attracting teachers into the sector, but it's also important that we look at that wider context too. But I do think that workload is important, and I think that professional development is important. And education systems across the world succeed in ensuring that supply of professionals and educators, and succeed in those two areas, certainly, namely that the workload is proportionate and that investment is made in professional education.

So, that's what I hope will be the result of what we have already implemented. We're a year into the new arrangements, and there has been progress in that year, but I certainly do believe that there is more to do as a system to ensure that this is visible to people, that they know that they have that entitlement, and that that, as a result of the work that's been done on a yearly basis to look at the skills of the workforce and the skills of individuals, is part of the conversations between heads and teachers.

5. Statement by the Minister for Climate Change: Climate Change

Item 5 this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Climate Change on climate change. And I call on the Minister to make that statement. Julie James. 

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. When we published our programme for government in 2021, we said that we would embed the climate and nature emergencies in everything we do, and we would build a stronger, greener economy as we make maximum progress towards decarbonisation. We underlined our commitment to a more prosperous, more equal and greener Wales.

Halfway through this term of Government, and with the voices from COP28 ringing in our ears, I want to share just a glimpse of the progress we have made working in collaboration with our partners in the public sector, businesses, charities and communities. 

On 6 June, the Climate Change Committee published its second progress report on reducing emissions in Wales. The CCC acknowledged that Wales had fully met its 2020 target and its first carbon budget, 2016-20, and that

'positive steps have been taken in Wales, with a welcome focus from ministers on skills, jobs and public engagement for the Net Zero transition.'

In line with the decade of action I have been advocating since we published our current decarbonisation plan, Net Zero Wales, the CCC also set out that emissions reductions would need to accelerate to ensure Wales meets its carbon budgets and net-zero targets. I recommend Members who have not yet digested the report to do so—it sets out where we need to work harder and take tougher decisions to ensure this Senedd’s rhetoric is matched by both action and delivery.

In accordance with the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, I laid a response to the CCC report before the Senedd last week. That response is predominately backward looking, reflecting on the scope of the statutory responsibility. It tells a story of collective effort—for example, our work with local authorities to decarbonise waste, their fleets and to lay the foundations for a circular economy, and the creation of Net Zero Industry Wales to facilitate even greater collaboration between industry, Government and others, to enable industry to reduce emissions and improve competitiveness.

The most recent published data shows Welsh emissions were 35 per cent lower in 2021 compared to baseline year emissions. While this is progress, and credit is due to those who have made this possible, much of the effort of the current period is on collectively laying the foundation stones for future carbon reductions. These efforts have not yet translated into the emissions data, and there is much, much more to be done, as action now will take time to achieve actual emissions reductions.

COP28, which is due to close in Dubai today, illustrates the global challenges. There are energy security issues, economic headwinds, political obstacles and much more to navigate. Wales, though a small nation, continues to play its part on that world stage. We engage with nations from all over the world, sharing our lessons and learning theirs. Wales is staunchly committed to fossil fuel phase out, and will continue to champion this commitment at every opportunity. I am delighted to report that the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, of which Wales is a founding member, continues to grow, and calls at COP28 for further actions on fossil fuels were louder than ever. I am therefore hopeful for the text that is due to emerge from the COP28 negotiations when they eventually come to their end.

The conference underlined the need for everyone to play their part in tackling the existential threat climate change poses. Members may have read in the CCC report about the crucial role for the UK Government in tackling Welsh emissions. We continue to press the UK Government to take the action we need, such as mobilising housing renovation and decarbonisation at a national scale, creating a long-term and transparent deal with industrial partners to incentivise decarbonisation, and sorting out the grid.

Joint working is essential for us to realise our climate ambitions, and, in Wales, we work in social partnership. In contrast, the Prime Minister’s climate announcements on 20 September were not in the spirit of collaboration. Rather, they were a bolt from the blue, for which I have still not received any level of impact analysis from the UK Government, despite repeated requests. Similarly, the recent news about Tata Steel raised more questions than answers. We are yet to fully understand the impact of any changes on the people and the communities likely to be affected by these changes.

By contrast, our Welsh approach was exemplified in the recently published ‘Economic mission: priorities for a stronger economy’, and at a supporting summit. The mission was created following engagement with businesses and trade unions on how the Welsh Government can maximise certainty, which is vital to boost growth, lower inequality, and create the conditions for a just transition and retain more value in the Welsh economy. The imminent publication of a package of documents relating to the emissions trading scheme demonstrates closer working relationships are possible, fruitful, and can generate meaningful change to aid decarbonisation. I expect to say more about these shortly.

I've mentioned the impact on people several times, and rightly so. As we transition to net zero, we must ensure change is planned effectively and equitably, not simply protecting industries and their employees, but strengthening them, developing skills for future markets, and ensuring the most vulnerable in society are not unfairly burdened with the costs of change. Fairness is at the heart of our approach, and this is why a just transition is our first policy in Net Zero Wales.

Taking that commitment forward, last week, this Government published a consultation on a just transition framework, which follows on from a call for evidence. We were very grateful for the 115 contributions from organisations, including business, academia, third sector organisations, trade unions and community groups. These responses have been crucial in informing our framework, which sets a shared vision of the way Wales can deliver the changes needed for net zero. We now encourage feedback on this framework, which shows how co-ordination and coherence can be brought to our efforts, and provides information and guidance to help us both iron out existing inequalities and avoid creating new ones.

Dirprwy Lywydd, last week saw the fourth Wales Climate Week, which saw over 2,000 individuals discuss aspects of the question, 'How do we tackle climate change in a fair way?' We've used this springboard to bring the consultation on a just transition to life and are supporting dozens of climate conversations with local, hard-to-reach, vulnerable and other audience groups, operated by our partners in the private, public and third sectors. We know people are ambitious for Wales and we want to harness their enthusiasm, their ideas, their constructive challenge and their pragmatism as part of our collective effort. When we deliver together, we go faster and we achieve better results.

So, Dirprwy Lywydd, in summary, much has been done, but, as COP28 highlights to us, there is much left to do. The Paris climate agreement leaves us in no doubt of the need to ratchet up our ambition and our delivery to keep 1.5 degrees alive. It is more important than ever that everyone plays their part to help Wales transition fairly and equitably to a stronger, greener and more prosperous future. Diolch.

15:40

I thank this Minister for this timely statement. With Wales Climate Week 2023 having just taken place and COP28 nearing its conclusion, once again, action on the climate crisis is near the top of the global agenda. I acknowledge that carbon budget 1 and the 2020 interim target have been met. However, the targets on net zero 2050 are fundamentally flawed. It is a major problem that the Welsh Government net zero 2050 target does not take into account emissions of goods imported from abroad. We saw recently the closure of the Ffos-y-fran mine, and this will now mean importing of less favourable coal from other countries many miles away. So, what this means is that, despite the rhetoric made here, there's going to be less productivity here, and it just makes us increase reliance on goods from other nations. 

I am actually wanting to raise this with our own climate change committee, because we've had so many debates in the 12 years I've been here about being responsible in our approach to carbon zero, but that doesn't mean offloading it to some other country just to make us feel better. 

So, for example, in the progress report, the CCC recommended, and I quote:

'Plant trees on 2% of farmland by 2025 while maintaining its primary use, rising to 5% by 2035, and extend hedgerows by 20% by 2035 and better manage existing hedgerows.'

Whilst I support the planting of trees in the right place, this cannot be at a cost to our agricultural productivity. You want to go even further than our committee have recommended, and have stated in your response to the report:

'Proposals to increase tree cover to 10% of each farm are a major focus for the development of the Sustainable Farming Scheme.'

I know farmers and farms, who, once you take that 10 per cent away from them, it may make them unviable to carry on with the agriculture. So, that has to be looked at again. 

Another example—. Oh, I've mentioned that, haven't I, about the Ffos-y-fran. Ffos-y-fran was so important here in Wales, producing two thirds of the UK's coal. There is no denying that the UK economy does still need coal in this transition. And I think we've all got to be clear in our messaging about that. It's absolutely absurd that we're now in a situation where more coal will have to be imported from abroad, and also the impact on our steel making. So, will you review climate change policies so that they do include targets for reducing the reliance on goods imported from abroad? Will you also work with companies to ensure that we can be producing some of those things?

As it stands, the offsetting of footprints to other nations is not a just transition. I'm aware that senior officials went to represent Wales at COP28. Could I just ask, Minister, what made you believe, as the Minister here in Wales, that you wouldn't attend COP28? This has come to the fore again during the scrutiny of the Infrastructure (Wales) Bill, with calls from stakeholders again for a national marine plan, development plan, for Wales, more on a spatial basis. I agree with that, and that clear targets need to be set. We need to know the expansion of our salt marshes; we need to be improving carbon storage in sub-tidal sedimentary habitats; we need to see the restoration of intertidal and shallow sub-tidal habitats; we need to see shellfish restoration; we need to see more blue carbon and integrating renewable energy and marine nature recovery. I am really grateful to your team of officials who met with me last week, and I actually do believe you've got fantastic officers and officials within your department. I am still very concerned, though, about the planning side of our marine sea beds. So, whilst you've already agreed to looking at seagrass, with me, will you undertake a deep-dive into marine policy, with the aim of enhancing its contribution to our net zero 2050 goal?

And just on the just transitional framework consultation, it is a little bit underwhelming. Both of us know that existing legislation reinforces the need to ensure that decarbonisation and climate resilience work is carried out in a way that avoids creating or exacerbating inequalities. So, rather than using resources on a just transition framework, will you focus on delivering a credible all-Wales plan, be it on the land, be it on our sea beds, and also looking at our imports, because only then can we actually say that we're committed to a just transition agenda? Diolch. And don't tell me off.

15:45

Well, thank you, Janet. So, basically, just to summarise: you want to carry on mining coal; you don't like trees; you don't want a just transition, but you'd like us to go faster. I mean, dear me, where to start with that?

I don't know if you know this, but the Minister who's actually got a seat at the table at COP28 from the UK Government has been summoned home to vote in your ridiculous Rwanda nonsense. [Interruption.] That's how—. That's how much—. That's how much your Conservative Government puts on the existential climate crisis. [Interruption.] I don't have a seat at the negotiating table, Janet. We are part of the UK nation state, and the Minister who has a seat at that negotiating table has come home to shore up an unelected Prime Minister. Goodness me, I think that says all you need to know about the Tories' commitment to climate change.

I appreciate the attention being given to COP28. I was extremely disappointed when we heard, earlier this afternoon, about what's happened, that the representative from these isles has been sent, or had decided to come home, or that the Government had decided to call him home. It's just inexplicable that they would put the emphasis on something as wrong as that.

But there is a need to have that just transition in the way that we live in Wales. You've said, of course, Minister, that you intend to publish a framework for a just transition by 2024, and there are very many things to welcome there. However, in terms of the steps that we will need to take now on this issue, what steps do you believe will be most challenging in terms of infrastructure, but also in terms of persuading the public to come with us on the journey towards these changes? What will be most challenging in that regard?

The failure of COP, if COP does indeed now fail, that failure will be a major blow, of course, which underlines how frustrating it is that there is not more of a voice or a vote for us in those decisions. As things stand, there is more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, we are hurtling towards global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the latest report by the IPCC demonstrates how difficult it will be to keep within the 1.5 degrees C limit, unless major changes are made, major cuts to our emissions now. Human beings have already caused a 1.1 degrees C increase in temperatures, which has seen sea levels rise, extreme weather conditions, and people dying.

We must look at ways of achieving net zero by 2035, and I welcome the commitment to look at that as part of the co-operation agreement. But, of course, we need to see specific plans on this. Will you outline any plans that you can share with us, including the plans and steps that you will take: what targets and policies will be needed to reach this more ambitious goal for 2035? Perhaps you could also respond briefly to the report by the Wales Centre for Public Policy on decarbonising energy by 2035 too.

But on the topic of community energy, I think you, in the past too, had mentioned the need to expand this sector. I’d like to hear more about how the Government will be able to empower communities in the context of decisions on renewable energy projects. The infrastructure Bill will be an important opportunity for us to to look at this, so what safeguards can be put in place to ensure that communities really do benefit, and that there is that engagement with the community and a connection with the project so that people can feel part of it?

And finally, Minister, how will the Government here in Wales respond to decisions made by the Conservatives and Labour too in Westminster to water down their climate commitments? How will the Government in Wales ensure that our efforts towards net zero won’t be undermined by the empty rhetoric and the concerning policies emanating from London? The impacts of that will be particularly serious not just in terms of the willingness of businesses to make the changes that are needed, but also the confidence of the public and also, perhaps, mental health and people's response to how willing they are to be part of change, because we do need great change.

15:50

Yes, diolch, Delyth, a wealth of things to just run through there. So, just on 2035, we've got the working group working very effectively. It's a very interesting group of people who are giving their time to us because they very much care about this existential crisis that we face, and they are absolutely front and centre looking at the just transition as part of that acceleration programme. It is just not good enough to decarbonise Tata Steel, for example, by announcing that you're going to put one arc furnace in there, make 12,000 people jobless, not consult with the unions at all, not work in social partnership and then walk off whistling, which is pretty much what the UK Government has done to our communities there. That doesn't even produce the right kind of steel to make sure that we get the global industry we need to put the Celtic sea into place. 

What we should be doing, of course, is looking to decarbonise our excellent efficient steel industry in a way that allows them to produce onsite the steel necessary to produce the turbines for floating wind, which will produce a complete transformation in both the grid and the energy-producing capacity of Great Britain. The idea that you do that by continuing to explore for oil and gas, as this absolutely pathetic UK Government has decided to do, or to announce the opening of new coal mines, none of which will be operational for decades, is completely nonsensical. It wouldn't even make sense if they were actually owned by the British state, but of course they're just on the open market and will trade into the open market and just increase the number of fossil fuels. So, that is appalling.

By contrast, our policy is to make sure that we invest in that renewable industry, that we allow people transitioning out of the old industries to retrain and requalify. They are highly-qualified engineers and operatives. There will be a role for them in that new burgeoning industry. And the trick for us is to calibrate it so that we ramp those industries up at the same time as the old ones are ramped down.

I was very pleased to see the new announcement by the Crown Estate of the next tranche of gigawatts that they're announcing in the Celtic sea. We hope that that means that that's enough of a pipeline to unlock the investments in Welsh ports and in the steel industry itself to make Tata itself invest. We're in constant communication with the ports there. I met with the Celtic sea alliance only last week or the week before—my life is one long round of meetings; it might have been the week before that. I've met with the Crown Estate. The First Minister is meeting the Crown Estate on Monday next week to go through what that announcement means in terms of unlocking that investment. 

So, instead of having knee-jerk reactions where you announce actually what was a substantial investment, but that causes real distress and unrest, is not a project for the future of what is a very efficient steel industry, and is actually a recipe for importing a whole load of ferrous material from elsewhere in the world. Instead of doing that, what you should do is have a long-term investment strategy for the industries that we need for our renewable future, that bring the wealth and prosperity that we need. That's the only way we're going to get to net zero by 2050, never mind faster.

We also need a revolution in everything else that we do. We need to help our agricultural sector to become able to farm the land in a way that I know they want to: that is respectful of both the culture and the biodiversity, and produces the food, but also the other ecosystem services that we need. Farmers do produce our food, but they also produce the ecosystem services on which we all depend. They literally produce the oxygen we breathe. So, we have to do this in harmony. And I think that is pretty much the answer to all of your questions, really. We need to pull our communities with us, we need to understand what their needs are on the ground, we need to help them assuage those needs in a way that’s both carbon neutral, net zero, and promotes a just transition and an economic future in a green economy that we can all buy into.

15:55

We need to start by keeping all fossil fuels in the ground. That’s not just coal; it’s oil, it’s gas. That’s obviously No. 1, but unfortunately COP seems to have been taken over by a lot of these fossil fuel interests, which is why we’re making such slow progress. Whatever compensation we’re paying for loss and damage that the industrialised world has done must not include the over-endowed oil interests, who have been a principal cause of the parlous state of our warming world.

You speak well, Minister, about the need to mobilise housing renovation, which we are not getting from the UK Government. Instead, we’re just allowing the six big house builders to continue to build unambitious housing, which is building to very low standards that we’re going to have to retrofit in the future.

I also am very concerned about the industries that we need to nurture and help in their decarbonisation, and if we set the licensing terms for the Celtic sea so low that nobody wants to bid for them, we’re clearly not going to be able to deliver the alternative energies that the steel industry needs in order to decarbonise. So, we have to hope that in future we have a Government that is ambitious about this, because it’s a completely circular argument.

I just want to ask you about the need to decarbonise our food, because it is the single biggest carbon emission from individual households. Yes, of course we need to reduce our food waste, and also I agree—

We need to reduce our reliance on goods imported from abroad, but there's a massive deficit on food vegetable production. I know that agriculture is not in your portfolio, but nevertheless there's very little in your response to the Climate Change Committee's report on how we're going to ensure that the sustainable farming scheme is actually going to be focused absolutely on ensuring that we decarbonise all the food that we eat. 

Yes, thank you, Jenny. So, there are a couple of issues there. On the house building point, there are two points there. The UK Government still insists on charging VAT on house renovations, including renovations to decarbonise, whereas new build doesn’t have VAT, so that tells you worlds about what they’re actually trying to achieve. That could be changed with the stroke of a pen and would make an enormous difference to the amount of money that people have to pay to decarbonise the existing housing stock, including social landlords as well. So, that’s a real issue there. There’s also a whole series of issues around the difference between the planning systems in Wales and England, which is becoming really extreme, as are the building regulation issues. We don’t have any problem attracting house builders here. Despite the earlier rhetoric when they said they wouldn’t come, in fact that hasn’t been the case at all. So, they adjust easily. We’ve allowed our social landlords to buy off plan, which means that small companies, if they build to the DQR—the design quality requirements—we allow our social landlords to buy off plan, and it has brought the whole industry up, as you’d expect. So, there are plans afoot there, but it really needs to be UK wide to have a real effect.

On the decarbonisation of industry, we worked closely with all four Governments of the UK in the emissions trading scheme, and we’re now looking at a carbon pricing mechanism, a broader pricing mechanism. It’s all very well for the Conservatives to say they don’t like importing things, but we actually import an enormous amount of our industrial material, which we could produce very easily at home if we recalibrated the way that we do our industry. That just simply hasn’t been done.

The emissions trading scheme, though, will drive change, and we did that in close association with people like Valero, Tata Steel—I had a number of meetings, as did Vaughan Gething, on that. Obviously, this is difficult, isn’t it? They need to decarbonise, so there are free allowances, but those free allowances will decline as the industry is enabled to decarbonise. We have to drive that change to get to where we want to be. We have to make sure that those industries are producing the necessary goods and services to get the next revolution under way, so, for the floating wind in the Celtic sea.

The failure of the contract for difference on the floating wind was just the most extraordinary failure of the UK Government. Amongst a litany of failures, that was the most extraordinary failure. Not a single bidder into that process, because so rapacious were they in trying to get a quick buck that they couldn't see the need to help a nascent industry start here instead of elsewhere in the world.

And then, just on the decarbonisation of food, actually, the Wales Net Zero 2035 Challenge Group that Jane Davidson chairs looked at food as one of its first challenges, and we're expecting the report very soon. That will play into both our community food strategy and to the consultation on the sustainable farming scheme. 

16:00

We've learnt this afternoon that the UK Minister responsible for COP28 has actually left the discussions for London, leaving his civil servants to complete those negotiations at a very fraught moment in his absence. He's returning, of course, to try and bail out Rishi Sunak and the UK Government, and it's clearly a farcical and chaotic set of circumstances. It's a dereliction of the UK Government's international responsibilities. And, of course, the UK Government Minister is Wales's voice in these discussions, but now, obviously, we're no longer properly there to be heard in these negotiations. So, do you share my disappointment at the UK Government Minister's departure from these discussions, and do you agree with me that Wales, in future, should be represented in our own right in these negotiations and not have to depend on a failed and discredited UK Government?

I do absolutely share your disappointment, Llyr. The idea that it's more important to shore up the kind of nonsense that we've got going on in the UK Parliament than it is to have a voice at the table of one of the existential crises—well, the existential crisis—of our time is just absolutely extraordinary.

Wales does have a sort of voice there, because we belong to the Under2 Coalition and to ICLEI, the international co-operation of what are very unsnappily called sub-national, regional and city governments—not snappy, but effective all the same. It covers about two-thirds of the world's population and it has a voice. So, our voice is very loud inside that coalition, I'm pleased to say—louder inside that coalition than it is actually in the UK delegation. So that's interesting in itself. 

We don't know yet what the COP process is going to produce, with the voices of nations like Tuvalu who are literally disappearing under the waves, the heartfelt plea to phase out fossil fuels as fast as we can and to move to a world that isn't heating so that our polar ice caps are melting at the most alarming rate. 

I don't know, Dirprwy Lywydd, whether you've watched any of the most recent Attenborough series, but it is a very hard watch. You really do have your heart in your hands as you watch the decline of the natural world and what we could still do—that's the point, that's the message—what can still be done to stop that happening. All you need is for people to just wake up and understand that together we could still stop this appalling existential crisis. It is literally the planet on which we all depend for survival, and yet we have a Government—our own Government, extraordinarily—thinking it's more important to make a quick buck out of oil that they don't even control. 

Thank you. On Saturday, I joined the North West Wales Climate Action Group. It was a youth-led event called 'We rise for our future'. And thank you, Minister, for receiving cards from them earlier, where they put their climate change messages inside. They were really pleased to have that photograph. One young person raised that, 'People expect us to correct the mistakes made by them when we're older', but they're concerned that there isn't enough time.

I've been watching that Attenborough programme, Planet Earth III, and I've been really worried that in 20 years we could lose our coral reefs, that many species will be extinct in just 20 to 30 years, and we'll lose low-lying communities. So, I was going to give you the opportunity, actually, to just say how serious it is for those climate deniers. Because I believe we need to act now and we can't just live for the present with fossil fuels. We need to act now for the future of our planet. Thank you. 

I couldn't agree more, Carolyn. And thank you very much for delivering the cards. I've had a read of them and they're very interesting. I was delighted to pick them up. The one that most struck me was one from a 10-year-old that said, 'Dear Minister, please go faster'. I mean, really, that's what it's about, isn't it? 'For God's sake, get on with it', you know, 'Hurry up'. The subject of our First Minister's last conference speech, actually, was 'hurry up'. And that's what we need to do. We need to hurry up, and to do that we all have to play our part in that.

We each have many hats. We're privileged here to be democratic representatives of the communities that we come from, but we have other hats, don't we? We have family hats. We have employee hats. We have local community hats. In each one of those hats, we can seek to persuade people that the small actions that they take, or indeed the bigger actions that they take, really do have a significant impact. 

Here in Wales, we have the living proof of that in our recycling. It may seem like a small thing, and there is lots of cynicism out there, but I can tell you categorically that we have firms coming to Wales with hundreds and hundreds of jobs, who want that recyclate. We recycle it here in Wales. They turn it back into materials that did not require oil and gas to be extracted from the ground, or coal or anything else. They use that recyclate material to turn them back into the goods that we all want, right here in Wales, with local jobs and local skills.

That's why we do the recycling. We do the recycling to stop the virgin materials having to still be taken from the earth, and to keep the other materials in use, all the way through. That hierarchy—reuse, reduce, recycle—is where we should be going. I always say this to the children. When I went out to COP15, the biodiversity COP out in Canada, there was a representative there of the Cree nation. She was very powerful indeed. She said that, in their culture, the thing that they most seek is to have been a good ancestor. That's what we all should be, isn't it? We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to be the best ancestors that we can be. And we do that by making sure that the planet that we all share is fit for habitation.

16:05
6. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Update on ‘More than just words: Five Year Plan 2022-27’
7. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Escalation and Intervention Arrangements for Maternity and Neonatal Services in Swansea Bay University Health Board

We move on to item 7, which is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: escalation and intervention arrangements for maternity and neonatal services in Swansea Bay University Health Board. I call on the Minister, Eluned Morgan.

Diolch yn fawr, Ddirprwy Lywydd. Earlier today, Swansea Bay University Health Board announced that it had commissioned an independent review of its maternity and neonatal services. I welcome this announcement. This is the correct approach for the health board to provide assurance about its services, and we in the Welsh Government will work closely with the health board over the coming months to ensure that any identified learning is taken forward and immediate actions are escalated as needed.

I have been informed that Healthcare Inspectorate Wales will, later this week, be publishing its final report following the unannounced inspection of the maternity services at Singleton Hospital, undertaken in September. As Members are aware, HIW has already escalated a number of immediate assurance areas to the health board, and I know that the health board has submitted its improvement plan, which will be published alongside the HIW report on Friday. It's important that the health board robustly address these issues.

I am of the view that some focused help and support is needed to ensure that the health board delivers the necessary improvements. As a result, I am today announcing some immediate action to support the health board in strengthening its services while the independent review is conducted. Welsh Government officials, through enhanced monitoring, will work with the health board to support them in delivering the actions and improvements required.

Welsh Government officials have been working with the health board over the past 12 months to provide support and challenge around emerging issues and existing concerns. Assurance has been sought and scrutiny provided through the integrated quality, planning and delivery and joint executive team meeting arrangements, as well as through specific site visits and other assurance mechanisms. This has allowed us to make an assessment of the services. This information has been shared with the health board, so that further clarity and assurance could be provided.

The decision of the board to invest an additional £750,000 in maternity services is a welcome step forward. As part of this, 35 additional members of staff will be recruited to ensure that staffing levels align with the minimum levels set by Birthrate Plus, which is the mechanism that is recognised to assess how many people are required in a maternity unit. This will also mean that we can reopen the Neath Port Talbot maternity centre and reintroduce the home birth service at the beginning of next year. We will be supporting the health board on this journey.

In my view, it's possible that these improvements wouldn't be made under the usual arrangements, so I have accepted the recommendation made by officials, in accordance with the escalation and intervention arrangements, to place the maternity and neonatal services into enhanced monitoring status. It has already been raised to this level for planning and budgeting. Under such status, the board will be supported but it will also need to demonstrate that it is responding proactively to drive its own improvement. The Welsh Government will monitor, will challenge and will review progress carefully. The monitoring work will happen more regularly than under the routine arrangements and will include meetings and regular interaction, and progress reports will be prepared and evidence submitted, including action plans and qualitative and quantitative data.

I understand that a number of front-line members of staff in the services have been working under a great deal of pressure for a number of months, and that there are a number of empty posts to be filled—a situation that has improved significantly over the past weeks as the result of a successful recruitment campaign. Despite this, I am eager to acknowledge this pressure, as well as their tireless work to sustain services for families and their communities. I hope that this decision will demonstrate to staff and patients that we are working with the board to strengthen their services further. The enhanced monitoring status of all statutory bodies of the NHS in Wales will be considered at a tripartite meeting later this month, and I will be giving an update to Members through another oral statement in the new year.

16:10

Can I thank the Minister for her statement today? Of course, I'm sure that the Minister will agree that giving birth and having the experience of giving birth for the first time should be a joyous occasion for families, and that hasn't been the case, unfortunately, for many women and families who have used the maternity units at the Swansea bay health board.

Can I ask, Minister, why it's taken so long to take these measures, to escalate maternity and neonatal services to enhanced monitoring? There have been several questions over leadership, questions around cover-ups or misinformation being provided to families, and a substantial number of incidents, including several never events—events that should never take place—that have come forward over recent years. I think there are 300 investigations that have taken place over recent years also. So, I want to be clear why this has only come forward today and you've taken this escalation today and not sooner. It seems that there have been some questions here in the Chamber in recent weeks and some media intervention and questions on the issue as well, but surely it should not take that—surely the 300 incidents or so should trigger some kind of escalation process.

Can you be really clear, Minister, on actually what work has been undertaken, what review has or hasn't taken place? Because we know from correspondence from some of the families that have come forward that they were informed that no review was carried out, then there was a review carried out, and then there wasn't a review carried out, and then, last week, there was a review carried out. So, this is obviously confusing for families. I appreciate that there could be some issues around terminology around this, but it would be helpful if you could explain and set out what actually happened. As I understand it from some correspondence with families last week, a review was carried out by the NHS delivery unit. Of course, that has limits on what it can investigate; they wouldn't have access, as I understand it, for example, to all health board serious incident forms. So, why have the families been misinformed and why has this been so complicated?

It's certainly my view, Minister, that there should be some degree of further investigation in terms of what's happened within the health board and the maternity services here, and also within Welsh Government as well. So, would you agree it's time for a full independent inquiry into maternity services at Swansea Bay University Health Board and how the Welsh Government has handled some of these matters? I say that in the context of one family that have come forward that carried out some freedom of information requests themselves, only to see that they were being referred to as 'serial correspondents', and 'I am wondering if it is time to close it down', one Welsh Government official said to another Welsh Government official. I can see you're looking slightly alarmed at that, and I'm glad of that, Minister, because that's certainly not the language I would expect Welsh Government officials to be using.

So, in that context, what can families do? If you're not agreeing to a full independent inquiry, what can families do who have had concerns about an experience that they've had at maternity services at the health board? What should they do? Who can they go to with their experience so their situation can be fully investigated? Because, clearly, there's a concern at the moment that Welsh Government officials—or there's not a process in place that can probably adequately consider some of the issues and concerns that have been raised, Minister. But, ultimately, this has only come about as a result of pressure from families, media, questions in the Chamber. Don't you think it's time that there's a process now to investigate fully what's happened within the health board maternity unit and also in terms of how Welsh Government have handled this process?

16:15

Thanks very much, Russell. I will agree with you that I think it's absolutely critical that we get it right when it comes to anything to do with birth, because the implications for the families when it goes wrong are very, very significant. So, we absolutely need to get this right, which is why we do try and pay as much attention to this as possible.

You ask why wasn't anything done earlier. Well, I can assure you that, actually, this has been something that has been very much on our agenda in the Welsh Government for a long time. In November last year, 2022, the chief nursing officer did request the delivery unit to conduct a quality assurance review into the service. So, I think there has been a little bit of confusion about what exactly does that mean. Well, what that was asked to do was to look at, in particular, the incidence—now, there's a difference, and this is where I think there's been a little bit of confusion. We now call them 'national reportable incidents', but in the past they used to be called 'serious incidents', and that was changed in 2021, so I think that that's where there's been a little bit of confusion, so people were asked, 'Did you carry out a serious incident report?' 'No, because they don't exist any more, but we did carry out the national reportable incident investigation'—just to look at how many of those national reportable incidents took place during that time, how many complaints came in during that time, how many ombudsman's reports happened during that time. So, that report was written, and I'm happy to publish a copy of that report if that would be helpful, but it will be redacted, because I think it's absolutely right we don't identify the patients. So, as long as there's an understanding of that.

But on top of that, obviously, that was just the beginning of the process. That was submitted by the delivery unit, the director general met with the health board in December last year, we had a further report done—23 December. We had a review completed—9 March 2023. There was an agenda item on the IQPD agenda in relation to maternity and neonates in March, and again in April. So, this has not been off our agenda, I think it's really important—. We haven't been pushed into this, this has been something we've been monitoring very carefully.

The thing that did raise alarm bells for us in particular was when we saw the Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries data in May. And that's when we thought, 'Actually, we need to get a bit more involved here.' There was a joint executive team meeting in June, which also looked at this in detail, and then, of course, we had the HIW unannounced inspection in September. So, since then I think things have been ramping up pretty quickly, and you saw that there was an immediate response from the health board to that inspection, and there's been a significant, for example, recruitment drive since that time, and a lot of this is down to staffing issues, and I'm very pleased to see that a lot of those have been addressed. But there's still a way to go, and that's why we've got into this situation where we're saying, 'Actually, we need to have enhanced monitoring on this particular service.' So, I spoke to the chair of the health board yesterday and explained that, and they were very clear that the health board itself have announced today that they have commissioned their own independent review. So, you asked for an independent review—the health board is doing an independent review. That is going to be looking and it's going to be genuinely independent; I hope people will be reassured by that. It'll be done by a multidisciplinary group that is very experienced. It's going to look not just at getting assurance for the current situation, but it will be looking at analysis of stillbirth and neonatal deaths from 2021 to 2023, on top of patient and staff experiences. But I think it's important that the health board actually takes ownership of this. They need to correct the issues themselves, and that's why I'm very pleased that they're actually taking those steps themselves.

So, I think what's important also is to recognise that, actually, there's a broader piece of work that's being done across all of the maternity departments in Wales as a result of the learning from the Cwm Taf experience. And there's been a huge amount of resource gone into this additionally, and we're trying to make sure that those lessons—and Cwm Taf has seen a huge turnaround since that team went in, and we're trying to roll that out now across the country.

16:20

I want to start by expressing my sincerest sympathies to Kate Barrett, Nathalie Borland, Mr and Mrs Channon and all of the families who have suffered as a result of deficiencies in the Swansea Bay University Health Board maternity services. During a time that should be joyous for every new parent, the experiences that they had were beyond my comprehension, and it continues to cause them concern today.

At the very least, these families now deserve a full and frank explanation of the precise circumstances that led to their traumatic experiences. It is deeply regrettable, therefore, that they feel their questions remain unanswered and are being met with obfuscation rather than honesty. I'd like to start, therefore, by asking the Minister for clarification on the handling of the request made by the Channon family back in November 2022, following on from Dr Bill Kirkup's report into their case for an independent review into the state of maternity services at Swansea Bay University Health Board. At the time, the Welsh Government assured the family that a review of this nature would take place, but evidence received from subsequent freedom of information requests is now casting doubt on the claim. A few weeks ago, the First Minister accounted for this apparent discrepancy by stating that the review had been undertaken as an assurance process rather than an inquiry process. Could the Minister therefore explain the practical differences between both processes?

Now, the Minister explained briefly just now some of the issues around the review and said that she was happy to publish a redacted report, but can the Minister explain why the Welsh Government deemed this course to be sufficient at the time, rather than an inquiry—or as we're hearing today, a review that is being conducted by the health board—which is coming over a year too late?

From a broader perspective, it is clear that staffing shortages have been a recurring concern at the health board. Sadly, Swansea bay are far from unique in this respect, as was noted by an investigation by the Royal College of Midwives in the summer. The number of NHS midwives in Wales remained virtually static between November 2016 and November 2022. There has also been a decline in the number of experienced midwives working in maternity services. This should, of course, be contextualised against the fact that the proportion of births to women aged 30 or over increased to 53 per cent in Wales by 2021. There has also been an increase in the number of pregnant women with additional health needs in Wales over recent years. It is for this reason that we fully endorse the RCM's call for the Welsh Government to develop a specific recruitment and retention strategy for the midwifery sector, and I'd be grateful if the Minister could give an indication as to whether the Government has given any consideration to this suggestion. Because as we've mentioned several times, the NHS is nothing without its staff, and this case illustrates the real-world consequences of not embedding this fundamental principle in every aspect of health policy. The health board have claimed that they alerted the Welsh Government through an early warning notice in late 2021 that maternity staffing levels had reached a critical level, and yet it appears that at a joint meeting of the Welsh Government and the health board in July of this year, midwifery staffing levels were still being described as 'critical' at Singleton Hospital, posing a risk to patient safety. So, what measures did the Welsh Government take when they were alerted in late 2021 of this issue, and why did they ultimately prove ineffectual? Can the Minister provide assurances now that the staffing levels are safe and in accordance with the Government's own formula?

Finally, just to mention that the statement sent out today by the health board's interim chief executive says that the board had decided to conduct an independent review because of, and I quote, 'sustained public scrutiny and comment'. What's exasperating about this is that the review isn't held because of failures in maternity services, but because of public scrutiny. The same seems to be the case in this instance, with the health Minister's announcement today. The services have been placed in escalated measures because of public scrutiny and media attention, not because of failures. So, can the Minister explain why they have been placed in escalated measures today and not earlier? Reopening the Neath centre, as the Minister said, is welcomed, and employing 35 more specialist staff is also welcomed, but why were they allowed to be in this sub-par position to begin with? Can the Minister explain what monitoring action the Government carried out over this period when it was allowed to fall into decline? Diolch.

16:25

Diolch yn fawr. So, I hope you'll see from the report that we are preparing to publish in relation to the delivery unit the number of incidents that were seen as a result of that investigation. So, I think what's important is to recognise that, actually, this is a situation, which we've been monitoring very carefully—. As I explained to Russell, the time when, actually, we thought, 'We need to get far more involved here', was when we saw the MBRRACE data—so, that was back in May—that's when we looked in detail at what needs to happen here. So, this has not been pushed necessarily by external events, this is the MBRRACE data that set out that mortality issues in relation to that particular department was something that we need to look at in terms of whether it's an outlier or not. That's when we started to really get far more involved. It's not that we weren't doing it before—we were monitoring it in data, as I set out in all the meetings. We literally had a meeting every single month to monitor what was going on. So, this is not something new that was happening.

You asked about the recruitment situation, and it's quite right, there were genuine issues in relation to recruitment in the midwifery department in Singleton. It is often the case that July is the most difficult time because that is the end of the academic year. So, what happens is that we're able to recruit a lot in September, but what you have is a lot of people retiring during the year and you can't recruit again until they start coming out of the universities the following year. So, there's always a problem with that, which is why we've tried to address that now and getting the—. Some of the universities in Wales are now taking two intakes a year, so we're trying to address that particular problem. But I can confirm to you that we now do have the correct number—that they do, in that health board, have the correct number of band 5 nurses and the correct number of band 6 nurses. There is one 15-hour vacancy for a band 7 midwife, which is actively being recruited to at this time. So, significant improvements in relation to recruitment. I hope that that will take pressure off the service, and the fact that they have prioritised this as a health board and put significant additional resources in I hope will help. But, obviously, in addition to what's been happening, the HIW report is also a key measure for us, and that is a real influencer for us in terms of when and how we intervene.

16:30

If men gave birth, we wouldn't be in this situation, because I know there are particular issues at Swansea bay health board, but there are some considerable challenges in all maternity services throughout the UK. We had a meeting of the nursing and midwifery cross-party group on 29 November, which Russell George and I were at, as were one or two other Members. The situation is really, really serious. We know we have the rise of gonorrhea and chlamydia, which James Evans raised a moment ago. We know we have fertilisers being chucked around on the land, which is causing infertility in men. And we have massive difficulties with obesity, which is apparently 50 per cent of the cohort that is being served in the Cardiff and the Vale hospital maternity unit, which itself causes massive difficulties medically for giving birth normally. We now have a 40 per cent caesarean rate across the UK, and that includes in Cardiff and the Vale, and I'm told that's the same in all the seven health boards, because they collaborate, effectively, together. We only have 1 per cent of mothers breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of babies' lives. These are terrible, terrible statistics.

My question is, looking at the terms of reference for this independent review, I can see that there is a consultant obstetrician. I can see that there's a neonatal person. There is no community midwifery lead. There's no breastfeeding lead on this independent review. So, did the Swansea bay health board consult you on its terms of reference and the composition of the members of this panel, because otherwise they won't be asking the right questions?

Thanks very much. Just so that I can follow up one of the questions that I don't think I responded to with Mabon about retention, there's been a huge amount of work done in relation to both nursing and midwifery retention. Obviously, that's part of our workforce plan and the RCN and the Royal College of Midwives have been involved and engaged very much in that. Part of that is about making sure that there is much more flex when it comes to hours of working and flexibility, so that we don't have to rely constantly on agency workers. I'm pleased to say that that's very much going in the right direction.

In response to the questions from Jenny, well, we're training more midwives than ever before and we're being very, very successful in terms of that training. The retention issue is the challenge now. That's why I think it's very good that those organisations are very much working with us. The caesarean rate—well, one of the things that Swansea is hoping to do is to restart the ability for people to have home births, which obviously suggests that it's not going to be a caesarean, so that's a positive, I think.

Just in relation to the independent review, this is the Swansea health board review. It is their review. They will be looking at it. We haven't had much of the detail. Literally, I spoke to the chair last night, who informed me that they were going to undertake this independent review. They will be setting out some of the detail in relation to that review later on this week, and they'll have an action plan, I assume, to respond to whatever the HIW report says on Friday.