Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

14/03/2018

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

1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services, and the first question, David Melding.

Rheumatology Services in South Wales Central

1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on rheumatology services in South Wales Central? OAQ51882

Yes. Health boards in Wales are responsible for providing appropriate rheumatology services for their population. These services are provided in line with the directive for arthritis and chronic musculoskeletal conditions, which is currently being refreshed.

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that answer. You will know that there's long been a call for specialist paediatric rheumatology services in the region. And, indeed, Wales is the only nation in the UK at the moment that doesn't have a specialist service for paediatric rheumatology. You will also further know that the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee is meeting on 27 March to discuss this issue and the very extensive calls there have been for some form of national centre that can cover most of Wales, perhaps based in Cardiff. I do hope you'll be able to convey to them the cross-party support this call has had in the Assembly, and that this call should be considered with real urgency by WHSSC when they meet later in this month.

Yes, I recognise the Member's consistent interest in the issue, including the debate that he helped to lead in July of last year. I indicated at that time that I was aware that there was a review being undertaken by WHSSC, as well as work on refreshing the directive. I said at the time that I'll take proper account of what the WHSSC review highlights, and I'm happy to repeat that assurance again, but also that the work that is being undertaken on the directive is a genuine example of working—the Government, the health service, and the third sector, and the individual as well. So, we're talking to service users about the directive, and there are a range of different workshops involving the third sector as well. So, I hope that gives some reassurance that we are genuinely looking to both improve on where we are, to look at the evidence, but also to do so in a way that is genuinely co-productive with the individual citizen as well.

I support David Melding's question, but I was also very concerned to hear from Arthritis Care that the only specialist paediatric rheumatoid arthritis specialist in Wales—who is my constituent, Jeremy Camilleri, who works at the University Hospital of Wales—is actually due to retire within the next two years. I have actually met him to discuss this. And it will obviously be quite difficult to replace him, I think. So, is the Cabinet Secretary aware of any plans to plan for his successor?

Yes, that's part of the work that health boards need to undertake, and having a refreshed directive on the care they need to provide is part of that, to understand the care they need to provide and the workforce that will be needed to do that. And I'm also aware of Mr Camilleri's pending retirement in the not-too-distant future. So, there is some urgency about this matter and it can't be continually kicked down the road, but that's why the work that is ongoing is so important. And also what's important is to involve individual people, involved and engaged in the services, both staff and citizens, to understand what an appropriate answer is for the future.

Early inflammatory arthritis clinics are one method of improving access to treatment for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. What steps are you taking to facilitate the greater provision of these clinics?

Well, as I've indicated, this is an area of service review that's being undertaken. So, the WHSSC review will help us to understand, as well as the broader responsibilities of health boards that I indicated in the first part of my original answer to the question. So, it is about understanding what we need, where responsibility lies, and then seeing that provision actually take place. So, I'm confident that this is an issue that the health service is taking seriously, and it ought to come up with a real and material plan for improvement. Because I recognise, as do other Members, this is an area for further improvement to be made.

Sepsis

2. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote sepsis awareness across the health and social care sector? OAQ51892

Thank you for the question. Tackling sepsis remains a top patient safety priority in Wales, with work continuing through the 1000 Lives improvement programme, which I know the Member will be aware of. That is to raise awareness and ensure early detection and treatment of patients with sepsis. This work includes peer review, as well as improving practice outside of acute hospital settings.

Cabinet Secretary, you will know that, in my role as Chair of the cross-party group on sepsis, I wrote to every single GP practice in Wales, and had a very disappointing only 11 responses, asking them what they knew about sepsis prevention and what tools they had. I've subsequently followed that up with letters to every social care head in Wales. A great response—over 60 per cent of them have responded so far. And they were far more informative, and they were talking about the fact that, actually, within the social care sector there's perhaps less awareness of it and they don't have any specific tools. And I do appreciate the fact that your colleague Huw Irranca-Davies has offered to speak at the next cross-party group on sepsis, but I wondered if you could tell us how the Government might be able to ensure that sepsis training is carried out throughout the whole of our NHS provision, to make sure that everybody, from allied healthcare professionals all the way up to the top consultant, really understand what sepsis is and what we can do to prevent it. 

13:35

Greater awareness amongst our clinical staff is one of our priorities, to detect symptoms and then to act appropriately. And that is work on the new system, the early warning score system—the first country to introduce it in 2012. That's helped us to improve on our record on sepsis. The outcomes that we then deliver—there's been a significant fall in deaths in Wales from sepsis in the last five or six years, but, actually, there's still more to go. I think, in the last year that I saw figures for, there were about 1,600 deaths from sepsis, whereas I think, five or six years previously, it was over 2,100. So, there's been a fall, but there's still a significant number of people who are losing their lives through sepsis. I don't think we'd be able to stop every one of those deaths, but we still think that there's significant further improvement to be made. And I recognise your point about local healthcare, and about staff outside of a hospital setting. That is one of our focuses. So, the awareness raising we're actually doing jointly with the Sepsis Trust is largely based on raising awareness in local healthcare settings, for people who attend, but in particular for the variety of staff who will go through those local healthcare settings. So, I recognise the seriousness with which you address the work and the cross-party group, but I expect we'll continue to talk about this in this Chamber, as well as in the cross-party group, until we continue to see a further and sustained improvement again in both sepsis awareness and outcomes for individual citizens. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Angela Burns.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Cabinet Secretary, storm Emma passed through our area nearly a couple of weeks ago now, and I'd like to use this opportunity to put on record my thanks, and I'm sure the thanks of every Assembly Member, to the NHS staff who were so brilliant at getting in, in very difficult conditions, who were prepared to stay and work a lot of extra hours to make up for colleagues who couldn't come in. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude because it was pretty tough. I know that, for three days, I couldn't get out of my house, and yet there were people who were staffing our local hospitals. I also know, Cabinet Secretary, that you are aware that there was a lot of speculation in the press from staff who'd said that when they had stayed over in order to help us through this difficult time, they had been charged for accommodation. I think you were quite robust in saying—and I don't believe I'm putting words in your mouth—that that shouldn't happen. Could you reassure us that, in fact, any staff who did go out of their way to help us haven't incurred extra costs, and that we are able to defray any costs that people did incur in any way whatsoever, and that health boards haven't charged people?

Yes. And, again, I welcome the recognition that you start off with about our national health service staff and other emergency service workers, local government workers, the third sector, and citizen volunteers, who made sure that the work continued. The range of stories of people who helped health service workers get in to do their job is really uplifting. 

On your specific point, I'm happy to give the reassurance sought. At the time, I indicated that this is not what I would expect should happen. Every health board came out robustly and indicated that they have systems in place both to make sure that accommodation is provided for free for staff who come in in these circumstances, above and beyond what would normally be expected, and that any staff who had made their own arrangements, either because arrangements weren't available, or, indeed, if a mistake had been made, should be able to have those costs refunded by the health board. And, again, I've also had a conversation with the Royal College of Nursing about the matter, and if they reveal any additional issues that I'm not aware of, then I will happily look at them and see them addressed. 

Thank you. I'm really grateful to you for that answer, and I'm quite sure that NHS staff across Wales will be as well. 

I'd like to address my second two questions to the issue of mental health. I was delighted the Welsh Government supported the Welsh Conservatives' debate on mental health of a few weeks ago. You did make a couple of comments during that debate that I would just like to pick up on. I was saying that spotting signs of mental ill health is incredibly important, both in the workplace and in schools—wherever it might be—and that all of us have a role to play in actually being able to get alongside somebody to spot the fact that they may be going into some kind of crisis, and then for there to be a direction of travel for us to be able to access support services for that individual. And you said that you felt there were some plans afoot on that. I just wondered if you could perhaps tells us a little bit more now about what the Government's doing to ensure that the tools and resources are available to all of us to help us understand what mental health is, what the signs are and where we might go in order to help another person. 

13:40

Well, this is about making our services as accessible as possible. I'm sure, within this building, you'll have seen the range of posters in a variety of locations highlighting that sometimes all you need to do is listen to someone who wants to talk. Part of the challenge is that not everyone wants to talk and not everyone recognises the challenge that they themselves have. The more that people do talk and are open, it helps others then to be able to do so as well. There is then the point that you're making, which is about how, if you think someone is struggling, you can actually get alongside that person to help them. And there are, sometimes, relationships that exist that allow you to do that and equally people that you are close to who, even if you think there's a challenge, may not react well to somebody saying, 'Can I help?'

Part of our challenge is to recognise that within workplaces and placing a high value on mental health and broader support. That's why mental health is one of the cross-Government themes within our 'Prosperity for All' programme, and it's also why I have a particular focus within that on mental health in workplaces. So, the Healthy Working Wales programme, which covers about a third of employees in the country already, looks at physical and mental health in the workplace as well, and tools to help equip employers to better support their employees. We're looking to improve and increase it. That's why it's part of the economic contract as well. So, we're looking to have employers who are going to have support from the Government to have a business here, who want to be good employers in all aspects, including looking after their workers' physical and mental health in the workplace. 

I'm delighted to hear that, because I do think there's still so much stigma attached to the whole area of mental health and how we recognise it, how we pick it up and how we help people who might be going into crisis to be able to access the support that they need.

I spent a couple of hours this morning in Pontardawe looking at Hafal's new facility, and I know you've been there, because you opened it, and it's a great facility. And my goodness me, isn't it how mental health services should be provided? It's an old building that's had a whole new lease of life. It hasn't had millions and millions and millions spent on it, but it's funky, it's modern, it feels like a hotel and you're treated as a guest not a patient or a leper, which can sometimes come across in some of our old ways of dealing with people with mental health issues. They have 16 beds there, but only four are taken up, and that's the maximum occupancy they've had since they've been open, because there is still this reluctance from health services to engage with this kind of provision. It's a great step up, and, if anybody wants to go and visit it, I really recommend it, because it enables people to understand how they can live a life independent and be well and it stops that awful revolving-door scenario. 

What do you think you, as the Cabinet Secretary, can do to ensure that a facility like that doesn't actually wither on the vine, but is used really well, because it really is a foreshadow of what mental health services should be—that parity, that equality and that absolute respect? 

I recognise what you said at the start of your third question about stigma. There's still an unfinished journey in tackling stigma, both in the way people see themselves and mental health, as well as the way other people see mental health challenges, and in how we normalise the conversation about mental health in exactly the same way as we do with physical health challenges.

I remember and recognise the Gellinudd Recovery Centre opening. It was a very enjoyable day with an enormous cake, I seem to recall, and I actually went through some of the rooms that they were looking to open. And there was a conversation there about making sure that health service commissioners and others were aware of the spaces they had. And I looked at the layout, and it does look like somewhere you would choose to stay as opposed to somewhere where people are hidden away and that's a really important part about the feel of the place when you go in, and this really is all about recovery and that's the point; they refer to it as the Gellinudd Recovery Centre, because they want to look at how people are helped in that journey as well. It is a journey; there isn't a simple point at which you say a specified period of time will resolve all ills. We recognise that that isn't the case. So, there’s something about how we continue to look at what people commission, about the help and support that is there, and then making sure that, if there was a challenge in that work not being commissioned, that we would bring people together in exactly the same way we have done with other facilities as well. We bring commissioners together to look at the services that are already there to make sure they're properly aware of it and to think about how they are otherwise meeting the needs of their population, because that is the point: how does the health board, together with their duties with local authorities, plan together to understand people's needs and then do something to meet the needs that they identify?

13:45

Diolch, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, according to Cancer Research UK's position paper on the diagnostic workforce in Wales, shortages in the diagnostic workforce are, in part, responsible for Wales failing to achieve waiting time targets for cancer patients since 2008. Do you agree with this analysis, Cabinet Secretary, and do you have any plans to address shortages in the diagnostic workforce in the short term?

There are a couple of points that I would mention. I recognise that, of course, the diagnostic workforce are crucial not just to cancer, but a range of other services, in making sure that people are appropriately diagnosed and put on the road to either the certainty that they don't have the potential condition, or indeed have the opportunity to start treatment at an appropriate point in time. So, there's no avoiding the diagnostic workforce and they're important to being able to achieve real and meaningful targets.

I would again just point out that if we had the English targets of 85 days and 62 days then we would almost certainly achieve that on a regular basis. I'm actually looking, as I've indicated in this place and in other places as well, to look again at the current targets we have on cancers and to look in particular at whether some waits are not revealed by our current waiting times target. If we are to move to a single cancer pathway, as I wish us to do, that will require further investment in the diagnostic workforce, not just for cancer, but to make sure that other services are not compromised by an additional focus on delivering a single cancer pathway, so these matters are in my mind and I expect to have more to say towards the end of this year.

Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. Staying with the Cancer Research UK report, they highlight the patchy information available on the diagnostic workforce, which is making it difficult for local health boards to make well-informed decisions about workforce planning. We know that there is a 13 per cent vacancy rate in diagnostic radiotherapy and have now information about shortages in endoscopy. In December, there were over 2,000 patients waiting more than 14 weeks for an endoscopy and a handful waiting more than 40 weeks. Cancer Research UK predict a 40 per cent increase in demand for endoscopy in two years' time. What is the Welsh Government doing to improve workforce planning for diagnostic staff and how do you plan to cut waiting times for endoscopy services in the interim?

There are a couple of different points there. The first is that, of course, we've invested more than ever before on the future education and training of the non-medical workforce—£107 million that I announced—and, at a time of falling public resource, to continue to invest even more in the workforce and their future training is a significant choice to make. There is something about understanding not just about the numbers of the workforce that we need, but about how we wish them to work and a more effective way of working. The staff themselves are involved in redesigning the ways of delivering care as well as, of course, the equipment that they will need and the numbers and type of staff that we will need together as well.

In terms of the information on the workforce point that you mentioned, well, health boards themselves, as the employers, I would expect them to have the information. There's a challenge about them understanding their own information systems to understand the workforce they currently have, as well as looking to plan for the future workforce, but the introduction of Health Education and Improvement Wales has been deliberately designed to help improve workforce planning in a more integrated way and to have a national view on those areas where we need to invest in more staff.

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. One of the recommendations of the Cancer Research UK report is to explore the use of artificial intelligence for diagnostic tests. In January, the Reform group published a report on AI in the NHS, which highlights the potential for AI to narrow gaps in health provision. Whilst the Reform report focuses on NHS England, there are lessons for us here in Wales. In addition, last week, Microsoft announced a new platform for helping healthcare providers to harness the power of AI and the cloud. Cabinet Secretary, have you or your officials considered the Reform report, and are you looking at utilising artificial intelligence to assist clinicians in NHS Wales? 

13:50

There are two brief points I'd make, Llywydd. The first is that, even without Lee Waters in the room, I recognise that artificial intelligence is absolutely part of the future. It's part of today and it'll become more and more a planned part of the way in which we deliver health and care services. It should help us in assisting clinicians to make choices; it should make our pathways more efficient for the citizen as well. I think it has real potential to save resources to be reinvested within the service. So, there's no doubt about artificial intelligence having a larger part to play in the future of health and social care.

The second point I'd make is that we are already looking at partnerships with technology firms on a small basis to a larger basis. In the last few months, I have announced a significant partnership with Intel, who are looking to invest and have a partnership with Wales because of the way in which we've designed our system. It's an attractive place for technology businesses to want to work with the healthcare sector. I'm sure that my officials have looked at the report that you referred to in England—I won't pretend that I've read it—but I am very clear about the future role of partnerships with technology firms and the national health service that don't compromise our values, but should help us to deliver a better service now and in the future.

Diolch, Llywydd. I'd like to begin, if I could, by correcting some comments made yesterday by the leader of the Conservatives, who claimed the ambulance waiting times in Wales were improving. In fact, the median response times to red calls are worse this winter than last winter—fewer are arriving within the target eight minutes. When it comes to amber calls, almost half are now taking longer than 30 minutes to arrive—almost twice as bad as last winter. And our excellent paramedics tell me that they're really, really losing heart. Why are ambulances taking longer to arrive now, in emergency and in urgent, amber call cases, than in previous years?

Well, the system was one that we introduced about two years ago, and, when you look at where we were at the start of the new response model to where we are now, there's been a real and significant improvement over that time. Comparing this winter to last winter, there has been a fall in performance of a couple of percentage points, but we're still meeting our targets.

The challenge, though, is: how do we understand, from a system point of view, the pressures that we have had this winter, how much of that is genuinely exceptional? And, on some days, as you'll be aware, we've had pressures that I genuinely do not think that any service could have planned for. But there is a broader point about the increasing demand we expect to see delivered in our system, and it's our ability to cope with that, and it's not just about the ambulances; it is a whole-system response. So, it is about continuing to improve on delayed transfers and make sure that people move through the hospital system. It is about continuing to improve on the work that is already being done to try and make sure people don't unnecessarily go into hospital as well.

I recognise, too, that there is a long tail on amber calls, which is not something that the Government is looking at and saying, 'That isn't a problem'. There's work already being done by the emergency ambulance services committee, together with the Welsh ambulance services and health boards, to look at that and to look at what further we'll need to do. And there'll be choices for the health service to make, and potentially choices for the Government, to help the whole service to improve.

I agree entirely that we need a whole-service approach. I'm saying that the whole system is broken and it's the ambulances and paramedics and call centre staff who are having to bear the brunt. And you say you're meeting targets; there are no targets for amber calls and that's a part of the problem. 

Behind the statistics, though, we must remember are some truly shocking stories. Let me recount two recent very distressing cases, I'm told, both on Anglesey, both the same day. I can't imagine the distress caused to paramedics dealing with these cases, let alone to those people's families. First, chest pains—red call, surely. An ambulance turns up after an hour and five minutes. The patient has died. Suspected stroke—amber call. An ambulance arrives 10.5 hours later. The patient, again, was dead. The same day.

Let me focus on that second case. It may be the case that whether an ambulance turns up to a suspected stroke patient in eight minutes or 10 minutes doesn't make a difference to the outcome, but surely you agree that waiting hours for such a potentially serious condition to be addressed is unacceptable. Do you accept that removal of any time target for amber calls has forced under-pressure ambulance staff to treat those calls as less of a priority, and patients therefore have been put at risk?

13:55

I have to say I'm incredibly disappointed with the remarks made at the start, claiming the whole system is broken. That simply is not true, and you should be embarrassed to say such a thing.

You should be embarrassed. You should be embarrassed. How dare you? How dare you?

I don't hide—[Interruption.] I don't hide from the challenges for our staff or citizens. To use such deliberately inflammatory language about our healthcare system I think really does not reflect well on you, Rhun ap Iorwerth. I don't hide from the individual challenges. On either of the points you make, I obviously can't comment on what happened in individual cases, but I will remind you again about the reason and the rationale for introducing the clinical response model—not simply clinical opinion, but the evidence about how we run our ambulance system and whether or not we're getting the help to people in the most urgent and life-threatening emergency cases. And the previous system—there's a lot of evidence, accepted by people across this Chamber and outside—did not serve the interests of the patient well. We had a number of categories for an eight-minute response that simply did not make sense. We reviewed the evidence and it showed that—no surprise—a 40-year-old system was out of date. We then had clinical evidence and advice on an improved system to prioritise people in the greatest need. That was supported by front-line paramedic staff. It was supported by leadership within the ambulance service and the wider health service. That's the model we've implemented.

We have also, though, had an independent review of the new system and that review was looking at the categorisation of calls. So, rather than politicians arguing with each other about which particular condition should be in which particular category, we're again looking at a proper evaluation and a proper basis upon which to make that choice. That must be the right way to proceed, not to have a campaign-led approach to which condition should be in which category, but to have proper evidence and clinical advice on what to do and then to do the right thing—[Interruption.] And then to do the right thing by staff within the whole system and by the people of Wales we are supposed to be here to serve.

How dare you say that I should be embarrassed? How dare you say that I should be embarrassed for suggesting that your system is broken? It is NHS staff on the front line, be it in ambulances or in accident and emergency units, who are telling me that the system is broken. You're in charge of the system, and we want a better system for the patients that deserve that, frankly, here in Wales.

It's deeply upsetting for ambulance staff, whether in control centres, or paramedics on the road, to witness and deal with cases where they wanted to and could have made a difference but they were unable to because they were parked, because of the system, outside hospitals. It's perhaps no surprise that ambulance staff have the highest rates of staff sickness out of all NHS staff. I want that to change, and one thing we have to be doing here is involving the staff much more in debates about the future of our service. It's the staff on the front line who themselves know how the service can be improved. So, will you give an undertaking to engage much more—[Interruption.]—to engage much more with staff on the front line—maybe you don't care; I do—

—and listen to their demands? Both paramedics on the road and control room staff, they need to be engaged with, they've got ideas, they're the ones on the front line, they deserve to be listened to.

Well, I make no apology for saying the NHS is not broken. I make no apology for being offended by the way you have approached this issue. I've met—[Interruption.] I've met—[Interruption.] I have met paramedics through the worst of times. When I was appointed as a Deputy Minister for Health at that time and meeting paramedics at that time, they were angry and they were despondent. They wanted the system to change. They recognised they were in a mad rush to meet a target they did not believe in, they did not believe served the patient well or them as members of staff well. They were directly engaged in helping to change that system. We listened to what paramedics were saying to us at the time, and we continue to listen. I have spent a large amount of my time in this office going out and directly listening to staff in their workplaces. I was with paramedics last week within north Wales. I was listening to them about the work they're doing to improve our healthcare system, the work on a trial being run in north Wales that I think is likely to be rolled out across the rest of the country, using advanced paramedics to improve out-of-hospital care to avoid unnecessary admissions. And we will continue to listen to our staff. We will continue to see them engage, as they already are, as individuals in their workplaces, within their trade unions and their representatives, because this is a system that is looking to improve and to learn. And I think that if you spent more time with representatives in our system to look at the improvements that have taken place within these last few years, and to look at the further improvements we are planning and trialing, I think you might take a slightly different perspective.

14:00
Neighbourhood Nursing Care

3. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on progress in developing the Buurtzorg pilots of neighbourhood nursing care in Wales? OAQ51901

Yes. The Aneurin Bevan, Cwm Taf and Powys health boards, which cover a variety of urban, Valleys and rural areas of Wales, are looking to trial this style of pilot. They have been commissioned to pilot prototype neighbourhood district nursing teams building on the Buurtzorg model. They are currently working up their plans for these pilots, with the aim to start them early in the new financial year.

The Buurtzorg model of self-determining small teams in charge of a group of citizens who need social care seems to me a really interesting way of improving and reshaping services to better meet people's needs. I'm particularly interested in the way in which around 900 teams in the Netherlands, which is obviously where this system has started, are now supported by no more than 50 administrators and 20 trainers, and meanwhile they spend at least 60 per cent of their time in direct contact with the people they're looking after. So, it's obviously of great interest to people as to how we move forward in light of the parliamentary review. Could you tell us what attention is being paid to the trials that have been progressing elsewhere in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland—how much information you're getting from how well they're working there? How quickly do you think the results of the Welsh pilots can be disseminated across the rest of the NHS in Wales? And would you agree that the Buurtzorg model is exactly the sort of bold new model of seamless care that is highlighted in the parliamentary review, and therefore something we should take great interest in?

Yes, we're obviously interested in the Buurtzorg model and the application of that here in Wales. Officials are looking at the work in Scotland, where they're looking to implement—they're at a very early stage. In London, they're slightly more advanced, with some pilots being up and running. I do think that these are things that are consistent with the views set out in the parliamentary review about new models of neighbourhood care—really local healthcare. The timetable for the pilot to be set out is to look to do this over two years, to have some useful evidence in a variety of settings for some whole-system learning, and then I hope that if there are models that we should implement, then there's a challenge for the system to be able to deliver that on a rapid basis. Officials have also met with Public World and Buurtzorg Britain & Ireland, who are supporting the pilots in Scotland and England. So, we have the best opportunity to look at what's taking place there, as well as the work that is yet to start in Northern Ireland.

Well, we're very interested in this model as well, here in the Welsh Conservatives, and I hope that you'll be able to update us on the work of the pilots over these next two years. It's only one model, of course. You'll be aware of one model of particular interest to me, and that's the Neath primary care hub one, which was supported by Welsh Government Pacesetter money in 2016, and which had the thumbs up from GPs, including the royal college, as well as patients. I'm just wondering if you can give us some sort of indication of what happens to the evaluations of these various trials, and confirm whether the integrated care fund can be used to move a successful pilot into a sustainable fixture. Or is it a bit more of a case that all partners need to chip in to an investment pot in order to make those pilots into something that lasts a bit longer—successful ones?

I will, of course, be happy to update Members as we make more progress on the Buurtzorg-style pilots that the question started off with. In terms of the broader learning from the Neath Pacesetter, I had a very interesting visit there with both David Rees and Jeremy Miles as constituency representatives, looking at the variety of the work that they have in the hub that supports GPs themselves, but also the very positive story that GPs have to tell about telephone triage providing better access to their patients, they believe, and the challenge of staff getting used to it, and patients as well. But also, they believe it's made the job of the general practitioner a better job to do. They also have faster access to different healthcare staff in the hub as well. So, there is lots of learning. It's not just a matter for the ICF, actually; it's also a matter for clusters to look at as well. Of all the different Pacesetters around the country we've invested in, our challenge now is an understanding and an evaluation of the progress they've made, and how we roll that out in an improved model of local healthcare across the country. Because much of this could take place in a number of different communities around the country. It is pace that is the challenge, and that is about the buy-in from cluster leadership and individual clusters, and the variety of people within those local healthcare clusters, which will be really important in being able to do so.

14:05
Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Services

4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on drug and alcohol rehabilitation services in Wales? OAQ51899

We invest almost £50 million a year in our substance misuse agenda, with the actions that we are taking highlighted in our latest substance misuse delivery plan. This includes supporting drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. These services are, of course, commissioned regionally by area planning boards, based on an assessment of local need.

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Drug abuse is a massive issue in our prisons—the primary reason why prisoners offend in the first place and a reason why many reoffend. Despite efforts by prison staff, who work extremely hard to provide mandatory drug testing and help prisoners come off drugs, this work is sometimes undone because, upon release, prisoners are often abandoned at the prison gates, with no housing or ongoing support. Cabinet Secretary, what is the Welsh Government doing to support the rehabilitation of drug addicts in the criminal justice system in order to combat reoffending rates?

I had a meeting today at which part of this issue was covered—about the adequacy of NHS healthcare within the prison system. Of course, Parc we don't have oversight for because it's the nature of it being a private prison. Actually, the oversight there comes from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons. There is a challenge here also about recognising, once prisoners are released, their relationship with the probation service. I really do regret the changes that have been made by the United Kingdom Government to the probation service. I think it is a less robust service that is less able to properly support people on their release from a custodial sentence, and I think they are more likely to reoffend and find themselves in a vulnerable position as a result. But there is a regular amount of work that looks at healthcare within prisons, of which, of course, substance misuse is an important part, and I expect to have a further update from the joint work being done by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and Her Majesty's inspectorate on the adequacy of the service being provided.

Cabinet Secretary, I wonder if you would join me in applauding the work of Kaleidoscope and Gwent Drug and Alcohol Service in providing a wide range of activities for those in recovery from their drug and alcohol problems, so that they can develop new interests, find more useful ways of occupying their time in aiding that recovery process and, in particular, recognise new initiatives, such as this Saturday, when I will be joining Kaleidoscope staff and service users at Newport parkrun, where they're developing a collaboration to offer further opportunities for those in recovery to develop new interests and find useful purposes in life.

I've visited the Kaleidoscope service, and I recognise the commitment of the staff there. Again, going back to some of the other issues that we've discussed, recovery is not a simple one-step journey. It will be different for different people. I recognise the parkrun. I won't be joining you—I'll make that clear—on Saturday, but there are a variety of different means to aid that recovery, different interests and different distractions. But also, it involves taking care of your physical health in that recovery journey. So, I recognise the work. They are a valued partner, commissioned by the area planning boards that are delivering those services, and they're a good model for what a successful service looks like.

During the 21 November Welsh Government debate on tackling substance misuse, I noted that, despite the all-Wales substance misuse framework for residential rehabilitation, large numbers of people from Wales proportionately were still being referred to providers in England that weren't on the framework. I have since received concerns from the sector, saying that the pathway to residential rehabilitation in Wales is fractured, there's a postcode lottery in access to residential rehabilitation in Wales, and residential services are not commissioned in the true sense but spot-purchased. How, therefore, are you delivering, or going to deliver, on the Welsh Conservative amendment that was passed in that debate unanimously, including with support from your own party, calling on the Welsh Government to increase capacity in tier 4 in-patient detoxification and residential rehabilitation services, recognising that this is not an alternative to recovery-focused services within the community?

14:10

Well, it would be helpful if the Member could write to me with the detail that he's provided and I will happily look at it, because I do expect area planning boards to properly commission services and make sure that the need that we do have is properly met and, wherever possible, met within the most local setting. There may be times when specialist services are required outside of Wales, but I would expect our services that we commission and that we provide funding for are properly used, and used to their fullest extent.

Transfer of NHS Patients

5. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the transfer of NHS patients to the most appropriate care setting? OAQ51906

Yes. Effective collaboration between our NHS, local authorities and their partners is critical to achieving the transition of patients to settings that best meet their own ongoing care needs. The Welsh Government has issued guidance on managing that important process and recent trends suggest it is having a positive effect.    

Thank you, Minister. I recently visited a small, independent care home in my constituency, and the owner left me in no doubt about the importance of co-operation between local government, local health boards and others to ensure that all patients receive the care that they need. He also highlighted how the process of transferring a patient to a different care setting can impact on the patient and their families, causing additional stress at what is already a worrying time. The integrated care fund encourages partnership working between those supporting people due to be discharged from care and people at risk of unnecessary admission to hospital or residential care homes. With the former Minister Rebecca Evans, I visited a great example in my own constituency, in Malpas, the Parklands. Can the Minister set out how we can utilise the fund creatively to ensure that patients are in the most appropriate care setting for their needs?

Yes, and it's a critical point. In some ways, the intermediate care fund and the use of it to enable effective not only discharge, but to ease that transition to the right care setting for the individual, whether that's in their home with the wraparound care that they need to support independent living or, actually, to a care home itself and, again, with the appropriate support as well, is critical. The ICF fund has done so much on this, not only in the Gwent area, but also where it's enabled teams that I visited in Ysbyty Maelor, in Caerphilly, in the Vale of Glamorgan and elsewhere, who actually use the ICF funding and the flexibility it gives to ease that transition, to make the right choices. And it is, of course, fundamentally focused on collaborative working, not only between the local authority and our NHS, but also third sector partners on the ground—those people who really can react to the needs of the individual.

So, within the Gwent area itself, we have, for example, within the £60 million overall envelope of the ICF this year, £9 million allocated within the Gwent region. 'Taking Wales Forward', of course, committed to retaining this fund, because we can see that, in some ways, this presages where we should be going with health and social care and in terms of the parliamentary review that the Cabinet Secretary referred to: collaborative working, making the money go further, but delivering better outcomes. And we're seeing this more and more now, right across Wales.

Cabinet Secretary, figures for the last year show that patients delayed on acute, community rehabilitation and other wards faced shorter delays in accessing the next stage of care than those delayed on mental health wards. Indeed, almost 80 per cent of patients delayed over 26 weeks are on mental health wards. What is the Welsh Government doing to tackle the problem of delayed transfers of care for mental health patients in Wales, please?

Yes, indeed, absolutely. Delayed transfers of care are at the centre of this—managing this transition effectively. And, of course, the right care that I was referring to earlier includes the right mental health care as well, and treatment, in the right setting as well. The good news is that this is not flicking a switch and we've suddenly removed delayed transfers of care overnight to the appropriate setting, but the work that we have been doing has been having real progress. So, I can tell the Member in response to his question that the total number of delayed transfers last year, in 2017, was 750—that's 750 too many, but it's 13 per cent lower than it was the previous year, and it's the lowest full year recorded in the 12 years for which delayed transfers of care statistics have been collected. The all-Wales total of delayed transfers of care in the January 2018 census was 442. Now, we acknowledge that this was slightly up—it was 4 per cent up in comparison with December of the previous year—but it was still, despite those massive pressures we've had this year, the third lowest January in the 12 years we've collected data. So, we're clearly doing something right, but if the Member is happy I think I'll write to him with some detail on specifically what we're doing on mental health as well to clarify, as part of that approach, where we're dealing with making sure it's the right transition for those who also have mental health needs as well.FootnoteLink

14:15
Ambulance Response Times in Powys

6. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on ambulance response times in Powys? OAQ51885A

In January, 68.3 per cent of red calls in Powys received a response within eight minutes. The Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust continues to work with the health board, the voluntary sector and fire and rescue service partners to improve responsiveness in rural areas like Powys where it can be more difficult to predict the focus of demand.

Cabinet Secretary, can I thank you for your answer? I have to say, since November, I have received a significant increase in concerns reporting worrying delays in the time it takes for an ambulance to arrive following a 999 call. It seems, by the questions being put to you over the last couple of days, that that's increasing as well in terms of Members.

Now, I have to say, there's one incident of a constituent who fell over on the street in Newtown and waited an hour and a half on a cold pavement for the ambulance to arrive. In that time, the constituent's situation seriously deteriorated. I have to say, I wrote to the ambulance trust, and what they said to me was that this was unacceptable. But they also said it was unfortunate and unavoidable, and they went on to say to me that, of the nine emergency vehicles available in the Powys locality, seven were waiting outside hospitals to transfer patients to the care of hospital staff.

Now, this does seem to be an issue that specifically revolves around Wrexham Maelor, unfortunately, as well. I have to say, this weekend I had a further issue raised with me of a Welshpool resident waiting seven hours for an ambulance to arrive. I'm not expecting you to comment on these specific examples, but these are very distressing, of course, for the patient, distressing for those waiting with the patient, and very frustrating for the ambulance and paramedic staff who do a great job in supporting when they arrive there as well.

Can I ask you: I would be grateful if you could provide me with details about what you are doing to prevent the handover times at hospitals causing these delays? I'm sure you will agree that these incidents are unacceptable, and that these incidents are unfortunately increasing.

Yes, I recognise the picture you're painting and the fact that, through this winter, we've had more people wait too long to receive a service, and I don't try to claim that that is acceptable at all. There's a challenge to understand what we need to do across our system to improve that, indeed including choices about capacity or not, but you highlight one of our challenges, which is lost hours and handover challenges in particular. Now, the guidance that has been given out in emergency departments actually looks to make sure that people are swiftly handed over from the ambulance into the emergency department, and there are challenges in different units around Wales about the ability to do so as rapidly as we see, for example, in Cwm Taf, which has always been—well, certainly in the last few winters—the exemplar of rapid handovers, and managing the risk within an emergency department rather than having an unmanaged risk within the community if ambulances are held up.

I recognise the distress for individual citizens and their families and also the frustration for staff. There is a programme of work going on within Wales about that. The clinical director for unscheduled care, Jo Mower, who is a consultant from the Heath, is looking to have that conversation with colleagues around the country about improving practice, but, of course, we now highlight the lost hours that are provided. It wasn't something that was initially put into the public domain. It is regularly, as a result of the new system we've introduced—. But your concern about Powys isn't a particular issue about Wrexham Maelor, because I have to say that the bulk of handover delays affecting Powys patients in the last two months are actually at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. There is a challenge in both Wrexham and Bronglais to be addressed, but the largest part of the challenge affecting your constituents is actually Shrewsbury.

14:20
Dental Services in Mid and West Wales

7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on dental services in Mid and West Wales? OAQ51902

Thank you. Access to NHS dental care has improved significantly in recent years, although difficulties do remain in some areas. Health boards have budgets and responsibility for the provision of dental services and are working to address gaps in service provision through their operational plans.

Well, Cabinet Secretary, you say that things have improved over the past few years, but certainly over the past year, from what I have seen from the constituents approaching me, there has been a decline, and that decline is getting worse. So, there is no NHS dentist now in Aberystwyth. There is no chance for new patients to register with a dentist in the largest town in mid Wales. There is a waiting list of three years for orthodontic services in Hywel Dda. I have raised this over the past two years. There has been no improvement in this area. I have a patient who is a constituent of mine in the Betsi Cadwaladr area who is still waiting for crucial implants because the dental consultant who was brought in temporarily to Betsi Cadwaladr has now returned to Birmingham without having dealt with a patient who has been waiting over a year.

The dental situation is deteriorating. What specific steps are you going to take, particularly in Betsi Cadwaladr, which you're directly responsible for, but also in Hywel Dda, to ensure that these services not only cease to decline but start to improve?

Over the last decade, we've actually seen 45,000 more NHS patients receiving NHS dental care in Hywel Dda. Our challenge is our ability to keep up with the pace of demand, and I do recognise there are real challenges, particularly around orthodontics, about which I know you've written to me on several occasions. I recognise that some people are waiting longer than they should, but we also need to examine what's actually taking place within the waiting lists, and when people are being referred, whether the appropriate referral is being made at the time. That's part of the need to look at the service.

But, positively, I have spoken to both health boards about their plans, because in the last year both health boards underspent on their ring-fenced dental budgets. So, there is a challenge about making sure they spend the resources they have for dental services. I expect to see improved plans for the year ahead and I give you great assurance about the level of detail in the Hywel Dda plan, because I do understand that they are looking at providing greater services. They've got a plan for the next three years. They're starting a tender process—sorry, there's a tender process under way, and that will include new services at 10 locations across the Hywel Dda health board area. I look for a similar level of confidence in the detail of the plan for north Wales, because I fully expect that you and other Members will continue to ask questions if your constituents continue to wait an unacceptable level of time for the service, or find that there isn't an NHS dentist within a reasonable travelling distance.

Priorities for the Health Service in Pembrokeshire

8. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline the Welsh Government's priorities for the health service in Pembrokeshire for the next 12 months? OAQ51880

We will continue to work with Hywel Dda university health board to provide the people of Pembrokeshire with health services that deliver the best possible outcomes for patients. We will continue to be guided by the best and most up-to-date clinical evidence and advice to deliver that high-quality care.

Cabinet Secretary, as you're already aware, Hywel Dda university health board will shortly be consulting on its proposals to transform services in west Wales. As you know, I strongly oppose any proposals that would result in services at Withybush hospital being downgraded, or the hospital being closed down completely, which as you know the health board has not ruled out. 

In the circumstances, could you confirm for the record today that you've held discussions with the Hywel Dda university health board regarding this consultation? And could you also confirm that the Welsh Government has guaranteed that funding will be made available for whichever options the local health board decides to issue for consultation? Because if this is not the case, then what is the point of consulting on any options at all?

There are three points to make about your question. I understand the concern of Members of every party about any consultation on the future of health services within their area. On the specifics about what may or may not happen, I've had broad conversations with every health board, and on a national level as well. If you've had the pleasure or otherwise of listening to me make speeches over the last two years, you'll have heard me say regularly that we need to see deliberate planned reform within the service, rather than waiting for change to happen at a time of chaos or when the services fall over. That's the indication that I've given. It's also backed up by the parliamentary review saying we need to plan for the future, because our current model of service delivery is not fit for the future. So, I expect the health board to continue with their plans for a consultation on the future of healthcare services within mid and west Wales. I haven't gone into the detail of what that might be, because I may have a role as a decision maker in the process. 

On the second point about when that will start to happen, my understanding is that from the April board there should then be a public consultation on the defined options. I have not had early sight or looked to approve those in any way. I think it's really important that I make sure that there is not just a licence or empowerment to have this conversation, but an expectation that health boards have this conversation with their staff and with their public, and set out very clearly what this means for them—what this means in terms of the quality of the service, what this means in terms of access and what this means for the future. We then have to have questions about an agreed vision on what future funding there is, because you should expect me not to give complete carte blanche to any health board to say that any plan they come up with will be funded on any basis. I expect to see options come forward, and I expect us to work with any and every health board on looking at how we are able to support them in delivering the future of healthcare delivery within their area. 

I recognise you want me to give a level of detail to this, but I'm simply not in a position to do so, and it would not be appropriate for me to try and do so when I also, of course, will need to understand the future financial resources available to this Government and, indeed, to the health service area in particular. 

14:25
2. Questions to the Counsel General

We now move to questions to the Counsel General, and the first question is from Mark Reckless. 

The Commission on Justice in Wales

1. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the work of the Commission on Justice in Wales? OAQ51888

The First Minister has established the Commission on Justice in Wales to provide an expert, independent, long-term view. It has started work and has issued a call for evidence. I urge everyone with an interest to contribute.

A month into his appointment as Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas gave a lecture in which he said that European lawyers looked at England and Wales with admiration of our legal system for its independence, for its professionalism and for the fact that it has been the essential underpinning of our democratic way of life, and our general prosperity for hundreds of years. While many of us recognise the logic of jurisdiction following legislature and know that our present position is anomalous, does the Counsel General agree that the commission offers the right approach to ensure careful consideration and a degree of caution before seeking to separate or distinguish ourselves from a shared jurisdiction as successful as Lord Thomas described? 

The Member acknowledges that the issue isn't straightforward. There are divergent views on this issue. He will be aware of the Welsh Government's position, as set forth in the Government of Wales draft Bill that itself put in the public domain. It is perfectly evident that being the only legislature that we can think of that does not have its own jurisdiction poses very significant challenges, and very significant constraints on the exercise of the devolved powers that we have, and in fact has shaped the devolution settlement in a way that is not helpful to the people of Wales. Had we had different jurisdictional arrangements, then some of the limitations that we face would not be in place and we would be able to use our powers more broadly and, perhaps, more effectively in some areas. So, I think it has to be seen against that backdrop. 

There are many ways of ensuring that we maintain the current dependability, reliability and reputation of the jurisdiction that we exercise here in Wales, as well as that exercised in England. None of that is imperilled by a distinct or separate jurisdiction, and I think part of the journey that we're on in this commission is to explain and consider that in a way that is expert and independent, and underpins a better understanding amongst people in Wales of the virtues of having a distinct and, in due course, a separate jurisdiction.   

The First Minister has said that he wants a different justice system for Wales, in an answer given over the past few weeks, but the Government policy isn't clear on new prisons here in Wales. The First Minister tends to be more willing to accept that than the new Minister, Alun Davies. What discussions has the commission had in the context of the fact that, if there were to be a new prison here in Wales, and if there were to be more demand for more prisoners from outwith Wales to go to that prison rather than prisoners from Wales itself, how could we create a uniquely and inherently Welsh policy in the context of the fact that people from various different areas of Britain would be coming to prisons in Wales?

I noted the content of the debate that Jenny Rathbone brought forward in the past few days, and the Member's contribution to that debate in that context. The commission has sought evidence from people in the context of the criminal justice system, and I would urge the Member, and others, to contribute to that. The Cabinet Secretary, in his response to the debate, said how important it was to have a criminal justice system that suited the needs of the people of Wales, and to note the particular needs of prisoners in Wales. The example given was that there wasn't a women's prison in Wales, and that we needed a completely different policy for Wales, rather than the one being followed by the Government in Westminster. So, I hope that there will be developments in that field from that point of view, and certainly from the point of view of prisons, that we need a specific long-term policy for the needs of Wales.

14:30
Air Pollution Legislation

2. What legal advice has the Counsel General provided to the Welsh Government in relation to the implementation of air pollution legislation? OAQ51883

I thank the Member for his question. Wales currently meets the legal limits for almost all air pollutants, but faces significant challenges in reducing levels of nitrogen dioxide. I fully support the Welsh Government’s commitment to improving air quality across Wales, including various initiatives to tackle air pollution to ensure compliance with the relevant statutory duties.

Thank you for that answer, Counsel General. According to guidance set out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Transport, so-called charging authorities can establish clean-air zones under the Transport Act 2000. Now, as he will know, the Wales Act 2017 exempts only trunk road charging schemes and matters relating to the Traffic Management Act 2004 from its list of reserved transport powers. So, does the Counsel General, therefore, foresee any difficulties in establishing clean-air zones in Wales, especially when they include roads that are not trunk roads?

Well, the Member will be aware that the Welsh Government intends to consult on a clean-air zone framework, by the end of April 2018, which will set out the principles for operating clean-air zones in Wales, and as a means of accelerating compliance where it's needed, and helping to reduce pollution more widely. I know from previous questions that he's asked that he's paid close attention to the High Court litigation recently, in relation to nitrogen dioxide levels generally. He'll know that an undertaking was given to the court to bring forward a plan to consult on clean-air zones by the end of April, and to introduce a framework by the end of July this year.

Abortion

3. What legal advice has the Counsel General provided regarding changing the law in Wales to allow women to take abortion tablets in their homes? OAQ51905

I am aware of the statement of opinion tabled last week in the names of Jenny Rathbone and Julie Morgan, and that the Member had subscribed to that statement. I was in the Chamber yesterday to hear a question posed to the First Minister on this topic also. In Scotland, pregnant women can take the second stage of a medical abortion at home. However, this position has recently been challenged by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, and we here will keep an eye on the position in Scotland.FootnoteLink

Thank you for that response, Counsel General. I am of the opinion, as is outlined in the statement of opinion, that we should take a medical approach to this issue, rather than a legal approach that is based on old law emerging from some of the ethical debates that were taking place over half a century ago. I think we are now looking at this through a medical lens, and what is best for the woman, and what is best for health. So, my understanding is, as has just been mentioned by the Counsel General, that there is some legal doubt as to some aspects of this, and, if so, do we need greater clarity on the legal position here in Wales, and does the Government have any intention to tackle that issue?

Well, the Abortion Act 1967 gave powers to Ministers in Scotland to use those powers, and to Ministers here in Wales, to be able to list categories of locations as places where it is possible to allow the second phase of an abortion to take place. What has happened in Scotland, which gives context to the discussion here in Wales, is that the Ministers took that decision last October and provided medical guidelines for the health service in Scotland in that context. But, as I just mentioned, a legal challenge has been set following that. That challenge is not in the public domain yet, I don't think, but it is relevant to the legal analysis in Scotland, as it is also here in Wales. So, it is important for us to keep that under review before we can be certain of the legal position that is relevant here too. But the subject is obviously extremely important and is one that we should actually look at through the current lens, as the Member mentioned in his question.

14:35

What you've just told us about the challenge to the Scottish decision is very interesting. It's difficult to understand in the context of what we're asking women to do is to take this pill and then go home on the bus and have the miscarriage on the bus, and I can't see how this in their best interests, or indeed prudent healthcare. So, I'd be very interested to know what action you think the Welsh Government might take in the light of this challenge, whether you're going to wait for this challenge to run its course, which could be many months, or whether you might be prepared to bite the bullet on what, as far as I understand it, is perfectly within the health Secretary or the Government's domain to extend the place where medical abortions can be carried out. 

Well, the issue that the Member identified is of course a critical issue about the safety of women and the supportive environment in which what is a medical process continues to the end of the process, if you like. And, so, that is obviously the live issue at the heart of this question. As I say, the legal framework is the same for Ministers in Wales as it is in Scotland. I think it's right that we should have regard to what the challenge contains, so that we understand what the potential outcomes are, but certainly, from the perspective of encouraging women to be safe when they are undertaking this procedure, clearly the concerns that the Member raises are absolutely paramount in that context. 

Wild Animals in Circuses

4. What discussions has the Counsel General held regarding the Welsh Government's ability to use section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to introduce a ban on wild animals in circuses? OAQ51903

We listened to the debate on the petition that was held last week, and there were almost 6,500 signatories to that petition. Welsh Government is committed to exploring opportunities to bring forward legislation to ban the use of wild animals in circuses in Wales.

Thank you for that response, which doesn't really help in assisting us to understand what the Welsh Government intends to do. Clearly, this section could be used, as it gives Ministers very broad powers to intervene in cases of animal welfare. It is clear too that we could use primary legislation in this place—a Bill and an Act going through this place. Now, in the past, you as counsel general and your predecessor counsels general have generally favoured Bills, because they do give an opportunity to provide some context and to tidy up some other aspects of the law too. But, it's clear that the Assembly wishes to see urgent action in this area. Plaid Cymru is of the view that it would be appropriate to use section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and I would want to know where Government thinking is now on using this section because there is so much other legislation in the pipeline emerging from Brexit and other issues. Isn't now the time for you to give the appropriate legal advice to enable Lesley Griffiths to proceed on this issue?

Well, with section 12 of the 2006 Act, what is important is that strong evidence supports the argument for animal welfare. The UK Government has been clear that there isn't a sufficiently robust basis for that, and more than one report has demonstrated that. The Welsh Government commissioned a report that demonstrated that there was evidence to support that to some extent, but the risk within the welfare analysis is that it won't be adequate to withstand any legal challenge in the courts. There has been discussion, as the Cabinet Secretary alluded to in a recent debate. There has been discussion with the UK Government on a joint Bill, so that we could actually tackle that challenge that jointly, but that will take time. Consideration has been given to a specific Act to deal with this, and the powers that will come to us under the new settlement are broader, of course, and won't restrict us just to looking at animal welfare specifically. I listened to the comments of both the Members and the Cabinet Secretary in that debate, and I cannot discuss legal advice here, but I understand the strength of people's standpoints in this context.

14:40

Can we just be clear, does section 12 give you the ability to ban wild animals in circuses or not? 

Well, I'll just refer the Member to the discussion I've just had about that, which is about the availability of evidence supporting that. There is a question around that and as I've said, I'm not going to discuss legal advice that I'm giving on this particular point, but I've heard the discussion in the debate and the comments of the Cabinet Secretary in relation to that. 

European Citizenship

5. What discussions has the Counsel General held with law officers regarding securing European citizenship for people in Wales following Brexit? OAQ51904

We value the freedoms and access that come with EU citizenship. Our future prosperity is intrinsically linked with our ability to secure full and unfettered single market access, including Welsh citizens’ ability to work in Europe. 

Thank you for that. Does the Counsel General agree with me that under international law it is questionable whether, in fact, European citizenship can be stripped from an individual without their explicit consent, regardless of the UK's exit from the European Union? And, following the successful passage of a Plaid Cymru motion in the House of Commons last week, the Westminster Government must now respond within 12 weeks to outline their position on the future of European citizenship, so what pressure is he putting on his counterparts in London to make sure the option of continued European citizenship remains on the table?

I think he's partly referring to the report commissioned by Jill Evans in this area, which I've had the opportunity of reading part of and there are many creative arguments in there for the continuation of European citizenship. When I was a member of the Brexit committee, the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, we visited the European Parliament and met with Guy Verhofstadt there who has a very clear view on this area. Members may know that this morning, a matter of hours ago, the European Parliament passed a resolution at 544 votes in favour, 110 against, which supported the position in relation to ensuring that UK and EU citizens' rights should not be adversely affected by Brexit, which is a key issue for the Parliament's consent in due course. So, that has reinforced the argument about not damaging the rights of Welsh, UK or EU citizens in this regard.

I think it's an area where there's obviously disagreement between the UK Government and the EU 27. It's one where I think we need some creativity to resolve that issue. The Welsh Government's position, which it advocates for strongly with the UK Government, is to ensure that the rights of Welsh citizens as part of the UK are protected with regard to this. And that's consistent with having a migration system that is managed but flexible and gets us as close as possible to continued access—full and unfettered access—to the single market. It's really important though that the position's clarified as quickly as possible in the interests of Welsh citizens and in the interests of the rest of the EU, because these are not just academic discussions, these are not just legalistic discussions, these are the lives of individuals and decisions they're having to make every day in relation to their future residence. 

I've raised related questions on previous occasions with the previous Counsel General about the impact of the Vienna convention, I think, of 1969 on vested treaty rights. But would the Counsel General agree with me that one of the problems, which the EU has at the moment, which is causing electorates all over the continent to become more and more restive is the indiscriminate granting of EU citizenship? Italy alone, this year, granted 850,000 people citizenship, largely because, as a result of Schengen, that gets them out of Italy and into other countries, and that, therefore, firm control over migration is just as important for the rest of the European Union as it is indeed for the United Kingdom. 

The Member's position on this is very clear and he repeats it at every possible opportunity. We have a fundamentally different view of what the nature is of being a citizen living in the EU in the twenty-first century. In common I think with most Members of this Chamber, I regard it as important that Welsh citizens, UK citizens, are able to move freely and are able to settle freely as far as possible in the future across the rest of the EU, and that, equally, Wales remains open and welcoming to citizens from other countries who make a significant contribution to our economy and our culture. And that remains my position and the position of Welsh Government. 

Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement

6. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the impact of the European Commission’s draft EU withdrawal agreement on Wales? OAQ51908

14:45

We are studying the EU’s draft document carefully. Our priorities for transition are certainty, clarity and minimum disruption. It's essential that the transition period is agreed at the March council because the current uncertainty prevents proper planning, and that is unhelpful to say the least.

Thank you for that answer, Counsel General. The publication of the draft codification of the withdrawal agreement arose following the December meeting of the Council of Ministers to ensure that they ratified the agreement that they came to. It covers six parts, two protocols, 165 articles, clearly focusing on the phase 1 agreement, but also on the transition period, and covers areas including citizen-acquired rights, which you mentioned in the previous question, but also the issues relating to perhaps intellectual property and other aspects of business and regulatory issues, particularly the transition period. What discussions have you had with other legal officers across the UK to ensure that Welsh interests are protected in this process?

I thank the Member for that question, which is absolutely crucial and refers back to the point that I just made about the absolute necessity of getting certainty, both for Welsh citizens and for businesses exporting to the rest of the EU. One of the most significant unknowns at the moment is the nature of the arrangements for implementing the withdrawal agreement. Dominic Grieve in the House of Commons brought forth a successful amendment and the UK Government will now bring forth a separate Bill. But we don't know in the Welsh Government when that will be introduced nor what it will say, nor what its relationship will be to the EU withdrawal Bill, for example. So, that's a clear example of the sort of uncertainty that we need to tackle straight away. We haven't been consulted by the UK Government on it and we don't know what devolution issues it raises in particular, which is obviously at the heart of this. We've seen, in the context of the discussions around the EU withdrawal Bill how absolutely essential those questions of devolution are, for us to protect our rights in this Chamber on behalf of the people of Wales. So, we need engagement from the UK Government on its proposed mechanism for implementing the withdrawal agreement as a matter of priority.

Counsel General, the draft agreement proposes a common regulatory area on Ireland, and it rightly proposes the need to sustain the Good Friday agreement, the all-Ireland economy and the north-south co-operation. Because the UK wants to leave the single market and the customs union, that means that a hard border would have to be created in the Irish sea and at Welsh ports. My colleague Rhun ap Iorwerth has been raising this on many occasions, but, from your perspective, is there any way that the Welsh Government can influence or even participate in any of the discussions about the nature of the UK's border with Ireland?

The challenge in relation to what's proposed by the UK Government in relation to Ireland is the difficulty of envisaging the sort of specific solutions that they can in fact bring forward to ensure a soft border while maintaining separate customs and regulatory regimes in Northern Ireland to the EU. From our perspective, the most rational outcome would be for the whole of the UK to remain fully aligned to the single market and remain in a customs union. We're absolutely not convinced that the potential economic benefits of free trade deals would outweigh the economic costs of customs barriers between the UK and the EU. As a Government, we take every opportunity of restating that position to the UK Government.

Counsel General, yesterday I welcomed the law derived from the EU (Wales) Bill, with particular reference to section 7, which allows for EU derived Welsh law to be interpreted in line with the EU charter of fundamental rights, which is not being transposed into UK law by the EU withdrawal Bill. Do you agree that the charter is vital to the safeguarding of equality and human rights protection, and is section 7 of the Bill robust enough, given that if the EU withdrawal Bill goes ahead as it is, laws in areas previously within EU competence, such as consumer protection and workers' rights, will be at risk?

Thank you for that question. It does indeed. It's an essential part of the toolkit that we have in Wales and the UK to protect human rights. The Welsh Government has been absolutely clear that it does not wish the UK withdrawal from the EU in any way to lead to a dilution in human rights protections, including the extended protections that are available under the charter, which Jane Hutt refers to in her question.

The Welsh Government supports the ongoing efforts to amend the EU withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords to ensure that the charter is fully incorporated into UK law after Brexit, and the UK Government has committed to look again at this issue and come back to the House of Lords at Report Stage with further proposals in relation to that.

It remains the Welsh Government's position that the best outcome for this is for the EU withdrawal Bill to include reference to the charter and to continue the application of the charter in the UK following Brexit. If that is not what is achieved, section 7 of our Bill, although it doesn't incorporate the charter in that sense, provides a good level of protection. We have to navigate in that Bill the complex issue of devolved competences in this area, and it's important to ensure that we have certainty that the provisions in the Bill are in competence. And in relation to that clause, we feel that including a reference to the charter in that way provides the opportunity of interpreting EU law in a way that is consistent with the charter and which continues in that sense the protections that we want to see sustained in Wales following Brexit.

14:50
The Welsh Government's New Economic Contract

7. What legal representations has the Counsel General made on behalf of the Welsh Government in relation to its new economic contract? OAQ51909

I thank the Member for her question. I've had initial discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport and will continue to engage as we develop and implement this flagship policy. 

Counsel General, it's welcome that the new economic contract will require businesses to do the right thing and deliver on Welsh Government priorities like fair work and decarbonisation. It is a legal relationship with these businesses, and they must be clear what is expected of them, and the Welsh Government must also be protected if these are not met. What steps are you taking to ensure that the Welsh Government is able to use these contracts to achieve its aims in developing the Welsh economy and make sure that Welsh Government financing is protected if they do not?

Absolutely. The point of the economic contract, as the Cabinet Secretary himself has said on many occasions, is to ensure that the investment that the Welsh Government makes achieves the social purpose that the Government wants to see, and it's central in that sense to the economic action plan. It will require more of businesses, and it will also require changes in behaviour on the part of the Welsh Government in relation to the particular areas that it seeks to encourage around fair work, promotion of health and promoting the reduction of the carbon footprint, for example.

The economic contract, of course, as you say, has legal dimensions to it, and it's at the heart of the economic action plan. I had discussions with the Cabinet Secretary leading up to the economic action plan around this and since in relation to the legal architecture that supports that contract, and the Cabinet Secretary and I have agreed that, once the contract is up and running in a kind of skeleton form, from this financial year forward, I will work with him to look at innovative ways in which the contract could potentially be extended to other areas of Government, as indicated in the plan as well. So, there's potential for that in the time ahead.

3. Topical Questions
Islamaphobia

1. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on Welsh Government plans to tackle Islamophobia and improve community cohesion in light of the 'Punish a Muslim' letters that have come to light recently? 155

Yes, indeed. Our Muslim communities are valued in Wales, and we are standing with them in abhorrence of this absolutely appalling campaign. We've established structures in Wales to tackle all forms of extremism and hate crime. These come together under our CONTEST extremism board and the Hate Crime Criminal Justice Board.

Thank you for that response. It was tricky whether to ask this question, because, of course, you raise awareness of the fact that these people exist and that they have such hate in their souls. I think the best response has been the Love a Muslim day on 3 April, which has been promoted to oppose the Punish a Muslim day. In my response, I said that I love a Muslim every day as I recently married my long-standing partner. I think it's important that we get ourselves immersed in these cultures as opposed to paying them lip service.

What I want to ask you as a Government is how we can ensure that community cohesion is real and is genuine. I believe that there is much more that we can be doing. We had an open day at the mosques recently here in Wales, which was a good start, but I'm thinking that we need to really get to grips with the hatred that exists, mostly online, and in our communities, with misinformation being passed around about what it is to be Muslim, and how we can target this in Wales in the most positive possible way, because I think that, with positivity, we can ensure that this message gets across. Some people may say that these types of messages are patronising, but I don't think, if we genuinely believe as Assembly Members that we want to create a positive community cohesion strategy here in Wales, that that's something that we cannot do.

So, can you exemplify to us how you are going about that, how AMs in their everyday working lives can be positive in outlining that, and how we can get to grips with tackling these types of attitudes robustly to make sure that they are not said again and that they are not acceptable forms of abuse?

14:55

No, absolutely right, Bethan. You've made an enormous number of very good points there, and, as I said when I was answering a question on the business statement yesterday to Julie Morgan, we are encouraging people to make sure that they come forward and report the fact that they've received some of these really hateful letters. And we're actually encouraging people to try and do that in a way that doesn't damage any evidence that might be found on the envelope. So, the police are taking very seriously tracking down the people who've done this. So, that's the first thing to say in this very specific instance: to make sure that people do come forward, report it, with the envelope if possible and touching it as little as possible in order to preserve that evidence. We understand that they appear to have been sent from the Sheffield area of England and appear to have been targeted at random post boxes. It's particularly hateful and it's obviously designed to make people afraid.

You're absolutely right that that's not something we can tolerate in any way at all, and, in fact, we very much want to do the very positive things that you've been saying, and we do do a lot of those. So, a lot of our mosques had the open mosque day very recently, and the central mosque in Swansea's actually having another in a couple of weekends' time. They're very well attended, actually. It's really great to see how many different members of the community go along to the mosque and get familiar with it and get to meet a lot of people, which I thought was a great thing. There was some great food as well, actually, which is worth mentioning.

But we do do a lot of very formal things as well. It's important to have the community informality, if you like, of loving your neighbours, loving all of the people who you live with in your community, but the Government needs to do some very formal things about this as well. One of the things that we most want to do is make sure that we teach the right things in schools. So, we teach community cohesion, tolerance and respect for others in our schools. For example—this is just one example—we teach a challenging extremism module through the global citizenship challenge in the Welsh baccalaureate, and that's been very popular. I've been to a couple of very stimulating discussions where people are discussing exactly that.

We also fund a number of things around supporting people who have encountered hate crime. But, in the spirit that you asked the question, in terms of the positive things that we do, we encourage our faith communities forum to have dialogue between the Welsh Government and all of our faith communities, which, obviously includes various communities inside the Muslim religion as well. One of the myths, of course, is that somehow Muslims are a homogenous group of people who are all the same, and we all know that they are as diverse a faith as Christianity is diverse. So, it's very important to make sure that you reflect the diversity across different faith groups in our groups as well. We seek to do that, and we're very aware of that.

I'm aware that the UK Government has published today the integrated community strategy Green Paper for consultation, and the consultation ends on 5 June. So, we'll be looking carefully at that to make sure that the implications for Wales are well understood and that we can take them into account. But actually, to be honest, we make representations where they don't match up with our policy, so we will be looking at that very carefully as well. But as you can see from these letters coming from the Sheffield area of England, this isn't something we can tackle alone; this has got to have a pan-UK and, actually, I would argue, a pan-European element to it, where we make sure that people feel welcomed and respected inside our communities. I very much regret that recently we have had a hardening of attitudes around a lot of misunderstandings around, for example, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and so on, which I think has not helped with the community cohesion agenda. But I am very heartened, when I go out to visit schools, to hear youngsters talking about it, because they speak very differently, and that's some of our policies coming into effect. 

Having said all of those things, though, I would be more than happy to discuss with you any other ideas you have that you think we can implement because we're very open to implementing anything that we think will work, and different things work in different communities because they have to be matched to that community. So, we have got EYST—the Ethnic Youth Support Team—running a pan-Wales programme, and one of the lessons from that is how individual those programmes need to be, depending on the nature of the particular community that you're talking to. So, I'd be very happy to have that dialogue with you on an ongoing basis.

15:00

Being a Muslim, I know what I'm going to say. This is—. Minister, this Islamaphobia is actually putting people—leading towards violence, marginalisation, exploitation, powerlessness. Islam is the second largest religion in the United Kingdom, and the people here are 99.999 per cent very peaceful and law-abiding citizens here, and contributing to the community and the country at the same time. The worst scenario is only a handful of people who acted wrongly—I accept that; Muslims in the name of Islam—like Europe and London and Manchester and everywhere. But the community at large should not be punished. That is—I think we politicians have failed. We need to understand. I know, since 1970—you're trying to do race relations rules and regulations and laws since 1974. Minister, have we achieved it? It's gone from bad to worse.

Islamaphobia is a minor thing. What we're saying is it's treated badly, insulted and even physically hurt the local people, our young. We are the fourth and fifth generation here. We are not the first generation coming from any third-world country or eastern Europe. Our grandchildren haven't seen our forefathers' land. They know this is their land. And when people tell them, being Muslim—your hijab being taken out, and a woman of a different colour is run over by a car and two young boys have been killed on the name of Islam in this country. It's totally, totally unacceptable.

I think the Government—. I know Welsh Government is doing a wonderful job, but the fact is, in the centre also, the whole United Kingdom must be united on this issue. We're not taking it bit by bit. We must make some rules, educate the media—the media is the worst part of this whole scenario. They are not making any articles. 2017 was the worst year in the history of the United Kingdom for hate crimes: 80,000, Presiding Officer, 82,000 nearly, hate crimes are recorded in this country. You imagine how many every week. So, are we really serving the community with the peace, love and affection that we preach, and political education to all of our communities? No. Where we are wrong—. We politicians have failed. We do not listen, we do not go in the right direction. We do not mix—. What we have done—. The Welsh Government alone cannot tackle this. We need all the communities to go side by side.

Only last month, which Bethan just mentioned, Muslim mosques in the United Kingdom opened their doors, in the severe weather, to the people who are homeless and without food. And those doors were open only for that particular reason, not for that—only for the sake of love as a human being. Forget religion here—not Islamaphobia, not anything else. So, we should go in the right direction. Muslims are trying their best. I was one of those who endorsed that, 'Yes. Open the doors of all mosques. Let the people in the streets go in the mosque in this severe weather', and I'm glad people did it. And they looked after them. We are trying our best, but I think you must go hand-in-hand with each other, shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. I think if there's anything that this country needs—. I'll be the first, and Muslims will be the first, to protect this country; I can assure you that. But media, as I said earlier, and other education systems, which Bethan earlier said—. We must educate the system and this is the time. Please do not wait too long, because it's nearly 50 years and we haven't achieved. We have to do something, Minister, in the next five years—at least in our lifetime. Thank you very much.

Yes, well, there's nothing that I—. I really feel that there's not much to add to that. I couldn't agree more with everything that you said. We are doing a large number of things here in Wales. We work very closely with the four police forces and the hate crime criminal justice board to make sure that we do have robust systems and legislation in place to investigate the hate crimes that you've been highlighting, and, more importantly in some ways, to support the victims and to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. But there is a much wider effect here, and, absolutely, the whole issue around people just perceiving themselves as people. 

Of course, the vast majority of people of the Muslim faith are peaceful and nice neighbours, in the same way as the vast majority of people are nice neighbours. Every community has people in it of which that community is not proud, and every community has people in it of which the community is very proud. All communities have the same. I think you've heard me saying in this Chamber before—I spent a large part of my young life going all around the world with my father, who had terrible itchy feet and needed to move on a lot, and we were always overwhelmed by the acceptance with which we were received into different communities, different faiths, different cultures. There was never any kind of problem at all, and I don't see any reason at all why that can't be reciprocal here in Wales.

There are some real issues around some of the policies that we have. We are working very closely with the UK Government to make sure that the UK Government's current stance on immigration doesn't have any unintended consequences. So, I have a group of people with whom I meet very regularly, and we have a Home Office representative there, and we raise issues where a particular policy may be having an unintended consequence in terms of community cohesion, for example. So, we do have very open channels of communication between us and the UK Government around making sure that we don't do things that exacerbate the kind of myth that you rightly highlight.

But, Llywydd, I think it's very important for us to state very firmly that we think this is abhorrent and that we very much, like all of our communities, equally, here in Wales, want to ensure that all of those communities live together peacefully and without this kind of abhorrent campaign against them.

15:05

Can I also join in the condemnation about this despicable hate mail? It was clearly designed to stoke fear in the Muslim community and, to some extent, I'm afraid it has been successful in that, and I think it's absolutely right that we stand shoulder to shoulder with Muslims here in Wales and across the UK in demonstrating our love and care for them in their communities. We've got to be able to overcome the prejudice and hate, and it's wonderful that we have an ambassador for the Muslim community here in the Assembly in Mohammad Asghar, who is passionate about these issues.

You referred earlier on, leader of the house, to religious education in our schools, and the role of our schools in helping to educate the next generation about the merits of tolerance and respect here in society. One of the things that has been raised in this Chamber in the past is a concern about the new curriculum reforms that are taking place in Wales and the status that religious education might have within the new curriculum in order that it can actually help to deliver these appropriate messages within our schools. So, I wonder to what extent you've discussed the risks that the current consideration of the new curriculum might have to ensuring that some of the good work that's already taking place in our schools isn't diminished by the changes and that it's actually enhanced.

Can I put on record as well that I had a very good friend, a Christian friend, who I used to work for, and he used to have this mantra that Islam should spell for everybody, 'I sincerely love all Muslims'—the letters of Islam? I think that we would do well to listen to his call to love all of our neighbours, regardless of their faith. For me, I think that the best that we can all do in this Chamber is, yes, to join in the condemnation, but also to take some positive action to love those Muslims in our community, to recognise the tremendous contribution that Muslim congregations in their mosques make, as well, to society in Wales at large, and to use this hate mail as an opportunity for good, so that we can help to recognise their achievements.

Yes, indeed, and, again, I've nothing to really add to that. That's a very potent way of putting it. I think the thing I mentioned was actually a module in the Welsh baccalaureate that is called 'Challenging extremism' that we teach as part of the modules that you can select in the Welsh baccalaureate. I have had some discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Education about the way that we teach citizenship and various other things. I have to say I've not had a specific conversation with her about religious education, although I'm very happy to do so. But we have had a number of conversations about the way that we teach citizenship and healthy relationships and tolerance and community cohesion, but I'm more than happy to include religious education in that conversation that I have very regularly with that Cabinet Secretary. The reason we have that very regularly is because we very much want to make sure that our children grow up in a spirit of tolerance and acceptance and good community relationships—good relationships with all of their neighbours.

To quote Jo Cox, the MP, 'We have more in common than that which divides us.' And, as I say, my own experience around the world has shown that, actually, all communities are very much the same. We all have myths around family relationships and so on, but, when you actually talk to somebody who appears to be from a very different culture to yours, you find that their myths are very similar, because actually very many human beings are all very similar. And, as I said in my earlier response, all communities have people of whom they are very proud, but also, I'm afraid, people that they are not so proud of. So, you're absolutely right. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone who has experienced fear and feels excluded because of this hateful campaign, and make sure that we both support the victims but also bring the perpetrators to justice. 

15:10
4. 90-second Statements

Diolch, Llywydd. This week we celebrate National Science Week and what science offers society. However, as we use this week to promote science, today we have seen the loss of one of the UK's great scientists in Professor Stephen Hawking. I'm sure Members across the Chamber will join me in sending condolences to his family and his friends on their loss. Many wonderful comments have been made by people from all aspects of society—politicians, academics, people from the media—regarding his work in driving an understanding of how the universe exists, and on his humanity. We must also recognise the impact he has had in bringing science, and in particular physics, into the lives of people. His book A Brief History of Time sold 10 million copies, and I have been told it's actually back to the top of the Amazon book list today. He was one of the first to make science attractive to a wider audience, and that must never be lost. He even appeared on The Simpsons, to make sure that that message was going forward. 

National Science Week gives us an opportunity to reflect upon how important science is to the Welsh economy. In one sector alone, the life sciences, we have 361 companies in Wales, listed over nine industries, with turnover estimated at £2 billion and with over 11,000 employees. Science truly underpins many industries within Wales, including the future of steel making in my constituency, and it's crucial that we continue to develop the future generations of scientists and engineers that will continue to drive that forward, and we address the gender imbalance that exists in science as well, and we remove the stereotype that exists, so we can then put out the appeal of the world of science to all young people and their parents.

In closing, Llywydd, as we remember Professor Hawking, let us all work to ensure his beliefs in the positivity of science permeate through all our actions.

Diolch, Llywydd. Last Friday, it was my great pleasure to join the community of Bedlinog, in my constituency, as they celebrated the opening of their community library. I've sat in this Chamber too often hearing about the loss of local services in so many communities in Wales, as we are unable to avoid the impact and the consequences of pressures caused by austerity and budget cuts. But, thankfully, in many cases, the response to these problems has been the initiative of local people who want to protect and improve their own community, and that is the story of Bedlinog community library. At a time when over 400 libraries across the country have closed, it is the effort of so many volunteers that has been a key part in securing, and now looking to expand, this local service—none more so than the school employee Ann Mills, who has driven this project with support from Bedlinog Community Council, the county borough council, and Welsh Government. The volunteering efforts provided the spark, not just for this library, but for taking the community at Bedlinog forwards, with many other activities and projects planned on the back of this. It's clear to me that this group of volunteers, with the well-being of Bedlinog at heart, now also holds a bigger vision for their village: a village in which this service and the school grows as a hub for supporting the life of the community. This is a venture worthy of acknowledgement in this place, because it's inspiring to see a community come together and respond to adverse circumstances in the way that Bedlinog has. So, well done and thank you to you all.

Diolch, Llywydd. I'm delighted to be welcoming to the National Assembly tomorrow the distinguished Salvadorian parliamentarian and former United Nations ambassador, Rubén Zamora. Mr Zamora's visit comes as part of the Romero festival, leading to Romero Day on 24 March. Mr Zamora's visit to Cardiff is one of a number of events organised by the Romero Trust, whose aim is to promote the life, ministry and martyrdom of Óscar Romero across the UK. Óscar Romero was Archbishop of San Salvador when he was assassinated on 24 March 1980 as he was celebrating mass. Thirty-five years later he was declared a martyr and beatified in 2015. Rubén Zamora will talk about Monseñor Romero and the current situation in El Salvador, and then answer questions from an assembled audience.

I'm really proud to be hosting Rubén Zamora here in Wales. He has a distinguished career as a diplomat and social democratic politician who was a passionate advocate for peace throughout the country's civil war until 1992. As a founding member of the political opposition front, the FDR, Zamora travelled the world to build up diplomatic support for peace negotiations, but was forced to spend some years in exile following threats to his family. Last year, Rubén Zamora stepped down as El Salvador's representative at the United Nations, having previously served as an ambassador to the United States and to India. I'm delighted to be part of Rubén's visit to the UK.

15:15

I would like to take this opportunity to urge the whole of Wales to get behind Newtown to make it Britain's best walking neighbourhood. Newtown is the only Welsh town to have been shortlisted in the top 10 towns in the UK, and voting closes at 11.59 p.m. today. We need as many votes as possible to win the Ramblers Association award. Both Powys County Council and Newtown Town Council have a common vision and ambition to develop an active travel network, which will see improved accessibility to services within the town.

I'd also like to congratulate the Ramblers Association on its first-ever Best Walking Neighbourhood competition. And I agree; it's good to celebrate more good walking neighbourhoods and the people that make them happen. So, please get behind Newtown and Wales, and vote now via the Ramblers Association website. I have e-mailed all Members to let them know the link, and I'd be grateful if you could spare a few seconds of your time. Thank you very much.

5. Motion to amend Standing Order 20 in relation to the Statement on the Draft Budget Proposals

The next item is the motion to amend Standing Order 20 in relation to the statement on the draft budget proposal. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion.

Motion NDM6690 Elin Jones

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

1. Considers the Report of the Business Committee, 'Amending Standing Orders: Standing Order 20—Statement on the Draft Budget Proposals', laid in the Table Office on 7 March 2018.

2. Approves the proposal to revise Standing Order 20, as set out in Annex B of the Report of the Business Committee.

Motion moved.

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. Motion to amend Standing Orders 26, 26A and 26B in relation to the Requirement for Justice Impact Assessments (s110A of the Act)

The next item is the motion to amend Standing Orders 26, 26A and 26B in relation to the requirement for justice impact assessments—section 110A of the Act. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion—Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Motion NDM6689 Elin Jones

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

1. Considers the Report of the Business Committee, 'Amending Standing Orders: Standing Orders 26, 26A and 26B—Requirement for Justice Impact Assessments (s110A of the Act)', laid in the Table Office on 7 March 2018. 

2. Approves the proposal to revise Standing Orders 26, 26A and 26B, as set out in Annex B of the Report of the Business Committee, to take effect from the 1 April 2018. 

Motion moved.

The question is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

7. Nomination under Standing Order 10.5 for the appointment of the Auditor General for Wales

The next item is the nomination, under Standing Order 10.5, for the appointment of the Auditor General for Wales. I call on the Chair of the Finance Committee to move the motion—Simon Thomas.

Motion NDM6691 Simon Thomas

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 10.5:

1. Expresses its gratitude for the contribution of Huw Vaughan Thomas during his term of office as Auditor General for Wales.

2. Acting under section 2(2) of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2013, and having consulted representatives of local government bodies in Wales in accordance with section 2(3), nominates Adrian Crompton for appointment by Her Majesty as Auditor General for Wales for a term of eight years to commence immediately after the current Auditor General for Wales ceases to hold office.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. As Members will be aware, I'm sure, the Auditor General for Wales is a Crown appointment made on the nomination of the whole of the Assembly under section 2 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2013. As the committee with delegated responsibility for overseeing arrangements relating to the Wales Audit Office and Auditor General for Wales, the Finance Committee has been fully involved throughout the process of recruiting a new auditor general. Full details of the recruitment process are outlined in the committee’s report. I am therefore pleased to move this motion today, on behalf of the Finance Committee, to nominate Adrian Crompton to Her Majesty for appointment as the Auditor General for Wales.

I would like to thank the current auditor general, Huw Vaughan Thomas, for his valuable contribution during the last seven years in post. Huw was appointed at a difficult time for the Wales Audit Office, but he has worked to make a fundamental difference to the organisational culture and to restore public confidence in the office. The role of auditor general is a vital one in the Welsh public sector, ensuring organisations operate efficiently in their management of public money and that they have robust operating arrangements in place to ensure the highest levels of integrity and governance.

As outlined in the committee’s report, it was vital that the process of recruiting an auditor general was conducted in a way that removes it from any suggestion of political interference. As such, we ensured that two parties were represented on the appointment panel. Nick Ramsay and myself represented the committees we chair, and we were joined by the chair of the Wales Audit Office board and the Auditor General for Scotland. Following the interviews, the preferred candidate attended a public pre-nomination hearing of the cross-party Finance Committee. The committee firmly believes that a pre-nomination hearing ensures open and transparent scrutiny of the candidate identified as the most suitable. Adrian Crompton therefore came before the committee on 31 January. During the hearing, we explored with Mr Crompton his professional competence, how he is planning to undertake the role of auditor general and the experience and expertise he would bring to the position.

I therefore ask the Assembly to agree the motion to nominate Adrian Crompton to Her Majesty for appointment as the Auditor General for Wales.

15:20

Can I say that I welcome this motion and the proposed nomination to Her Majesty the Queen? It has been my honour to work with Adrian Crompton for many years, most recently when I was Deputy Presiding Officer. He is a man of the highest integrity, clarity of thought, and of the deepest commitment to scrutiny in public life. Above all, Adrian Crompton has been a champion of the legislative branch of government. This background will make him an outstanding and innovative auditor general, in my view. We wish him well in this most important post. Could I also record my thanks to Huw Thomas, the outgoing auditor general, for all the great work that he has done? We are greatly helped in our role in scrutinising government and public agencies by the work of the auditor general, and there's much promise now with this new appointment.

Can I concur with the sentiments of the Chair of the Finance Committee, and also with my colleague David Melding? It has been a privilege to work with Huw Vaughan Thomas as the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee during this Assembly, and I know that I speak for my predecessors in previous Assemblies in saying that—Darren Millar, David Melding, and also Jonathan Morgan. I'd like to thank Huw for his long and dedicated service to public life in Wales, and for his commitment in advising the Public Accounts Committee in fulfilling its role of holding the Welsh Government to account on its expenditure during that time. Huw should be commended for his notable leadership of the Wales Audit Office and overseeing a period of stability. He's brought a refreshing approach to audit work, shining a light on many important and significant financial and governance matters, which have resulted in protecting the public purse. It is now time to look to the future. I was pleased to play a part in the selection process for the new auditor general, and I look forward to working with Adrian Crompton and the strong team at the Wales Audit Office over the months to come. I'm happy to support this nomination.

Can I also put on record my thanks to the outgoing auditor general, Huw Vaughan Thomas? I had the privilege of being able to serve as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee for five years of his tenure, and, of course, he stepped into that office at a time that was very, very difficult for the Wales Audit Office, because of incidents that had taken place immediately prior to his appointment. But he did so in a way that brought that team together and has consistently, I think, produced very high quality reports, which have been of great benefit to the people of Wales and to this National Assembly in helping to hold the Government to account. He's been an auditor general who has not been afraid to pull any punches in his reports, and he quite rightly will be leaving this office with an excellent record, having served the people of Wales as auditor general for seven years. I think that it's also important to note, though, of course, that he does have this long pedigree of service in public life, including a period in Denbighshire County Council, where he was the chief executive. That was also another period of his public career in which he served the people of my own constituency very well, too. So, I do wish him all the very best, and, of course, I welcome the appointment of Adrian Crompton and look forward to engaging with him in the future.

May I thank those Members who have paid tribute to Huw Vaughan Thomas for the important work that he has done in restoring the role of the Auditor General for Wales? The importance of the role is reflected in the legislation that has been passed by this Assembly, the 2013 Act, which establishes the independence of the Auditor General for Wales and ensures that the appointment, although an appointment by Her Majesty, does go through independent processes in the Finance Committee and other committees of this Assembly, and ultimately comes before the Assembly as a whole for approval for nomination to Her Majesty. I look forward as Chair of the Finance Committee, and I'm sure that all Members are also looking forward, to seeing a new auditor general with so much experience, as has already been outlined by David Melding. Independence of view, freedom of thought and the strength to stand up when necessary against governments and other public authorities in Wales—that's what an auditor general needs to do, and I'm pleased to seek the Assembly's support for this nomination made today.  

15:25

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

8. Debate on a Member's Legislative Proposal: Estate Management Companies

The next item is a debate on a Member's legislative proposal, and I call on Hefin David to move the motion.

Motion NDM6681 Hefin David

Supported by David Rees, Mike Hedges, Vikki Howells

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Notes a proposal for a Bill on the regulation of estate management companies.

2. The purpose of this Bill would be to:

a) give freeholders who pay charges for the maintenance of communal areas and facilities on a private or mixed-use estate equivalent rights as leaseholders to challenge the reasonableness of service charges;

b) ensure that, where a freeholder pays a rent charge, the rent charge owner is not able to take possession or grant a lease on the property where the rent charge remains unpaid for a short period of time; and

c) give freeholders in Wales equivalent rights to those in England as a result of changes to the regulation of estate management companies planned by the UK Government.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Llywydd. It's an honour to be able to propose a law in this Parliament that will be of benefit to my constituents in Caerphilly, and I believe, and I will argue, that it will be of benefit to the people of Wales as a whole.

This debate and proposed law comes about following two debates that have already taken place in this Chamber—one on leasehold properties and the limited rights faced by leaseholders, and the other one on the plight of unadopted roads and estates affected by those. This today is the missing piece of the jigsaw: the rights of freeholders who own properties on managed estates and the role in relation to those rights of property management companies and estate management companies by whom residents are often trapped in property management contracts. It's a deeply unfair, unregulated market. It is a UK-wide problem. I've got a copy of The Guardian here—well, a printed copy; a modern copy—in which it says,

'Homeowners trapped by "fleecehold"—the new cash cow for developers. They own the freehold but are forced to pay often escalating estate management fees with no accountability.'

That article contains two examples from estates in Cumbria where there is no obligation on estate management companies to keep costs down or provide evidence that the services they charge for are being carried out. This is an absolute scandal and it's unregulated. Also in Kent, from KentOnline, an online newspaper:

'Homeowners in Kent suffering extra housing charges.'

It's happening there too, with 122,000 people in that county trapped in controversial contracts. We should pay credit to the Rochester MP Kelly Tolhurst, who has raised this in a Westminster Hall debate in Westminster.

But it's happening in Wales as well. I've had casework from Cwm Calon in Ystrad Mynach where residents are trapped in these contracts, and Members from across this Chamber, from my party and others, have also mentioned that they've found constituents who have faced exactly the same issues—and I can see Members from across the Chamber nodding. Cwm Calon has an estate management company called Meadfleet, and they're managing agents to a company called Cwm Calon Management Company One Ltd. They're incorporated and registered at Companies House as the residents management company or RMC. RMCs are usually set up—recently, in modern times—on private estates to own the communal areas, with each freeholder, each householder who is a freeholder, becoming a member of that company and having the opportunity to become a director of that company.

However, Cwm Calon Management Company One Ltd was set up in April 2005, over a year before the first property on the estate was even bought, according to council tax records. No-one had the chance to become a director or a member of this company when it was set up. Furthermore, the documents of incorporation show that most of the company's directors are Redrow employees, and until the last property was completed in May 2015, these Redrow employees had a built-in controlling majority in terms of votes at the RMC's annual general meeting, and were therefore able to completely override individual freehold residents should they so wish. How can that be a residents management company, with Redrow, the developer, being the majority shareholders on the RMC—in fact, the only shareholder on the RMC? It is a clear conflict of interest, because the RMC was responsible for appointing the estate management company, Meadfleet, who are responsible for managing the estate, and therefore in the pocket of Redrow. What you see is a very clear conflict of interest. Residents refer to Meadfleet to me as 'Meadfleece', given the fact that they are paying these charges and seeing little return. 

The payment of a monthly fee to a property management and estate company is common practice among leasehold properties, where the monthly fee is known as ground rent, and leaseholders now have statutory rights, including recourse to a tribunal, to appeal against what they perceive as poor standards of service. Freeholders don't have this right.

So, I bring to you today the case of Janine Jones, who has represented many residents, regarding poor, shoddy work, and in fact, in many cases, work that was never done, has sent many e-mails to Meadfleet. In one case—I've mentioned before in this Chamber—the managing director of Meadfleet sent her an e-mail back telling her to get a life, with respect. Although Redrow were very apologetic about that, it showed that they really don't care, and they have no regulation to stop them from just taking the money and doing minimal work. That's what was happening on this estate. Janine Jones has written to Meadfleet, and to Redrow, on numerous occasions, to the extent that she's even engaged a solicitor. And the solicitor has said to her, 'There's very little we can do.' This is of course outrageous, but unlike owners of leasehold properties, freehold owners do not have the same statutory rights to challenge the decisions of the residential management company, and the property estates management company who act on their behalf. This is not good enough. [Interruption.] Yes.

15:30

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

Thank you. It's not just in your area—I had constituents who thought they were actually having to pay that until such time that the council adopted the pavements, roads et cetera, because they were on a new estate, only to discover that they were going to have to pay it for the whole length of time they're there, and it will pass on to the people who purchase the property after them. I think that's outrageous. I can understand why they thought it—you're moving in, the roads aren't adopted, the lights aren't adopted, somebody's got to pay for looking after them. But to treat them that way I think is appalling.

If you want to buy the house, you've got to sign the deed, and if you sign the deed, you're tying yourself into exactly that, for the length of time you own the house, and the people who buy the house after you also have to pay the estate management charge. It's absurd, especially when the estate eventually becomes, on the whole, adopted. It's madness.

There is a regulatory body—it's called the Association of Residential Managing Agents—but it's voluntary, and currently anyone is able to set up a property and estate management company. Anyone of us in this room could get together—a few of us could get together, set up an estate management company, and then just use it as a licence to print money. That's effectively what's happening. I think ARMA should be a statutory body, of which businesses must be members in order to trade.

The Member's running out of time. He's only got eight minutes to open and close. So, very quickly.

Okay, I'll be quick. I appreciate the issues you're raising on properties and houses, but it's also an issue for flats and blocks of flats, and those tenants are tied even worse into leasehold and to some of these companies.

Yes, and this is where they grew out of, where there were blocks of flats in London.

I want the Welsh Government to use this opportunity to make sure that freehold property owners do not miss out, and they're accorded the same rights as leaseholders—because actually leaseholders have more rights in this regard—when it comes to challenging the decisions of residential management companies, and their appointed agents. We need property estate management companies to be properly professionalised, and regulated, as other trade and professional bodies are, to stop rogue traders, and people ripping off innocent home owners. The UK Government's going to bring forward their White Paper, 'Fixing our broken housing market', in which proposals will be contained. If we don't act now, as we get more and more new estates, we'll find ourselves left behind. I think the Welsh Government needs to act.

Thank you. Suzy Davies. Sorry, can I just remind Members that it's three minutes—you know; that's good—for intervening speakers? Thank you.

Diolch. Can I just thank Hefin David for introducing these proposals today? They did speak to my recurring nightmare of land law lectures 30 years ago. But I think it is important that you've done this, because even though rentcharges—new rentcharges—were abolished in 1977, there are still some in existence. The remedies—you refer to them in your motion—are hugely draconian, and, of course, the Court of Appeal has quite recently confirmed that these are live remedies, so I think we need legislation now to at least modify them.

Estate rentcharges, which is actually the core of what you're talking about, are a little bit different—perhaps a bit more relevant as well. They don’t carry the disproportionate remedies with them in quite the way that some ordinary rent charges do, but neither were they abolished in 1977. They were specifically retained with small estates in mind, to manage the ongoing maintenance of shared facilities, perhaps like a joint access way, or a shared pumping station—small things like this. And I can think, actually, of one estate in Uplands, which is the ward I live in, built in the 1980s—15 or so properties—they pay about £150 each under a rentcharge to maintain a bit of shared land and an entranceway into Cwmdonkin Park. But larger estates tended to have adopted or adoptable services protected by bonds, so rentcharges weren't used from the 1970s onwards every day because they weren't needed. The unintended consequence of that was that the enforceability of covenant was lost as well, but I'll leave that for another day.

I think now we're seeing that estate rentcharge used more creatively, though. We all know those big estates, where the roads are too narrow, on one of those annoying political canvasses when you can't find somewhere to park. Those roads are pretty much unadoptable and the houses are subject to rentcharges to maintain those and to look after other common areas, and that rent owner, as you say, is usually a large developer or one of the agency companies, and they're collecting that £150—it is 150 quid these days, not a guinea. But as a result of these, they're spending less upfront, avoiding making up estate roads to adoptable standard, avoiding having to give a section 48 bond cover, in the case of them defaulting on adoption, and through the rentcharge, they're creating an investment fund on which they get interest, along with the ability, as you indicated, to increase that rentcharge whenever they like, and charge whatever they like for consents and other covenant enforcement without any accountability. And when you consider how many of this type of estate are likely to be going up under local development plans all over Wales, as councils scramble to meet the housing targets they've been set, this estate rentcharge has become a bit of a developer's dream, I think: completely unregulated, no obligation to consult, no obligation to offer reasonable charges, no right for rent payers for copies of accounts or access to a first-tier tribunal—you've got to go to county court. And I think my little estate in the Uplands is probably fine because, actually, the residents are the management company. But on these big multihundred-house estates, we're going to be in exactly the position you said, and I really hope that one or both Governments manages to deal with this fairly swiftly. 

15:35

Thank you, and thank you to Hefin for bringing this, and for your passion; I feel it loud and clear, and I'm glad that you have brought this here today.

In recent weeks, we've been exploring some of the problems with leasehold contracts and unadopted roads, so it's logical that we're now moving on to the problems created by so-called 'fleecehold' arrangements, as you mentioned, service charges and the problems that come with them. These issues are of course linked with wider problems of market abuse in new developments that have happened more frequently since the financial crash. We are seeing increasing reports of poorer standards for new builds, and inadequate redress for some home owners. For example, it costs £120 just to log a complaint with the consumer code for home builders, which is widely viewed as being on the side of the home builders.

Home owners and flat owners are facing estate service charges that are often completely unjustifiable, arbitrary and can cause great financial difficulty. It's a system particularly widespread and expensive in the apartment sector, as I think David Rees mentioned. It's shocking to see that an estate management company can gain possession of a property for unpaid rent over such a short period of time. With the economic state that we find ourselves in, with increasing costs for everyone, and flatlining pay, people need and expect an element of flexibility, and, in fact, it is often available from other utility companies and mortgage companies—that they give you that holiday or that break. In 2018, people rely on this to overcome a difficulty, even short term. So, the fact that someone can lose their home over some unpaid estate management fee is appalling, and people must have protection against losing their home for minor missed payments.

Now, I know the Government has announced some good measures designed to protect these houses purchased under Help to Buy, but as I said last week, this is a very small part of the overall market. The bigger picture here is the fundamental fairness of this model, whether it is leasehold, freehold or anything else. I believe in principle that it is wrong to expect people to pay extra charges, which are often high, for maintenance of a wider estate, and then also expect people to pay council tax. It's an extra financial burden people can't afford. And at some point, I think people are going to revolt over this issue, not just with new housing estates, but also with the tens of thousands of people who pay management fees and also council tax in apartment buildings. It simply isn't right to ask people to pay twice. 

This model is not the way we build an equitable housing sector, or how we improve affordable home ownership, and it's another cost in a society that is now so filled with costs, it is crushing working people. I think this motion is a good one, and it's important that we are discussing it, but I do have to say again, as I did last week during topical questions on leasehold reform, that the Welsh Government could actually use their powers further beyond restrictions surrounding Help to Buy. I understand that they have agreements to not build leasehold under some circumstances, for example from certain home builders, but will those arrangements hold forever and how do they apply here?

So, we do support this proposal for a Bill but I think we should be looking at the whole wider rip-offs that we are becoming aware of and strengthening the protection for consumers across the board in this sector. Diolch.  

15:40

I add my thanks to Bethan's thanks to Hefin for bringing the debate today. When we did look at different Members' debates on the Business Committee I was quite keen that we had this debate, so I'm pleased we're having it. I think it is scandalous that these fairly arbitrary charges can be imposed without much in the way of consultation, transparency or the right of legal challenge. As a couple of the contributors have mentioned, it seems to be part of a patchwork quilt of charges that are involved in running households. We had the recent debates, as mentioned, on freeholds and leaseholds and unadopted roads. So, it is part of this whole tapestry of arbitrary charges that people sometimes have to pay, and it's a pity in some ways that we can't just tie them up together in one big Bill. But, of course, that would be constitutionally too difficult. 

A couple of the points that are very pertinent are the fact that we may need to be mindful of what the UK Government legislates on these points, otherwise you could have disparities in the housing market, and you've referred to that in point 2(c) of your motion. And the other major issue is the legal challenge and the fact that the freeholders don't have the appeal process, which you've tackled in point 1 of your motion.

So, it's a good motion. If these points can all be taken on board, with some kind of legislation in Wales, we could have a good outcome. It could strengthen the rights of freeholders and make the rights of freeholders in this area uniform between England and Wales, which I think would probably be the best solution, if we can achieve it. So, we in the UKIP group agree with today's motion, and hopefully today's debate can be the beginning of some meaningful action to resolve this problem. Thank you. 

Can I thank Hefin and I also thought his hwyl on this this afternoon was very, very appropriate, because I think it really is the purpose of a legislature that's reflecting on the interests of the people it serves effectively to allow this sort of avenue where backbenchers can identify really key issues. It's not possible for the Government always to feel the force of these things, because we are in more contact, often, with the person on the street who is facing these difficulties. And this is surely an area of law that is screaming out for regulation and it needs to be updated, or, in effect, a legal process put in place for the first time, to govern the sort of practices that we are now seeing, which were largely absent as my colleague Suzy Davies outlined, 10, 20 or certainly 30 years ago. So, I think it's very, very important. 

I note that the research by consumer group Which? thinks that unfair practices in this sector could amount to about £700 million of unnecessary service charges, because there isn't clarity in terms of governance. It's not transparent, costs that are charged don't have to meet the actual costs of any service  and also management companies can be part of a wider portfolio and can offset costs in one particular estate or even against different business, it appears. It is absolutely outrageous, and, indeed, the UK all-party parliamentary group on leaseholds, which has also looked at this area, think the excessive costs could amount to £1.4 billion. It really is an outrageous practice, and as somebody who really believes in the market when it's effectively regulated, I do think it's a pretty poor show that these practices have developed, largely as a result of private sector building companies. It is something that we now need to see action on. I think Hefin is quite right in point 2(c) of this motion to note that the UK Government is concerned in terms of England, for which it has housing policy responsibility and is working to examine the situation, then rectify it appropriately with legislation, and I certainly think we should have a similar commitment. 

I think a lot of us were shocked when we realised for the first time the prevalence of these abuses and the whole business model that's now emerging, in that you're not developing some estates so that they are adoptable or largely adoptable anyway. It really is something that should stop and I would certainly encourage Hefin to go on in this vein.

15:45

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. It's a pleasure to take part in this very important debate. Can I commend Hefin David for his work in bringing this forward? Obviously, as has been alluded to, there’s been a fair amount of overlap between—. We had the original debate about four weeks ago on the whole freehold/leasehold situation, which Mick Antoniw and others were heavily involved in; then we had the unadopted roads debate a couple of weeks ago; and now we have this one, and there’s a fair amount of overlap of the issues. People wonder sometimes at the frustrations we feel as elected politicians, both at county council level and as Assembly Members, when bread-and-butter issues seem as though they should be resolvable and then, when we get to do it, they cannot be resolved. It really is frustrating and it's even more frustrating for our constituents involved.

There's the task force of the Cabinet Secretary in response to the debate on unadopted roads. There's lots we can do here at Assembly level. I commend Hefin David's approach, asking for Welsh Government action to regulate property and estate management companies in Wales. There’s no substitute for action. We’ve had a very clear elucidation of the issues, both this week and in previous weeks—of these interlinked and overlapping issues. So, I commend the action and look forward to Welsh Government action. Diolch yn fawr, Hefin.

Thank you very much, and I also am grateful to Hefin for bringing forward this debate today. There's been a great amount of media attention recently and some really serious concerns raised by AMs about the various issues affecting people who own their homes on a leasehold basis. I was pleased to announce a package of measures to begin to address those concerns just over a week ago. However, Hefin's debate today really does shine a light on the issues affecting people who own their homes on a freehold basis, and specifically where they're on estates and subject to management fees where they, unlike leaseholders, have no means of challenging those charges.

I only have four minutes to respond to this debate, so I won't rehearse again the concerns that Members have been raising so clearly, but I do hear them and I do recognise them. It is clear to me that many of the concerns that we have heard do stem from the same place as the leasehold concerns that we heard in the individual Member's debate led by Mick Antoniw, and that really is about the pressing need to professionalise and raise standards of behaviour in the property and estate management sector. And I say 'professionalise and raise standards of behaviour' because, actually, some of the most professional companies are the ones displaying some of the poorest behaviour.

Members will have heard me say, in response to Mick Antoniw’s debate, that I won't shy away from legislation and they will also have heard me say that we are currently engaging with the Law Commission's review of residential, leasehold and commonhold law. That review has three key strands: it includes leaseholding franchisement; commonhold as an alternative to leasehold; and very importantly in the context of today's debate, the regulation of management agents. I have to say that I think that that may very much be the space that we need to be in when the review reports before too long.

I'm really pleased that the UK Government is also engaging with the Law Commission and looking at these issues, because some of them do fall into the area of consumer law and of the law of property, where we will need to see action from the UK Government as well. However, we don't need to wait to start to address this issue. Our success in securing the agreement of the major house builders to no longer sell new-build houses as leasehold, unless absolutely necessary, is very much down to the constructive relationship that we've built with them through our house builder engagement programme. So, I give Members my commitment today to open up discussions with the sector on the issues that we've heard in this debate today using that forum.

Can we just be clear that this is about freeholders, though? So, it's the discussion about the plight of freeholders in these circumstances.

Absolutely. My intention is to use the constructive relationship that we have built, as evidenced by the recent agreement that we've secured from the house builders, to start to move on and explore the issues that have been raised in this debate today.

In response to Members' leaseholders concerns, I've already introduced a brand new Wales conveyancer accreditation scheme in order to ensure that purchasers have access to good-quality independent advice. Conveyancers will have to complete training and comply with the high standards set out by that scheme. And, again, I'm going to ask my officials to explore how this particular scheme can be used and adopted to address some of the concerns that Members have raised today in relation to freehold.

I've also made clear my intention to put in place a voluntary code of practice to underpin the measures I've already announced in order to start to address those leasehold concerns and to improve standards, improve engagement between all parties, and promote best practice. Again, you have my commitment to explore how we can use that code to address the specific issues that we've had in this debate with regard to freehold.

Finally, I would confirm that I'll set up a task and finish group to advise me on what else can be done to professionalise and raise the standards of conduct in the property and estate management sector. I will specifically ask that group to consider the contributions that Members have made throughout this debate today, and give my commitment to update Members in due course. But, in the meantime, I very much look forward to the next individual Member's ballot, and I look forward to considering Hefin's detailed proposals, should he be successful.

15:50