Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd


The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

1. 1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs

[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.

The first item this afternoon is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs. The first question, Sian Gwenllian.

Community Energy Projects

1. Will the Minister make a statement on the role of community energy projects as part of the Welsh Government’s climate change strategy? OAQ(5)0014(ERA)[W]

Diolch. Climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to our future generations, and the Welsh Government is committed to reducing net Welsh emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050. Local energy projects, and reducing distances between generation and consumption more generally, will have a critical part to play in achieving this.

During the last Assembly term, my predecessor, Alun Ffred Jones, worked tirelessly in order to secure the success of two community hydro schemes as they started the process of providing an opportunity for the public to buy shares in these projects. I’m pleased to be able to say that these projects have been exceptionally successful, attracting a number of people in those communities to purchase shares in those projects, and Ynni Ogwen and YnNi Padarn Peris are now proceeding well. Ynni Anafon in Abergwyngregyn is also a community hydro scheme that has been exceptionally successful. But, with the Ynni Ogwen project particualrly, it did take two years for this scheme to gain its water abstraction licence from Natural Resources Wales, which goes way beyond the four months in their statutory guidelines to process such applications.

In an evidence session to the Environment and Sustainability Committee in November of last year, it was stated that it was a problem of staff and resources in Natural Resources Wales that accounted for this problem. Has the Minister carried out any assessment of the resources needed by NRW in order to achieve its functions in full? If so, are you content that they have the necessary resources to achieve that, and, if not, will you commit to carrying out such an assessment and report back to the Assembly?

Thank you. I was very pleased that we are supporting Ynni Ogwen in Bethesda. It was the first pilot of its kind in the UK, so I think there’s probably a lot we can learn from it, with it obviously being the first, and I know that they are trialling a model of encouraging local use of energy from distributed generation. You’ll appreciate I’m very new in the portfolio. I’ve met with Natural Resources Wales. Clearly, they receive significant funding from us and it’s up to them to sort out and ensure that they’ve got the staff to cover all parts of the project that they need. But it’s something that I’ll certainly discuss with them at my next meeting, which I think is next week, actually. But I do think, with it being a pilot, there is a lot we can learn from Ynni Ogwen in Bethesda.

Cabinet Secretary, the climate strategy also sets targets for improving energy efficiency within our homes. Part of the approach to achieving this includes external cladding of some of those buildings being widely used, but also on pre-1919 stock, which are mainly solid block or solid wall buildings. The external cladding, whilst providing energy efficiency for those properties, may also actually limit the breathing of those properties, which causes difficulties. Will you commission research on the impact of the external cladding on those types of buildings, so that we can ensure that it doesn’t give us long-term problems, but actually does give us long-term benefits?

I think it’s very important that we know if it’s going to give us difficulties or benefits, so, if that research hasn’t been done previously, I’ll certainly look to having that carried out.

Minister, I’ve asked you previously about the community benefits of renewable energy schemes. I’ll ask you again because it is a very important issue for my constituents. When a solar farm was being planned at Llanvapley between Monmouth and Abergavenny in my area, it was opposed by local people. After it was passed, they subsequently found that they’d lost the opportunity to lobby for the community benefits that are normally associated with such schemes, and the company involved has been largely non-responsive to their inquiries. I appreciate there is a non-devolved aspect to this, but can you tell me in what ways the Welsh Government is looking to strengthen these procedures and guidelines so that companies can’t avoid providing valuable community benefits when schemes are built in communities?

Yes, I think it’s really important, if we are going to ensure that we have these community projects, that people understand the benefits of them—that it’s very real to them, and that they are able to take part in it. So, I’ll certainly look into it. I think I’ve already started to look into it. When you first raised it with me, I asked officials. As you say, there is a reserved part to this, but, again, I’ll be very happy to make representations to the relevant Minister in the UK Government.

Flood Risk in Clwyd West

2. Will the Minister make a statement on action being taken to reduce flood risk in Clwyd West? OAQ(5)0005(ERA)

Thank you. Clwyd West benefited from more than £20 million of investment over the last Government, with flood risk reduction schemes successfully delivered at Colwyn Bay, Kinmel Bay and Rhuthin. We’re assessing possible schemes at Abergele, Llansannan and Mochdre and funding feasibility work is being carried out in other areas across Clwyd West.

Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary. I’m very grateful for the investment that was put by the previous Government into addressing flood risk issues in Clwyd West, and you will know that, on many occasions, I’ve welcomed that investment. I am concerned for those areas that you also listed, to say that they are currently under consideration, but I was disappointed not to hear any reference to the Old Colwyn promenade and flood defences, which of course do protect the very important, vital transport infrastructure of north Wales, particularly the A55 trunk road and the north Wales railway line. Can you give some assurances that you’re also considering the flood-risk management issues in that particular area, and what action are you taking to ensure that they’re going to be done in a timely manner, because they have been pelted by storms in recent years and that has severely undermined those defences?

No decisions have been made yet on funding for Old Colwyn. To take this forward, we need all partners to work together, so I think that’s something that you need to take on board too. I know my officials are working with Conwy County Borough Council, and it’s really important that we do bring everybody together to find an appropriate solution. So, as I say, if the Member can also assist in that way, that would be very helpful.

Cabinet Secretary, you’ll be aware that a number of parts of north-east Wales have been impacted by flash flooding after heavy and sustained rainfall in recent weeks. Just last week, I visited residents and business in Bagillt who’d been left devastated after flooding, and, worryingly, this is an area that’s been hit before in recent years. What discussions have you had with Flintshire County Council to take preventative steps in such flood-prone areas, what support is available for victims and will you consider visiting the areas?

Thank you, Hannah Blythyn, for that question. I know there was flash flooding in north-east Wales last week and I really do express my sympathy to those businesses and houses that did experience that flash flooding after the heavy rain last week. I know Bagillt was particularly affected, and my officials have been in discussions with Flintshire County Council and also the emergency services—we want to thank them because they did alleviate the immediate risk to some of the properties. I think there’s now going to be an investigation into how the flooding occurred following the heavy rain, and we need to understand what factors were involved so that we can take potential measures to reduce the risk of such flooding reoccurring.

Much of the funding invested in tackling the challenge of flooding comes from European sources, of course. Would you agree with me, therefore, Cabinet Secretary, that leaving the European Union would leave many of these communities even more exposed to the risk of flooding, particularly in areas such as Clwyd West?

Absolutely. I agree completely with Llyr Huws Gruffydd that to leave the European Union would certainly cut our funding significantly, within my portfolio particularly. I’ve asked officials to have a look at the impact, and it is absolutely significant. I absolutely agree with you.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

I now call on the party spokespeople to ask questions of the Cabinet Secretary, and the first is the UKIP spokesperson, Neil Hamilton.

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.

Bydd Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet yn ymwybodol mai un o’r problemau mawr mewn ardaloedd gwledig ac yn fy rhanbarth helaeth a gwasgaredig i yng Nghanolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru yn arbennig yw’r cwestiwn dadleuol ynglŷn â chyflymder lawrlwytho band eang. Mae gennyf etholwyr sydd wedi ysgrifennu ataf gyda chyfraddau nodweddiadol o 1 Mbps, o gymharu â 15 Mbps sef cyfartaledd y DU. Rwy’n meddwl tybed a allai Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet grynhoi pa gamau y mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn eu cymryd ar hyn o bryd i wella cyflymder lawrlwytho band eang mewn ardaloedd gwledig.

This is a difficulty for certain parts of the rural areas, and I think it’s about improving the infrastructure for those areas. I will be working closely with my Cabinet colleagues and other Government colleagues to ensure that we get that high-speed broadband in rural areas as quickly as possible.

Forgive me for observing, Cabinet Secretary, that that was rather short on detail in that response. What we are dealing with here are long-term cases of promises that have not been kept by the companies involved. I have a constituent who’s written to me from Abergorlech, in the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency, who was promised an upgrade to fibre broadband in 2015; it didn’t happen. He was then promised that it would be by June of this year; it hasn’t happened. He’s recently been told that he’ll have to wait now until at least the spring of next year before there’s any prospect of improvement. So, I wonder what practical action the Welsh Government can take to put pressure on the companies who are responsible for rolling out broadband in these areas?

I obviously can’t comment on that individual case. The Minister responsible for broadband has just heard your comments. If you’d like to write to her about that specific case, I’m sure that she can chase it up with the company.

One of the big problems here is that Openreach has effectively got a stranglehold on the infrastructure, and I suppose that this all goes back ultimately to the way British Telecom was privatised many years ago. [Interruption.]

I think the honourable Member should be gracious in accepting my mea culpa. But, of course, 30 years ago, we couldn’t predict the future with the certainty that Members have today about the future of the European Union. But, nevertheless, where there was a mistake all those years ago, perhaps we should now reconsider those options, and I wonder if the Welsh Government would take that on board as well.

Well, again, I’m sure that the Minister has heard you. I know, in my own constituency, there are other companies providing it, but, as I said, if you’d like to write to the Minister responsible, Julie James, I’m sure you’ll get the answer.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, there’s another important team that’s been in Paris, prior to the football team, which we were congratulating and wishing well earlier on, and that’s the team led by the former Minister that went to the climate change negotiations in Paris prior to Christmas last year. In light of those discussions, does this Government, your Government, consider itself committed, if not legally, at least morally, to achieving the targets set in the Paris agreement?

Thank you for that confirmation. Of course, that agreement does set the course in taking carbon emissions to zero by the second half of this century and to keep the increase in carbon emissions at 1.5 per cent until that point. Now, during last week, we heard news that we’re about to pass the symbolic but important threshold of 400 parts per million carbon emissions, which shows that the world as a whole is a long way from achieving any target. The Environment (Wales) Act 2016, which your Government was responsible for in the previous Assembly, sets out a target to reduce carbon emissions by 2050. Do you still consider this target to be adequate in order to meet the ambitions of the Paris accord?

Currently, I do. As you say, the environment Act sets a target of at least 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. I think it’s something that we need to watch very closely and I’m committed to doing that.

Thank you for that confirmation, but I do think that we need to keep these targets under review, because an 80 per cent reduction target may not be enough in fact to contribute to that overall Paris ambition. But one of the key ways in which we in Wales could contribute to our own targets and world targets is through better developed renewable energy. We’ve already heard a little about that from north Wales. Would it not be better, therefore, if we had control over energy projects under the Wales Bill without any reference to thresholds whatsoever? So, for example, we could give better support and confidence to exciting and fantastic ideas such as the Swansea bay barrage, and I declare an interest as a community shareholder in that project.

Yes, I think it would, and certainly you’ll be aware of the representations that the First Minister has made to the UK Government in relation to this, and we’ll await with interest what comes now from Westminster.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Cabinet Secretary, I wish you well with your new portfolio. I look forward to shadowing you in this important area of public policy. I’m afraid I have to start on a sour note, unfortunately. I have noticed that air quality is not listed as one of your responsibilities on the official Welsh Government website—not listed specifically; you’ll argue that it’s there generically, of course—while, for instance, noise policy, which is very important, is there specifically. Does this indicate a lacklustre approach on air quality on the part of the Welsh Government?

I’m very disappointed that you’ve started on such a sour note. It is absolutely my responsibility and I can assure David Melding that improving air quality is absolutely a key objective for the Welsh Government.

I’m sure you’re as concerned as I am, Cabinet Secretary, about the growing scientific evidence that diesel particulates pose a very significant risk to public health. We’re used to talking about the risk of passive smoking, for instance, but these particulates probably carry a graver danger to a wide range of the population. What measures are planned to improve air quality in the light of this evidence?

Well this is part of the whole thing that I’m looking at in relation to air quality, and you’ll be aware that local authorities obviously have duties under the local air quality management regime, and I know in certain areas I’ve been lobbied by Assembly Members, very early in the portfolio, around particular areas in particular local authorities. What I’ve done is ask officials to monitor local authorities very carefully, to make sure they are fulfilling their duties to produce an air quality action plan, so that we can have a look at what specific measures each of them are doing, and obviously the scientific research that we’re getting now in relation to diesel will form part of that.

Cabinet Secretary, I’m glad to note that, but do you think, in a more practical sense, it’s time that in Wales, and in Britain generally, we face up to some of the practical consequences of, for instance, the school run? I think we’re of the same generation, and in my day it was only the ill or the mildly delinquent that were taken to school by private transport. This has a big effect, because it’s children who are going to school, it’s these diesel monsters that are driving lots of other kids there, and they’re then inhaling these dreadful pollutants. We need to do something about it, because it’s not normal for this mass of the school population to be driven to and from school.

I absolutely agree. I remember walking at least, I think, about a mile and a half each way, both to primary and high school. You’re right, we need to have a look at what we can do to encourage people not to use their vehicles, and to make sure that we have the cycle routes that are needed, and to encourage more walking, and that obviously fits in with a healthier lifestyle and well-being as well.

TB in Cattle

3. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s plans to address TB in cattle? OAQ(5)0002(ERA)[W]

Diolch. I will be making a statement on my plans to address TB in cattle in the autumn. Any future measures will build on the existing eradication programme and take a science-based approach, tackling all sources of infection to continue the long-term downward trend in incidence of the disease.

Thank you for your answer. I was there last night to listen intently to your speech at the British Veterinary Association’s event. You spoke there about your wish to ensure that there is a comprehensive programme to tackle TB in cattle, and the impression, certainly, was that all options were very much on the table. Could you confirm to the Assembly this afternoon that you’re not ruling out the possibility of introducing an element of badger culling as part of that strategy?

Well, you know we’ve had a very comprehensive TB eradication programme in place since 2008. I am absolutely committed to delivering a science-led approach to the eradication of bovine TB. I want to see an eradication of bovine TB—I think that the statistics that were published last week show that we have seen an improving situation across Wales over the past six years. I’m sure you’ll appreciate I’m having a great deal of information and advice on this issue, and I will make a statement in the autumn.

The Cabinet Secretary will be aware that £3.7 million has been spent since 2011 vaccinating badgers in the intensive action area in my constituency, and clearly the vaccination policy has failed. Now, the latest scientific report shows an increase of 78 per cent in the number of cattle slaughtered in Pembrokeshire due to bovine TB. Given the increase in cattle slaughtered in my area, can the Cabinet Secretary tell us what discussions she intends to have with farmers in Pembrokeshire? And I would urge her to bring forward a statement before the autumn, because farmers want to know what the Welsh Government’s policy is on this issue.

Well, I think farmers are very aware of what our policy is on this issue. I’ve already met with farmers. [Interruption.] As I said, we’re very committed to delivering a science-led approach to the eradication of bovine TB. The statistics were out last week: they’ve shown an improving situation across Wales over the past six years. The number of new TB incidents has substantially declined since 2009. We’ve got the review of the strategy by the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer, and I’m expecting draft proposals to have the strategy refreshed and a new strategy later this month, and I will make a statement in the autumn.

The Physical Environment

4. Will the Minister make a statement on the importance the Welsh Government places on ensuring that the physical environment of Wales is accessible to all? OAQ(5)0008(ERA)

Thank you. Through the planning and building control systems, the Welsh Government seeks to ensure new developments are accessible to all members of society. To stress the importance of access for all, the Welsh Government has recently provided funding for training on this issue, which was attended by 160 built environment professionals.

Thank you, Minister. Natural Resources Wales has stated, regarding the tree felling on the seven-mile Cwmcarn forest scenic drive, which temporarily closed in November 2014, that this is a long-term operation that could take between three and four years to complete. Will the Cabinet Secretary reiterate the Welsh Government’s absolute, unequivocal determination that one of the natural wonders of the Welsh environment will be a priority for the Welsh Government, with priority put on ensuring that the drive will once again become available to the public?

The Welsh Government is very aware of the value of the Cwmcarn forest drive to the local communities and to visitors. Both Natural Resources Wales and Caerphilly County Borough Council have set up a working group to look at the long-term opportunities there, including how walking and cycling routes, and campsites, can be sustainably funded in future.

We all recognise the benefit of increasing access to the countryside for recreation and to improve the health and well-being of the public. However, groups such as the Countryside Alliance have warned that unrestricted access to the countryside could have an environmental impact on river habitats, damage lands and limit landowners’ ability to manage and protect their land. Minister, I’ve got a friend who lives just outside my region’s boundary, Dr Randhawa, and he’s maintaining all the paths that go through his land. The council never pay a penny towards it, but, always, he is having a problem with the local council and red tape. So, could you please, Cabinet Secretary, agree that any proposal to open access to the countryside must take into account the concern of those who live and work in, and manage the countryside in Wales?

I think it’s about getting a balance. It’s about people having access, it’s about the environment, it’s about animal health and welfare. You’ll be aware that, in the previous Government, we had a Green Paper about access. I will be looking at the recommendations and the consultation responses that we had in relation to that before making any further decisions.

Cardiff’s Local Development Plan

5. How will Cardiff’s local development plan improve the local environment? OAQ(5)0006(ERA)

Thank you. Cardiff’s local development plan will have a central role in shaping place and enhancing quality of life through the provision of well-designed, high-quality buildings and public space. Well-planned public transport, cycling and walking routes delivered through the LDP enable sustainable access to jobs, schools and shops.

Okay. I think the reality is that the plan forecasts huge increases in traffic, there is mass building on greenfield sites, and most people consider it to be an environmental disaster. The question to you is: how do you think that the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 could be used to improve the local environment in relation to the local development plan?

Well, obviously, Cardiff have brought forward their LDP. I know it is a very fine balance for local authorities to make arrangements for housing and services for a growing population, and protecting the points that you’ve just raised. I think the future generations Act is there, and we can very clearly see the goals, and it’s up to my officials to make sure that they monitor all the LDPs that are coming in. We’re still awaiting, I think, six across Wales, to make sure that they do fit in with the goals of the Act.

Cabinet Secretary, the LDP process obviously causes great controversy in many areas and is also the plank that is used to develop, stimulate and regenerate large areas as well. But, one of the biggest bones of contention in my own electoral region of South Wales Central is around the housing projections that councils use to arrive at their LDP allocations. Those projections come from the Welsh Government. In your initial view of these projections that are provided on behalf of the Welsh Government to the local authorities, what is your feeling about taking this process forward? Are you happy that those projections are robust, or do they need to be revisited and, ultimately, re-evaluated in the light of some of the representations that have been made by councils in my own electoral region of South Wales Central?

Well, the LDP is a matter for each individual local authority. I want them to have adopted LDPs in place and I think it’s six local authorities that haven’t. I’ve asked them to get on with it. If we don’t have those LDPs in place, as I know from my own constituency, you have these developers coming in with plans that really don’t fit in with what the local population wants or needs. So, I think it’s really important that the local development plan is in place. As I say, it’s not for me to set it out, or for any of my Cabinet colleagues; it’s for the local authority to do it themselves. What the LDP does is provide that policy framework to ensure that the local authority delivers the community infrastructure that’s required.

Public Subsidies

6. Will the Minister make a statement on the importance of public subsidies to Welsh farmers? OAQ(5)0009(ERA)

Yes. Common agriculture policy payments of £350 million each year play a vitally important role in maintaining the viability of Welsh farms and of realising the Welsh Government and the industry’s shared vision of a prosperous and resilient agricultural industry in Wales.

I’m sure the Minister will agree with me that subsidy has been an important element in farmers’ incomes throughout my entire lifetime, both before we went into the common market, as we then called it, and of course since, and that if the country votes tomorrow to leave, then public subsidies will continue at least at their present level because we pay in £2 to get only £1 back. We had a perfectly good system of subsidy based on deficiency payments before 1973, which supported farm incomes whilst having cheap food for the people.

Can I introduce you to some facts, Minister? Can I refer you to an article in the ‘Agricultural History Review’, entitled ‘Measuring Regional Variation in Farm Support: Wales and the UK, 1947-72’? The conclusion of this article was this: previous pre-EU farm subsidies penalised Wales when farm size was smaller on average than in the UK as a whole. The fact is that the Welsh farmer has more in common with farmers throughout the rest of the EU than he or she has with a bunch of right-wing privatising Tories who are only interested in self-aggrandisement and their own self-promotion. It is better for the Welsh farmer to stay in the EU. That is the conclusion from the president of the National Farmers Union today, here in this Assembly, and also the Farmers Union of Wales. I hope that we, in the last 24 hours, will work hard to provide the assurances that the farming community needs that we will look after their interests, but as part of a reformed European Union.

I absolutely agree with the Member. I was at the event with the NFU and I’ve met with both the NFU and the FUW, who have sent out a very positive message to their members that they should vote to remain in the EU tomorrow. We know that the single market is absolutely critical to our farming and food sectors and I think that the risks associated with the potential exit are significant. We really don’t know, and what we are hearing from some politicians, as I say, is just supposition and we know that 81 per cent of the profit of Welsh farming businesses is derived from the EU subsidy payments that they receive.

Cabinet Secretary, the previous Welsh Government’s decision to move to the 15 per cent modulation rate has made it much tougher for some Welsh farmers to compete in the marketplace against food producers from other countries. Given these circumstances, what is the Welsh Government doing specifically to ensure that farmers get the opportunity to directly access these funds under the rural development plan, to offset the loss of earnings under pillar 1?

Well, actually, you know, I’m just in the first month of the portfolio and I think they’re actually getting back more than the 15 per cent. We are in the process of setting up the small grants scheme and the farmers are very happy with what we’re doing in relation to that.

The Rural Development Plan

7. Will the Minister provide an update on the rural development plan? OAQ(5)0012(ERA)[W]

The Welsh Government rural communities rural development programme 2014-20 is supporting rural communities and the economy with a combination of Welsh Government and EU funding. Fifteen schemes have opened already and Glastir small grants will open on 27 June. We are continuing to work with stakeholders to refine and develop the programme.

Thank you. It was good to see the NFU here in the Senedd today outlining their vision for the industry. But, what the NFU, like farmers across Wales, are looking for is not simply warm words of support from Government, but action too. Now, there was a pledge made by the previous Minister that the new rural development plan could be transformational in terms of the rural economy and the agricultural industry. Two years in to the programme, having only a handful of projects approved is a long way from being transformational. Farmers in my constituency of Anglesey, and farmers across Wales, are still waiting. So, when is this transformation going to happen and will the Minister share her vision on the potential for the new RDP?

I think you’re absolutely right. We do need to see much more of a transformational change, and we need to do that in partnership with the farmers. Certainly, from my discussions with the FUW and NFU, they’re very up for this. I do think that they want to see some speed in relation to going forward. One of the things I have discussed with them is the strategic initiatives, and to have those strategic initiatives running right across the RDP to make sure we’re improving skills for instance. I also think we need to look at how we can help them with the sustainability and the resilience of their businesses, and to look at the business side of it, because I think farmers, certainly in my very early discussions with them, are perhaps not the best people to run a business. They haven’t that kind of business perspective, yet they want to work with us in relation to that. This is just some of the farmers I’ve spoken to early in the portfolio—I’m not saying all farmers at all. But this is the thing they’re saying to me that they want assistance with, and that’s where I think we can help, with strategic initiatives across the RDP.

Minister, I would endorse the comments of the original speaker on this about the speed that the money is being delivered out of the rural development plan into the various schemes. I’d be grateful if you could enlarge on some of your comments in the last answer to say: are you satisfied with the speed that is being developed behind the rural development plan to create that transformational agenda that you talk about? Because many of the sentiments people do support, but there is a huge logjam, I would suggest to you, in the system of processing applications to the RDP, and, above all, people actually accessing the money in the first place. So, what are your initial assessments, given you’ve now been in post several weeks?

Well, it only won approval in May of last year, so it’s only just over a year. We have opened 15 schemes: I opened a further scheme last week. We’ve got over £260 million of funding committed across all sectors. So, I think there is, as I say, immense potential for the sector. I want to really work on those strategic initiatives across. I suppose we can always do things more quickly, but I don’t want to see logjams and I want to see that money out there as quickly as possible, and I’ve pledged to do that.

Air Quality

8. Will the Minister outline measures the Welsh Government is taking to ensure local authorities are maintaining levels of air quality? OAQ(5)0010(ERA)

Thank you. Improving local air quality is a key objective for the Welsh Government. We support local authorities in the implementation of their duties under the Environment Act 1995, which requires them to monitor air quality and implement action plans to improve it in areas affected by high levels of pollution.

Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. The A472 in Crumlin: according to Government data, the levels of nitrogen dioxide here are the highest recorded in the UK outside London. The levels are exceeded in England only by a similar monitor on Marylebone Road in central London, and according to Asthma UK Cymru, 314,000 people have asthma in Wales, including 59,000 children: almost one child in 10. A report from NHS Wales and the Welsh Government, published in 2015, said the percentage of patients registered with their GP for asthma and COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was greater than in England, and there had been a slight increase in recent years. What urgent action can the Welsh Government take to work with Caerphilly County Borough Council and other stakeholders to lift the scourge of air pollution?

Thank you. My officials have sought assurances from Caerphilly County Borough Council in relation to the A472 air quality management area near Crumlin that you mention, concerning what action they’re going to take to improve the local air quality. The council are planning a steering group meeting, which you’re probably aware of next month, and they’re going to get input from local groups and local residents, which I think is really important. They’re then going to have an air quality action plan developed. That will also include a list of traffic management options for the area to measure the air quality in the area. The council has given us an initial date of November for when this will be implemented, but I’ve asked officials to monitor that very carefully to make sure they do keep to that timeline.

The Port Talbot peripheral distributor road, opened to relieve local traffic demand on the M4, has been operational for about three years now. What data has the Welsh Government received from the local authority, or extracted from its own work during the junction 41 experiment, about changes to movements of traffic and air quality in particular? Can you tell me what permanent changes have been identified to air quality and are those influential in your final decision on what’s going to happen to junction 41?

I’m afraid I don’t have those data to hand, but I will be happy to write to the Member with that.

Following on from that question, obviously the air quality in Port Talbot, Cabinet Secretary, has been recognised to be one of the worst in Wales. In fact, a World Health Organization report recently published said that it was the worst in the UK for some particulates, and definitely one of the worst in the UK. I understand the issues we have. We have a heavy industrial area, we have a narrow coastal strip with the M4 driving through it, and they do impact on levels of pollution and particulates, but we need to do more to actually minimise any increase.

I understand the Welsh Government has actually commissioned work by the University of Birmingham and by King’s College London to look at the implications of air quality. Could you make a statement on the outcomes of that research and can you also ensure that the issues about the air quality in Port Talbot can be improved, because we are facing some of the challenges ahead of us?

Again, I’m sorry I don’t have the research information in front of me, but I will write to you.

Preventing Flooding in the Cynon Valley

9. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s approach to preventing flooding in the Cynon Valley? OAQ(5)0007(ERA)

Thank you. I will be making a statement next week on flood and coastal-risk management for the whole of Wales. Flood-risk management plans have recently been published by Rhondda Cynon Taf and Natural Resources Wales that set out the detailed approach to managing the flood risk in the Cynon Valley.

Thank you. The risk of flooding to properties in Abercynon, Aberaman, Cilfynydd, Cwmdu and Ynysboeth in my constituency has been reduced through Rhondda Cynon Taf’s multimillion-pound flood alleviation programme, funded by the council’s capital programme, Welsh Government money and European regional development funding. Do you agree with me that these schemes to protect homes and families from the devastation caused by flooding could be at risk if we weren’t in the EU?

Yes, you’re absolutely right. These locations have benefited from contributions from EU funding for flood-risk management schemes. They’ve supplemented our own funding too, and they’ve enabled us to increase the amount of properties that are protected in Wales from flooding.

Cabinet Secretary, the improvement and maintenance of culverts are key to effective flood defence, and if anyone in valley areas like Cynon Valley has seen how fast those water courses can move, it is truly terrifying. There’s a lot we can do in terms of maintaining culverts through the use of new technology and cameras. This is something that we must do, with great vigilance, and it does, of course, require extensive investment.

Yes, I absolutely agree. It’s something, as we look at what schemes we’ll be funding over the coming years, that we can have a look at—that specific issue. There’s always technology and research that shows us new ways of doing it, and it’s really important that we have that flexibility to be able to do that.

Increasing Biodiversity

10. Will the Minister make a statement outlining what strategy the Welsh Government will follow to increase biodiversity in Wales? OAQ(5)0011(ERA)

Thank you. The nature recovery plan for Wales sets out our objectives and actions to achieve our ambition to reverse the decline in biodiversity by 2020. This will contribute to the nation’s well-being and the sustainable management of our natural resources.

Cabinet Secretary, you’ll be aware that the Wildlife Trusts recently launched a species champions strategy. I and other Assembly Members are championing species in Wales. The water vole—[Interruption.]—is my particular species, but many others will be helping with the efforts. But would you agree with me, Cabinet Secretary, that we do need to protect our biodiversity and these species, including the water vole, on the Gwent levels, and one aspect of that is engagement with local people and local children? Schools are very much captivated by the water voles and it does lead to a greater appreciation of biodiversity and nature. So, I think there are many aspects of Welsh Government strategy that can be furthered through this scheme.

I was very pleased to see that last week. They offered me the hedgehog, but I decided that I would be champion for all of Wales’s biodiversity. [Interruption.] I thought perhaps it was a bit prickly. [Laughter.] But I absolutely do support the role of species champions. I think it’s a really good initiative, because it will highlight the importance of species, their habitat needs, and the absolutely essential part they play in healthy, functioning ecosystems.

I think this is part and parcel of a broader approach that we need to have in relation to the sustainable management of our resources, and you’re absolutely right about schools and young children and teenage children. I think you only have to look at the way that recycling—. I think that went into schools very early on, and now for those children, as they’ve grown up, it’s just part of their everyday lives. So, if we can start them young, I think that’s a very good idea, and the Minister for education is in the Chamber and is hearing this, so I’m sure she will take that on board, too.

As the species champion for the red squirrel in Wales, I’m delighted that one of the largest populations of red squirrels is in the Clocaenog forest in my constituency. You will be aware that that forestry is managed by a taxpayer-funded organisation, Natural Resources Wales. What work are you doing to ensure that, where there is publicly owned land, it does promote biodiversity and, in particular, the red squirrel population?


I was just going to say that, in my day, that was called Tufty. I think you raise a very important point, and, certainly, I will be meeting very regularly with Natural Resources Wales on forestry. It’s hugely important to our country, so I’m very happy to take that forward.

Slurry Spill

11. Will the Minister provide an update on the slurry spill on a tributary of the afon Taf in Carmarthenshire in May that killed 230 fish? OAQ(5)0016(ERA)

Thank you. This was a serious water pollution incident caused by an unknown quantity of farm slurry entering the watercourse from a local farm, resulting in 380 dead fish. Natural Resources Wales is considering formal enforcement action following a review of the facts of the case and public interest factors.

I thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary, and, as you say, there was a large number of fish estimated to have been killed. But this is only one, or the latest, incident on that section of the water, and it isn’t the first time that such an incident has occurred. There was another incident of around 10,000 gallons of slurry spilled into a stream in the Towy valley in March 2015. I of course do welcome that Natural Resources Wales officers are investigating the source of the slurry and also that the pollution has now stopped, but my question to you is: what assessment has been made, or will be made, as to the impact on the long-term recovery of that stretch of water? And will you also be able to confirm what work is being done to reduce the likelihood of similar slurry spillages occurring in the future, and also to ensure that those who do damage our wonderful environment are actually held accountable for doing so?

Thank you. The nitrous oxide in fish, we know, will have a future impact on egg counts, but it is hoped that the river will recover naturally over time. I mentioned that Natural Resources Wales are working with the farmer to implement pollution prevention measures—to improve the infrastructure at the farm to reduce the likelihood of further pollution incidents. They have collected evidence in response to the incident, and, as I say, they are investigating and deciding what further action will be taken. I think it’s really important that we do work with the industry to develop a programme to ensure that everybody’s aware of their responsibilities. We also need to look to see if there’s anything that we need to do here, whether it be legislative or non-legislative, to assist, going forward.

Question 12, OAQ(5)0004(ERA)[R], not asked.

Traffic Pollution in Rural Areas

13. Will the Minister make a statement on levels of traffic pollution in rural areas? OAQ(5)0013(ERA)

Thank you. Generally, rural areas are not impacted by significant levels of pollution from traffic, due to the smaller volumes of traffic in rural locations. A small number of rural towns have elevated levels of pollutants generated by traffic. Local authorities implement air-quality action plans to reduce pollution in these locations.

In areas in my constituency, such as Caerleon and Marshfield, they’ve seen an increase in the number of HGVs driving through their areas. These roads are often unsuitable for this sort of traffic, yet they’re often used as shortcuts. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of such traffic on the levels of air pollution and noise pollution in these sorts of areas?

Well, obviously, the roads in question are the responsibility of the local authority. I know that officials have been talking to Newport City Council, who have recently commissioned a traffic and air quality assessment within Caerleon. What they want to do is identify traffic-related measures, which, if they could be implemented, would improve the air quality, and potentially noise also. I’ve asked officials to stay in close contact with them to take it forward.

2. 2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children

[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.

We now move to item 2, questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children. The first question this week is from Adam Price.

The Future of Community Regeneration Initiatives

1. What assessment has the Minister made of the future of community regeneration initiatives in the event of the UK leaving the European Union? OAQ(5)0013(CC)

I thank the Member for his question. People and communities across Wales are clearly benefiting from UK membership of the European Union, through jobs that rely on free access to the single market and through guaranteed EU funding. Those jobs and the £500 million communities in Wales receive every year from the EU will be at risk if the UK were to leave the European Union.

The Minister will be aware that Wales received £2.4 billion from the structural funds in the current period, some quarter of the total for the United Kingdom, and more than all of the other devolved assemblies—London, Scotland and Northern Ireland—put together. Would the Secretary agree with me that this reflects one of the core values of the European project, namely, solidarity between the nations and regions of the European Community, to use its original name, and this compares extremely unfavourably with the attitude of UK Governments, be that Thatcher’s Government, which actually removed regional policy as one of its first actions in 1979, or the Blair Government, which rejected match funding for the Objective 1 programme until this Senedd rebelled by removing Alun Michael? Wouldn’t it be a self-destructive act of foolishness for this small European nation to put any faith in the mandarins of Whitehall or the masters at Westminster to look after the future of our communities?

I think the people of the UK and the people of Wales should be very clear tomorrow—the Welsh Government has been very clear in our view in terms of that being part of the EU is vital for Wales’s prosperity. Our assessment is that, if the UK votes to leave, Welsh communities will be worse off. Communities need business investment and a skilled workforce to thrive. So, let us not underestimate the power of the vote tomorrow to remain in to secure the investment and future of Wales—it is an important one.

Cabinet Secretary, many community regeneration projects within my constituency have been supported by EU funding, from Briton Ferry and Sandfields up to the Afan valley. They vary from supporting people moving back into work to building centres for community activities. These have been essential to strengthening those communities. However, many now face further challenges due to austerity from the UK Government, and the loss of EU funding will hit our most vulnerable communities even harder. Do you agree with me that the vote to remain tomorrow is a vote for helping our communities to take a more positive step forward?

Indeed. Communities across Wales are benefiting from millions of EU funds—over £500 million annually. The regeneration of many towns and communities across Wales is being supported—Pontypridd, Llanelli, Rhyl, just to name a few. The EU-backed Swansea innovation campus is expected to create £10 billion of economic impact in the south-west region in the next 10 years. All will have been put at risk unnecessarily if we leave tomorrow.

Diolch. First time I’ve been described as a question, but I’m very happy to be described by such an eloquent person as yourself.

The European Commission planned to allocate structural funds for the period of 2014-20 to Wales, including a 27 per cent cut, indicating a lack of knowledge of Wales. The UK Government allocated some of the funding from England to rebalance some of that shortfall, but west Wales and the Valleys still suffered a 16 per cent cut, indicating, or demonstrating, perhaps, that the Commission’s lack of knowledge shows that Wales would be better out of the UK, with the future funding for these types of projects determined by politicians accountable to the Welsh electorate on our island in London and Cardiff. How, therefore, do you respond to the statement by Labour MP John Mann—hardly an extreme right-winger—that, if you’re a Labour voter, you can proudly vote on Labour values to leave the European Union?

I can see clearly why you’re sitting so close to your colleagues in UKIP. Let me tell the Member—let me remind the Member of the constituency he represents in Ynys Môn. Let me just remind him that £10 million of EU funding for the skills and employment and employees project will help 500 businesses and 7,000 people across north Wales. Did he know that EU funds helped employees from Wylfa power station gain new skills and find new employment opportunities? The Member is putting all of that at risk and he should remember that when he goes to the ballot box.

The Defence of Reasonable Chastisement

2. Will the Minister make a statement on legislation relating to the removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement? OAQ(5)0012(CC)[W]

I thank the Member for his question. The First Minister has announced our intention to bring forward legislation to remove the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’, which will confirm our long-standing commitment to children’s rights. Discussions will take place with the opposition and the proposed legislation will be subject to the legislative process, including consultation with parents and stakeholders.

Thank you for that response, Secretary. You will know, from the experience that we had in the last Assembly, when I believe the majority, across parties, wanted to remove this defence, that that wasn’t achievable in the way the Government went about it and the way in which legislation works here. Whilst I accept entirely that the Government has to—well, not has to, but that, in this context, it would be appropriate that the Government should—propose legislation for discussion, how can the Government build that cross-party consensus to ensure that any legislation is successful and that we can deliver on this commitment?

Of course, I think it’s really important that the Member raises the issue of engaging with stakeholders. I will be starting discussions with opposition parties in order for a pathway to be created in order for a successful Bill to be taken forward. It’s equally as important for the political groups to come together on this as best they can, but also parenting, and stakeholders using their knowledge and skills as well to help us in the process.

I welcome very much that the Government is going to move forward on this legislation on a cross-party basis and I’m sure that we’ll be able to get consensus to bring this in. Could the Cabinet Secretary tell us whether he believes there are any reservations in the draft Wales Bill that would affect the competence of the Welsh Government to remove the defence of reasonable punishment?

I thank Julie Morgan, a long-standing campaigner on this very issue, and I’m looking forward to working with her too. If competence is assessed on the basis of the amendments that will be made to the Government of Wales Act 2006 by the Wales Bill as currently drafted, the argument that provision about smacking children is outside competence because it amends the criminal law is likely to no longer be an issue. There are other issues relevant to competence, such as compatibility with the European convention on human rights, however, which will be unchanged. These are all complex issues in legal terms but we are working through them and working with partners to achieve the positive outcome the Member wishes.

Cabinet Secretary, do you accept that many parents who love their children use, sparingly, reasonable chastisement as a means to discipline their children, and that the excessive use of other forms of discipline can also be equally abusive to children when they are not used correctly? What action are you taking as a Government to ensure that positive parenting skills are something that are focused upon and expounded across the nation to give parents who use reasonable chastisement the opportunity to use other tools in the box? I know that there’s been some work on this in the past and I very much hope that you’ll be looking to expand that positive parenting programme to all parts of Wales in the future.

Let’s be very clear here: this isn’t about legislation to criminalise parents. What we want to do here is give people the opportunity to have positive parenting experiences. We will, as Government, provide a package of tools that will encourage parents to use Families First, Flying Start, the ‘Give it time’ campaign—there are many others—which we’re trying to build competency around to give parents confidence in the way that their families grow up. Aside from that, we will also introduce legislation on the defence of reasonable chastisement. It is a package of tools that we will come to the Chamber with, and not one or the other.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

I call on the party spokespeople to ask questions of the Cabinet Secretary. First of all, the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Bethan Jenkins.

Thank you and good luck in your portfolio, Minister. I think it’s important that we have an objective view at this particular stage as to the nature of your portfolio, especially with regard to the poverty agenda. There was a very damning report a year ago, and also a report in the last term, by the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, with regard to the lack of robust data in relation to some of your anti-poverty schemes. While nobody could argue with the nature and the thought processes behind those particular schemes, it’s very important for us to understand how you analyse those data so you can see, moving forward, how successful those projects are. Minister, can you tell us, after your few weeks in this position, what you plan do to in relation to data and how you will communicate that effectively to Assembly Members?

I thank the Member for her question and message of goodwill, and likewise to the Member who will be shadowing me. Poverty is now the responsibility of all Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers within Government, and we all take a collective role. I have specific issues around poverty with communities, and I will be working with my team in Government to resolve some of those problems. I will be making a statement shortly about the principles of this department and what we are trying to achieve. I do believe that tackling poverty is very challenging for any Government. In the 17 years that we have been in power here, there are things that we can mitigate and try to mitigate against, but we don’t hold all the levers in terms of the challenging tasks ahead. I’m trying to concentrate my portfolio now specifically on two areas: one economic regeneration, and one well-being. The well-being aspect of this is around tackling ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, because I believe that if we can fix communities at an early age—early intervention with young people—we have a much better opportunity long term. But I will come back to the Chamber with more detail, and I’m happy to share more detail with the Member over a private meeting if the Member would like to have that.

Thank you for that answer. Obviously, I’m not against other Ministers having poverty within their portfolios, but we must make sure that there is, ultimately, one Minister who will be responsible. We have had experiences in committee where we have asked various Ministers questions on poverty, and they have always potentially not answered those questions because it has not been within their particular brief.

My second question comes to the economic aspect of your answer. The previous Minister, Lesley Griffiths, said that she had been focusing Communities First more on getting people back into jobs. While, again, I believe that that’s noble, we need to see how that is measured and how those targets are then followed through to make sure that these schemes are being appropriated in the most effective way to get people in our Communities First communities back into work. Can you tell us how, potentially, you will refocus Communities First in relation to that particular agenda, moving forward, and how you will encourage other parties to take part in that conversation?

We have many anti-poverty programmes and skills programmes and I’m working with the Minister responsible for that. One of our commitments is for 100,000 new apprenticeships, working with the Communities First programme and Communities for Work. Communities for Work is being put at high risk because of the referendum tomorrow. If we leave the EU, what happens to that, in terms of the people who are on those programmes, and programmes for the future? I do have statistics for the programmes we held in the last Government, and I’d be happy to write to the Member and place them in the Library, Presiding Officer.

Thank you for that answer. The third question, and I’m sure you are very much aware of this—. I had a Bill on financial inclusion and education in the last Assembly term, and I worked closely with the former Minister and a group working on new ideas and a new strategy for financial inclusion and education. Can I ask you what is happening with that crucial work? I had a representative on that group. Will that representative continue to work with me and with you, as Minister? What do you intend to do in that regard because it is such an important agenda?

Financial inclusion and financial literacy is something that we are seeking to build into the curriculum programme. I will be working with the education Minister to see how we can advance that in the weeks to come. Perhaps the Member would also like to write to the education Minister in terms of how she may be able to help her bring that to the forefront in our schools and colleges across Wales.

Diolch. Last December’s report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, ‘State of the Nation 2015: Social Mobility and Child Poverty in Great Britain’, chaired by Alan Milburn, a greatly respected politician, found that absolute child poverty in Wales—children living in Wales are more likely to live in persistent poverty, and the number of children in workless households in Wales were the highest in Great Britain. It made three particular recommendations to the Welsh Government. How do you respond, bearing in mind your response to the spokesperson for Plaid Cymru that you are the single point of contact on this issue for the Welsh Government, to recommendation 1, which was to take a more rigorous, evidence-based approach to poverty reduction? It states:

‘If the Welsh Government is to achieve the greatest impact from its policies and programmes, it needs to undertake a review to ensure that: there is clarity about what problem the policies are trying to address, what they will achieve and how they will achieve it…that policies are cost-effective and appropriately targeted to maximise impact…. In addition, the Welsh Government should pilot new policies and programmes to assess impact and value for money before they’re implemented across the country.’

I thank the Member for his question, but, look, you can’t keep your hands clean on this one, Mark. I said earlier on that tackling poverty in Wales was particularly difficult because we didn’t have all the levers. The UK Conservative Government starved Wales of £1.2 billion of funding, which has an impact on public services. So, while we will try and continue to work with our partners to deliver a better outcome for our families across Wales, I would also ask the Member to make representations to the UK Government to look for fair funding for Wales, so that we can pass that through to families here in Wales.

Of course, UK Government policy applies across the UK, but this report identified that Wales had the highest worklessness, the highest child poverty, and the lowest prosperity amongst the UK nations. That can only be because of the matters delivered at a devolved level in Wales over the last 17 years. So, how do you respond to recommendation 2?

‘Improve the quality of the workforce in schools…Ensuring that children have access to high-quality teachers in all subjects is fundamental to improving their life chances’.

They said,

‘The first step to achieving this is to make teaching in Wales more attractive to good-quality teachers…better mechanisms to encourage new students to undertake teacher training in Wales and newly-qualified teachers to work in Wales…improving teacher training in Wales…as would better identification, provision and assessment of teachers’ continuous development.’

That was their second recommendation. As the point of contact in the Welsh Government, I would be grateful if you could comment on that.

Of course, I recognise all the issues that are raised in that report, but I think the point you completely missed was the fact that a lot of these programmes require funding to do them. And we are extremely challenged in the way we are managing our budgets because of the challenge the UK Government has proposed on us. We are looking collectively at how we tackle poverty across the Cabinet Secretariat. We will continue to do that for the best interests of our children.

The budgetary environment set by the UK Government applies in England and Scotland too, but Wales is trailing in these areas. The third and final recommendation the commission set for Welsh Government was to involve business in its drive to reduce child poverty and increase social mobility. They said you should increase efforts to work with companies, including significant employers in Wales, to create a business compact to promote fairer access to high-quality employment, and said businesses should be encouraged to engage strategically with young people in schools, adhere to best practice on internships and apprenticeships; reform the selection process to eliminate unconscious bias; open up well-structured non-graduate routes to high-quality careers; monitor and evaluate performance on improving access; and sign up—something that you’ll agree with—to the living wage. Now, this was last December, after 16 and a half years of Labour Government, and after four and a half years of the last Labour Government. So, I’d be grateful if you could confirm how this Labour Government is going to do things differently to address these concerns.

I refer the Member to the tackling poverty strategy and the child poverty strategy, which we will be refreshing this year.

Diolch, Lywydd. On his visit to Cardiff City Stadium yesterday, the First Minister said that, following a ‘leave’ vote, the Welsh Government would develop its own separate relationship with the European Union. Does the Minister know what he meant, or how this will affect his portfolio?

Maybe the Member would like to refer that to the First Minister, as it is what he said and not what I said. But I do have a view on this; the First Minister has been very clear on the importance of being a member of the EU, and of Wales being a member of the EU. The Member—I know he’s not traditionally a Welsh resident, or with Welsh interests—but what we do have here, and what the First Minister is very keen on, is making sure that he represents Welsh people well, and that’s by being part of the EU.

I am a Welsh resident. I’m slightly concerned with the Minister not being aware about what the First Minister plans in this field. He’s waxed lyrical about European Union funds and community regeneration, but it seems that he and his Government seem to be going more down a separatist route through this joint working with Plaid Cymru. I just wonder, would he not be better deployed working with the Westminster Government to ensure that, as well as continuing to have all this money flow to Wales, we, in addition, get our share of the £10 billion independent dividend due?

I find the Member’s comments not surprising given the party that he now resides in. The fact is that working with another party—with Westminster—is something that we do on a regular basis. It’s not new to a devolved administration to do that, but it’s also not impossible to work with our friends across Europe either, and that’s what the Member should think about carefully tomorrow.

And on the projects that the Minister speaks of—community regeneration and beyond— where we’re told how wonderful this European money is, it often comes with strings and restrictions. I just wonder, are there any of those projects where the Minister believes that were the Welsh Government to be unfettered in its spending of those funds, it could do a better job?

The Member only recently appeared in Wales, pre-election, and he’s probably not too familiar with many of the areas that we all represent in this Chamber. But, let me just pick up one area of Monmouthshire, which I believe is in his region, where there are 305 enterprises assisted and 430 enterprises created, with 865 jobs in Monmouth alone, thanks to the EU funding that you and your colleagues are putting at risk.

Changes to Social Security

3. What discussions has the Welsh Government had regarding the impact of changes to social security on communities in Wales? OAQ(5)0001(CC)

I thank Steffan Lewis for his question. I haven’t heard the ‘social security’ term used for quite some time, actually, but I thank him for his question. Working with a wide range of stakeholders, we continue to discuss and assess the significant impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms in Wales. The Welsh Government has, on many occasions, made representations with UK Ministers, raising issues of concern when it is evident that vulnerable people will be further disadvantaged.

I thank him for that answer. The Welsh Government, incrementally, is becoming responsible for more and more elements of social protection, if I can use another retro term, from council tax support to the discretionary payment fund and the Work Programme. Despite that, though, citizens in this country are still subject to regressive and punitive welfare policies from Whitehall. As he has mentioned this afternoon on numerous occasions, he is denied many of the levers in this area. As this area of policy is such a vital pillar of Welsh public policy, will the Cabinet Secretary commit to publishing a distinct programme outlining the foundations of a Welsh welfare state, which would include not only the direction of travel for policy with the current devolution settlement, but also a vision for welfare in Wales with a further transfer of social protection powers here?

That is a really interesting question that the Member raises and a very complex one in terms of the relationship currently between the UK Government and ourselves and what we are able to mitigate. I think that what the First Minister has said is that we are content to take certain aspects of powers, provided that we get fair funding to deal with that. I think that that’s an important factor that we have to work out in advance.

I am attracted by the Member’s proposal in terms of the offer and what Wales can do. I’ll give some more thought to whether we can put something together to help people to understand what Wales’s responsibilities are and how we can help people.

Minister, you’ll have seen that the United Nations have recently published a damning report on the impact of the UK Government’s austerity measures on child poverty in the UK. Indeed, the Child Poverty Action Group described it as reading as an

‘Indictment of the government’s failure to prioritise children in its decisions on social security.’

Do you share my concerns about that? Will you raise those concerns with your opposite number in Westminster? But, furthermore, do you also share my concerns that if we vote to leave the EU tomorrow, the impact on our economy will be such that children are likely to bear even more the brunt of UK austerity policies?

Indeed, and the Member is right to raise that very issue. This Government legislated last year around the well-being of future generations and making sure young people were at the heart of our decision making as we move forward, planning for the long term. I think what will happen—and the EU referendum has a big take on this—is that, as the amount of funding is reduced, it will have an impact on our economic well-being and it will have an effect on families and predominantly children. It’s something we should all be very careful about.

Recent research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that universal credit does a lot to help make work pay for many of those who currently face the most severe disincentives. They went on to say that the number of people facing very weak incentives to enter work will fall by two-thirds. Does the Cabinet Secretary agree with the institute when it says:

‘universal credit should make the system easier to understand, ease transitions into and out of work, and largely get rid of the most extreme disincentives to work or to earn more created by the current system’?

What really concerns me is the UK’s dismissal of people; the fact is they change policies very easily, which has a massive impact on communities and individuals, and you will have all seen it. I expect even the Member has casework around personal independence payments—people who aren’t able to receive funding because of the unnecessary processes that have been placed by the UK Government. I think Steffan Lewis’s initial question about social security and the welfare state, about how we deal with that, should be given some much longer, further consideration by the UK Government before they tinker with it.

Cabinet Secretary, you might well be aware of a recent report from Sheffield Hallam University Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research. They highlighted the disproportionate impact on welfare benefit cuts on the people of Wales compared to the UK as a whole—I think that’s the point that’s already been made—and this is even more pronounced in the Welsh Valleys. It notes that the proposed change to the local housing allowance will exacerbate these inequalities by impacting most on the already most deprived areas, where the reference point for setting the LHA rate will be the bottom 30 per cent of private sector rents, in an area where private sector rents are already extremely low. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline what discussions the Welsh Government is having to ensure that those in receipt of local housing allowances in the most deprived areas in Wales are not disproportionately disadvantaged by the basis of the calculation of the average rent that will determine the LHA?

I thank the Member for her question. It’s something that my officials alerted me to as soon as I became Cabinet Secretary. The Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for the local housing allowance, which is a non-devolved matter as the Member knows. But this is again a reflection of what I said earlier; the fact is that the UK Government are making alterations to the welfare state, which have an impact on devolved services. So, this doesn’t stop the pressure in the system—it just moves the pressure. The unfortunate part of this is that people are involved in this whole process. The Welsh Government did raise concerns with the UK Ministers at the time regarding these changes, and we continue to raise the issue of impact assessments with the UK Government.

Anti-social Behaviour

4. How does the Minister intend to work with Police and Crime Commissioners to combat anti-social behaviour in Welsh communities? OAQ(5)0016(CC)

I thank the Member for Newport West for her question. I will shortly have held discussions with all of the police and crime commissioners for Wales to identify opportunities to work together. I am determined to tackle anti-social behaviour and will work with the commissioners to do this.

Thank you. A visible uniformed presence within our communities reassures and plays a vital role in tackling anti-social behaviour. With cuts to policing from the Westminster Government, police community support officers are a way to support our police and serve our communities. The 101 PCSOs that the Welsh Government provides for Gwent do make an important difference and are a significant contribution to policing in the area. Will the Cabinet Secretary confirm that he will work with the police and crime commissioners to ensure that continues, and that tackling anti-social behaviour is a priority?

Of course, the Member is right to raise this. The Welsh Labour manifesto commitment of 500 PCSOs is something that was very popular on the doorstep when we went to the electorate the term before. Continuing with the 101 PCSOs in Gwent that the Member makes reference to, I agree that that funding will continue to make a crucial difference. We have to consider how the implementation of PCSOs is taken with police and crime commissioners; it is a matter operationally for them. But it’s something where I look forward to working on joint policies together, and how we can both tackle police and crime commissioners’ priorities and the Welsh Government priorities together.

Police figures, unfortunately, reveal that Wind Street in Swansea with its well-known night-time economy has the highest rate of crime of any street in Wales. Regeneration plans are forthcoming and being developed and considered for the adjacent Castle Square area. When you have your forthcoming discussions with the police and crime commissioners, can you please include an item on the importance of police input into urban design so that regeneration actually combats opportunities for anti-social behaviour?

I’m very grateful for the Member’s question. I would ask the Member to reflect on the statistics that she has because I have had some recent briefing on Wind Street in particular. There is a project there that is in partnership with the police and crime commissioner Alun Michael and the local health board and ambulance service about how they manage the night-time economy. It has had some fantastic results in reducing the incidence of crime and alcohol abuse in that particular area. I think it’s called the Help Point. I’ll just refer the Member to that, and maybe it’s something that she would like to look at because, actually, it is a great example of what we can do in communities where there are pressures of the night-time economy, Wind Street being one of them. But I think it was moving from being one of the most unsafe places to being to one of the safest in the UK. So, I would ask the Member that maybe the statistics she has may now be updated.

Tackling Poverty

5. How does the Welsh Government intend to tackle poverty in Wales? OAQ(5)0008(CC)

7. Will the Minister outline what strategy the Welsh Government will follow to tackle poverty in the fifth Assembly? OAQ(5)0015(CC)

Thank you. Presiding Officer, I understand you’ve given permission for questions 5 and 7 to be grouped today. Tackling poverty is the responsibility of every Welsh Cabinet Secretary and Minister, enabling a truly cross-governmental approach focused on addressing the root causes of poverty. The priorities in my portfolio will be giving children the best start in life and supporting those furthest from the job market into sustainable employment.

Thank you for that. The ‘Improving Life Chances’ report by the Centre for Social Justice urged the UK Government to take into account the five main pathways to poverty—family breakdown, worklessness, drug and alcohol addiction, serious personal debt and educational failure—subsequent to which the UK Government launched its life chances strategy. This starts with the fundamental belief that people in poverty are not liabilities to be managed, that each person is an asset to be realised and that human potential is to be nurtured. If you agree with that, and I hope you do, will you look at the evidence and seek information on whether and how you might introduce a Welsh-made life chances for Wales strategy?

Working with Public Health Wales, which is in the remit of Rebecca Evans, we may even have a better strategy here, and I invite the Member to have a look at the adverse childhood experiences programme that they are already developing. I mentioned earlier on about my department and how we are setting the narrative for influencing community change and resilience. One of those challenges will be about delivering on the ACE programme and making sure the issues the Member raises around domestic violence, alcohol abuse and drug misuse, parental separation and others—. How can we intervene at that point early on in a lifetime to support families as they grow up? I’m familiar with the life chances programme, but I actually think we’ve got a better product made in Wales.

Cabinet Secretary, the first 1,000 days are vital for language development and so for reading and general education and development, and there are statistics that show that children who live in persistent poverty are twice as likely to score below average for language acquisition at age five than their better off peers. Issues identified in terms of dealing with this include investing in quality in the early years education workforce, supporting parents better and, indeed, in general terms, leadership. What will Welsh Government do in terms of tackling poverty by tackling these issues around early years development and language acquisition particularly?

A very topical question from the Member—I actually met with speech and language therapists yesterday who raised the very same issue with me. The Welsh Government is currently mapping the various policy initiatives across education, health and social services to inform the development of a cohesive approach focused on educational provision of speech, language and communication support. I know that the therapists yesterday were very specific on the life chances of an individual. If they don’t get this early on, it has an impact on their life and opportunities later on. I welcome the question from the Member and I will keep the Member informed.

The history of the Welsh Government’s strategy on tackling poverty appears to me anyway to be one of setting long-term aspirations in order to end poverty but without setting short-term specific targets with the appropriate resources to achieve them. Very often, the aspirations are either postponed or completely dropped once the Government realises that they’re not attainable. Because today’s circumstances are very different to those of a decade ago, isn’t it now high time to rethink and focus on projects and policies that tackle poverty in reality and in a measurable way?

Flying Start Provision in the Cynon Valley

6. Will the Minister make a statement on the future of Flying Start provision in the Cynon Valley? OAQ(5)0010(CC)

I thank the Member for Cynon Valley for her question. We know Flying Start improves outcomes for children and families in some of our most disadvantaged communities in Rhondda Cynon Taf. This year, we have committed over £6.8 million, enabling the local authority to support an estimated 3,270 children and their families.

Thank you. Flying Start has had a transformational impact on the lives of tens of thousands of children across Wales, including in my constituency of Cynon Valley, during the last Assembly term. However, I know concerns have been raised about the geographical basis upon which support is allocated. How is the Welsh Government working with local authorities to ensure that help reaches those children who really need it the most?

I think the Member raises a question that I’m familiar with from other parts of targeted services. I know your colleague Mike Hedges used to allude to that around Communities First, again, about boundaries, but there are always some that are in and some that are out. Flying Start is an excellent programme, but it’s targeted using income data provided by the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs, and the data allow local authorities to focus on the geographical area with the highest proportion of children under four years of age living in income-benefit households as an indicator of poverty. It is something that I’ve asked my team to look at—the whole strategy about our poverty intervention around communities, so Communities First, Families First, Flying Start: what do they do and how can we get into those communities best? So, your question isn’t lost on me; it is something that we are looking at, but, at the moment, it is statistically based and there will be some young people who miss out on this. It’s something that I’m very interested in in trying to resolve those issues.

Minister, obviously, the Government has a commitment around childcare—to have a universal childcare policy of up to 30 hours—and it’s something that we do welcome and it’s similar to what we had in our own manifesto. Has an impact assessment been made—I appreciate it’s early days for the Government—over the ability to commission that provision and that there is no risk of jeopardising existing provision, such as in Flying Start areas, such as Cynon Valley and other areas in my electoral region? There is an issue around capacity, obviously, to deliver that universal commitment, and we don’t want to be jeopardising existing schemes if that capacity needs to grow in the first instance.

I thank the Member for raising one of our groundbreaking commitments in terms of childcare. I can assure the Member that it was nothing like the Conservative childcare offer; it was a very specific one that Welsh Labour delivered on. I am working with my team and Cabinet colleagues on the best way to deliver this programme. Capacity: the Member is right—capacity is an issue about how we deliver that, but it’s something that, working with the private sector and the public sector to deliver, will be of benefit to families, but, more importantly, it will be of benefit to children.

Tackling Poverty in Caerphilly

8. Will the Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for tackling poverty in Caerphilly? OAQ(5)0018(CC)

I thank the Member for his question. In my portfolio, we are aligning key programmes to support those living in low-income households across Wales, including Caerphilly. Communities First, Flying Start, Families First and the Supporting People programme are working towards the common goals of a more prosperous and equal Wales.

Thank you. Last week, in response to a question from my colleague, the Member for Cynon Valley, Vikki Howells, the Cabinet Secretary commended the work of the Trussell Trust and the volunteers who carry out that work across Wales. Many Members in this Chamber will be aware of the work of the Wales chair for the Trussell Trust and, indeed, the chair for Northern Ireland as well, Tony Graham, who happens to be a constituent of mine. He’s talked about the Trussell Trust’s More Than Food programme that takes the work they do beyond food banks to providing services such as debt advice, cooking and budgetary skills courses. Will the Minister praise the work that the Trussell Trust does but also welcome these additional services that provide vital help to individuals in our communities that have been affected particularly by the UK Government’s benefit sanctions, and recognise that this work is vital in making up for those problems?

Indeed, and, like the member, I’d like to place on record my thanks to the members of the Trussell Trust, who work across the UK, and particularly in Wales, for the good work that they do, and the Trussell Trust plus effect, which is not just about food banks but it’s the other bits that they do as well—the financial advice and support. The Welsh Government advocate services, working together to support those in need, is reflected in our financial inclusion strategy. Collaboration between food banks and quality-assured advice services can offer people help through a period of crisis, and Trussell Trust do it very well.

Food poverty remains a problem for many households in Caerphilly and throughout Wales, Cabinet Secretary. Last winter, more than 2 million of the most vulnerable people benefited from help with their fuel bills from £310 million of assistance through the UK’s Government’s Warm Home Discount Scheme. Will the Cabinet Secretary join me in welcoming news that changes to the scheme mean that an additional 70,000 struggling families, disabled customers and other vulnerable people will be eligible to apply this winter for help to heat their homes in Wales?

For a moment I thought I saw some crocodile tears from the Member in regard to his question. It does worry me that there is a sense of irony that comes from those benches, of washing their hands of the impact that his Government in the UK is having on our constituents here in Wales—the ones that he claims to represent in Caerphilly are the very ones that are members, as Hefin David—. It is really important that we work together to get the most benefit for our communities, but I would ask the Member to reflect on his questions and maybe ask his colleagues in the UK for a fair funding stream for here in Wales.

Priorities for the Communities and Children Portfolio

9. Will the Minister make a statement on his priorities for the communities and children portfolio during the fifth Assembly? OAQ(5)0005(CC)

I thank the Member for her question. My priorities for communities and children are well-being and economic prosperity, achieving those outcomes both for individuals and for communities.

Well-being is a very important part of your portfolio, Minister, and as I’m sure you’re aware, the annual NSPCC report, ‘How Safe are our Children?’, highlights a 26 per cent increase in the number of recorded sexual offences against children under 16 in Wales over the last 12 months—figures that have doubled over the last decade. Will you join me in welcoming this report, and will you consider acting upon the recommendation made by the NSPCC to develop a comprehensive child sexual abuse plan, and to improve provision of support services, so that the needs of children who’ve been sexually abused, and their families’ needs, can be met?

I thank the Member for her important question. I am due to meet the NSPCC in the next couple of weeks, and I’m sure that will be on the agenda. I will be working with my colleague from social services, the Minister for Social Services and Public Health, in our joint objective to tackle these issues specifically around children. I mentioned earlier on that my department’s focus, and that of many of my colleagues, will be addressing the incidence of adverse childhood experiences and reducing their impact on children’s life chances as we move forward. The well-being and economic prosperity of those people for the future is an important part of this Government’s agenda.

Adoption Services

10. Will the Minister make a statement on progress with adoption services in Wales? OAQ(5)0017(CC)

15. Will the Minister make a statement on adoption services in Wales? OAQ(5)0004(CC)

I thank the Member for her question. Presiding Officer, I understand you’ve also grouped 10 and 15, and agreed for those to be grouped today. Welsh Government have been working with the National Adoption Service to further develop and strengthen the strategic direction of adoption services in Wales. We want to ensure that adoptive families have access to timely, appropriate adoption services regardless of where they live in Wales.

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that response, and I congratulate the Government on the progress with the National Adoption Service. I have been approached by adoptive parents in Wales who are concerned about their status in possible contested adoption proceedings. Would the Cabinet Secretary confirm that the Welsh Government will be seeking to make amendments to clause 9 of the Children and Social Work Bill as it goes through the UK parliamentary process, to ensure that Welsh prospective adoptive parents are included in the definition of ‘relative’, because, if you fail to do this, this means the court won’t be taking into account the relationship between the child and its prospective adoptive parents in cases of contested adoption?

I’m aware of the Member’s concerns. My officials are considering the issues raised by clause 9 of the Children and Social Work Bill, and are in contact with Westminster to ensure the amendments made are in the best interests of Welsh children waiting to be adopted and their prospective adoptive parents. We are committed, as the Member raises, to adoption as an important option for those looked-after children who are not able to be cared for by their birth family. We are recognising the challenging, but rewarding, role that adoptive parents play in providing permanent, loving homes for these children, and it’s something that I will continue to keep an eye on as the Bill goes forward.

Earlier this year, the Children, Young People and Education Committee raised concerns about the lack of post-adoption support and the significant and very serious impact this could potentially have on children and families. They also are concerned about the regional variations in post-adoption support across Wales and call on the Welsh Government to instigate a review of services. Will the Cabinet Secretary update the Assembly in this regard, please?

I thank the Member for his question. Since the National Adoption Service was established in November 2014, the average length of time between a child being looked after and being placed for adoption has continued to reduce. The final 2015-16 quarter performance figure of 15.2 months is the lowest it’s been since 2002. Significant improvements have been made in the provision of life journey materials as of 31 March 2016, with 49 per cent of children receiving the materials by the time of their second adoption review and no more than three months after their first review, compared with 24 per cent the year before. There is still an awful lot of work to be done, but I will be looking to continue with an advisory group in order to influence Government and make the best decisions for young people finding themselves in this position.

Minister, I’m pleased that Julie Morgan has raised this question; it is an important and a sensitive area. Adoption is a rewarding, but also a challenging thing for anyone to do. Peer support is clearly a vital element of the support services and the National Adoption Service. How are you strengthening the networks to ensure that adopters have access to the support that they need?

That’s a really important question—to make sure that we’re able to have the capacity to support parents who wish to take on board the loving characters in terms of the adoption services. I’ve asked my team to come up with a programme for supporting the provision, and, again, working with other Ministers across this department, on how we can ensure that we’ve got the right provisions in the right place, including services around mental health issues as well, making sure that we can provide support for individuals?

Families First Funding

11. Will the Minister make a statement on Families First funding? OAQ(5)0007(CC)[W]

I thank the Member for his question. Forty-two million, five hundred and seventy-eight thousand has been allocated for the delivery of the Families First programme during 2016-17, which includes £3 million, ring-fenced for funding the delivery of services for families affected by disabilities.

Thank you. The team around the family is one of the five main elements of the Families First programme. A constituent came to see me to share her concern that this service in Anglesey was to cease from March 2017. She was high in her praise for the support that she received from the team locally because of the mental health problems suffered by her daughter and the impact that had on the family, and she said quite clearly that she couldn’t have coped without that assistance. What intention does the Minister have to review the future of the team around the family and ensure that it is continued for the future for the sake of my constituent and many like her after March of next year?

Well, I’m not familiar with that instruction from any Minister or from my department in terms of that ending in 2017. There was certainly a financial, one-year proposal for the scheme, but we are reconsidering that as we move forward. So, your constituent, perhaps, isn’t accurate about the fact that it’s going to close. We haven’t said that.

Outcomes for Looked-after Children

12. What priority will the Minister place on policies to improve the outcomes for looked after children? OAQ(5)0003(CC)

I thank the Member for his question. All children in care should have the same life chances as other children. This is a key priority for me, and I will reconvene the improving outcomes for children strategic group to continue its work and advise on how best we deliver a national approach for looked-after children.

Can I commend his general statement: that our expectations for looked-after children should be similar, if not exactly the same, as for the rest of the population? I’ve been in this Assembly now a little over 17 years, and I’ve heard repeatedly Ministers say we’re on the cusp of a breakthrough for looked-after children. It’s never quite arrived. It’s all our responsibility—those who scrutinise these policies as much as the Ministers’. But, really, Wales could lead the way in the UK, and indeed in Europe, in getting this vital area of public policy right.

I agree with the Member. I am determined to work with him so that we can provide the reassurances he seeks.

The Housing Needs of People with Disabilities

13. How is the Welsh Government ensuring housing in Wales meets the needs of people with disabilities? OAQ(5)0009(CC)

I thank the Member for her question. We provide guidance to local authorities on assessing housing need and to enable access to accessible homes and on the design of new social housing.

Thank you. I recently met with my inspirational constituent, Mia Thorne, aged just nine, who is an ambassador for Caudwell Children Wales. During our discussion, Mia highlighted concerns about inconsistencies in building regulations, for example regarding door width so that wheelchair users can navigate around their own home. How does the Welsh Government engage with disabled people to make sure that housing is fit for their needs?

That’s a very important question about listening and learning from individuals and their experiences, and as a Minister, I’m very keen to enhance that opportunity. Listening to the views of people with disabilities is important, and I welcome the points you raise through Mia Thorne today. We are also keen to work closely with other organisations to make representations as and when they require. Part M of the building regulations provides for all new housing to have accessible approaches to the main entrance, usable toilet facilities at the entrance level, and suitable door and corridor width to make them accessible for a range of disabilities. I think what we need to do is continue to learn about the experiences that people have on a day-to-day basis, which will influence Government policy long term.

Service Charges for Social Housing Tenants

14. Will the Minister make a statement on the introduction of service charges for social housing tenants? OAQ(5)0011(CC)

I thank the Member for her question. The Welsh Government has not instructed social landlords to introduce new or additional service charges for their tenants. We have asked social landlords to separate rents and service charges where a renting pool system was applied. This is to increase openness and transparency for their tenants.

I was invited and attended a meeting in North Cornelly—thank you for your answer, Cabinet Secretary—however they were concerned that, within their rent, the service charges such as grass cutting and litter picking were included in their rent. They’d recently received from Valleys to Coast the introduced service charges for picking up litter. This has caused much dismay for these constituents, particularly as the neighbour next door may have purchased their house and wasn’t being charged likewise. So, Cabinet Secretary, charges such as these should not be introduced, particularly as they are levied against the poorest in society.

Well, as I said earlier, this wasn’t on the basis of introducing new charges; it was a breakdown of the charge that they were already receiving. So, your constituents could be very clear on what they were paying for or not. The process of them being now charged for grass cutting—. They were being charged for grass cutting before, but they probably didn’t know about it. It was bundled in as one charge, but now they are more aware. If the Member has specific issues she wishes to raise with me, I’m more than happy to take them up in my department.

3. 3. Motion Proposing the Titles and Remits of Committees

The next item on the agenda is the motion proposing the titles and remits of committees. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion—Paul Davies.

Motion NDM6031 Elin Jones

The National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 16.1:

1. Establishes a Finance Committee to carry out the functions of the responsible committee set out in Standing Order 19; the functions of the responsible committee set out in Standing Orders 18.10 and 18.11; and consider any other matter relating to the Welsh Consolidated Fund.

2. Establishes a Public Accounts Committee to carry out the functions set out in Standing Orders 18.2 and 18.3 and consider any other matter that relates to the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which resources are employed in the discharge of public functions in Wales.

Motion moved.

The proposal is, therefore, to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections and the motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

4. 4. Motion to Elect Members to a Committee

The next item is item 4—the motion to elect Members to a committee. I again call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion.

Motion NDM6049 Elin Jones

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.3, elects:

(i) Mike Hedges (Welsh Labour), Eluned Morgan (Welsh Labour), Jeremy Miles (Welsh Labour), Simon Thomas (Plaid Cymru), Adam Price (Plaid Cymru), Nick Ramsay (Welsh Conservatives) and Mark Reckless (United Kingdom Independence Party) as members of the Finance Committee; and

(ii) Simon Thomas (Plaid Cymru) as interim Chair of the Finance Committee.

Motion moved.

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? If not, the motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

5. 5. Plaid Cymru Debate: Health and Social Services

The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 2 and 3 in the name of Paul Davies, and amendment 4 in the name of Caroline Jones.

The next item, therefore, is the Plaid Cymru debate on health and social services, and I call on Rhun ap Iorwerth to move the motion.

Motion NDM6029 Simon Thomas

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Notes the challenges to the health service in looking after an older population.

2. Calls on the Welsh Government to:

a) proceed with greater integration between health and social care; and

b) increase the amount of GPs, with a focus on recruiting to rural and deprived communities.

Motion moved.

Presiding Officer, thank you for the opportunity to open this debate on a motion tabled in the name of Simon Thomas. This is a debate calling on the Assembly to note the demographic challenges facing the NHS in Wales and calling on the Welsh Government to respond now to those challenges, including moving towards integrating health and social care, as well as taking urgent action with a series of steps to increase the number of staff, including GPs, who will be available in the health service in Wales in ensuing years. I know that ‘crisis’ isn’t a word that the Government likes to hear, and I know that the Minister is very reticent in accepting the word ‘crisis’. It’s not a word that should be used lightly—I would agree with that. But there will be a critical situation within the NHS that will surely develop and deepen unless very definite steps and strategic planning are carried out for the future.

The population forecast for Wales suggests that the percentage of our population over 65 will increase substantially over the next 20 years. By 2037, the number of those over 65 years of age is expected to be 47 per cent of the population, as compared to 30 per cent now. The percentage over 85 will more than double to 10 per cent of the adult population. If the current rates of illness and demand for social care in the population remain similar but within a new demographic pattern of an older population, then it is clear that that will lead to an increase in demand for health and social care services—additional services and different services in future. People will live longer, with more chronic conditions that will need to be managed and monitored outside hospitals and this will lead to a need for far more services within primary health care, including more GPs to provide specialist care, more area and community nurses and social care to keep people who have these conditions living independently. We will also need to integrate: we cannot waste time and, crucially, waste money on fighting bureaucratic battles as to who pays for care, or have lengthy meetings in partnership boards that lead to a few local pilot schemes and little else.

But let’s not be entirely negative. During the ensuing period where there will be increased demand for services, there will also be technological advances—technology treatments, health apps for mobile phones, for example. There will be developments of this kind that will provide opportunities to deliver health and care services in ways that promote independent living at a lower cost and hopefully with better outcomes. You can also consider things such as the increase in capacity among the older population in volunteering, to care for children and other members of the family, as well as an increase in the contribution to cultural, economic and social life in Wales.

Mae’r heriau’n fawr. Ceir rhai cyfleoedd hefyd, fel rwyf wedi crybwyll, ond gadewch i mi sôn am rai pethau y mae angen iddynt ddigwydd—nifer fach o gamau, ond rhai arwyddocaol sydd angen eu dilyn. Ni fyddwch yn synnu clywed llefarydd iechyd Plaid Cymru yn dechrau gyda recriwtio, hyfforddi a chadw staff. Mae arnom angen mwy o feddygon teulu, nyrsys cymunedol a gweithwyr iechyd proffesiynol eraill. Yn anffodus, ceir llai o feddygon teulu yn awr nag yn 2013, ac mae’r ystadegau’n dangos gostyngiad yn niferoedd nyrsys ardal, er ein bod yn ymwybodol y gallai fod rhai cwestiynau ystadegol ynglŷn â hyn, sy’n adlewyrchu, rwy’n meddwl, yr angen am fwy o dryloywder a gwell data.

Ar feddygon teulu, yn benodol, mae nifer y meddygon teulu yng Nghymru wedi bod yn gostwng yn ystod y blynyddoedd diwethaf—mae’r nifer bellach wedi disgyn o dan 2000. Ond yr hyn sy’n frawychus a dweud y gwir yw bod tua chwarter y meddygon teulu sydd gennym yn dweud eu bod yn bwriadu ymddeol yn ystod y 10 mlynedd nesaf. Mae galwadau ar feddygon teulu yn codi, mae lefelau straen yn gwaethygu, nid yw ein lleoedd hyfforddi yn cael eu llenwi—maent yno, ond nid ydynt yn cael eu llenwi—ac mae’n waeth yn rhai o’r ardaloedd mwyaf difreintiedig a gwledig. Mae Plaid Cymru wedi amlinellu nifer o bolisïau i geisio denu a chadw meddygon presennol: talu dyled myfyrwyr meddygon sy’n cytuno i gwblhau hyfforddiant a threulio eu gyrfaoedd cynnar mewn ardaloedd neu arbenigeddau penodol; cyflogi meddygon teulu ar gyflogau mwy uniongyrchol i lenwi lleoedd gwag mewn ardaloedd gwledig a ffiniol i feddygon nad ydynt eisiau’r drafferth o redeg eu busnesau eu hunain. Ond mae’n rhaid i ni hefyd gael mwy o bobl ifanc i astudio meddygaeth ac i fod eisiau dod yn feddygon teulu. Nid wyf yn gwybod faint ohonoch a welodd astudiaeth 2014 Prifysgol Nottingham, a oedd yn gwbl syfrdanol: nid oedd gan 50 y cant o’r holl golegau addysg bellach a dosbarthiadau chwech neb, dim un person, yn gwneud cais i fynd i ysgol feddygol dros gyfnod o dair blynedd—dim un person. Roedd yna lawer ohonynt ag un neu ddau o ymgeiswyr yn unig, ac nid yw’n syndod fod dosbarthiad hyn, unwaith eto, yn adlewyrchu patrymau amddifadedd. Mae’r rhain yn faterion y mae’n rhaid i ni fynd i’r afael â hwy. Mae’n rhaid i ni annog ein pobl ifanc dalentog i feddwl am feddygaeth, a phan fyddant wedi dechrau ar eu hastudiaethau meddygol neu, yn well byth, cyn iddynt ddechrau ar eu hastudiaethau meddygol, i feddwl am fod yn feddyg teulu. Mae’n rhaid i ni sicrhau bod meddygon sydd newydd eu hyfforddi yng Nghymru yn dod i gysylltiad â gofal sylfaenol yn eu cyfnod cychwynnol ar ôl cymhwyso. Nid yw’n digwydd ddigon yng Nghymru, ond mae’n digwydd mewn mannau eraill. Heb feddygon teulu, nid oes gennym obaith o newid ein gwasanaeth iechyd i fod yn un sy’n gallu gofalu am boblogaeth hŷn a’u cadw’n heini. Rwyf wedi canolbwyntio ar feddygon teulu, bydd cyd-Aelodau eraill yn canolbwyntio ar elfennau eraill o’r gweithlu gofal sylfaenol sydd, wrth gwrs, yr un mor bwysig.

Yn ail, fel cam sydd angen ei gymryd, rwyf am sôn fod y gyfran o’r gyllideb sy’n mynd tuag at ofal sylfaenol yn gostwng pan ddylai fod yn cynyddu. Mae’r ffigurau diweddaraf yn dangos bod 7.4 y cant o gyllid y GIG yn mynd tuag at ofal sylfaenol. Mae hynny wedi gostwng o bron i 9 y cant oddeutu degawd yn ôl. Yn Lloegr, tua 10 y cant yw’r lefel; lefel Cymru yn hanesyddol yw tua 11 y cant. Felly, gwyddom ein bod eisiau cael mwy allan o’n sector gofal sylfaenol, ond yn gyfrannol rydym yn rhoi llai i mewn. Dangosodd Coleg Brenhinol yr Ymarferwyr Cyffredinol yma yn y Senedd ddoe fod 90 y cant o gyswllt â chleifion yn digwydd ar lefel gofal sylfaenol—90 y cant o’r cyswllt, 7.4 y cant o’r cyllid. Ac oes, wrth gwrs bod costau uwch mewn gofal eilaidd a bod gofal eilaidd yn fwy agored i chwyddiant costau, ond rwy’n credu’n wirioneddol fod y sefyllfa bresennol yn anghynaliadwy.

Yn drydydd, mae angen i ni fod yn llawer gwell am arloesi a mabwysiadu technolegau newydd, megis apiau, telefeddygaeth, a GIG di-bapur. Mae’r GIG yn rhy aml ymhell y tu ôl i’r mwyafrif o wasanaethau a diwydiannau eraill. Ni all fod yn iawn fod ysbytai yn dal i gyflogi pobl i wthio troliau o waith papur o gwmpas.

Yn bedwerydd, mae arnom angen system iechyd a gofal cymdeithasol fwy integredig, un sy’n briodol ar gyfer anghenion poblogaeth wledig a gwasgaredig, nid anghenion rheolwyr GIG sy’n cael eu hel o gwmpas i osod modelau gofal trefol mewn ardaloedd lle nad yw hynny’n addas. Rhaid i hyn hefyd gynnwys mynediad at wasanaethau arbenigol, megis adrannau damweiniau ac achosion brys, yn agos at ble mae pobl yn byw, a gwasanaeth ambiwlans sy’n treulio’i amser yn ymateb i alwadau brys, yn hytrach na chiwio mewn ysbytai neu drosglwyddo cleifion ar deithiau hir oddi cartref. Bydd fy nghyd-Aelodau’n ymhelaethu ar lawer o’r pwyntiau hynny y prynhawn yma.

Gan droi at y gwelliannau, byddwn yn ymatal ar welliant 1. Nid ydym yn hollol siŵr beth y mae’r Ceidwadwyr yn ei olygu wrth yr asesiadau gwirfoddol hyn a beth bynnag, deallwn fod fersiynau o’r asesiadau hyn yn digwydd beth bynnag. Ond nid oes amheuaeth y cawn glywed mwy gan y Ceidwadwyr. Byddwn yn cefnogi’r gwelliannau eraill. Mae angen cynllun newydd arnom ar gyfer gwasanaethau mewn cymunedau gwledig; dylid adolygu Comisiynydd Pobl Hŷn Cymru, wrth gwrs, i wneud y swydd yn fwy effeithiol, a dylai hynny ddigwydd yn rheolaidd; a gall ysbytai cymuned, wrth gwrs, chwarae rhan hanfodol yn llyfnhau’r cyfnod pontio yn ôl i’r gymuned i lawer o bobl, er bod sut y mae UKIP yn bwriadu staffio eu gwasanaeth iechyd ar ôl gadael yr UE, pan fo cymaint o weithwyr mudol yn chwarae rhan hanfodol yn ein gwasanaeth presennol, yn rhywbeth i fyfyrio yn ei gylch y prynhawn yma. Rwy’n edrych ymlaen at eich—[Torri ar draws.] Rwy’n dirwyn i ben. Rwy’n edrych ymlaen at eich cyfraniadau; fe gewch gyfle mewn eiliad i wneud eich pwyntiau mae’n siŵr. Rwy’n edrych ymlaen at gyfraniadau’r holl Aelodau y prynhawn yma. Mae hon yn un o’r dadleuon pwysicaf sy’n ein hwynebu yng Nghymru ac yn un o’n heriau mwyaf.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.

Thank you. Before we go on, could you all check your mobile phones, please? If you’ve got a mobile phone on, can you please switch it off? It is affecting the broadcasting and the sound in the Chamber. Thank you