Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

19/03/2019

Cynnwys

Contents

Statement by the Deputy Presiding Officer
1. Questions to the First Minister
2. Business Statement and Announcement
3. Statement by the First Minister: Update on EU Negotiations
4. The Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
5. The Common Agricultural Policy (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
6. Debate: Analysis of the Impact of the UK Government's Welfare Reform on Households in Wales
7. Debate: Stage 3 of the Renting Homes (Fees etc.) (Wales) Bill
Group 1: Prohibited payments—termination of contract (Amendments 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 23, 24, 1, 2)
Group 2: Drafting clarifications (Amendments 5, 28)
Group 3: Repayment of prohibited payments (Amendments 55, 57)
Group 4: Revoking licences (Amendments 56, 58)
Group 5: Permitted payments (Amendments 9, 64)
Group 6: Holding deposits (Amendments 29, 30, 31, 36, 37, 65, 66, 38, 67, 39, 40, 41, 42)
Group 7: Default payments (Amendments 32, 33, 62, 34, 63, 59, 27)
Group 8: Regulation making powers (Amendments 35, 48, 49, 52, 51, 50)
Group 9: Enforcement authorities (Amendments 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20)
Group 10: Fixed-penalty notices (Amendments 43, 44)
Group 11: Enforcement authorities: information sharing (Amendments 45, 17, 21)
Group 12: Power of licensing authority to bring criminal proceedings (Amendment 22)
Group 13: Restrictions on giving notice for possession (Amendments 46, 54)
Group 14: Information and guidance (Amendments 25, 26, 47, 53)
Group 15: Coming into force (Amendments 60, 61)
8. The Plant Health (Amendment) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
9. Voting Time

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

Statement by the Deputy Presiding Officer

Good afternoon. Before we proceed with the First Minister's questions, on behalf of the whole Assembly, I would like to convey our deepest condolences to everyone affected by the shootings in Christchurch and, yesterday, in Utrecht. I'm sure, over the last few days, and especially today, our thoughts are with the loved ones of those who have deceased and those who are injured. As an Assembly, we condemn extremism in all its forms and must now redouble our efforts to nurture kindness and tolerance in the face of such hate that we have experienced. Can I now ask Members to stand with me for a moment of reflection, please?

Assembly Members stood for a minute’s silence.

1. Questions to the First Minister

We now turn to item 1 on the agenda this afternoon, which is questions to the First Minister, and the first question this afternoon, Siân Gwenllian.

Emergency Vascular Services

1. Will the First Minister instruct Betsi Cadawladr University Health Board to conduct a new consultation into the future of emergency vascular services in Ysbyty Gwynedd? OAQ53603

Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board are making improvements to vascular services at present. These improvements were agreed after a public consultation in 2013. I do not intend to instruct the health board to conduct any new consultations on this matter.

Whilst you were at Buckingham Palace, this place heard that the health board had misled the public on the issue of downgrading the service in Bangor. Since then, a prominent member of the health board has resigned in protest—a very grave step—and yet your Government still doesn’t intend to intervene. Isn’t the truth of the matter that it’s the political agenda of the Labour Party that is responsible for favouring a hospital that is in a marginal seat, at the expense of services to patients across north Wales?

Deputy Presiding Officer, that is totally untrue. I know that the Member is reflecting what local people are telling her, but, fundamentally, what is happening here is not a matter of process, but a matter of creating new services that are sustainable for people throughout the whole of north Wales. That is why the Royal College of Surgeons and the Vascular Society support what we do. And that is why we're doing it—not for any reason other than the advice that we have received from people working in the field, people who have—.

We are doing it, Dirprwy Lywydd, because of the advice that we have received from those organisations in the best possible position to provide us with the advice we need—the royal colleges, the Vascular Society. They are the people who have explained to us the current arrangements are not sustainable. It is as a result of their advice that we will provide a service in north Wales that will be right for patients. Eighty per cent of services will continue to be delivered locally, but, when you need a specialist service, when you need a service where you need facilities and a team of people who carry out these procedures enough times during the year to have the professional accreditation that they need, to have the experience that keeps them performing at the best possible level of their professional skills, that's what people in north Wales will have as a result of these matters.

The changes will be implemented on 8 April, and that, I am sure, is the best way to deliver services for people throughout north Wales.

I would like to withdraw from any party political inferences on this very important matter, but I do endorse the calls by Siân Gwenllian for a new consultation, and the reason being that I believe there are a number of people very, very concerned about this. We've got a petition of over 5,000 signatures. I thought this was made on a clinical decision as you rightly point out. However, I'm informed quite reliably that some of the consultants are actually refusing to move. So, that surely is quite a grave issue. As Siân has rightly pointed out, such are the concerns about this issue that Bethan Russell Williams has resigned.

Now, in an open letter, Mark Polin and Gary Doherty have advised that there should be better outcomes for patients in north Wales, but note that currently out-of-hours emergency services are, in fact, provided at Ysbyty Gwynedd or Wrexham Maelor. It makes no sense at all for this decision. So, I would ask if you would consider looking at another consultation. Six years we are now down the line.

13:35

Will you reconsider and actually invest in those services at Ysbyty Gwynedd, so that those medical teams can feel confident that they can carry out emergency vascular services for those people who badly need them? 

Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I'm sure the Member wants the best possible services for the residents in her constituency, and that is what this change will deliver. A further delay now would simply unravel everything that has been put in place. And she will know what's been put in place: £2.3 million from the Welsh Government for a vascular hybrid theatre, and, as a result of concentrating that service on one site, the health board has been able to attract six additional consultant vascular surgeons, an additional consultant interventional radiologist, four vascular junior doctors, extra vascular specialist nurses, a dedicated 18-bed vascular ward. All of these would be put at risk if we said to all of those people who have been attracted to this new service, and it will be one of the very best services in the whole of the United Kingdom—. If they thought we were pulling the plug out of it now—those people can go to jobs anywhere they like in the United Kingdom—we would lose them to north Wales. Your constituents would not have the service that's going to be on offer to them.

I am confident, Dirprwy Lywydd, that once the new service is there, once patients see what it offers to them and to their families and others who need a specialist vascular service, patients in north Wales will appreciate it very fast. And, as we know, patients in Wales are very quickly and very powerfully attached to the new service they have, and I'm sure they will be amongst its strongest supporters. 

Improving Hospital Waiting Times

2. What discussions has the First Minister had in order to improve hospital waiting times? OAQ53637

NHS performance, including hospital waiting times, forms part of my regular meetings with the Minister for Health and Social Services.  

I thank the First Minister for that reply. Is the First Minister aware that, in the period of July to December 2018, ambulances were waiting outside hospitals in Abergavenny and in Newport for over 5,000 hours and, therefore, they couldn't respond to emergencies. Given that the average ambulance crew is two on these occasions, that's 10,000 crew hours that have been lost. The handover time target in these cases is 15 minutes, but as regards the Royal Gwent Hospital, that target was only met for half the time.

Now, these figures were revealed in answer to a freedom of information request by a Mr Eddie Blanche, who said he had seen ambulances served by welfare vans outside the hospital to supply waiting crews with hot drinks and toilets because they were expected to wait there for such a long time. So, if it's bad enough they have to give them a bus to have their rest in whilst waiting to unload patients, then this is an issue that needs to be addressed now. He says, 'It's scary. I'm worried that people will start dying if the problem isn't fixed'. When does the First Minister think the problem will be fixed? 

Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, the figures that the Member quotes are freely available; they don't need to be got through a freedom of information request, because we make that information available in the public domain all the time. Of course ambulance handover figures are a concern to us, because they reflect pressures in the system as a whole. Over this winter, we know that handover times have improved, rather than got more difficult. We know that, since we moved to a different way of measuring the success of the ambulance service, we have been able to demonstrate that those patients who need that service most urgently get it most quickly and effectively all across Wales, and strenuous efforts go on through the ambulance service, through emergency departments, through the people who work in that service, to go on improving what we are able to offer, and those efforts will continue into this year.

13:40

What discussions has the First Minister had in order to improve waiting times?

Well, those discussions go on with the Minister on every available occasion because there is a great deal to discuss and there is a great deal to be pleased about here in Wales. Thirty-six-week waits 41 per cent lower in December 2018 than the year previously; diagnostic waiting times 54 per cent lower than a year ago; nearly nine out of 10 patients in Wales wait less than 26 weeks from referral to treatment, and that number in Wales is rising not falling; our cancer waiting times are improving, whereas across our border they are at the worst they have been ever since those figures began to be recorded. And Dirprwy Lywydd, perhaps most remarkable of all, at the point where our health and social care services meet, our performance in relation to delayed transfers of care outstrips anything elsewhere. Delayed transfers of care figures fell again in December, despite winter pressures, and 2017 and 2018 are the two best years in terms of delayed transfers of care figures ever since those figures first began to be collected 13 years ago.

One of the reasons that those figures are better, though, is because we've simply got patients stacked up in corridors rather than actually in cubicles being seen by medical professionals, and you will know that one of the regions that has the worst emergency department performances is north Wales, where we have the Betsi Cadwaladr health board in special measures for all sorts of performance-related problems, with Wrexham Maelor posting the worst figures in the whole of the United Kingdom, not just in Wales, and with the second-worst performing hospital being Glan Clwyd Hospital in Bodelwyddan.

And it's not just unscheduled care; it's also the planned care and operations as well. If you look back to December 2012, 87 per cent of patients received their treatment within the 26-week target time for orthopaedic surgery versus less than 60 per cent in December 2018. So, you're suggesting that things are getting better. The figures speak for themselves in terms of them getting worse and worse. When are patients in north Wales—when are my constituents—going to see this situation turned around, and when are those hospitals going to hit the targets that your Government sets for them?

Well, Llywydd, the point the Member made at the beginning clearly cannot be true. Delayed transfers of care figures are not affected by the way in which people are received into our hospitals; they're all about the way in which people are discharged back into the community, and Betsi Cadwaladr university health board is part of the success of the Welsh NHS and our social care services in that regard. In fact, the greatest improvement of all in relation to delayed transfers of care figures is to be found in the north of Wales. Of course we are concerned, the Minister is concerned, at the difficulties that have been experienced at two hospitals in north Wales over this winter. Their performance distorts the performance of the whole of the NHS, where, elsewhere, improvements were to be found. We go on, we go on investing, investing in the physical layout of those hospitals, investing in the professional leadership of those departments and, together with the health board, we are confident that there are plans in place that will lead to further improvements in elective and in emergency care.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Thank you. We'll now turn to leaders' questions. The first party leader today is the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Could I first join in the chorus of hallelujahs around the land that greeted last Saturday's game and the Grand Slam victory, and can I wholly endorse your suggestion, First Minister, made last night on the steps of the Senedd, that when we have the powers to confer honorary Welsh citizenship, then Warren Gatland should be there in the front of the queue? But, of course, we'll have to achieve independence before we have that opportunity for real.

The first issue I want to raise with you today relates to a matter very close to my own heart and, indeed, my own life, which is LGBT+ equality. First Minister, do you believe that faith schools should be allowed to operate differently from non-faith schools in the way they approach their teaching about sexual relationships? I raise this because, as ITV Wales has shown, in this case in the context of Catholic schools, there is confirmation on websites and, indeed, in the testimony of teachers that the belief that gay relationships are morally unacceptable is being presented to children and young people in 2019. Your education Minister, it's reported, is content to continue to allow discretion to Welsh faith schools to teach relationship and sex education in line with their own beliefs. Is that something you support?

13:45

Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, first of all, let me say how much I enjoyed last night's events. I saw the Member there and many other Members behind him, and from all parts of the Chamber joining in with those celebrations.

As far as relationships and sexuality education is concerned, there are consultations that are being carried out at the moment both in relation to our current curriculum and the new curriculum. There are complex rules about the way in which faith schools have certain freedoms, which are not, therefore, directly in the hands of Welsh Government Ministers, but let me address the nub of his question, which is that it is entirely unacceptable to me that the sorts of views that he reported should be expressed in any of our schools, and I want to associate myself directly with what he said about the unacceptability of those sorts of views being promulgated in any classroom, of any sort, and in any part of Wales.

I welcome the First Minister saying that this is unacceptable. The point is, of course, to do something about it. In the 1980s, I was told myself, 'I hope to goodness gracious that you don't end up gay.' It wasn't acceptable then, it's certainly not acceptable now, and it's the duty of Government, where we're talking about publicly funded schools—it's the duty of Government to make absolutely clear that should never be on a school website, that should never be the experience of a teacher. So, it's the responsibility of Government to show that there is no discretion, not even in this case. It's not complex: it's very simple as far as I'm concerned.

Turning to another matter, if I may, last Saturday, I took part in the United Nations anti-racism day march in Cardiff alongside your deputy, Jane Hutt. On that march, there were many members of the Kurdish community in Wales who were expressing their hope that this Parliament—indeed, your Government—would be the first in the world to express our solidarity with the Kurdish hunger strikers across Europe. They're protesting against the isolation of the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who's been imprisoned by Turkey since 1999 in conditions that contravene the Turkish state's legal obligations in relation to human rights. As you know, the protesters include Imam Sis, a resident of Newport who has been on an indefinite hunger strike since 17 December last year. First Minister, can you confirm that you will be supporting the motion we have tabled for debate, expressing solidarity with Imam Sis and with the Kurdish community?

Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I want to return, to begin with, to the point that the Member made in his opening question, and just to be as clear with him as I can be that the Government is doing exactly what he would wish us to do in engaging with that sector and making clear what our position is and what we believe their position should be as well, and if there is evidence that he has that things are happening that should not happen, then we would certainly want to act on anything that we can pass our way. There is no difference of purpose between us at all on that matter.

The Member then refers to the debate that will happen tomorrow on the floor of the Assembly. My colleague Eluned Morgan will reply to that debate. We will observe the proprieties in relation to the responsibility that we have as a Government while engaging with the substance of the matters that the Member referred to in his second question.

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what the First Minister’s just said, so perhaps in responding to my third questions when I’ll raise another issue, he could perhaps just explain whether you’re going to support the motion or not.

To turn to another battle for justice for a language and culture of a stateless nation—not the Kurds in this case, but Wales and the Welsh language—and an area where you have set a laudable aim of creating a million Welsh speakers, and particularly increasing the use of the Welsh language in the workplace, in a report published this morning, the Public Accounts Committee expresses concerns about the delay in delivering the recommendations of a report that proposes a way forward on the internal use of the Welsh language, and the possibility of making skills levels in the Welsh language essential for Welsh Government staff, which is still awaiting agreement from the Government board, two years after they were made. The Government’s explanation to the committee as to why you have sat on that report produced by your senior civil servants without taking a decision was that you were eager to be enlightened by other prominent institutions and organisations. But given the disastrous record of Government on Welsh in the workplace, do you agree that any effort by a Minister to bring pressure to bear on any other public body to dilute their commitment to the Welsh language—for example, in employment policy—would be unacceptable and contrary to Government policy?

13:50

Deputy Presiding Officer, we want to see organisations throughout Wales promoting the Welsh language in the workplace. We do it here in the Senedd, and we do it internally in Welsh Government, and we are learning lessons—for example, from North Wales Police—and what we want to do is draw on those lessons learned, and draw on what is happening and what is effective in Wales, and to do more in the public bodies to promote the Welsh language, and to give people who are able to use the Welsh language the confidence to do so, and to do more to help them to improve their skills. The Minister is working on that agenda each day.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and with your indulgence, can I also take this opportunity to shout 'hallelujah' across the land and congratulate the Welsh rugby team on their fantastic win? And it was also a pleasure to be at last night's event.

First Minister, why have mothers and babies been put at risk at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital?

Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I don't believe that mothers and babies are now being put at risk because action has been taken—very significant action taken—with the support of the Welsh Government, with the intervention of the royal college, to attend to some disturbing information that came to light. Those actions, I think, are succeeding. There is more for the health board to do, but I believe that the health board is seized of the urgency of those issues; that it has acted on the information that has come forward; that it has a plan in place to carry out further actions; that we will track those actions, together with the royal college, to make sure that not just the board itself, but people outside the board, have confidence in the measures that they have taken and that mothers and babies in that part of Wales can be confident in the service that they are receiving.

Well, it's quite clear, First Minister, that your Government failed for too long to get a grip of the dire situation faced by mothers and families under the care of Cwm Taf university health board. It has been several months since we heard the horrifying news of the loss of 26 babies under this health board's care in the space of two years. And, after a surprise visit by the healthcare inspectorate, they've recently highlighted staffing issues responsible for poor quality of care and increased risk to the safety of patients. And indeed, the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales report is clear, and it said, and I quote:

'We were concerned about the potential risk to the safety of patients.'

Now, women facing childbirth have the right to expect high-quality care during this difficult time, and the best chances of delivering a healthy baby, but it seems this isn't always the case across some parts of Wales, First Minister. Even in my own constituency, there are grave concerns that the specialist midwife-led maternity unit at Whithybush hospital could now be downgraded to a day service, which will, undoubtedly, risk the safety of mothers and babies. So, can you be clear here today about what steps you are putting in place to end the postcode lottery of maternity services across Wales?

Dirprwy Lywydd, first of all, let me be absolutely clear so that the Member need not go on repeating it, that there is no risk of the sort that he has just described to maternity services at Withybush hospital—services that I, myself, have visited, which have some of the most impressive people you will ever meet providing services to women in that part of the world. And there are no proposals of any sort to make a change in the service provided there. I hope that that is helpful to the Member so that his mind and the minds of anybody else can be set at rest.

In relation to the position in Cwm Taf, what the leader of the opposition just described, Dirprwy Lywydd, was the checks and balances that we have in the system here in Wales that allow concerns of the sort that he has identified to be brought to the surface. He referred to the surprise visit of HIW; that is exactly the reason why we have an independent inspectorate able to carry out work in that way. And, of course, it was the concerns that came to light, as a result of that visit and of other actions, that led to my colleague the health Minister taking action in relation to the escalation status of that health board, and to institute other measures—people from outside the health board to come in to report on what they've seen, to give a hard-hitting account of some of the difficulties that they identified, and then to work with that health board to make sure that those matters are put right, and the service that that health board quite rightly prides itself on having provided to that local community can be reinstated in relation to the future services for women and children in that part of Wales.

13:55

First Minister, of course I accept that your Government has made statements of intent to address the issues at Cwm Taf, but last week's headlines again shone a light on the Royal Glamorgan Hospital's surprise inspection by the health inspectorate following the tragic deaths I mentioned to you earlier. Now, the inspectorate warned of significant staff shortages that continue to risk the safety of patients at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. It has also highlighted the poor working conditions of the remaining highly trained and hard-working medical professionals at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, which are adversely impacting the health, morale and even the safety of midwives and other team members. Now, this came around the same time that we challenged you about shocking statistics that show that we are heading for a midwife staffing crisis in the coming years across the country. Considering that the escalation status has been raised at Cwm Taf, time is of the essence to hear what assurances you, First Minister, and your Government can give to prove that you are tackling problems with this health board and that you are working to protect the mothers and babies of this area. And when will we now see the promised report into what went wrong at Cwm Taf, to which your Minister committed back in January?

Well, I thank the Member for that question, because it allows me just to put on the record the actions that the health board itself, with the support of the Welsh Government, has taken since the events, which were published last week but happened before Christmas, have taken place. Because the health board has certainly not ignored any of that information. It has instituted changes to staffing, to oversight of staffing. It has changed the way in which services are provided between the Royal Glamorgan Hospital and Prince Charles Hospital; it has further changes that it has in line, it has changed the way in which weekend rotas are organised and overseen. These are really practical steps that have been taken in response to the information that the Member referred to. The Minister has been to Cwm Taf, he has met with midwives there. Their training, their oversight is really important in this. It is why, Dirprwy Lywydd, we are training record numbers of midwives through the training system that we have here in Wales—numbers that have gone up, I think, every year for the last three years, as we prepare for the workforce that we will need in the future. These are simple, practical measures that we are determined to take, that the health board is determined to take, and, together, they will lead to real improvements in the position that was identified during that visit by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I also add my congratulations to Warren Gatland and the Welsh rugby squad for the achievement of another grand slam? Let's hope that the unbeaten run continues up to the World Cup, during the World Cup and, hopefully, throughout the World Cup this coming autumn. [Interruption.] No, not the rugby.

First Minister, one of the areas that you're very interested in is pay inequality. In your personal manifesto, which you brought out last year, you said that, and I quote,

'We must bring fresh energies to tackle inequality in pay'.

It seems to me that one of the causes of pay inequality in Wales is that we have a number of people in public sector organisations who appear to be on ludicrously high salaries. For instance, we have the chief executive of Cardiff council, which is run by your Welsh Labour Party, on a salary of £170,000 a year, which is significantly more than the Prime Minister, and yet this is a council that can't even organise a bus station for the city. Would you agree with me, First Minister, that one way of tackling low pay and pay inequality is to put an end to the ludicrously high salaries of people like the chief executive of Cardiff council?

14:00

Well, first of all, Dirprwy Lywydd, that was not the sort of pay inequality to which I was referring. I was referring, of course, to the much more mainstream ideas of gender pay inequality in the public services here in Wales. I am, myself, a believer in a system in which there is a multiplier between the pay of the lowest paid in an organisation and the highest paid in an organisation, and that that should be at an agreed and fixed rate, and then you get pressure on pay inequalities to raise the pay of those at the bottom of the pay scale, who are far more numerous in number, of course, rather than a populist focus on individuals in other parts of the spectrum.

Well, you've advocated the multiplier. We will look into that and see how effective that is and how effectively you're actually overseeing that in Wales in terms of local government. The Cardiff council chief executive is only one example of the problem that I'm highlighting today. We do have an increasing number of public sector officials in Wales on six-figure salaries. Now, we are in an era of austerity, as you keep telling us. Local councils are having to close down facilities because of their budgets being cut. But the top tier of council officials seem to be some kind of protected species who are still allowed to take home ridiculous salaries. We have the nonsense of Caerphilly council, also run by Welsh Labour, where a dispute over pay to three senior officers has led to the council wasting more than £4 million. We have a chief executive there who hasn't come into work for six years, and he's being paid £130,000 a year to do precisely nothing. And still, the situation hasn't been resolved. First Minister, how do you tally your constant wailing about austerity with the fact that we have a tier of fat-cat bureaucrats in Wales in the public sector, which is overseen by you, who are making such extraordinarily high sums of money?

Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, if the Member is interested in the multiplier, then the facts and figures are there for him to take an interest in that topic. He will find that the gap between the lowest paid and the highest paid in the Welsh Government is the narrowest in the public sector in Wales, and that's because we are in charge of the Welsh Government. The Member's interest in local government would be better pursued directly with those councils who have the responsibility for the matter that he is raising.

I see that you have, once again, tried to evade your scrutiny of local government, which clearly is under the overall oversight of your Welsh Government here at the Assembly. The Caerphilly situation has been dragging on since 2012, so I think it now warrants some public comment from you, bearing in mind as well that one of your previous roles was as local government Minister. So, this ongoing fiasco has certainly been on your watch. In human terms, the salary of a chief executive who is being paid to stay at home would more or less cover the cost of running Pontllanfraith leisure centre, which is threatened with closure. First Minister, would you agree that the closure of facilities like leisure centres is the human cost of your Welsh Labour Party bending over backwards to help out its cronies in senior management positions in the Welsh public sector?

Well, it's nonsensical, Dirprwy Lywydd. It doesn't strike a chord, even with those sitting around him. Let's be clear: the position in Caerphilly is one that is not satisfactory to anybody, but there is a process, which is there, that we are all bound by. It is nothing at all to do with any individuals or any organisations. The Welsh Government discharged its part of that responsibility in appointing an independent person to oversee the next stage in that process. I gave an undertaking to Hefin David, the local Member, when I was the Minister responsible, that as soon as the current system has worked its way through, we will institute a review of it. It is not satisfactory. It does not work. It does not deliver for local residents or for the council itself. But, when you are in a process, you have a legal obligation to see it through. People can make as much nonsense of it as they like. In a mature democracy, if there is a law that you have to abide by, then that is exactly what we will have to do. Then, we will see how that law can be changed, so that there is a more satisfactory process for the future.

14:05
Eliminating Plastic Pollution

3. What is the Welsh Government’s strategy for eliminating plastic pollution? OAQ53635

I thank the Member for the question. The Welsh Government's strategy is to deploy all the actions available to us in order to help eliminate plastic pollution; legislation, education, grant funding, infrastructure investment and fiscal measures are all strands in that strategic approach. 

First Minister, I'm sure you agree with me that the 2.3 million tonnes of plastic pollution from packaging that is being generated across the UK at the moment is a major public health and environmental issue. We have recently learned that plastic pollution is a very efficient transmitter of E. coli and other waterborne diseases, which would die if they were simply relying on water as a transporter. In addition to that, we know that plastic particles are ending up in a lot of the food that we currently eat. So, in light of these very serious public health and environmental issues, what action can the Welsh Government take, as a matter of urgency, both to ensure that we get a deposit-return scheme introduced across Wales as soon as possible, and to ensure that extended producer responsibility is in place properly in Wales?  

Well, I want to thank Jenny Rathbone for that very important supplementary question. She is right to point to the renewed concerns that there are about pre-production plastic pellets as a source of microplastic pollution. This issue was discussed at the recent British-Irish Council meeting in Glasgow, where Ministers from across the United Kingdom came together to identify actions that can be taken to respond to that emerging concern.

The Member is also absolutely right to point to the importance of extended producer responsibility. Currently in the United Kingdom, it's estimated that producers pay approximately 10 per cent of the overall cost of recycling their packaging waste, and that simply cannot be right. We have to do more to bring the actions of producers into line with the polluter-pays responsibility. That's why we are consulting jointly with the UK and Scottish Governments on proposals to introduce extended producer responsibility for packaging on a UK-wide basis.

My colleague the Deputy Minister Hannah Blythyn has arranged a briefing session for all Assembly Members on the 28th of this month, which will deal both with EPR and with deposit-return scheme proposals. I'm quite certain that the Member will be attending, and I hope that many other Members here will be able to be at that meeting as well.

First Minister, we can see plastics all around us. Just go out into the bay area and you can see plastic bottles floating in the corners of the bay. Despite much of the rhetoric in this institution and beyond, sadly, plastic pollution is a huge issue that we singularly seem to be failing at combating in any meaningful way at the moment.

We just had the cross-party group on forestry, over lunch time, resurrected recently. They highlighted the role that forestry can play in bringing alternative products forward instead of plastics, such as straws, for example. It is critical that the Welsh Government gets its act together on its targets for replantation, especially on the NRW estate. They are 6,000 hectares behind on their schedule. Can you commit the Welsh Government to redoubling its efforts in the forestry sector, so that those alternatives can be developed here in Wales, and the alternatives can then be offered to the public at large, so that they can reduce their plastic consumption? Because without those alternatives, we'll continue to be blighted by plastic pollution.

I thank the Member for that question. I entirely agree with him that we have to make far greater efforts right across the range of actions that Governments can take, that industry can take, and that individuals as well are able to take in our own lives to reduce the use of plastic products. And alternative products to plastic are certainly a very important part of that whole effort. The Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs only last week opened the new Frugalpac manufacturing facility in Wrexham, and that is a facility that produces fully recyclable coffee cups. And just as we see plastic bottles floating around, so we see far too many disposable cups that are left by people where they happen to end up using them.

On forestry, I agree with the Member: of course that has a part to play in creating alternative products that will allow us all to do more—more in our own lives, as well as the way we act together—in order to reduce the use of plastics, the generation of plastic pollution, and the harm that that does in our environment.

14:10
Developing the New Schools Curriculum

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress of the development of the new schools curriculum? OAQ53611

I thank the Member for that. Following development by pioneer schools, draft guidance for the new curriculum for Wales will be made available in April. This is the result of an intensive period of design and development, and that will continue in the months ahead.

Thank you for that answer. First Minister, a recent report by the Assembly's health committee heard evidence that physical education and physical activity are generally not receiving sufficient priority in schools. We've already heard in this Chamber that it appears that many schools are falling short of providing the legally required two hours per week. We know that physical education helps tackle obesity, and there are many more benefits.

We have just seen a momentous sporting weekend. The Welsh national squad is now ranked second in the world, we have world-class cyclists, and several Welsh sports personalities are on the global stage. I'm sure you will agree with me that Welsh schools have the perfect platform right now to inspire children to participate in PE. How will your Government embed this into the new school curriculum?

I thank the Member for that. Of course, I agree with her about the importance of physical education, physical literacy, in our schools and the contribution that that can make to stemming the tide of obesity, which we know from other figures—we discussed it here in the Chamber only a week or so ago—that we know is there in the population. But there is a tension, and the Member's question points to the tension, between the lessons that we learned from the Donaldson review, which are about setting clear purposes for the curriculum, developing the different areas of learning and experience, and then allowing those professional people who are closest to the population that they are serving—that's school leaders, the teachers in the classroom—to allow them the professional freedom to apply those principles and those guidelines in the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Physical literacy is part of the whole way in which we expect the new curriculum to be developed. It's always tempting—we hear it around the Chamber many times, where people will agree with the general proposition that there should be a national framework and then local flexibility to apply it, but then everybody wants to say, 'Ah, but, why isn't this on the curriculum? Why isn't that on the curriculum?' And before you know where you are, we have worked our way back from the sort of approach that we have all, across this Chamber, I think, said that we want to see here in Wales, back to something that becomes even more prescriptive.

So, I'm agreeing with the Member's basic proposition about the importance. I'm trying to persuade her that the way we are doing it will deliver the outcomes that she wants to see, and trying to dissuade her from her belief that the way to secure physical education is to make the curriculum prescriptive in that area, because then we would just open up the curriculum to yet further ideas about how we can narrow it down from this Chamber, when we want to allow the professional abilities, freedoms, skills and understanding of teachers in the classroom to deliver on the curriculum that we are developing here.

First Minister, last Friday, I attended a question time-type event at the Neath College campus for young students, and they expressed a very deep interest in the future curriculum. One of the questions that they raised with me—and I'm sure this will be in the curriculum—is the education of citizenship, in one sense, and political movements, because, clearly, they will be looking at votes at 16 and 17 in years to come, and the Assembly is going to put this Bill through. I'm assuming that, amongst those things we all want in the curriculum, this will be part of that curriculum. But, also, what are you going to do as a Government to ensure that it's in place for 2020-1, because the curriculum probably won't be in till around 2020. These young people will be past that. How are we going to ensure that young people have the education so that, when they partake in the democratic process, they have an understanding of that process and what it can mean?

14:15

Dirprwy Lywydd, I've attended many meetings on the Welsh Government's proposal to lower the voting age to 16 for local government elections, and I know that it is the Llywydd's view that that should be the case for Assembly elections as well. When I was in front of sceptical audiences, including sometimes young people who were sceptical about their ability to discharge that responsibility, one of the arguments that I felt had most impact on sceptical audiences was the argument that, if you have voting at 16, you have a period when young people are still in education and when you can provide them with the sort of information and grounding in both the structures of democracy, the understanding of political concepts, the democratic rights and responsibilities that you can prepare people for that responsibility at the age of 16, you can inculcate the habit of voting early, and we know that people who vote in the first election that they have a chance to vote in are much more likely to go on voting in subsequent elections, and those who miss out the first time are less likely to vote the second time, and if you haven't voted in the first or second elections you have a chance to, the chance of you turning up on the third occasion is very much diminished indeed. 

So, the point that the Member makes is really important. We are working with the Electoral Commission, with the Commission here in the Assembly, to make sure both that the humanities area of learning and experience will deliver this in the classroom, but that we make an extra effort in the meantime to make sure that those young people who will hope will have the very first opportunity to vote at the age of 16 and 17 are as well prepared as we can make them for that new possibility. 

Promoting Tourism

I thank the Member for that. North Wales is featured in all Visit Wales marketing activity, including its current Year of Discovery campaigns in the United Kingdom, Ireland and in Germany. There is also, via competitive application, financial support given to partners to collaborate on particular projects to market the north Wales area.

Thank you for that response. But with the north Wales growth deal hopefully moving forward, and the approach by the North Wales Economic Ambition Board as team north Wales that Visit Wales should invest more in supporting the regions to target our UK domestic market while leaving Visit Wales to focus on Wales's profile internationally, how will the Welsh Government engage with our regional destination marketing organisation, North Wales Tourism, representing approximately 1,500 tourism-related businesses in north Wales, who are doing a great job already with their 'Go North Wales' brand, but could do a great deal more if more support from the Welsh Government and Visit Wales was forthcoming?

I thank the Member for that. I agree with him that fantastic efforts are made by tourism operators in north Wales to promote the area and to make it an attractive destination to visitors from the rest of the United Kingdom, but also from the rest of the world. We've talked already this afternoon, Llywydd, about Japan, and when Wales is in Japan for the Rugby World Cup it will be a major opportunity for us to showcase Wales as a destination for visitors from that part of the world, and north Wales operators particularly have already worked very hard to increase the number of visitors from Japan visiting north Wales. In fact, 27 of the top 30 Japanese tour operators now include north Wales on their UK itineraries, and that is a tribute to the work that has gone on in the region to promote it as a destination. We will continue to work through the regional tourism forum from north Wales to make sure that the work that is done by Visit Wales to promote the whole of our nation fully reflects the needs of north Wales and goes on making it such a successful destination for visitors in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. 

We’re all also aware, of course, that it’s not just rugby that's played in this country; there’s an important football match tomorrow at the Racecourse in Wrexham, and there’ll be many thousands of people visiting north-east Wales. Sporting events are very important in terms of the tourism offer that we have in north Wales, as it is in Cardiff, of course, therefore, the question I want to ask is: what work is the Government doing jointly with Wrexham football club, the local council and the football association, in order to redevelop the Racecourse to ensure that we do have more opportunities such as this one, and that it's not just one football international every decade that comes to north-east Wales, but that we see that happening regularly?

14:20

Thank you, Llyr Gruffydd, for that question. What he says is true: when you mention Wales throughout the world, people immediately think about sports, and that’s the first thing people think about when they think of what happens here in Wales. And, of course, I receive information almost on a weekly basis from the local Member in Wrexham about what goes on at the Racecourse. She sends Wrexham’s football results to me almost every Sunday, and both she and Ken Skates are working on the things that Llyr Gruffydd has raised, to develop what’s going on Wrexham and to draw more matches to Wrexham, and to use the north-east to attract more people into the area.

The Closure of the A465 between Rhigos and Glynneath

6. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government’s response to the recent closure of the A465 between Rhigos and Glynneath? OAQ53633

I thank the Member for that. A defective culvert contributed to the closures to which the Member refers. It has now been replaced and local road conditions will return fully to normal by the end of this week.

I thank the First Minister for his response. Now, the A465 in that area is not just the only A road out of the Cynon Valley, it's also a very significant road regionally, linking, as it does, the Heads of the Valleys, as far afield as the midlands, down to west Wales and is, if I am correct, the only road in Wales that is classed as part of the trans-European road network. So, I'm sure you'll agree with me, First Minister, that effective maintenance of that road is absolutely crucial.

Two weeks ago, Rhondda Cynon Taf council took the unprecedented step of issuing legal notice against the South Wales Trunk Road Agent for not maintaining a major highway. And some of the criticisms levied against them were: not being able to access the correct pumps when RCT council was able to access them from a different supplier; not maintaining or monitoring the pumps to a sufficient standard, leading to the road reflooding; and inadequate signage in the village of Rhigos, leading to complete chaos for residents of that village, with all this traffic then attempting to flow through a minor B road.

With all of those issues, First Minister, what confidence can we have in SWTRA, moving forward, to maintain this road properly and not cause chaos to the residents of my constituency, to commuters and to local businesses?

Well, I understand, Dirprwy Lywydd, the concerns that have been caused locally by the events on the part of the road to which the Member refers, and, of course, she's quite right about the significance of that part of our transport infrastructure. I've discussed all of these matters with Ken Skates, the Minister responsible, and there are, I think, two different issues at stake here, Dirprwy Lywydd. There is the underlying issue of what has caused the difficulty at the culvert in the first place. And I know that there are many different explanations that are suggested locally, and as a result the Minister has asked his officials to be in contact with the local authorities so that a piece of work can be put to hand so that we get to the underlying difficulty that caused the culvert to collapse in the first place. There is then a set of issues about the way in which an immediate response was provided to the difficulties experienced earlier in the month, and I take very seriously what the Member has said. I think, however, there is also some other evidence that some of the mandatory signage that was put in place to divert traffic was ignored by some drivers, and there have been reports to the police where it was felt that that was done in a deliberate way.

The second flooding incident to which the Member referred took place after diesel-powered pumps, which were in place, were tampered with overnight—fuel was stolen from them and the pumps stopped working as a result. In response to that, SWTRA and its contractor has had to put in place 24-hour site supervision of the pumps with a four-hourly inspection of them, including right through the night. Following that, there have been no further failures. We will learn the lessons, they will learn the lessons of what has taken place, now that the road has been repaired and is just about to be fully reopened.

14:25
Council Housing

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's policy on council housing? OAQ53589

Our policy is to support local authorities to build council housing at significantly increased scale and within the shortest achievable timescale.

Can I again stress the importance of building council houses to deal with the housing crisis facing Wales? Will the First Minister join me in sending congratulations to Swansea on their new council homes new being occupied and also those under construction? But what more can the Welsh Government do to overcome the constraints on councils building council dwellings in large numbers, which is what you said in your first answer?

Thank you very much for that. I'd certainly agree on congratulating Swansea on the work that they are doing, particularly the innovative housing methods and doing all of this at the same time, I know, as having to concentrate on reaching the Welsh quality housing standards, which the council is very close now to completing. I think that there are three different things that we can do to speed up and increase the number of houses being built by local authorities in Wales. The Member, I know, will be pleased to know that the borrowing cap will be formally lifted on Welsh local authorities on Friday of this week, when the necessary legislation that we have to complete will be brought to fruition. So, funding will be, for some local authorities, certainly, more plentifully available than would otherwise be the case. Secondly, there is the whole business of skills, knowledge and capacity. We will have to do more, and the sector will have to do more, working with housing associations and others, to make sure that local authorities have the ability, beyond money, to take on this additionally important role that we want to see them discharge. Thirdly, we will need to look to see what we can do at the Welsh Government level. My colleague Rebecca Evans instituted a review of our affordable housing strategy. That will report at the end of April. Two of the 10 work streams in that review are specifically involved in looking at ways in which we can get local authorities in Wales building more council housing and building them more quickly.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

Item 2 on the agenda this afternoon is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Minister for Finance and the Trefnydd—Rebecca Evans.

There is one change to this week's business. The First Minister will deliver a statement: update on EU negotiations. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

I would really like the Minister to provide a statement on the horrendous flooding that occurred in north Wales and other parts of Wales, actually, this weekend. We were really hit badly in Aberconwy and I saw things I've never seen in any other flood prior to. The A470 was closed the whole length of the Conwy valley and the reinforced railway at Llanrwst is now dreadfully damaged and it will be several weeks before that is in use again, after having some money spent on it only recently. Houses and businesses were flooded in Dolwyddelan, Betws-y-coed, Maenan and, indeed, Llanrwst, where again the Dutchdam did not work—and that is a flood alleviation scheme, quite an expensive piece of kit that was put in, and it's not the first time that it's failed, so I would really ask that a statement is given on that. To the west, Gwydir castle and gardens, the only grade I listed gardens in Wales, saw its sandbag defence give way and a terrifying fast-flowing torrent.

Trefnydd, this incident this weekend absolutely caused so many problems for me in Aberconwy and my residents. We had young people being rescued from the roof of a car—it's in all the national newspapers. And, frankly, there's a huge contention now that the flood alleviation scheme that has been put in place some years ago—whilst it's benefiting some, it's actually having an adverse effect on others. I've called a public meeting for 5 April—that's all I can do at the moment as an Assembly Member. I am really imploring this Assembly—this Welsh Government—to please make a statement and provide some reassurances for my residents, for people now. My businesses are facing thousands and thousands of pounds' worth of damage; some are not even able to open. There needs to be further support, and there needs to be a new look at the flood defences in Conwy. Thank you.

14:30

Thank you very much for raising this issue. And it does give me the opportunity to express our thanks to all of those in Natural Resources Wales, the local authorities and the emergency services, who worked so tirelessly over the weekend to respond to the flooding events across the country.

We had a statement on flooding and flood defences just last week from the Minister, who outlined a £50 million programme of investment for flood and coastal risk management across Wales. And that means that, over the lifetime of this Government, we'll invest over £350 million in flood and coastal erosion risk management in Wales. I think we can say that we have received reports of assets working well over the course of the weekend, including in Llanrwst, Conwy valley, St Asaph and Bangor-on-Dee, where the flood schemes in place did reduce the number of properties flooded. We know that around eight homes were flooded, and around 40 properties have had their gardens flooded as well. And, clearly, our thoughts are with those people, because it's a terrible experience for anybody to go through. We know that NRW have reported defences and procedures in place at Bangor-on-Dee performed well, protecting 381 properties within the flood warning area. Conwy County Borough Council report that telemetry systems it installed on culverts, using Welsh Government funding, have also worked well and allowed them to view and identify areas where debris was blocking water courses, to enable them to send out teams to those areas to remove those blockages quickly. And, of course, the remote cameras installed at Plas Isaf in Llanrwst worked well during the flood event, providing council staff with a warning of potential blockages to water courses, allowing them to have the time to send teams to clear the area, ensuring that the risk of flooding to properties was removed.

So, I think that the evidence does seem to be that, certainly, defences did work well, protecting a large number of properties. It will be several days of course before the full impacts have been identified, and I will ensure that the Minister writes to you ahead of your meeting on 5 April, so that you do have the very latest on Welsh Government action in this area.

Trefnydd, I call for two statements. The first: Estyn and the school organisation code of the Minister for Education have both noted the need to look at the possibilities of federalising thoroughly before schools such as Felindre, on the outskirts of Swansea, are closed. Now, as the governing bodies at Felindre and Lôn Las school, nearby, have unanimously agreed on the principle of federalisation, isn’t it the role of the education authority in Swansea to assist Felindre school in every way possible to bring this about? Now, there’s no mention of this in the cabinet papers of the city and county of Swansea this week. So, is it possible to have a statement on what oversight the Welsh Government has in terms of ensuring that our counties follow national guidance, such as the school organisation code, and what sanctions are in place if they fail to do so?

And, secondly, Trefnydd, you will be aware that last Friday the independent review into the Swansea bay city deal was released. That review, conducted by Actica Consulting, was commissioned, of course, by both the UK and Welsh Governments. What flows from this report is a number of recommendations for change in order to improve governance and speed up delivery. It is clear from reading the report that there are frustrations from both the UK and the Welsh Governments' perspective and from the regional local authorities in terms of how the city deal is progressing. It raises a number of questions as to the effectiveness of the structure of the Swansea bay city deal. What strikes me is that there is much improvement to be made in terms of the working relationship between the Welsh and UK Governments and the local authorities. When the first recommendation looks to encourage, and I quote, 'direct and regular face-to-face' talks, you know that something is not quite right. In a scheme of this magnitude, you would expect direct and regular face-to-face talks to be a prerequisite.

What is also striking is the slow pace at which cash is being released by Welsh and UK Governments. Recommendation 7 makes reference to the fact Welsh and UK Governments should ensure that funding is released immediately for Yr Egin, Carmarthen, and the Swansea waterfront projects. The theory behind the city deal structure in Swansea bay is that funding should be provided by both Governments early on to front-load the funding profile of projects, enabling them to be delivered. However, we have a farcical situation whereby Yr Egin development in Carmarthen has been built, has been officially opened last year, and is nearly fully occupied, yet the UK and Welsh Governments have still not released the funding. People are rightly asking, 'What is going on here?' Now, I appreciate that there's an informal briefing to AMs arranged for tomorrow morning, but a number of Assembly Members will clearly not be able to attend that session due to the need to attend committees here. With that in mind, could I ask the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport to bring forward a statement on the Swansea bay city deal in this Chamber so that we can discuss in public the next steps for the city deal? Diolch yn fawr.

14:35

Thank you for raising both of these issues. As you say, the Deputy Minister has offered a briefing to Assembly Members tomorrow on the Swansea bay city deal and the independent review that was undertaken. I realise that some Members won't be able to attend that, so I will speak to the Deputy Minister to explore whether there's another opportunity for Members to have that opportunity to have a face-to-face discussion with him in the first instance to go through that report. And, of course, the economy Minister will be taking questions in the Chamber tomorrow afternoon, so this would be another opportunity to raise that issue there. 

I'm very well aware of the issues facing Felindre school, but also Craigcefnparc school, both of which are in my constituency, and I've certainly, in my AM role, made representations on behalf of the community. I would encourage you to write to the education Minister if there is any lack of clarity in terms of the role of Welsh Government in the decision-making process and the advice that we provide to local authorities in these kinds of circumstances. 

The biggest killer of young women is cervical cancer, and I think there's a great campaign going on at the moment across the UK to get young women to overcome any embarrassment they have about their bodies and to come forward and have cervical screens, which can save their lives in many cases. But I'm dismayed to read that, in England, there is absolute chaos in the laboratories, where they're amalgamating laboratories from 50 to nine, and that's producing huge delays in the rate at which people get the result of their screens back. I just wondered if you could give us an update on what the state of the laboratory testing is in Wales, and whether we've been protected from such chaos that has been developed by the UK Government. 

Thank you for raising this issue. We're certainly in a very different place in Wales to the position that England is finding itself in, because, of course, we're the only country in the UK to offer high-risk HPV testing as the primary test to all people attending for cervical screening. This is a more sensitive and more accurate test, and its use will prevent more cancers than the previous test, which is still the test used across the rest of the UK. We know that over 99 per cent of cervical cancers are caused by high-risk strains of HPV. Public Health Wales, which delivers the cervical screening programme, successfully rolled out our approach in September. Cervical Screening Wales prepared for the implementation of the new screening for several years, so they've ensured that they maintain staff and sustain the service throughout that transition to the new test. So, we haven't had the same issues that they're seeing across the border. 

I'm glad that you mentioned the new campaign, which is being launched currently. It's called #loveyourcervix. It's just been launched this week, I believe, and it's to encourage young people particularly to go for their test, because we know that, even though we have a good story to tell in terms of how quickly we can give people their test results, actually we are seeing a decline in the number of people showing up for screening, particularly younger women, who are the demographic of most concern to us. 

Organiser, could I seek two statements, or certainly one statement and some confirmation from you? Confirmation, in the first instance: when on earth will we get the decision from the Welsh Government around the environmental impact assessment on the Barry incinerator? I seem to stand up here every month, and I think we're into month 13 now. The Member for the Vale of Glamorgan and the Deputy Minister is sitting there; the First Minister is sitting there. The Welsh Government gave a commitment in February of last year that it was minded to instruct that an environmental impact assessment would be required for the incinerator in Barry. We are now in March 2019. Last week, NRW issued a notice to say that they were content for new conditions to be applied for the discharge from the plant. I don't blame NRW, because, from my meetings with NRW, they have no role to play in this decision, they don't, as to whether an EIA is required or not. So, can we today at least have some confirmation of when that might be with us? Because when people hear other Members in this Chamber talking about the future of this institution in Barry, they most probably do question what is the worth when commitments are made in this Chamber and they're not seen through. And can we have a 'yes' or a 'no' at the very least, please?

Secondly, could I seek a statement from the Deputy Minister for transport in relation to the developments around the improvements to junction 34 from Sycamore Cross in the Vale of Glamorgan? Some people would call it 'improvements', some people would call it 'vandalism of the countryside'—you can be anywhere in between. This is about the proposals to deliver a new road linking junction 32 to Sycamore Cross on the A48. There are works being undertaken at the moment on certain sections of that road, and I think an updated position of what the new Minister's position and view is about Welsh Government support for this project would be most welcome. As I said, there is a new Minister in position now and, if this project is to go forward, it would have to have Welsh Government support, both financially and politically, for this project to be delivered. So a statement of intent would be appreciated to understand. 

14:40

Thank you very much. On the Barry incinerator, I'm afraid the position remains as it has thus far in that, as soon as the legal advice is available to us, then we will be able to provide that decision. Unfortunately, I'm unable today to give you a date for that. 

On the issue of your query regarding junction 34, of course, there's the opportunity for you to raise this matter directly with the Minister during his questions tomorrow. Alternatively, if the opportunity doesn't arise, I would certainly recommend writing to the Minister for that clarity. 

On Thursday, we'll observe the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and it comes just after the horrific race-based far-right attack that killed 50 people and wounded just as many as they were worshipping in New Zealand. And yesterday, of course, there was another terrorist attack in the Netherlands. Many people are feeling nervous, understandably, in the current climate, so what can the Government do to reassure people, especially those Muslim citizens of Wales who may be feeling especially exposed, that their concerns are going to be taken seriously? This is particularly important in the light of populist politicians and others joining in with hate speech against them. What also can be done with the social media companies who've been held responsible for fuelling and multiplying this hatred? I'd like to see a statement in response to those questions. I'd also welcome some sort of agreement in principle of an open and united show of solidarity to indicate that, as citizens of Wales, we are all one and that we abhor racism, supremacism and hatred in all of its forms. So, will you agree to that in principle?

Today's publication of a House of Commons committee report describes how some women have found themselves having no other option other than to turn to prostitution as a result of the Tories' benefit reforms, which have been, of course, driven by austerity. It's no wonder that many women have found themselves pushed into this predicament. The House of Commons Library estimates that, looking at all the changes to taxes and to benefits from between 2010 and 2017, 86 per cent of the reduction in Government spending is spending on women. The fact remains that all women, no matter what job, background or circumstances, but especially those women working in the sex industry, have the right to be safe. Our aim, surely, should be towards working towards a world where all women are free from abuse, sexual violence and assault. Sex workers' voices must be heard and they must be included in that vision. And that's why I've given my backing to the Make All Women Safe campaign. What plans does the Welsh Government have to look into this matter in detail in Wales, which is clearly affecting more and more people as welfare reform doubles down?

Thank you for raising both of those issues, and I'd certainly agree with you that any kind of race-based discrimination, or discrimination of any kind, but particularly in the context of what's happened over the past few days, has absolutely no place at all in Wales. And you'll be pleased to see that the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip has just today provided a written statement that outlines Welsh Government's approach to this issue, particularly the discussions that have been had with the police and other services in order to ensure that the Muslim community in particular is supported not to feel vulnerable and fearful at what is clearly a very, very difficult time.

On the House of Commons report, of course, later on today we have a debate on the impact of welfare reform and, as you say, many women are finding themselves pushed into sex work as a result of finding themselves in poverty as a result of welfare reform. Welsh Government has been engaged on this issue. I was at an event with Julie James in her previous capacity, when she was in charge of equalities, which was an event alongside the police and other organisations looking to support sex workers, particularly in that case in Swansea, but I know a lot of good co-operative and collaborative work goes on across all sectors to support women who find themselves in that position.

14:45

Further to my recent request for a statement on rip-off prices for through train tickets via Bridgend, can I repeat that call? I had an interesting Twitter exchange yesterday between me, my constituent and, fair play, a very engaged Transport for Wales Twitter account operator, and it revealed that (a) the same ticket from Maesteg to London, compared to Bridgend to London is £31 more expensive, when a ticket from Maesteg to Bridgend is £2.60; secondly, that disparity didn't exist, my constituent insists, prior to TfW, although TfW refute this; but thirdly, TfW say that this is Great Western Railway pricing policy over which they have no say whatsoever. Now, that's fascinating, because we are only two or three stops up the line for a £31 difference. So, could we please have a statement from the Minister that clarifies the responsibilities of TfW and GWR on through ticket pricing through Bridgend, and whether it's acceptable that passengers on the Llynfi valley line are, due to their auspicious ostentatious wealth, their yachts and second-home apartments in downtown Manhattan, expected to pay for the privilege of subsidising poor inter-city travellers from Bath or Bristol or even Bridgend in their wealthy mansions down there?

Secondly, could we have a debate on climate change, following the protest by young people under the climate strike banner? Now, this would allow the Minister, who's here today, to set out her ambitions for Wales to lead the way by turning Wales into a nation where it is genuinely an active travel nation, where it is more natural to cycle and to walk and to take public transport rather than to slump behind a steering wheel; where we respond positively to the Institute of Welsh Affairs report to move to 100 per cent renewables by 2030 and create 20,000 green jobs per year in renewables every year; where all new homes are zero carbon or positive energy; where we accelerate our programme of retrofitting older homes, creating more green jobs; and where we halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity and so much more? Now, some people will criticise these young people for taking a day skiving off school, but I have to say that I thank them for reminding us of our privilege and our responsibility as politicians to tackle global warming and for Wales to lead the way, even if the UK has lost its way. Wales now needs to live by the adage 'Be the change you want', and a debate would allow the Minister to hear ideas of how we could do this and to set out her stall on how Wales can be that global leader.

Thank you very much. On the issue of train ticket pricing, I know that the Minister for Economy and Transport will write to you shortly on this matter, but it is a historical issue that goes back to the point of rail privatisation in 1998, and journey flows allocated to rail franchisees were allotted to the primary operator, which is normally either the operator whose services are direct over the specified route or the operator whose service operates over the greater part of that route, which is why, in some cases, it will be GWR and, in others, it will be Transport for Wales. So, the issue is highly complex and I'll certainly make sure that you do get a full response to that query.

With regard to climate change, clearly it's one of the greatest threats facing all of us, but I certainly encourage young people to be having their say and to be shaping the debate and to engage with Welsh Government in order to bring about the actions that we need to strengthen our response to climate change. You'll be pleased to know that the First Minister is launching our first low-carbon delivery plan on Thursday of this week, and this sets out the actions we'll take to meet our first carbon budget. These actions will cover key emissions sectors, such as transport, agriculture, land use, buildings, power and waste. As part of that launch, we have included young people and they'll be speaking at our launch event as well. So, once that plan is published and Members have had the opportunity to look at it, we'll bring it back to the Assembly after the Easter recess for a chance to discuss it.

14:50

Trefnydd, could I ask for two statements, please? I'm aware of a peak-hours embargo on abnormal load movements, including abnormal load movements of carrying caravans, on almost all roads in the greater Manchester police area. From 1 April, vehicles will be stopped and not allowed to continue their journey during peak hours, as I understand this. This will affect a number of holiday parks in mid and north Wales because Hull is a centre for the UK caravan manufacturing industry, and timely and effective distribution of caravans is, of course, essential for the viability of the sector. So, I'd appreciate it if the economy and transport Minister could liaise with greater Manchester police and a statement could follow to clarify the impact on Wales in this regard, as, clearly, there is a significant impact in regard to these movements affecting the tourism sector here, and, as I understand it, there hasn't been any consultation. So, I would be interested if the Welsh Government has been consulted on this particular issue.

Secondly, the recent high river levels and flooding downstream of Clywedog has been a concern. I did hear your response to Janet Finch-Saunders and recognise a statement was issued last week, but my specific concern centres on the management of the draw-down from the two dams in my constituency and I would be grateful—. It would be helpful to receive a statement on the Welsh Government's current position on the management of water levels at Welsh dams and, in particular, of course, the two that I'm interested in, Clywedog reservoir and Lake Vyrnwy. 

Thank you for those issues. On the first, I'll certainly ensure that the economy Minister writes to you with regard to any discussions that we have had with Manchester police or the local authority there in order to ensure there is smooth movement of traffic so that it doesn't affect our tourism industry in your part of the world particularly.

And may I suggest that you write to the environment Minister on the issue of the draw-down from the two dams that you're particularly concerned about?

Trefnydd, further to the points raised by my colleague Leanne Wood, I'm very grateful to the Deputy Minister for equalities for her written statement in response to the dreadful occurrences in New Zealand and now, of course, in the Netherlands. However, I would ask Government to reconsider whether we could, in fact, have this presented as an oral statement to enable us to scrutinise and to further challenge the Government on what actions are being taken to counter far-right extremism and extremism of any kind.

Of course, the written statement sets out a lot of the existing work that's already going on and that's work that, certainly, all of us in Plaid Cymru would strongly welcome, but the Deputy Minister in her statement refers, of course, to the vigil that was organised on Friday by the Muslim Council of Wales. I was very pleased to see the First Minister and other senior politicians there. I was very glad to represent Plaid Cymru. The Deputy Minister, I'm sure, will remember us being very strongly challenged by one of the young Muslim speakers, saying, 'You have to do better'. And I'm afraid that I rather feel that what we've got in the written statement is a statement of what has already been done, and it is good, but I think it's incumbent upon us across the political spectrum to provide reassurance, but also to look at other additional actions. I, for example, would be very interested to see the Government committing to funding some research to look at what are effective strategies for dealing with extremism of all kinds and to counter its growth, because we know that some of the current strategies being taken, for example through the Prevent programme, are not always successful.

So, I would ask if you could possibly reconsider—. I mean, ideally, a debate in Government time would be best because we can contribute fully, but, failing the time for a debate—and I appreciate how much time pressure there is in this Chamber—and if a debate is impossible, I would ask the Deputy Minister to bring the written statement as an oral statement so that we can ask further questions. 

Thank you very much. Of course, the Deputy Minister was here to hear your contribution. I'm sure that she will give it some further consideration.

May I start by joining the leaders from across the Chamber and the First Minister in congratulating the Welsh rugby team on their fantastic win this weekend? They should be incredibly proud of what they've achieved over the last weeks, and I'm looking forward to seeing them coming back from Japan at the end of November with the World Cup and bringing the tourism trade with them, as the First Minister's already alluded to previously.

Llywydd, I know that the Member for Blaenau Gwent has taken a keen interest in the Irn-Bru Cup, and that's why I hope he, along with the Trefnydd, will wish Connor's Quay Nomads all the very best for their final versus Ross County on the weekend. Everyone in Deeside is fully behind the team, and I look forward to making the journey up to Inverness this weekend and meeting with a fan who's flown from Australia for the game. That's how important it is to the people of north Wales.

But, Llywydd, don't worry, the sport doesn't stop there, there's more to come. At the end of the month, I'll be lacing up my boots. I'll be coming out of retirement and playing for the Offside Trust versus the cast of Hollyoaks. But on a more serious note, Deputy Llywydd, will the Trefnydd make a statement and arrange for the relevant Minister to make a statement on what's being done to support charities like the Offside Trust who support victims and survivors of child sex abuse so that we can ensure we do stamp out abuse in sport once and for all? Thank you.

14:55

Thank you very much to Jack Sargeant for raising what is a really serious and important issue. I remember, when I was in the sporting portfolio, I was very keen to explore how we could best work with the governing bodies to ensure that children and young people were safe when they were taking part in sport. I know that the current sports Minister will write to you with an update on those kinds of discussions. And, of course, I take every opportunity to wish the Connah's Quay Nomads the best, as I do most teams—[Laughter.]—and I thank Jack for raising this again.

Could I request two statements, please, particularly if they're not raised in topical questions tomorrow? The first is one on the situation with Dawnus construction, and while I thank Welsh Government for the short written statement that was received at the end of last week, I think it would be very valuable for Members to have the opportunity to ask questions, for the collapse of such an important company to the Welsh economy is definitely worth an oral statement, I think.

Secondly, I would just endorse Dai Lloyd's request for a statement on the Swansea bay city deal. While I share his frustrations regarding the speed at which some of the money is being released, that's hardly surprising when you consider that there have been some serious questions raised about risk management, possibly in conflicts of interests across the city deal governance structure. If we could have an oral statement on that, I think that would be extremely important because the future of this is serious and it's such an important opportunity for our region, which, of course, includes your constituency, that it would be a shame if we don't get a chance to discuss it fully. Thank you.

Thank you very much. You'll remember that Ken Skates did make a written statement on Dawnus immediately following the news at the end of last week, and officials are monitoring the progress of administration proceedings. We'll certainly be working with the administrator, once appointed, to ensure the best possible outcome for everybody who is affected. Officials are also working with partner agencies in the private sector to support direct employees who have been affected by the news. And we realise, of course, that this is a very upsetting time for everyone concerned, and we'll seek to support the individuals affected into new and secure long-term employment.

Welsh Government has also engaged with the Construction Industry Training Board to try and ensure that there can be new placements identified for apprentices so that they can complete their training programme. And, of course, there will be some significant impacts to the Welsh supply chain, so we're working with the Development Bank of Wales to support those businesses who have been affected.

Obviously, there will be some significant ongoing Welsh public sector contracts that are affected, and we will work with the administrator to ensure that the delay, disruption and any additional costs are kept to a minimum. I've spoken about this issue to Ken Skates this morning, and I know that he will welcome the opportunity during questions tomorrow to provide further information and to keep the Assembly as up to date as possible.

I, too, would like to ask for two statements from the Government this afternoon, firstly on the media and access to news in Wales. We've heard in recent weeks that two commercial stations serving Wales are withdrawing their locally produced breakfast shows, and we heard last week that Radio Wales is withdrawing Good Morning Wales and replacing that in May. Taken together, this is a significant issue for a country that is already very short of access to news and current affairs about not only the governance of Wales, but what happens in this country. And I hope that the Government will be able to take a view on these matters and provide an opportunity for Members to discuss and debate these issues and then look forward to how we might address the very real issues facing us in terms of a news and current affairs deficit in this country.

The second statement I'd like from the Government, if possible, is to follow up the motion that the Welsh Government laid in front of Members some weeks ago that included a commitment to start to prepare for a public vote to allow the public to have a final say on any negotiations or any deal with the European Union. Now, I'm aware that the First Minister is making a statement on the negotiations around the European Union crisis, if you like, later this afternoon, immediately after this statement. But I would like to hear from the Welsh Government on what Ministers have been doing to deliver on the commitment made both by Welsh Government and then supported by Members across the whole of this Chamber to begin preparations for such a vote to take place. It would be useful for Members, I think, to understand what actions individual Ministers have been taking and what actions the Welsh Government has been taking in order to promote this policy and in order to ensure that a public vote takes place to enable all of us to have a democratic final say on issues around Brexit and the European Union.

15:00

Thank you very much. In relation to commercial radio in the first instance, obviously, the sector makes a vital contribution when we consider the importance of ensuring plurality of services in Wales. As a Government, we certainly don't want to see the further relaxation or removal of the current localness rules on commercial radio. We've regularly emphasised this to Ofcom, and in addition, we've raised this issue in the context of the Assembly's Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee's inquiry into radio in Wales. We appreciate that commercial radio operations must be financially viable in order to be sustainable, but we do urge Ofcom to engage with the industry to identify other options to support the sustainability of commercial radio, without relaxing those localness rules, especially in relation to local news provision.

With regard to the issue of BBC News, BBC Cymru or BBC Wales's breakfast provision in future, I understand that there have been proposals to change that, and I would suggest that you raise your concerns directly with the relevant Minister, who will be able to make representations on your behalf.

And, as you say, we do have a statement from the First Minister on Brexit as the next item in the Chamber this afternoon, and I would suggest that you raise the issue during that statement.

I call for two statements. First, on apprenticeship funding, a week ago, in the Chamber, the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport delivered a statement on apprenticeships and investing in skills for the future. During his contribution, he said, that there is

'a conjuring trick taking place by the UK Government on the funding of apprenticeships, because we were not given additional funding to reflect the levy. The levy is...a tax on businesses and we've not had the funding passed on—£120 million or so was cut by the Government in England on public sector apprenticeships, and, lo and behold, £120 million appeared in our budget to fund this scheme.'

However, a letter dated 20 July 2018 from the UK Home Secretary to Eluned Morgan, who was then Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, said that the amount of money being passed to the Welsh Government under the Barnett formula has been guaranteed in the spending review. The sum uses £128 million in 2017-18, rising to £133 million in 2018-19 and £138 million in 2019-20. So, could we have a statement clarifying (a) how much the Welsh Government received under the previous system, (b) how much public services in Wales are having to pay into the levy, which the Welsh Government then has to compensate with the amount it receives from the UK Government, and (c) confirming that it is actually receiving the figures covered in that letter from the Home Secretary last July, or otherwise if you have evidence to the contrary?

Secondly, could I have a Welsh Government statement, please, on support for standard gauge heritage railways in Wales? And I'm sure that many of us love our heritage railways. I've been asked to bring to the attention of elected representatives an article in the Denbighshire Free Press earlier this month on Llangollen Railway's Corwen project. This said that volunteers building the link between two Denbighshire towns say they need £10,000 to finally complete the project. They've completed 10 miles of the line between Llangollen and Corwen since trains stopped running 45 years ago, a platform has been created, but a gap remains in the embankment between the new station in Corwen and the rest of the line, and the aim is to fill that gap. The project for the terminal is costing about £1 million. Approximately £600,000 has been down to the work of volunteers, and they want to, hopefully, complete this before the summer season, because attracting people to join the train at Corwen is essential and the town will benefit from the additional visitors too.

If I could call for a statement on support for our standard gauge heritage railways—because we know the Welsh Government does support our narrow gauge heritage railways—and applaud and see how we can support that massive volunteering effort, which is not only delivering heritage projects, but also offering so much to the tourism and broader economies of areas that so much need that stimulus.

15:05

Thank you for raising that. I will certainly write to you with the clarity you require relating to the apprenticeship levy, and I will also make sure that the appropriate Minister writes to you regarding the standard gauge heritage railways, but I will take this opportunity to join you in congratulating the volunteers on the work that they do in order to preserve this part of our heritage and our history, and also to promote and enhance tourism. 

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for health on the recent findings with regard to cervical screening in Wales? Cervical Screening Wales said that a third of women under 30 years of age are snubbing invites to be tested for cervical cancer, which is really a dreadful disease. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer among young women. As with all cancers, the earlier the disease is diagnosed, the better the outcomes for the patient that can be achieved. Can we have a statement from the Minister on what action he intends to take to increase the number of young women having this vital screening in Wales?

And the second statement I would like to have in this Chamber is on community cohesion and safety. In the light of what happened in New Zealand, I hope this country will set an example as the most loving, understanding and for cohesion among the communities and the well-being of everybody who lives in this part of the world, and debate it in the Chamber regularly, to guide the world on how we live and how we improve our standard. Thank you.

Thank you very much. On the issue of cervical cancer, I refer you to the answer I gave to Jenny Rathbone earlier on this afternoon, but recognise, as you say, that earlier diagnosis is extremely important, which is why the turnaround times for cervical test results in Wales—we work very hard to ensure that we exceed our target of 95 per cent of results being received within four weeks, with actually 99.2 per cent of women receiving their test within the standard time, so I think that that is a testament to the work that's going on in that area. But as I said earlier, we're certainly not complacent, and would encourage Members to get involved with the #loveyourcervix campaign, which is particularly aimed at young women, who are currently the group who are least likely to attend for their screening.

I can only agree with and echo your point about Wales being a loving, understanding and welcoming country, and I hope that that was reflected in the written statement that the Deputy Minister put out earlier on today.

3. Statement by the First Minister: Update on EU Negotiations

Item 3 on the agenda is a statement by the First Minister on an update on the EU negotiations, and I call on the First Minister, Mark Drakeford.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Last week saw another opportunity for the UK Government to take meaningful steps to avoid the disaster of a 'no deal' Brexit. Either the Prime Minister would succeed in getting her deal through the Parliament, clearing the way for a brief extension to article 50 to pass the necessary legislation, or Parliament would instruct her to ask the European Council for an article 50 extension in any case. A series of parliamentary votes would give the UK Government an opportunity to put an end to the uncertainty damaging our economy, and impacting the lives of communities across the UK and abroad.

But, Deputy Presiding Officer, we will reach the end of the week having made no progress at all. Despite the expressed view of the House of Commons, the UK Government hasn’t requested an extension as of yet, or hasn’t said publicly that leaving without a deal is off the table. The disastrous failure of the Prime Minister’s deal for the second time confirms what we have known from the outset. The Democratic Unionist Party and the European Research Group are the very groups who want to see a 'no deal' Brexit, and relying on them to vote in favour of an agreement that doesn’t satisfy them, and doesn’t satisfy those of us who want to minimise the economic damage of Brexit, was utterly absurd.

The only thing that the Prime Minister succeeded in doing last week was to further damage our country’s interests, and make it more likely that we will leave without an agreement on 29 March.

Last week, Dirprwy Lywydd, we witnessed the contrived drama of Mrs May’s last-minute dash to Strasbourg to hail a new set of recycled commitments from the EU-27. These commitments were already implicit or explicit in the withdrawal agreement agreed in November and which the Prime Minister reneged on in January. We then looked on in amazement as she failed to secure the endorsement of her own law officer for the claims that she had made.

And, by demonstrating the truth—that the EU-27 had done all they could to make the deal acceptable without abandoning the EU principles of solidarity between member states and respect for the single market—the Prime Minister has helped the EU-27 show that any irretrievable breakdown of these negotiations is down to the political mismanagement of the Tory Government.

The result is that we are now at the cliff edge. There is no guarantee that the Prime Minister’s blackmail Brexit will pay off. If, as now seems likely, she asks for the article 50 extension without any clear plan, it is by no means certain that the EU-27 will achieve the unanimity necessary to agree it. If they do, they may set conditions, including the requirement to hold European elections in two months’ time, which the UK Government in turn may refuse.

And, even if an extension is agreed, we will be in unknown territory. Far too often in this process, Dirprwy Lywydd, the myopic little Englanders of the Brexit movement forget that there are two Parliaments that have to ratify any deal. The European Parliament has to vote on it by 18 April—its last plenary session before its election—or the process will need to start with a new and potentially very different European Parliament later in the year.

Now, even without the intervention of the Speaker of the House of Commons yesterday, it was clear that the Prime Minister had run out of road. By the third day of votes last week, her Cabinet had splintered. The Brexit Secretary closed the debate by putting forward the motion for the extension and urging MPs not to vote as he himself intended, alongside five other Cabinet Ministers.

The Secretary of State for Wales took the precaution of voting twice: once for, and once against the motion in the name of his own Prime Minister. That motion was only passed with the votes of the opposition. We have a Government that continues to suffer defeat after defeat, a Cabinet as divided as ever, and a Prime Minister unable to unite her own party, and certainly not the nation. On the single most important issue for that Government, there is no leadership, no collective responsibility and no control. 

Surely, Dirprwy Lywydd, the moment has arrived when the Government, with or without the Prime Minister, has to change course to build a cross-party consensus—not to try to peel off a handful of rebels and malcontents, but by securing the support of party leaders from across the House of Commons—and to make that the basis on which we seek an extension to article 50.

But, Dirprwy Lywydd, this will not happen if the Government and the bulk of Tory MPs are painted into a corner by the Prime Minister’s red lines: 'no' to the single market; 'no' to a customs union; 'no' to a sensible approach to migration. The disastrous strategy set out in her Lancaster House speech is being played out to its disastrous conclusion. We have worked hard to prepare Wales for the prospect of a 'no deal' Brexit, but there is only so much we can do to mitigate what would be an unmitigated disaster for Wales.

We continue to represent our national interest at every opportunity. Vaughan Gething last week attended the first four nations ministerial health meeting. We have held meetings this week of our own Cabinet and our own Cabinet sub-committee on EU transition. The Counsel General and Brexit Minister will be speaking to David Lidington this afternoon, having met MEPs in Strasbourg last week.

Now, Dirprwy Lywydd, as I’ve made clear repeatedly in this Chamber, in our view, there are two ways in which progress could be made. We continue to advocate the policy we have taken ever since the referendum: a form of Brexit that puts the economic interests of our country ahead of political posturing and grandstanding, and which puts jobs before grandiloquent but empty phrases about taking control of our money, our borders and our laws. And, Dirprwy Lywydd, not only is our plan right in principle, but we believe it is deliverable in practice. Renegotiating the political declaration in this fashion, by committing to participation in a customs union and the single market, together with dynamic alignment with the social, environmental and labour market standards of the European Union, would be welcomed, as we know, by the EU27 and, we believe, could be achieved quickly and outside the withdrawal agreement itself.

Last week, this Welsh Government published draft clauses to show how such changes could be anchored in primary legislation—another example of Wales injecting creative solutions into an otherwise deadlocked process. That deadlock, Dirprwy Lywydd, is the product of the toxic mixture of incompetence and intransigence that has become the hallmark of the UK Government. It is because it is so difficult to have faith in its ability to secure an orderly Brexit that we continue to support a second public vote if that deadlock cannot otherwise be broken. That is the position we have set out in this Chamber, and I repeat it again today, but no-one, as we know, should assume that it would be straightforward.

A second vote is a proposition that is yet to secure a majority in the House of Commons. It would require a longer extension than 30 June, with all that it implies for European elections. And a second referendum campaign would be fought in a way that would inevitably be divisive. But let me reiterate again: if the House of Commons decides that a public vote is the way through the morass that has been created, then the Welsh Government will support that course of action.

Dirprwy Lywydd, we stand on the very precipice of the cliff. With just 10 days before we are due to leave the European Union, there is no deal, and there is very little sign from the Prime Minister of a willingness or a plan to find a new deal. Let her change course. Let her put the needs of the country before those of her fractured party. Let her reach out to others who are willing to help, and let her do it before it is all too late.

15:15

Can I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon?

It is with regret that, for some politicians, across all parties, the process of leaving the European Union has been used as a political football, and I'm disappointed that the First Minister has chosen to contribute to this through his consistent opposition to anything and everything the UK Government has done to break the deadlock. I'm sure many people across the UK feel great frustration that with so little time before we leave the EU, the constant to-ing and fro-ing continues to dominate the political landscape. And I had hoped that at least in this institution, the people of Wales could be sure of a mature debate on what is quite simply the biggest issue facing us as Assembly Members. Therefore, my first question to the First Minister is to ask what immediate discussions he's had with both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition at Westminster to ensure that the transition away from the European Union is dealt with robustly, fairly and without the need for political point scoring.

As the First Minister is aware, last week MPs voted to grant an extension to article 50. Of course, the length of that extension will depend on whether the Prime Minister's current deal is finally approved by Westminster. The First Minister is fully aware that I've supported the Prime Minister's deal because I believe it will respect the result of the referendum, but it would also ensure that our businesses will be able to continue trading on a reciprocal basis with the European Union. However, if the deal is finally approved, then of course article 50 will have to be extended in order to get the legislation through. Perhaps the First Minister could tell us what representations he has made regarding the extension of article 50. However, I have to tell the First Minister that I think it will be unacceptable to the people and businesses of Wales for the First Minister to encourage the extension of article 50 past June, aggravating the frustration and adding the distraction of the European elections to the Brexit process. Many people will question the relevance of these elections to an institution we are due to and will be leaving.

The First Minister has just said in his statement that taking control of our money, our border and our laws is an empty phrase, but this is exactly what the British and Welsh people voted for, and it is this that the Prime Minister is trying to deliver on. However, I am very pleased that the First Minister wants to see dynamic alignment with the social, environmental and labour market standards of the European Union, but the Prime Minister has pipped him to it, and has committed to strengthening them once we actually leave the European Union.

I agree with the First Minister that it's of critical importance that absolutely everything is done to mitigate the impact of leaving without a deal, particularly for Welsh businesses, many of whom are heavily integrated in European markets. The First Minister will be all too aware of the severe impact that EU tariffs coupled with a potential 'no deal' Brexit scenario could have on many smaller producers and supply chains across Welsh industry, especially Welsh hill farmers, who will be hit by higher tariffs. With little time on our hands, perhaps the First Minister could update us on what emergency discussions he has had and is having with Welsh business leaders.

As I've said before in this Chamber, I'm keen to constructively work with the Welsh Government where I can in order to best protect Wales's interests, and I want to reiterate that commitment this afternoon. Of course, the critical events in recent weeks could have a serious effect on the UK's ability to develop international trade deals, which will be crucial in helping to develop the Welsh economy post Brexit, as would the First Minister's party's wish to bind us in the EU customs union—the very definition of which denies us the ability to have a say in trade deals. When the First Minister formed his Government, he was quick to establish a Minister with direct responsibility for Brexit, and a Minister with direct responsibility for international trade. In light of those appointments, can the First Minister tell us what official guidance and assessments he's received from both departments on the impact of leaving the European Union, and Wales's ability to be involved in trade deals internationally in the future? Perhaps he could also confirm what work the Welsh Government has already undertaken to develop its own international trade strategy, so that Wales can hit the ground running once we leave the European Union and work with the UK Government's Department for International Trade.

Deputy Presiding Officer, Wales and indeed the rest of the United Kingdom is in unchartered territory. It's important that we do not lose sight of what's important here, and that's respecting the 2016 referendum result and ensuring the smoothest possible transition away from the European Union. In the past, the First Minister has shared my concerns over the constitutional character of the UK post Brexit, and Wales's place in that. Therefore, perhaps in response to my questions this afternoon he will also take the opportunity to update Members on the Welsh Government's assessment of the impact of Brexit on Wales in a constitutional context.

Deputy Presiding Officer, we on this side of the Chamber will work where we can with others to protect Wales's interests, both nationally and internationally. I look forward to hearing more about the Welsh Government's plans for Welsh industry post Brexit and I hope that the First Minister will now work constructively with the UK Government in the coming days and the coming weeks.

15:25

I thank the Member for a series of important questions. I want to refute what he said at the very beginning, because the Welsh Government certainly has not taken the view of being opposed to anything and everything that the UK Government has attempted in this field. We gave a modest welcome to the Florence speech, when the Prime Minister began to move back from the red lines that she'd set out in her Lancaster House speech. We gave a modest welcome to her Chequers plan. The problem that the Prime Minister has had has not been with the Welsh Government over that matter; it has been her difficulties in securing support from within her own party. How many Cabinet Ministers walked away from her Government as a result of the Chequers plan? And how many has she continued to lose on almost a weekly basis ever since? Where the UK Government has moved in our direction, we have sought to welcome that and to encourage them to do so. In the end, it has always been the Prime Minister's instance that her most import audience are those who sit behind her and who are irreconcilable to her plan that has been her undoing.

The Member asks when I last spoke to the Prime Minister; I spoke to her last week. I met the leader of the opposition just before the start of this half term, and I've discussed with them both. I'm very pleased to see this afternoon that the leader of the opposition is meeting party leaders in the House of Commons to try to do what the Prime Minister should have been doing now for many weeks, which is to reach out to other parties to find a different centre of gravity in the House of Commons where a deal could have been done.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I take absolutely at face value what the leader of the opposition says about wanting to play a constructive part himself, and I hope that he will use his position as leader of the Conservative Party in Wales to put the views that are so important on behalf of Wales to the Prime Minister herself, because I agreed with what he said about the impact of a 'no deal' Brexit in tariffs and non-tariff consequences on the Welsh economy, on our manufacturing sector, on our agricultural sector. Those are major, major difficulties that lie in our path should a 'no deal' Brexit take place, and any words that get into the ear of the Prime Minister about those difficulties are welcome.

The Member asked what we are doing to make sure that we are in touch with Welsh businesses. Well, we continue to encourage Welsh businesses to use the Brexit portal that we have established—30,000 visits to that. But it's one thing to visit the portal, it's another thing to take its advice and to do the diagnostic work that companies need to do to prepare themselves for the challenges that lie ahead. We are using our EU transition fund to continue to support businesses and other sectors in the Welsh economy to prepare for that world.

What we won't be able to do, Dirprwy Lywydd, is to indulge in the fantasy that exists among Conservative politicians that the world is simply waiting for a buccaneering Britain, that when we turn our back on our closest and most important market, that that will be replaced by these deals that are to be struck all around the world. There is no evidence for that at all. The Member knows perfectly well that the deals we already enjoy through our membership of the European Union are being denied to us the other side of the European Union. Far from having more trade deals around the world, we will start with far fewer than we have as a result of our EU membership.

Let me end with the very important final point that the leader of the opposition raised: the constitutional character of the United Kingdom the other side of Brexit. This is an issue on which my predecessor, the Member for Bridgend, has played a leading part across the United Kingdom, in trying to concentrate the minds of others on forming those ways of working inside the United Kingdom that will be necessary for it to go on operating successfully once we leave the European Union. Work was set in hand by Carwyn Jones and the First Minister of Scotland and the Prime Minister at a meeting of the JMC plenary in March of last year. That work is yet to be completed, and it is very difficult indeed to find people in the UK Government with the interest or the energy to work on that agenda when they are so overwhelmed by the difficulties that Brexit has created. But we continue to work on it, we continue to work on it with colleagues in Scotland, and we look forward to returning to that JMC plenary with a comprehensive report on all the different work strands that were agreed, because on them depends the orderly conduct of business across the United Kingdom when the European Union is no longer there.

15:30

First Minister, my colleagues at Westminster are meeting with Jeremy Corbyn as we speak, in order to explore cross-party co-operation in achieving, even at this late stage, a collaborative approach. We hope greater clarity will emerge about Labour's real position on Brexit. Last week, BBC Wales reported that a senior source inside the Welsh Labour Party—who may or may not be sitting, who knows, on your frontbenches—said that your lack of clarity over a people's vote was causing tensions in your Cabinet. They called your policy unsustainable and confusing. Your own AM—Torfaen's Lynne Neagle—described your position as ridiculous and unconvincing. Now, in your statement today, you said a second referendum would be divisive, possibly indecisive, though you would support it subsequently, if the House of Commons did first. It's difficult to conceive of a weaker endorsement of the case for a second referendum. You're rowing further and further away, First Minister, from the policy that we endorsed in this place in January, so much so that, if, miraculously, Jeremy Corbyn u-turns again, adopts a policy of a people's vote, following his meeting with Plaid Cymru this afternoon, you'll end up actually passing each other, facing opposite directions, like sinking ships in the night.

And then there's the question, First Minister, if another referendum were to happen, which way would you and the Labour Party campaign and vote? Interviewed by Sky News on Sunday, Jeremy Corbyn seemed, finally, to come off the fence. And then he got back on it. First, he conceded that there should be another referendum, on what he termed a credible deal to leave the European Union, by which he meant a deal negotiated by Labour to set up a new customs union and close alignment with the single market, and an option to remain in the EU. When he was pressed as to how he would vote in such a referendum, he answered that it was his preference to recognise the result of the 2016 referendum. Obfuscation is dead, long live obfuscation. What did he mean by that? First Minister, perhaps you can tell us here now. My colleagues in Westminster will certainly be asking him. But your statement today suggests that it's your preference too to secure your version of Brexit over a 'remain' result in any future referendum.

Finally, can I turn to the analysis for your Government by King's College London Professor Jonathan Portes, which has found that Wales will be harder hit than the rest of the UK by the proposed £30,000 minimum salary for skilled migrants who look to come to the UK from 2021? He said that, while average full-time earnings for the UK as a whole are not far off £30,000, in Wales they are significantly below that. Consequently, they would be a huge barrier to Welsh businesses seeking skilled professionals from abroad. He recommended a £20,000 minimum salary to apply to Wales. So far, the Welsh Government—as far as I've been able to find out—hasn't expressed a view about the results of its own research. So, First Minister, do you agree with Professor Portes, and, if so, what are you doing to persuade the UK Government to take his recommendations on board?

Well, Adam Price began by referring to the collaborative approach that is being attempted elsewhere, and I am very glad about that. And I am very glad that Members of his party, and other parties, will be coming together in order to try and find that different way through the House of Commons. 

In the middle part of what Adam had to say—he is obsessed with people who are not in this Assembly, and who are not answerable to it. So, I will simply speak for myself and the responsibilities that I discharge here. I believe that the Welsh Government has been consistent throughout and that there is absolute clarity in our position. It may be complicated, but it is clear, and it's the one that I've set out this afternoon—that there is a deal to be done on the basis of the proposals that we have consistently supported since they were first formulated in discussions with Plaid Cymru here in the Assembly, and we continue to support those proposals. I know the Member has moved far away from them in recent times, and, of course, he's quite entitled to do that, but we have not. We continue to believe that they provide a prescription that could work for Wales and that's my position today. 

It does no-one any good, when saying that they are in favour of a position, not to look at the difficulties that position might also entail. While I support—I say it again; I've said it so many times here—a second public vote as a way through a deadlocked House of Commons, it doesn't do anybody any favours not to look at the things that would have to be solved in the path of that solution, and that's what I tried to do this afternoon. And to dismiss them as though they didn't exist, as though a second referendum would not be divisive—. This issue is divisive in this Chamber, this issue is divisive in our society. If we have another vote—and if that's what we need, I will support it absolutely—then we know that there will be people who will take strongly different views on it, and to shake a head and to act as though that were not important does not do justice to the significance of that decision. 

What would the Welsh Government's position be were there to be a second referendum? Well, I've said this clearly many times as well—that if there is a second referendum, and remaining in the European Union is on that ballot paper, then nothing that I have seen in the last two and a half years leads me to believe that the advice we gave people in Wales in the first referendum was the wrong advice. We advised people then that people's future in Wales was best secured through continued membership of the European Union, and that would be my honest advice to people if we had another chance to vote on that. Wales's future is best secured through membership of the European Union. Now, many people here disagree—of course, they do. That's why I said that the debate would inevitably be one that would divide us. But that is my honest view. Nothing that I have seen in the meantime has changed it. It would be a difficult view to put to many Labour voters who take a different view to that. But if we have another public vote, and remaining in the European Union is on the ballot paper, the advice of this Government will be that that is in the best interest of Wales. 

Let me turn to the very final point—[Interruption.] Sorry, Dirprwy Lywydd. The very final point the Member made was about the Jonathan Portes report. It's the second report that Professor Portes has provided for the Welsh Government. I was very glad of a chance to meet him and to discuss his first report. What he does is to pinpoint two of the major flaws in the migration policy put forward by the UK Government: it's insistence on an arbitrary salary cap and it's insistence on an arbitrary division of the workforce into skilled and unskilled. Neither of those things work for Wales.

I spoke at length to the chair of the Migration Advisory Committee asking him whether he had done any analysis of those propositions on the Welsh economy. He told me that he hadn't. It's little wonder that Professor Portes—the leading expert on these matters in the UK—comes to a conclusion that says a £30,000 salary cap would be inimical to the interests of businesses, public services and universities in Wales. And describing people who work in our social care system as low skilled and, therefore, not needed to be recruited from other parts of the world flies in the face of the work that people from other parts of the European Union do every day in Wales providing services to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. We will support the conclusions of the Portes report, and when we've had a proper chance to digest it and to discuss it with the author, then we will make clear our conclusions from it.

15:40

Can I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon? Though, by the six o'clock news tonight, some of it may be redundant, as the shambolic Government in Westminster runs around trying to change it and produce new definitions of its own existing deal to keep it on those papers. There are a couple of points I want to raise with you. We've obviously heard arguments about where we are with the process, and we are now less than 10 days away from exit under the law—as we know is there in law at the moment—and the decisions of the UK Government over two and a half years have actually got nowhere on this process. But we are now in a position where we know, if a 'no deal' exists, we now have tariffs being introduced. They were announced last week and published last week by the UK Government. Perhaps you can give an indication as to how those tariffs would impact upon the Welsh economy, particularly in relation to Welsh ports, because part of those tariff discussions include no tariff between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which clearly would encourage Irish businesses to transport their goods through Northern Ireland on to Liverpool because there'll be no checks on that aspect either? That would impact very much upon Welsh ports. The discussions you're having with the UK Government as to how they will secure investment and the productivity of those Welsh ports will be critical.

In relation to the discussions on an extension, we don't know how long it will be, we don't know what she intends—she's talking about a short one and a long one. We don't even know whether, as you say, the EU-27 will agree to it either, because there has to be a purpose and I've not yet heard a purpose. Has she given you a purpose in any discussions she's had with you as to what that extension will actually try to achieve? Because we all talk about it, but we don't know what the intention is or what it's purpose will be. 

Do you also agree with me that we are playing games and there are serious consequences to those games, because of the relationship she's having with the DUP behind closed doors? It is clear from the information we're getting that there's a possibility of the DUP being offered a seat at the table in trade negotiations. What will happen to both the Welsh and Scottish Governments in relation to that operation? But also funding—what argument is going to be put into place as to how she can justify giving more money to the DUP, when we again get nothing out of this and therefore we see an impact upon our economies as we crash out without a deal because 60 per cent of our exports go to the EU? So, where are we with that?

The leader of the opposition highlighted businesses' preparation for a 'no deal', but can you also give us information as to what you're doing with local government, because, again, local government will be seriously hit, and public bodies such as health bodies, because we all know the implications for our health services of the 'no deal' scenarios? Unfortunately—not what a lot of people would want to happen next week—we are moving closer and closer and closer to a 'no deal' scenario.

I do have a conspiracy theory that perhaps the UK Government and the Prime Minister in particular likes to move towards this because it suits their needs—an extension, a long extension to come back with—. That's going to push Brexiteers into accepting her deal. It's clearly a move, and based upon her actions last week, where she promised a free vote on Tuesday night after she lost the vote in the House by 149—she got up and actually promised a free vote to her party on a 'no deal'. On the following day, she actually then changed her mind and whipped her Members against her own motion. So, how can she be trusted in reality to actually deliver on commitments she's made at the despatch box? Because she promised this at the despatch box, and that's an important aspect. We have to have confidence in a deal being offered by the Prime Minister. If our Prime Minister is not even meeting her own promises to her own party, how can we trust that coming to us?

On the trade agreements again, First Minister, we had a discussion last week on the LCM on the Trade Bill, but I'm going to ignore the Trade Bill for the moment—let's look at the continuity trade agreements that were being discussed. I understand six are now done, but can you confirm as to whether the Welsh Government had sight of those trade agreements prior to them being signed? Have you insisted upon seeing other trade agreements prior to signature? Because these have a major impact upon the Welsh economy and these are changing policy. They're not as simple as a carry-over; there are changes to policy as a consequence of these. So, where are we in getting the situation of having a Welsh voice in those agreements before they are signed.

Can you also tell us—? Legislation—one of the arguments she's using for an extension is because we haven't got time to put all the legislation through. How much legislation is still required by us in this Assembly based upon UK Government doing legislation there first, because, clearly, there are going to be parts of the legislation that we can't do until they've done theirs? So, where are we in the timetable of getting ours completed and do we have an idea that, actually, they will all be done by 30 June—preferably 23 May, because that's another date that is being discussed for the European elections?

15:45

And finally, yes—[Laughter.] Do you agree with me that one of the biggest mistakes last week was not supporting Hilary Benn's amendment, whereby they could actually get a consensus on a position on a possible solution in the House of Commons, which would actually let us know exactly the type of vote that could take place and the sort of agreement that could be in place if we knew what the majority of the House of Commons agreed on?

Well, Llywydd, I'll do my best to be as quick as I can in answering those questions. Of course, David Rees is absolutely right that our ports are affected by the tariff model that the Government has suggested across the island of Ireland. It's been a long period of education of UK Ministers about the fact that we have ports in Wales and the important job that they do. And he's quite right to say that the current suggestion would be to the detriment of Welsh ports, because goods will inevitably travel from south to north and come into the UK from the north part of Ireland. 

As far as the DUP is concerned, I see that the First Minister of Scotland has written to the UK Government this afternoon, setting out concerns that we would certainly share about the way in which reports of discussions with the DUP are emerging, in which somehow the DUP would have a seat at the table in trade negotiations. It's absolutely astonishing, Llywydd, that any suggestion of that sort could be made with a single political party not even in administration anywhere in the United Kingdom and to the neglect of administrations in Wales and in Scotland. The continuing suggestions that yet more money might be poured down the throats of the DUP—I'm glad austerity is over in one part of the United Kingdom, but it is fundamentally unfair and entirely in breach of the statement of funding policy that money should be passed to one part of the United Kingdom for responsibilities that are shared elsewhere. And that includes England, as well as Wales and Scotland.

As far as local government is concerned, our discussions with them focus on food, particularly food in schools, food in residential care homes, food for older people who rely on domiciliary care, and making sure that, in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit, there are systems in place to protect the most vulnerable.

In relation to the health service, we have for the first time, I believe, now had to commit money in relation to a 'no deal' Brexit. You've heard my colleague, the Cabinet Secretary for health, talk about a warehouse that we have had to deploy in Newport. We do so because it is necessary to protect the interests of the Welsh health service and Welsh patients against a 'no deal' Brexit.

Will the Prime Minister's blackmail Brexit succeed? The way that she continually tries to persuade people to go into the lobby in support of her, because otherwise something even worse might happen—well, it's a game of Russian roulette, and our futures really ought not to be being negotiated in that way. Can the Prime Minister be trusted? Well, I think I reported to the Chamber last week that, when I was in Brussels during our half-term break, I was struck by the strength with which good friends of Wales and the United Kingdom reported their belief that the Prime Minister's actions in backing the Brady amendment had marked a fundamental breach of faith. She supported an amendment against the agreement that she had struck with the European Union. How could they feel confident in going on negotiating with someone who was prepared to do that?

Legislation needed here does depend, as David Rees said, on statutory instruments that have to be passed through the House of Commons. We are ready. We are confident that we are in the right place; whether they are is a different matter.

And finally, on the Hilary Benn amendment, Dirprwy Lywydd, shall I tell you something that happened to me that is more or less unique in my own experience? I was knocking on doors in the Newport by-election last Thursday evening, as many Members here were no doubt as well. I knocked a door and a man came to the door and he immediately said to me, 'You must come in, you must come in.' I had no idea what I'd done, but what he wanted me to do was to see the result of the vote on the Hilary Benn amendment. So, I stood in his front room and saw it happen, and I absolutely share your reaction to it. It was a moment when the House of Commons could have taken control of this process, and to lose that vote by two votes was, I think, deeply disappointing to those of us who hoped that that was a moment when a different course of action could have been embarked upon.

15:50

Well, I enjoyed the First Minister's evisceration of the Prime Minister and the utter political shambles that she and the Conservative Party have created, but I think the greater shambles is that of the opposition, because, in spite of having what I believe to be the most incompetent Prime Minister in 250 years, the leader of the opposition has not profited in any way from what has happened and Labour are still apparently 10 points behind in the opinion polls—[Interruption.] But the—[Interruption.] The establishment elites—[Interruption.] The establishment elites are now quite clearly and openly determined to frustrate the Brexit referendum that we had two and a half years ago. The Labour Party, Plaid Cymru, the Conservative Party, even, are determined not to deliver on what the people voted for in 2016. Let's just remind ourselves, shall we, that 406 constituencies out of 650 voted to leave; 247 Conservative constituencies voted to leave and only 80 to remain; 148 Labour constituencies voted to leave and only 84 to remain; and yet, in this place, 49 of our Assembly Members voted to remain and 480 out of the 650 MPs also voted to remain. There is a remainer majority by a very long way both in this Assembly and in the House of Commons, and it is determined, absolutely determined, come what may, at any cost to stand in the way of what the people voted for and—I'm pleased to have Alun Davies nodding in acquiescence over there—[Interruption.]—to vote against what the people voted for just two and half short years ago. And last week the House of Commons proved it, because it voted against leaving the EU on the Prime Minister's so-called deal, it voted against leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation terms, also called 'no deal', and it voted for extending article 50. By no stretch of the imagination can that be called voting for Brexit in any shape or form. And, as Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, said:

'It simply beggars belief that a government could be hell-bent on a deal that hands over £39 billion, while giving the EU both the right to impose laws on the UK indefinitely and a veto on ending this state of fiefdom.'

That is the shambles that Theresa May has created and which the Labour Party doesn't really disagree with. Actually, it wants to go even further than Theresa May in giving away all the cards that we had in our hand and to stay inside the EU. Is the First Minister concerned at the gulf that is developing between the people who voted for Brexit by a majority—56 per cent in Newport West; as the First Minister mentioned that constituency, I thought I'd quote that figure—and the political elites? There is a poll published by ComRes in The Daily Telegraph today, which asks the people various questions: do they trust MPs to do the right thing by the country over Brexit? Sixty-eight per cent disagree. Another question: 'It has felt as if the EU has been trying to punish the UK over Brexit.' Sixty-one per cent agree with that proposition. If the UK left the EU without a deal on 29 March, with that be the best possible outcome? Forty-three per cent agreed with that proposition; only 30 per cent disagreed.

The policy that the First Minister and the Welsh Labour Government have is wholly at variance with a very, very large proportion of people in this country and indeed a greater proportion than those who support his view. What does he think it will do to democracy in this country if, at the end of this process, there is, in effect, no change? Once this deal goes through, if it does, then Britain's membership of the EU could be prolonged indefinitely. And, yes, it could be postponed until 30 June, but nothing's going to change between now and 30 June and then, of course, all the pressure will be on to extend it beyond that, and so on ad infinitum. Why would the EU possibly want to give us any concessions when it's already got everything that it ever wanted? That's the key question that we have here, I believe. What is going to be the health of British democracy in future if it is betrayed by those to whom the people have entrusted it?

15:55

Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, you think that the debate on Brexit moves beyond parody, and then you find yourself being accused by Neil Hamilton of belonging to the establishment and an elite. At that point, I feel the boundary where you thought there was no further scope for extending it finds itself extended yet further.

Do I worry about the democratic health of our country? Of course I do. It's why I said what I said in my statement. My worry is not his worry, because he always wants to paint this in a way that appeals to the populist instincts of his supporters. I worry about the relationships between people. I worry about relationships between people who take strongly different views on this matter and where I really, really believe every one of us has to act carefully when we put our view forward in respecting the views of others who take a different point of view. If we're not able to do that, then the threats to our democratic health are real, and those things are on the surface and close to the surface of this debate.

The real danger we face, though, Dirprwy Lywydd, is not the one that the Member refers to at all. The real danger we face is that 10 days from now we could have left the European Union without any deal of any sort and nobody—but nobody—told people in the referendum that that's what this was all about. We were to leave the European Union in one of the easiest negotiations that would ever have been conducted. We were to leave the European Union in a way in which all the advantages were to be on our side and none of the disadvantages. If we leave the European Union on 29 March without a deal of any sort, then the impact here in Wales will be catastrophic and the impact of that on our democratic health really is something that we should all be worried about.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm grateful to the First Minister for his statement this afternoon. I will say to him that I regret very much the tone he used when he described the opportunity to provide for a public vote and to provide for a final say for the people of this country. It is, of course, the policy of Welsh Labour, of Labour, it's the policy of the Welsh Government, it's the policy that he himself placed in front of Members some weeks ago and asked this Parliament to adopt as the policy that we would want to see pursued. I do, therefore, believe that there's been a very clear undertaking, given that the Government of Wales will not simply describe the problems and the difficulties facing us, but will proactively seek to prepare for a vote to take place. And these are two different things. It isn't simply rehearsing academic arguments. It's saying that this is the most important issue facing this country at the moment. We know there's a mess in London. We know there's a mess in Westminster. We know that the UK Government cannot agree with itself, let alone anyone else. We know that they don't know what their policy is today, tomorrow, the next week. We know all of those things. But what we have to do in this Parliament and this Government is to do better than that and to do more than that, and that means to be true to what we believe in, and not to equivocate, not to find words in which to find different ways to escape our commitments, but to argue clearly for those commitments.

So, I hope, therefore, First Minister, you will be very, very clear in committing to the policy that the people of this country should have a final say, that the Welsh Government will campaign for a remain option and to campaign to remain, and what we will do here is accept there is no such thing as a jobs-first Brexit, but what is important to us is the principle—the principle—that the people of Wales and the people of the United Kingdom should have the final say on any agreement reached.

16:00

Dirprwy Lywydd, I could not have been clearer this afternoon in setting out the policy of the Government because it has been the policy of this Government ever since we started to debate it here. It's been repeated and repeated in resolutions, put down by the Government and carried in this Assembly, that there is a way of leaving the European Union that can protect jobs and the economy here in Wales. But if that is impossible, and the House of Commons is deadlocked, then the decision should go back to the people. And it was the Welsh Government that put a resolution in front of this Assembly that asked for preparations to begin so that we do not lose that opportunity by default—that we've simply ran out of time in order for that to happen.

Joyce Watson took the Chair.

What I won't do, Dirprwy Lywydd dros dro, what I will not do, is to pretend on the floor of this Assembly that, somehow, we are in charge of things that we are not. In the end, a referendum does not lie in the hands of people in this Assembly, and we should be honest about that. Nor will I pretend that if that is where we end up, that that is somehow a difficulty-free option. Because there are difficulties that lie in its path; there are practical difficulties and there are political difficulties as well.

The Member asked me if there were to be a second referendum and 'remain' were to be on the ballot paper, well, I say again, as I have said here, that the position of the Welsh Government would be that we remain in favour of Welsh membership of the European Union. I say that despite the difficulties that I think there would be in it because that is the honest position. But it is honest as well to explain to people that even if you are, as I know the Member is, strongly committed to a second vote amongst the people, that has issues that have to be faced in it as well, and it does nobody any good to act as though those could simply be wiped away in a burst of rhetorical enthusiasm.

4. The Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Okay. So, we move on now to item 4: the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, and I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to move the motion—Lesley Griffiths.

Motion NDM6994 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 20 February 2019.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Chair. These regulations make amendments to the Registration of Establishments (Laying Hens) (Wales) Regulations 2004, the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Wales) Order 2007, the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations 2007, and the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (Wales) Regulations 2014. Changes made by the regulations include omitting the reference to

'acting as a member state in the welfare of animals'

and the Time of Killing (Wales) Regulations 2014.

In relation to the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations 2007, correcting references to EU directives as EU directives will not form part of domestic law on exit day. In this instance, the definition of 'zootechnical treatment' has been taken out of the relevant council directive and inserted into these regulations. Supplemental provision has also been made to replace various references to the National Assembly for Wales to 'Welsh Ministers'. These amendments reflect the status quo. Such amendments supplement those provisions that confer additional functions on the Welsh Ministers.

Finally, changes to the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (Wales) Regulations 2014 have also been made that will end the mutual recognition of certificates of competence for slaughter workers issued in other member states. Continued recognition of certificates would open up potential enforcement issues, as we would be unable to suspend or revoke a certificate issued in another member state. In the event of slaughter, it breached the requirements of the retained EU legislation or domestic legislation. The European Commission has confirmed certificates of competence issued in the UK will not be recognised in other member states after the UK has left the EU. The Food Standards Agency has confirmed there are currently no slaughtermen with a European-member-state-issued certificate of competence working in Wales. I move the motion.

I call on Dai Lloyd to speak on behalf of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.

Thank you very much, acting Deputy Presiding Officer. With regard to these Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, we considered these regulations at our meeting of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on 11 March and reported two merits points to the Assembly under Standing Order 21.3.

First of all, we considered the way in which the explanatory memorandum, paragraph 4.6 in particular, explains why regulation 2 refers to ‘EU Regulations’ is not helpful, either to the Assembly or to the end user of the legislation. The meaning and effect of legislation, including how it interacts with other legislation, should be transparent to those scrutinising it, and, even more importantly, to those affected by it. In its response to our report, the Welsh Government said:

'Due to the volume of legislation that is required to be in place before exit day in order to ensure the Welsh statute book is operable, it has not been practicable to provide further detail on the relationship between...the [EU Withdrawal] Act 2018 and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Consequential Modifications and Repeals and Revocations) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.'

Given the public importance of the meaning and effect of legislation, we are disappointed by the Welsh Government’s response. As our own report demonstrates, we do not consider that it would have been an onerous task to explain clearly how revised EU law will operate on exit.

Secondly, regulations 5(4) and (5) appear to remove a reciprocal arrangement between Wales, as part of the UK, and EU member states or public authorities in those states. If so, this is removing a reciprocal arrangement of a kind mentioned in section 8 of the 2018 EU Withdrawal Act, in which case, the Welsh Ministers have no power to make regulation 5(4) and (5) unless they have consulted the Secretary of State. Neither the preamble nor the explanatory memorandum to the regulations refer to such consultation.

In this context, we believe that good legislative practice requires preambles to statutory instruments to refer expressly to the fulfilment of any statutory conditions, such as a duty to consult, that must be fulfilled before the statutory instrument can be made. In its response to our report, the Welsh Government confirmed that the Welsh Ministers have consulted with the Secretary of State and we note and welcome that the explanatory memorandum has now been amended. Thank you.

16:05

I now call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to reply.

Thank you, Dai Lloyd for your comments and observations. Obviously, we would not wish to be making legislation in the way that we're currently having to do, and you will have heard me say previously in this place that if we'd taken the decision to make all EU exit legislative corrections for devolved areas solely in Wales, it would've required about 200 statutory instruments and at least four Bills to be laid in the Assembly, in addition to business-as-usual legislation. And it would've only been possible to pass the necessary Bills in time by following a fast-track procedure, which, again, would limit scrutiny by the Assembly. That said, I absolutely took the comments that came from members of CLAC on board and a decision was taken, for instance, to change the procedure to be followed in the case of this SI, and also, as Dai Lloyd noted, the explanatory memorandum was amended accordingly.

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

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

5. The Common Agricultural Policy (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

We move now on to item 5, the Common Agricultural Policy (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, and I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to move the motion.

Motion NDM6995 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Common Agricultural Policy (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 20 February 2019.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Chair. I move the motion. These regulations amend the following four pieces of domestic subordinate legislation in the field of agriculture: the Agricultural Subsidies and Grants Schemes (Appeals) (Wales) Regulations 2006; the Rural Development Programmes (Wales) Regulations 2014; the Common Agricultural Policy (Integrated Administration and Control System and Enforcement and Cross Compliance) (Wales) Regulations 2014; the Common Agricultural Policy Basic Payment and Support Schemes (Wales) Regulations 2015. The corrections do not change the policy position in these areas. The amendments are technical in nature and are designed to retain the status quo following the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

Changes made by the regulations include the following. Regulation 4 omits reference to the 'co-ordinating body' in the Common Agricultural Policy (Integrated Administration and Control System and Enforcement and Cross Compliance) (Wales) Regulations 2014 to reflect the fact that the concept of 'co-ordinating body' is being removed from the retained EU regulations by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Regulation 5 amends the Common Agricultural Policy Basic Payment and Support Schemes (Wales) Regulations 2015 to correct references to EU legislation. These references are fixed in time as they refer to scheme rules used when the basic payment scheme launched in 2015. Regulation 5 corrects those references to make it clear they are references to the pre-exit EU legislation. A technical amendment is also made in regulation 5, to recognise that Welsh Ministers established a national reserve for Wales in 2015. Following the UK's withdrawal from the EU, this national reserve will be maintained in accordance with the retained EU legislation. These regulations will ensure the Welsh Government has the necessary regulatory framework to take forward its commitment to continue to deliver the CAP schemes. A consultation on any changes to Wales's agricultural support is scheduled later this year, once the responses to the 'Brexit and our land' consultation have been considered.

16:10

I call on Dai Lloyd to speak on behalf of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.

Thank you, acting Deputy Presiding Officer. This is item 5, the Common Agricultural Policy (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. We considered these regulations at our meeting of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, again on 11 March, and we reported one merits points to the Assembly under Standing Order 21.3.

Our report focuses on the complexity of this legislation and highlights that greater clarity would have been helpful in describing its effect as a consequence. The regulations demonstrate the difficulty for the scrutinising body and for those affected by the legislation of understanding the effect of EU exit-related statutory instruments in the field of the common agricultural policy.

Amongst many barriers to understanding, a particular example seen in these regulations is the difficulty of understanding exactly what versions of EU instruments are in force at any particular time as part of domestic law under the EU withdrawal Act. We recognise that the complexity and opacity derive from the EU withdrawal Act, that’s fair to say. However, we consider that it is incumbent on the Welsh Government to seek to explain better and more fully to the Assembly and to citizens how each piece of Welsh EU exit legislation fits into the whole picture of UK and EU legislation—current and intended—on the particular subject matter. The appropriate place for this would appear to be the explanatory memorandum accompanying statutory instruments.

However, an additional concern is that end users of legislation may not be aware of the existence of explanatory memoranda or able to access them easily, and we would ask the Welsh Government to give consideration to how this situation could be improved, so as also to improve access for the citizens of Wales to the meaning of legislation.

We welcome the Welsh Government response to our report regarding the specific concerns we raised about regulations 4 and 5 of the legislation, but note that it did not comment on our wider concerns that I have just set out. Thank you.

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

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and in relation to the point you say that I did not refer to, I think Dai Lloyd made a very pertinent point, that we need to look at how people outside of this place are able to access the legislation, because we have such a huge body of legislation going through now to prepare for day one, post Brexit, that clearly something could be missed. So, I would be very happy to look at that.

16:15

Thank you very much. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. Debate: Analysis of the Impact of the UK Government's Welfare Reform on Households in Wales

The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Darren Millar and amendment 2 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Item 6 on the agenda this afternoon is a debate on the analysis of the impact of the UK Government's welfare reform on households in Wales, and I call on the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government to move the motion. Hannah Blythyn.

Motion NDM6993 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Notes the empirical analysis of the effect of the UK Government’s Welfare Reform on Households in Wales.

2. Recognises and regrets the negative impact on the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Wales.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you for the opportunity to bring this important debate about the latest analysis published last week on the impact of the UK Government's welfare reforms on households in Wales.

I would like to first turn to the amendments that have been tabled. I don't think that it will come as a surprise that we reject the amendment from the Conservatives, which at best seeks to play down the impact of welfare reform and, at worst, attempts to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the devastating effect that it's having on the lives of the most vulnerable and the least well-off in Wales.

In respect of the Plaid Cymru amendment, I want to be clear that this Government has already committed to exploring the case for devolving the administration of aspects of the benefits system. We will look further at the evidence of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, which is currently being considered, assess the experience of Scotland to date, and then provide an evidence base to look at things that may be taken forward. We will, of course, need to look at how we can ensure that any transfer of functions is accompanied by the necessary funding.

This report brings together key statistics, analysis and evidence on the impact of both already implemented and proposed welfare reforms on households in Wales. The report highlights the substantial benefit cuts announced by the UK Government since 2010 up to the end of January 2019—a period where we have witnessed significant change to the system—and outlines the individual and cumulative impacts.

The UK Government has recently signalled some positive changes, such as an increase in some universal credit work allowances, but these are relatively small in scale. We know that the overall effect of these benefit changes is regressive, with the largest impacts felt by people on the lowest incomes, especially those with children. We also know that many benefit cuts are only partly implemented, with the spectre of further significant cuts looming large. Relative child poverty in Wales is estimated to increase substantially, with the reforms pushing an extra 50,000 children into poverty by the time they are fully enforced. The stark reality is that the double whammy of welfare reform and the agenda of austerity is hitting those least able to bear the burden the hardest. And, it does not stop there.

There is also a disproportionately negative impact on the incomes of several protected groups, including disabled people, Bangladeshi and Pakistani households at a GB-wide level and, of course, women. These negative impacts, for the most part, are the result of changes to the benefits system, in particular: the freeze in working-age benefit rates; the two-child limit in tax credits and universal credit; the abolition of the family element; and changes to disability benefits. Last week's spring statement provided a timely platform for action to end the benefits freeze. Sadly, neither announcement nor action were forthcoming, despite the freeze pushing many families deeper into poverty.

This report also makes clear a number of issues of concern with the roll-out of universal credit to date, focusing on three key areas: the impact on rent arrears, food banks and applying for universal credit online. The Trussell Trust, along with the parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee, are rightly calling for an end to the five-week wait for the first payment of universal credit. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions admitted on 11 February that the main issue that led to this increase in food bank usage could have been the fact that people have difficulty assessing their money for universal credit early enough.

In terms of personal independence payments, evidence summarised in this report suggests that huge and harmful problems exist and persist with the eligibility assessment process. Deputy Llywydd, all who are here in this Chamber will be familiar with some of the perverse problems that people have encountered when applying for personal independence payments. There are real concerns in relation to the ability of contractors to conduct accurate eligibility assessments, which is reflected by a significant and increasing proportion of appeals being found in favour of the claimant.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions wrote to me, setting out a number of changes to health and disability benefits that the UK Government is looking to ensure. A commitment to reviewing the assessment process is welcome but, as they say, the devil will be in the detail and delivery of this. We have repeatedly and robustly made clear this Government's concerns to the UK Government, calling for a halt in the roll-out of universal credit, and seeking urgent change to the most damaging policies, such as the two-child limit. The UK Government has made some changes, but these do not go far enough.

The Welsh Government does not have the resources to meet the entire shortfall resulting from these UK Government welfare reforms, estimated to be £2 billion by 2020 for Wales, but we will do all we can to support the most vulnerable people and do the right thing by them as they try to deal with the disproportionate and unfair impact of these reforms. Through our financial inclusion work, we provide grant funding of almost £6 million a year, which is used to fund projects such as Better Advice, Better Lives that deliver advice services within all 22 local authority areas. And when a share of the financial levy for the provision of debt advice services is devolved to the Welsh Government, I anticipate this will increase our current grant funding to approximately £8.5 million from April this year.

We know that our advice service funding is making a real difference to people’s lives. During the last year, the funding supported over 73,000 people, helping them to access almost £60 million of welfare benefit income. I recently visited Bargoed Citizens Advice, one of the pilot areas for the new help-to-claim service for universal credit, and saw for myself some of the digital difficulties being experienced and what a lifeline this support is in making a claim for universal credit.

Our discretionary assistance fund is playing a crucial role in supporting those most in need and has supported 214,300 people, with awards to the most vulnerable people in Wales, with over £44 million in grants since April 2013. The fund has seen a peak in people making contact for assistance. Deputy Llywydd, when I actually visited the centre that takes the calls from people trying to access claims for the DAF and the emergency assistance fund, the evidence suggests from there that, for a lot of these people, this is a consequence of the roll-out of universal credit. Therefore, we are increasing funding by £2 million this year, and for 2019 and 2020.

In order to meet the additional free school meal costs associated with the roll-out of universal credit, we will be providing additional funding of £5 million to local authorities in 2018-19 via a grant scheme. We are also making a further £7 million available to local authorities for free school meals in 2019-20.

Our childcare offer is supporting working families across Wales and is helping second earners into work and enabling parents who work part-time to increase their income by working more hours, which is critical to tackling in-work poverty.

We know that austerity is placing huge financial pressure on both our public services and our people, so we are providing £244 million annually to support the council tax reduction scheme. Almost 300,000 vulnerable and low-income households in Wales continue to be protected from any increases in their council tax bills, of which 220,000 continue to pay no council tax at all.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I know that the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms is something that many in this Chamber and in communities right across the country don't simply have acute concerns about, but are downright and rightly angry about. So, I look forward to the contributions to this debate on the analysis of the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms on households in Wales. Diolch yn fawr.

16:20

Diolch. I have selected the two amendments to the motion, and I call on Mark Isherwood to move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Darren Millar. Mark.

Amendment 1—Darren Millar

Delete all and replace with:

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Acknowledges the Welsh Government’s analysis of the impact of welfare reform.

2. Notes the recent comments made by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the rollout of Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments, as well as the actions taken by the UK Government to address concerns over the implementation of both.

3. Further notes that the Welsh Government has admitted that employment is one of the best ways to tackle inequality, through its programme for government and  economic action plan;

4. Is concerned that, while employment has substantially increased since 2010, the Equality and Human Rights Commission report ‘Is Wales Fairer?’ highlighted that poverty and deprivation still remain higher in Wales than other British nations; Wales is the least productive nation in the UK, and median weekly earnings in Wales are lower than in England and Scotland.

5. Calls on the Welsh Government to publish a robust and meaningful plan to tackle poverty that contains clear performance targets and indications to measure progress.

Amendment 1 moved.

Diolch. In 2010, the UK Government inherited a cycle of hopelessness, with deep-rooted, multigenerational worklessness and dependency in too many places, and Wales lagging behind. Now we have record employment and UK wages are rising at the fastest rate in over a decade. And newly published Office for National Statistics figures show that personal well-being levels and mental health scores improved in the UK after 2011.

I move amendment 1, which acknowledges the Welsh Labour Government's analysis of the impact of welfare reform. We regret, however, its politicised nature and the omission of key areas of change, including UK Government changes to personal income tax allowances since 2010 and to the roll-out of universal credit and personal independence payments. We also regret the absence of meaningful Welsh Government poverty reduction targets. In consistently blaming the UK Government for causing deprivation in Wales, they seek to dodge the reality that it is they who have held many of the levers to tackle poverty over 20 years. And, as last October's Equality and Human Rights Commission report 'Is Wales Fairer?' found, poverty and deprivation still remain higher in Wales than in other British nations. Wales is the least productive nation in the UK and median weekly earnings in Wales are lower than in England and Scotland. Damningly, ONS figures on employee earnings in the UK 2018 also showed that average earnings in Wales were lower and had grown slower than other UK nations in the previous year. In fact, 20 years after devolution, Wales has the lowest take-home pay amongst the UK nations.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation's 'UK Poverty 2017' report found that 60 per cent of working-age adults in workless households were in poverty compared with 16 per cent of those in working households. The Welsh Government itself has admitted that employment is one of the best ways to tackle inequality. The House of Commons—[Interruption.] Sorry, who's speaking? Yes, sorry.

16:25

Thank you, Mark, for giving way. Thank you very much. If we accept that there are high levels of disadvantage and deprivation in some of the communities and some of those on the lowest incomes are being most affected by minute little changes, I ask him to listen to the voice of Conservative MPs, and indeed Ministers, who've spoken out on this. When Esther McVey acknowledged that people with a transfer to universal credit, some of those people that you were just talking about, could be £200 a month worse off as a result of the switch, they'd be poorer, including people who are in work. She said,

'I've said we made tough decisions, some people will be worse off',

or even Amber Rudd, who said universal credit has caused a surge in the use of food banks. You can't deny, surely, that the tax and welfare changes have hit those people you were talking about the worst.

Thanks. Well, I'll be covering that in the rest of my speech, and I too have been writing to Westminster Ministers in relation to matters raised in my experience with constituents.

The House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee said in 2012,

'The principles behind Universal Credit have widespread support, which we share.'

And Labour's shadow work and pensions Secretary said in 2014 that

'Labour supports the principle of Universal Credit'.

Universal credit replaces a failing system, and the evidence shows people are more likely to get a job as a result, move into work faster and stay in work longer. However, as the UK Government states, any issues in its roll-out should and will be addressed. As the UK work and pensions Secretary said last November,

'I know that there are problems with universal credit, despite its good intentions.....I will be listening and learning from the expert groups in this area who do such good work. I know it can be better.' 

Speaking here last November, I detailed actions taken by the UK Government to address concerns over implementation of universal credit already then announced. Although the food bank network that you referred to opened in 2004, with the aim of a food bank in every UK town, the UK work and pensions Secretary also recently acknowledged that delays to payments have led to a growth in food bank use, and stated

'Already we have introduced 100% advance payments, budgeting support, direct rent payments to landlords and an extra two weeks' housing benefit payment for people moving from Housing Benefit to Universal Credit.'

Under personal independence payments, 31 per cent of disabled claimants are now receiving the highest rate of support compared to 15 per cent under disability living allowance. However, I have supported many constituents in successfully challenging PIP decisions while the health professionals carrying out their assessments exhibited a poor awareness and understanding of the barriers their conditions created for them. I have also written many times to DWP Ministers regarding this. I therefore welcome the work and pensions Secretary's statement that the number of PIP disability benefit appeals ruling against the UK Government—72 per cent last summer—was too high, and that she would be giving her attention to this, and other announcements including proposed integration of PIP, universal credit and ESA into a single information sharing service to reduce the need for applicants to submit information multiple times. Only yesterday I heard from a participating Welsh charity about their work with the DWP to support people with sensory loss into the workplace.

The Welsh Government should also play its part by, for example, responding positively to the call by Community Housing Cymru for them and Welsh local authorities to work with JobcentrePlus in Wales to co-locate services and enable applications for local authority benefits to be made at the same time as universal credit, and by publishing a robust plan to tackle poverty that contains clear performance targets and progress measures. Diolch.

Amendment 2—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new point at end of motion:

Calls for the administrative devolution of welfare to Wales so that mitigating measures can be put in place.

Amendment 2 moved.

Diolch, and I move the amendment. It's no surprise that we've tabled this amendment. We've been pushing this agenda for several years now, believing that the only way we can really tackle the scandalous attitudes towards the poorest in our society is through taking responsibility for ourselves. It's worth noting at the start the impact the political choices that are austerity and welfare reform has had on women. As I outlined earlier during business questions, the House of Commons library estimates that, in looking at all changes to tax and benefits from 2010 to 2017, 86 per cent of the reduction in Government spending is spending on women. And today we've had a report from the House of Commons committee that describes how some women have no choice other than to turn to prostitution to make ends meet, and that is linked to welfare reform.

I don't need to reel off a long list of policies that have had a devastating, cumulative impact on the poorest people here in Wales. These policies are well documented, and as the recent proposed changes to universal credit illustrated, these impacts are quietly now being accepted, even by many Tories. It's been amusing on one level to see ex-Tories like Anna Soubry realise the scale of what has happened in their name, as illustrated on tv's The Last Leg recently.

It's the attitudes within the civil service that I really want to highlight today, because I don't believe we can really create a human social security system worthy of the name unless we change the way in which staff interact with people in need on a day-to-day basis. The long list of sanctions given to people experiencing tragic circumstances—for example, the man who was sanctioned for a missed appointment due to being at hospital with his partner who had just had a stillborn child—is illustrative of this. This system is callous. Now, reviews into sanctions have denied that there has been an official policy of penalising bereavement, and have highlighted regional inconsistencies in that policy. I've no doubt, though, that the DWP would have used those reports to identify regions not sanctioning people enough, and probably asked questions as to why. But the rest of us reading those reports would acknowledge that something much more complex is going on.

Official policy has been draconian and designed to punish the poor and, of course, has nothing to do with work incentives, as the DWP's own impact assessment on universal credit has shown. But more widely, these policies haven't been introduced in a vacuum—they've been part of a suite of policies that started when Lord Freud spent an entire three weeks reviewing welfare policy in detail for Tony Blair. Yes, that's sarcasm—what was really happening was it was an effort on the part of the Blairites to appease the Daily Mail. We know that appeasement doesn't work, so rather than change the way in which the tabloid media covers those issues around social security, the tabloids instead became more and more hysterical and inaccurate, when the real issues at the time were bureaucracy, inflexibility and the inability to support casual labour. That in turn created the culture whereby our entire political system was afraid of opposing many welfare cuts and the coalition, and it seemed seriously to think that the 2008 financial crash was caused by disabled people claiming too many benefits. That is a climate that can turn nasty very quickly and permeate throughout Government, as we've seen by the day-to-day interaction of DWP staff in sanctioning.

Which brings me to my final point here—the attitudes remain evident, even in the Welsh Government's report. Now, I know the Minister didn't personally write this report, but I'll give an example as follows. On page 2, the report refers to the removal of the spare-room subsidy. Now, that's a loaded political term—it's the term the Tories tried to use to counter the labelling of the policy of the bedroom tax. The real name for the policy, as shown in official documents at the time, is the 'underoccupancy charge'. But by using the Tory term here, the Welsh Government officials have shown just how internalised the narrative of welfare cuts has become.

All of this shows that the language we use to describe things matters and is rarely apolitical, and deference to Whitehall's terminology and mentality remains. That is one reason why we need devolution of welfare so that we can start to change attitudes and so that we can find some compassion. 

16:35

It's a pleasure to take part in this debate, but I wish we didn't have to, in many ways. John F. Kennedy once said:

'If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.'

I think that is the essence of what we are looking at here—it's how a society looks after those who face disadvantage. And by the way, disadvantage is not something that is a million miles away from any of us. The repeated analyses that have looked to see how many of us are one or two paychecks away from penury and from poverty is a reality. I myself—when I was working at the height of a former career in leisure management, doing exceptionally well, and the company was taken over and a whole raft of management was just stripped out by the new company—found myself in my mid-20s facing redundancy, in the City of London, paying high rent, still with myself and my wife there, and I spent six months not only getting my head together but also working as a night-time security guard on 12-hour shifts in the City of London surrounded by the wealth and the affluence of the mid 1990s in London, and working before the minimum wage through those long 12-hour shifts. I had a great time and met a lot of great people as well. But it just shows that, actually, for many of us—and those people who turn up in foodbanks are often people who are either in work or they've been working recently and a couple of incidents in their lives have pushed them beyond the brink. And at that point we expect the welfare and the tax system to support them to allow them to get back to work, and when they get back to work to actually make work pay. That is not happening, despite the very best ambitions—and I'm being generous here—at one time, of Iain Duncan Smith, who held this portfolio in Government, who went to the Glasgow housing estates, who spent six months there learning what it was like, who put in place a well-funded, at the time, proposal to actually turn around those communities, and then when he came back to Government George Osborne ripped the check book up and said, 'You can do all the stuff around the sticks, you can do some of the stuff around the carrots, but there'll be no money to do this.' It absolutely undermined what could have been a compassionate, thoughtful, well-structured, evidence-based way to actually help people back into work, give them the support that they need, and actually make work pay. That hasn't happened. We are here where we are now. 

I want to pay tribute to the many housing associations, local authorities, the credit unions, organisations like Christians Against Poverty and others, who are out there now on a day-to-day basis providing debt advice, money management advice, financial budgetary advice, holding people's hands as they try to reconstruct their lives, often because the tax and welfare reforms have pushed them into poverty. I also want to thank, of course, all those who volunteer week in, week out, not simply when we turn up as politicians to help them on one Saturday now and then, but actually those who every week, every day of every week, contribute within foodbanks like Bridgend foodbank, the Trussell Trust, the churches, the community organisers and others, who provide not only physical sustenance and literally food and nappies and deodorants and everything else to help people balance their budgets—this is in the sixth-most prosperous country in the world—but they also provide friendship and support as well. I want to thank as well all the local homelessness charities at this point, including Emmaus, The Wallich, Centrepoint and Shelter and the many others in Bridgend and throughout Wales as well. But we shouldn't be here—if a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. 

The simple facts are, Mark, and I heard what you said, and I really appreciate the work you do as an individual Assembly Member, taking up cases on welfare and benefits for your constituents, as I do and as many others do—but the simple fact is these tax and welfare reforms have been deeply regressive. Even after the amendments, the analysis shows they are still deeply regressive. They're most deeply regressive because they hit those who are least able to defend themselves. It is women, it is particular ethnic communities, it is the young, it's those who do not have a voice—who need to come to you and me to ask for help. But do you know we're helping them against the system, despite the system? Why did not—? When I was a Minister, when I and Julie James and others wrote the letter to the UK Ministers to say, 'Do your own evidence-based cumulative impact assessment. Work out what the impact of these are.' 'No, there's no need to do it.' 'Why, what are you afraid of?' They're afraid of the very fact that it will show that these are punishing the poor. 

This has never been to do with balancing austerity on the shoulders of those who can most afford it—it's being done on those who can least afford it, and it is damaging them and it is damaging communities. When we talk about the distance, as was mentioned in a previous debate there, between the elite, the politicians, can you wonder why, when in a constituency like mine you have affluent areas who do not see this at all, it doesn't touch their lives, and yet in Caerau and in Gilfach and in other places, there are whole communities now who are suffering under this, and it will get worse? And I can't go through the details of the submissions that you will have seen, and I will have seen, and everybody will have had from Age Cymru on some of the changes that are yet to come and how they will impact on some of our older recipients of PIP and so on. I simply say to compassionate Conservatives, to people who genuinely really care about their constituents—we cannot hide our head in the sand any longer. This is punishing people, and if we think the distance isn't going to grow larger, it is. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. We have a duty to acknowledge the facts out there before we can actually come forward with the solutions. 

16:40

We have to face facts here today. It was all very well and good saying that we are going to take the politics out of this, but we can't take the politics out of a political decision that has been made, and that is to serve a whole system that sees people in poverty, in abject poverty, those people who can't see their way through tomorrow, the next day or the day after—people who turn up in our surgeries or people who write to us saying that they really don't know how they're going to go on. And we can't pretend that that wasn't a political choice. It is a political choice. Austerity is a political choice. It was a choice in two parts, really. The first part was to deprive any money to the public sector, and it is the public sector that was providing the help to those people who found themselves subject to these drastic welfare reforms. So not only did the welfare reforms cut the money that was going into families week in, week out, but the cuts then also into local government, the political decision to remove the funds, which were running at 65 per cent of GDP when you took over and now are 45 per cent of GDP—that was a political choice. So, there is less money all round. 

It's an absolute failure. It's an absolute disgrace, and I'm pleased that Leanne Wood did highlight the things that she did—the way that people are treated when they can't get to meetings, the sanctions that have been put on them. Who could really think that it is a fair system to put sanctions on people where they have to turn up to beg for their money, and if they can't turn up to beg for their money, then they're not going to get any money? You cannot excuse that as a non-political decision, because it is a political decision. 

I do want to raise the issue of Age Cymru, the welfare reforms that are yet to come, and I thought I'd focus on that because clearly other people haven't been able to do so. We're talking here about mixed-age couples and their pension credit and housing benefit criteria, which will be changing on 15 May this year, and will be making those households in future as much as £7,000 a year poorer. And these are families that are already poor in their own right. So, what are these changes? Well, at the moment, the oldest person can claim, and does claim, the pension credit allowance, regardless of the age of the younger person in that household. What will happen on 15 May is that both people will have to reach that pensionable age, and let's be clear here: we are talking mostly about women, who will be younger than their men