|Statement by the Presiding Officer|
|1. Questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services|
|2. Questions to the Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language|
|3. Topical Questions|
|4. 90-second Statements|
|5. Motion to amend Standing Orders: Suspension of proceedings before remote electronic votes|
|6. Motion to elect a Member to a Committee|
|7. Motion to elect a Member to a Committee|
|8. Motion to note the annual report on the Senedd Commission's Official Languages Scheme for 2019-20|
|9. Debate on petitions: Teaching history in schools|
|10. Voting Time|
|11. Short Debate: The proportionality of the Welsh Government's lockdown|
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met by video-conference at 13:29 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points for Members. A Plenary meeting held by video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting and those are noted on your agenda. And I would remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting.
And the first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the first question is from Dai Lloyd.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on waiting times for out-patient appointments and treatments within the Swansea Bay University Health Board area? OQ55772
Yes. The Welsh Government is working closely with all health boards to ensure that, when services can be delivered, the most urgent patients are seen first. During the pandemic, the available capacity has been reduced to enable appropriate social distancing and improved infection prevention and control measures to be implemented.
Plainly, the COVID pandemic has clearly had a very significant impact on waiting times, for both out-patient appointments and planned treatments. The number of patients waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment within Swansea bay health board stood at 22,453 at the end of August this year, compared to 3,263 at the same time last year. Now, we know that the health board has made some use of out-patient and theatre capacity at Swansea's Sancta Maria Hospital, but this is not a sustainable option long term. So, could I ask what additional actions are you taking, Minister, to address this issue? And do you agree that you need to do more in terms of developing not just COVID-lite pathways but COVID-lite hospitals or stand-alone units within the Swansea bay health board area in order to significantly increase capacity to tackle this backlog?
I think there are a couple of points to make. The Member correctly highlights the significant difference in the number of people waiting a long time, and that is one of the harms that we specifically recognise in needing to balance in all of the action we're taking during the course of the pandemic. There are a number of things that we have done to enable appointments to go ahead, in primary care, which the Member will know something about, in the way that video consultations are taking place, but also there are times when people need person-to-person contact for effective treatment options to be run through.
In terms of what we are doing, there is activity that is taking place, but we know we're going to have a significant backlog at the end of the pandemic. So, as well as the quarter 3 and quarter 4 operating frameworks that the health service is working to, we're already having to forecast and look forward to the significant recovery that we need. Because the Member's right that Sancta Maria is not a sustainable, long-term answer to that. In having, if you like, COVID-lite and COVID-free areas, which the service is planning for and so we are doing much more non-COVID activity because our NHS has organised itself in a way to try to do that, the big challenge is, with community transmission as it is, keeping coronavirus out of a site, even if we designated it as a non-COVID site, is actually really challenging and difficult. And the way that our hospitals sites are set up, they're not currently set up, if you like, into 'hot' and 'cold' sites, where you have planned care on one hospital site totally and unscheduled care on another.
So, this is a much bigger reform than I think we're going to be able to deliver within the coming days and weeks. But we do have designated zones, and that's why the infection prevention and control measures are so important, but it's also why the messages to the public are so important—if community transmission continues as it is, then we're unlikely to be able to see coronavirus kept out of all of our hospitals, regardless of the designation we provide to them.
Minister, I think I'd be grateful if you could bring some influence to bear on the restoration of a minor injuries unit at Singleton Hospital in Swansea. It's been closed for some time now. But in the meantime, I wonder if you could tell us what out-patient activity is happening in the community since March. It's been part of Welsh Government policy for a while to try and bring some appropriate out-patient activity back out of general hospitals. And could you also say whether that activity has decreased since we've started to see some COVID deaths, actually, within some of our community hospitals, as opposed to our general hospitals? I think Members may be aware of the sad deaths within Maesteg Community Hospital, which is obviously in a different part of my region.
Okay. So, I can say that, in terms of the increase in out-patient activity, from April, when, of course, we made the choice—which I think was the right choice—to end lots of activity within our healthcare system, and elective care and out-patients in particular, lots of those were paused to allow us time to prepare for the wave that we knew was coming, and we then had—. Lots of members of the public opted out of treatment as well, even in essential services. So, we have this big backlog that's built up and a really significant drop in activity. Since April to September, elective activity within Swansea bay has increased 147 per cent and there's been a 60 per cent increase over the same timescale in out-patients. We are now seeing a receding back in some of those areas of activity because of the extra wave of COVID patients coming into our hospitals.
And that, again, is part of the point I was trying to make in answer to the first question from Dr Lloyd, and that is that, as we see a rise in coronavirus in our communities, as we see more beds taken up with COVID patients, it will affect the other activity we can undertake, and that's why the message with the public is so important, as we look to the end of the firebreak, not to let the hard-won gains go. Because we know that, even if we go through this winter without needing to have another firebreak, there is a big challenge coming in the future to deal with the backlog that's been built up. So, yes, we're having to make choices about ending some forms of elective and out-patient activity to manage our COVID patients. What we don't want to do is see that disappear altogether, because that in itself would be a real cause of harm for people that you and I represent, and others, all across our country.
Minister, with Swansea bay still having to impose infection control measures at Morriston Hospital, the number of people waiting for treatment will continue to rise, compounding an already dire situation with regard to excessive waits for treatment. Before the pandemic, there were already nearly 6,500 people waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment. So, with the suspension of routine treatments during the pandemic, that number has skyrocketed. Minister, will you be recruiting additional doctors, nurses and other staff in order to address the backlog?
Well, Dr Lloyd accurately set out the challenge in the rise in people waiting that we acknowledge is a direct consequence of the action we've had to take to keep people alive during the pandemic. And that difficult balance in the choices we make and the different harms that are caused is very much in the minds of myself and other ministerial colleagues in all of the choices we make. I've also said before that we're going to need to look after our staff not just through the rest of the course of this pandemic, but in the future, because there is a very real mental health toll on our staff, from the treatment they've had to provide and the circumstances in which they've had to do that to keep our people well and alive. So, in the future, I think we'll see a drop-off in staff as we need to deal with and address some of the longer term challenges that will come from that, and that's why the investment choices we've already made are so important, in our training numbers and in the progress we've made, for example, on recruiting more people into general practice and secondary care.
So, yes, we'll look again to maximise our opportunities to recruit and to retain more staff, but we should never forget that the workforce of the future is already here in substantial numbers. The people who we'll have serving our communities in the national health service for the next five years are almost all here already. So, we'll look after our staff for the future, when they're going to join the national health service, and crucially take care of all of our staff in primary and secondary care who are here right now, serving each and every one of us.
Minister, you've highlighted, and correctly highlighted, the challenges facing the health board, and I would love to see a COVID-lite hospital, but we cannot guarantee any site would ever be COVID free, because that is one of the challenges facing us. I've had many constituents who have actually been in touch with me to say they were referred as an urgent patient, prior to the pandemic, and whilst, when you answered Dai Lloyd first, you indicated that they were telling you that prioritisation would take place, clearly there's something going wrong with the system when patients who are seeking urgent care and have been referred as urgent patients are still waiting. Now, I've been in touch with the health board on particular cases, but will you look at it and ask your officials to speak with the health boards to ensure that prioritisation is done on a clinical need and that some people are not being let through the system because they're not simply shouting loud enough?
Well, it's absolutely the case that clinical need should be what leads to how people are prioritised at all times, and especially so now, because we know that some people will have waited for longer because services were postponed, and others will have opted out of the service. But, actually, for some of those people, their needs will be even greater now. So, yes, that's a very clear message from the Government and from the chief exec of NHS Wales to our whole system. If the Member has particular instances where he's concerned that that clinical prioritisation may not have taken place, obviously, I know he'll raise it first with the health board, but he's free to write to me if he wants matters investigated further as well. But it's a very clear message: clinical prioritisation for all people waiting is exactly what every part of our health service should be doing.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's immediate priorities for the health service in Pembrokeshire? OQ55779
Yes. The priority for the Hywel Dda University Health Board is their response to the unfinished COVID-19 pandemic. The health board is planning for the continued provision of essential and key services alongside caring for patients affected by COVID-19, and working towards the delivery of more routine services where safe to do so.
Thank you for that response, Minister. Of course, it's an immediate priority for people living in Pembrokeshire to continue having access to treatments and services as quickly as possible. The Royal College of Surgeons has echoed that call, saying that at the centre of all this are patients who really need their operations. Many are in serious pain, with their conditions deteriorating while they wait, and so it's vitally important that the Welsh Government publishes its referral-to-treatment waiting times. Minister, do you agree with the Royal College of Surgeons, and, if so, when will the Welsh Government start publishing up-to-date referral-to-treatment times, so that health boards, like the Hywel Dda University Health Board, can use that information to plan accordingly?
Yes, I've already indicated previously in public that we'll be publishing that much wider data of NHS statistics, including referral-to-treatment times, this month. So, on the normal statistics day that we would normally publish matters in November, we'll do so across the wide range of areas, from unscheduled care to cancer services, to normal referral-to-treatment. So, you can expect to see that in line with the commitment I've already given.
Questions now from party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson first—Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. According to Macmillan, Minister, nearly 3,000 people in Wales could be living with cancer undiagnosed as a result of the pandemic. What is your plan to tackle this vicious storm heading towards the NHS in Wales?
We are working with our clinicians and our services to restart a range of cancer services. You'll be aware that we've restarted screening services. You'll be aware that referrals in cancer are up to normal levels. The challenges we have are that we are now seeing more people presenting even later than before, and, pre-pandemic, part of our concern was that people, particularly in our less well-off communities, were more likely to present with cancers later, and to need more radical treatment options and to have less likely positive outcomes.
When we do publish the information that I've indicated we will do, we'll continue to publish, for example, the single cancer pathway that we are introducing, and that will become, in the new year, the single measure that we use, as opposed to the older and less accurate measures that we currently have. And that will give people an honest appraisal of both where we are, and, indeed, as we need to plan for the resumption of services after the pandemic. And key to what we're saying here today, and on every day as we come back to this, will be the need to consider how we all behave to both reduce the harm from coronavirus and to recognise that if coronavirus gets out of control again, then we will find a direct impact on non-COVID care, and that will obviously affect cancer services, just as it is, I'm afraid to say, across our border too.
Since the start of the pandemic, Minister, in Wales, female deaths from dementia and Alzheimer's disease in the home have gone up by 92 per cent against the five-year average. Male deaths from heart disease at home in Wales have gone up by 22 per cent above the five-year average. Excess deaths at home were mostly due to deaths not involving COVID-19. What is your plan to tackle these excess deaths?
Well, as the Member will know, the Office for National Statistics published their latest weekly report last week, and it indicates that the excess deaths in each country of the UK, but certainly the detail on England and Wales, pretty neatly matches the number of COVID-related deaths we're seeing. And, so, it does show the significant impact that COVID is having across all areas. So, dealing with the COVID pandemic is hugely important in managing excess deaths in all areas.
Again, as the Member will know, we have a critical care base of 152 beds. About a third of our current capacity, and we're over that already, is taken up with coronavirus patients. Now, that means we're already seeing a high number of people with non-COVID causes. We want to maintain that activity through the winter, to make sure that we minimise any harm that is caused by the necessary choices that we need to make to keep control of the pandemic. And again, I'd appeal to everyone in every part of Wales to continue to think about what we should do to reduce harm from COVID, both direct harm as well as the indirect harm that COVID will cause.
In 2019, Minister, the Welsh NHS carried out 35,700 orthopaedic operations. Data up until the end of August show that there have only just been over 8,000 operations in Wales. At the same time last year, there were 24,000 operations performed by the NHS in Wales. What's your plan to tackle this public health bomb that will come and break the NHS?
As I've indicated, we have to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, because not dealing with it, not taking effective action, will undermine our ability to treat effectively people with non-COVID health conditions. The plan is to make sure that we have an operating framework that allows us to carry on treating non-COVID patients. I don't want to see our national health service turned into a COVID service and nothing else when it comes to hospital activity. That would indicate that our system is at the point of being overwhelmed and we know that that would translate into real harm for people in every single one of the communities that we have the privilege of representing in the Welsh Parliament.
The future is about the future plan for recovery, so it's a twin approach: managing the position now, maintaining non-COVID activity, as our operating framework sets out, wanting to continue to, if possible, increase the level of non-COVID activity, but certainly trying to protect the activity that we've restarted. And then, when we are through the pandemic, we will need to be able to finalise the plan that is already being worked on to recover from where we have got to in all areas of activity that have come under extraordinary pressure in these extraordinary times that we're living through.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. In the written statement today, Minister, you say that asymptomatic testing of care home staff will now be undertaken through the UK organisations portal and the lighthouse laboratories, rather than testing being allowed through Public Health Wales laboratories. Given the problems with lighthouse, many people will find that a disappointing and a rather strange decision. You're not even saying that the lighthouse problems have been resolved yet. Your statement says that issues are being addressed. Do you recognise that you're in danger of undermining confidence in this testing system for a sector that we all know is still very, very vulnerable?
I've taken seriously the evidence from the whole sector—from the Welsh Local Government Association, as both providers and commissioners, as well as providers themselves. We've also had engagement with trade union representatives too. So, this is a considered position, having worked with the sector in advance of it.
We're moving to a position where lighthouse labs, when it comes to their operation around care homes, are actually improving the turnaround. There are bigger challenges still with in-person testing. We've seen some improvement; we want to see it improve further. And this provides a consistency of provision, because I fully expect that local partners will, as we see high prevalence rates at present, want to move to the more regular weekly testing rather than the fortnightly testing we were able to move to when we had low transmission and prevalence rates in the summer. That then means that our Public Health Wales capacity can be deployed to support community transmission outbreaks, which we know have increased and we know we are likely to need to deal with as we go through the winter.
I just remind every Member that we're in a position where we have a joint programme where we have Public Health Wales tests and a significant infrastructure created through a UK paid for and led programme. We're not in a position to simply opt out of that programme and then replace all of that capacity ourselves. It's about money, it's about equipment, it's about people, it's our ability to deliver a system that will work for each of us as best as possible. So, I'm not being complacent about challenges in the lighthouse lab programme, but I recognise and I think that this is the right choice to make to provide some certainty. And indeed, it comes on the back of an improving picture in the way that lighthouse labs are dealing with care home tests.
Improving, you say, and moving to a situation where they can deliver a decent service, you say, but I'd rather wait until they can prove that they can deliver that service that we need. And I'm not saying, don't use lighthouse at all—I think lighthouse can be hugely important and will be hugely important—but surely, we should be having as much control over what is, possibly, within Welsh Government control.
We know from answers to written questions I submitted in recent weeks that your policy is to leave things largely to UK Government when it comes to vaccination too. There is growing optimism about the prospect of a much-needed coronavirus vaccine becoming available in the near future. Can you tell me what your latest thinking is on this and what Welsh Government's role will be in acquiring and running a vaccination programme in Wales?
I think it's a slight miscasting of the way that the system is actually working to say that we're leaving it to the UK Government. There are a couple of things to run through in terms of clarity. So, the first is that the UK Government, as it does with a range of other programmes, including, for example, the seasonal flu, procures the vaccine on behalf of the whole of the UK. We then take our population shares of that. So we will get the vaccines that are available when they're available, at the same time and in, if you like, the appropriate portion, as with every other part of the UK.
In terms of the advice we get about how to deliver the vaccine, we have a UK-wide mechanism that will give advice on vaccinations, on approval and, in particular, the point about prioritising people. Because whenever a vaccine is available, we'll need to, as the First Minister said yesterday, consider how we deliver that to the most vulnerable population first—people who would gain the biggest benefit. That will, though, also be subject to the important caveat that we need to understand the characteristics of that vaccine. Some vaccines may be more or less effective for people with different health conditions, age ranges, and we need to make sure that the vaccine is actually effective for the group of people that we're looking to offer it to.
We are already planning our own programme for how we would deliver a vaccination programme here within Wales, and if we did have an early vaccine available before the end of the calendar year, then our plans are in such a position that we could deploy that for the limited group of people that we think a vaccine might be available for. So this is about planning, being able to deal with an early vaccine, if we get one, and also dealing with the more realistic prospect of a greater number of vaccines becoming available to every country in the UK at the same time at some point in the new year. But I can't give people the sort of certainties that they and I would like about when those vaccines will become available.
I admire your trust in the UK Government. My fear, just like with testing and various other elements of what we've experienced over the past seven or eight months, including PPE and so on, is that you're afraid of taking as much control as you possibly could. I've praised you in the past, and I'll do it again, saying the Welsh Government has, in many ways, been at its best when it has decided, 'Listen, for this thing, we need to get it done properly by doing it ourselves', with absolutely the appropriate elements of and levels of co-operation and sharing ideas, and so on. Now, there's a danger that Wales, by not taking the bull by the horns as much as you possibly could, might be in a position where you can't press ahead with a programme as quickly as other parts of the UK. It was good to read in the GPs' magazine Pulse yesterday, for example, about plans for a roll-out in England before Christmas, which would be great. And with trust—and I'll finish here—being so vital for take-up, with Welsh Government trusted more than the UK Government over this issue—you could argue that that doesn't say much—won't a very, very clear and explicit strategy, clear and explicit communication from Welsh Government be a valuable weapon in building up trust and encouraging take-up, which we will need in the coming months?
There are two things that I'd say to that. The first is that we're taking the same approach that every nation in the UK is on the procurement and supply of a vaccine. There's nothing unusual in doing that. And actually, whilst I can and will continue, no doubt, to be sharply critical of the UK Government where I disagree with them, on the issue of the procurement and supply of vaccines, I just don't think there are grounds to suggest that the UK Government would somehow advantage one part of the UK over another. It's why not just this Welsh Labour-led Government is part of a UK-wide procurement programme; it's why the Northern Ireland Executive, led by a combination of unionists and republicans, and the Scottish nationalist Government are also part of those same arrangements for the procurement and supply of a vaccine.
The arrangements for the delivery of that vaccine are down to each of the four nations. And, as I said, we already have plans that are being developed and worked through here for the delivery of a vaccine, and that would include the possible delivery of a vaccination programme within this calendar year, if a vaccine is available. And if we are going to do that, and if we do have a vaccine that is available to enable us to do so, you can certainly expect there will be direct and clear communications from the Government and from our national health service about what we are doing and why, which groups of the public we expect to benefit from that, and how we propose to deliver that in practical terms. In many ways, the delivery of the seasonal flu campaign is a helpful precursor to doing so, and I'm very please to say that we've actually had a greater uptake at this point in the year than last year, and that should provide population protection and coverage. I really hope that is a longer lasting impact of this pandemic—that people will undertake their own seasonal flu protection in greater numbers in the future.
3. What discussions is the Minister having with officials, including those in Public Health Wales, about progress towards a vaccine for COVID-19? OQ55789
As I'm sure he'll have heard, the UK Government is leading the work on funding and procuring vaccines for each nation of the UK. The Welsh Government is working closely with key stakeholders, such as Public Health Wales, health boards, trusts and local authorities on plans to distribute a vaccine when one does become available.
Thank you, health Minister. A number of newspapers reported recently that it might be just a matter of weeks before NHS staff might start receiving a vaccine. The development of a vaccine is clearly key to dealing with the pandemic over the medium and the longer term, as you've made clear before. There's clearly going to be enormous demand for this vaccine once it's available. Has the Welsh Government established a list of those who will get the vaccine first, such as doctors, nurses and teachers? I think it's important that plans are made. Also, if we are to hit the ground running in getting the vaccine out to the most vulnerable, what plans are you putting in place to support it, and have your officials discussed with health practitioners the logistics in providing the vaccine?
So, 'yes' to the final point—yes, of course, there have been conversations led by the chief medical officer's department, as you'd expect, with the different parts of our healthcare services about how a vaccination programme would be delivered. In terms of your point about priorities, we again will have UK advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation about how to prioritise vulnerable groups. So, it won't be the case that we'll have competing demands from professional groups about why they should be at the head of the queue compared to others; it's about which vulnerable groups in our society are likely to gain the greatest benefit, taking account of the characteristics of any vaccine that is ultimately approved and made available for use. That's really important, because otherwise, any sense that it's the loudest voice rather than the equity and the benefit that a vaccine will provide, I think, will undermine the trust that is essential for our staff who'll be delivering the programme as well as the public who we will be asking to come forward to take the vaccine as well. So, I think you can be confident that if and when a vaccine is available we'll have a plan in place to deliver that here in Wales, and we'll be clear, as I said in answer to Rhun ap Iorwerth earlier, about the communication about what we're doing and why, and which groups we're particularly keen to vaccinate first to give them the best prospect of avoiding further harm from what is a highly infectious and deadly disease.
4. What assessment has the Minister made of the number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals in Wales? OQ55796
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals continues to rise here in Wales. As of 3 November, the number of COVID-related patients in hospital beds was 1,344. That is 21 per cent higher than the same day last week. This is the highest number of COVID-related patients in a bed since 25 April, and we are approaching the April peak in bed occupancy.
Thank you, Minister. Yesterday, Andrew Goodall issued a stark warning that demand for critical care beds for people with coronavirus is expected to increase over the coming days and weeks. How are the Welsh Government preparing for this eventuality, and crucially, what could be the knock-on impact on other service areas within our hospitals in Wales?
I think that's a really important question, again, to remind ourselves in the Parliament, but also the public that we serve, that the impact isn't just about COVID-related harm. The reason why we introduced the firebreak was to interrupt the rise in admissions and the rise in harm that we are now seeing, that we thought we would see when we introduced the firebreak. And that's because, when you see infection rates go up, there's then a lag from those infections to people going into hospitals. It's why I plan to publish openly the data on over-60s infection rates as well—that's an even more reliable indicator of harm that we're likely to see in hospitals, and I'm afraid also the harm that we will see in, ultimately, the death figures.
The critical care capacity—about a third of our critical care beds are now taken up with treating COVID patients. And COVID patients actually spend a longer period of time in those critical care beds, so it isn't just a number, it's a fact they're likely to be there for longer, and that impacts on our ability to undertake other areas of service, because at this point in the year, we're getting used to the fact that critical care would normally be pretty full because of the fact we see more people who are seriously unwell at this point in the year. And as I said earlier, it will hamper our ability to treat non-COVID patients.
The positive news is, though, that even though we're opening up our field hospitals at present, we're seeing people flow into those and out. There are about three dozen people in the Cwm Taf field hospital, Ysbyty'r Seren, at present. There are people going in and out of there, and I want to pay tribute to all of those people treating people in our mainstream hospitals and in our field hospitals. That recovery and rehabilitation journey is often thanks to nursing staff and working together with therapists. And it's perhaps appropriate at this point to recognise that it's Occupational Therapy Week, for us to recognise the job that they do in keeping us healthy and well, and in particular on the journey to recovery and rehabilitation.
Minister, I listened to your answer to Vikki Howells with interest. You will know that I have expressed my concerns about the accuracy and reliability of data collection surrounding hospitalisations due to COVID many times already this year, because it's vital for our understanding of the disease that we really get to grips with who has COVID and then subsequently dies from COVID, and who, unfortunately, dies and COVID is not the primary cause of death.
I wondered if you were doing—. You talked to Vikki Howells earlier about doing analysis as to the types of people who might get COVID, but are you actually doing analysis of people who've been admitted to hospital and whether that admittance to hospital is because of COVID or they happen to have it when they come in because they have, for example, broken their leg or they're undergoing cancer treatment? And subsequently, when somebody passes away, have you given further thought to the calls by the Royal College of Pathologists to have more postmortems so that we can verify the figures between those who die of COVID and those who die with COVID, because that skews the data immensely?
Those are fair concerns, and to be fair, the Member has regularly asked questions in this area. So, when we talk about COVID-related patients, we talk about all those people with confirmed COVID as well as suspected. The reason for that is it changes the way the health service needs to treat those people once they know that they're a suspected case. That has an impact on the number of staff and on the equipment that people do and don't use.
We're treating everyone who's admitted—we're testing everyone who's admitted, rather, and we're finding that the levels of positive cases from people admitted very neatly tracks community transmission positivity rates. So, we're seeing some people come in with symptoms who are being admitted because we think they might have COVID and we're also seeing other people who we're picking up in that testing programme when people are admitted.
We're also doing some work—and, again, the ONS work is helpful in this—on understanding the numbers of people where the primary cause is COVID, and those where COVID is an underlying cause or a potential one. I'll take on board and I'll go back and I'll consult with the chief medical officer about the value of the suggestion from the Royal College of Pathologists, not in terms of understanding whether it's a useful thing to do, but understanding the real-world impact of doing that in the way that our staff would be deployed in potentially undertaking an extra amount of activity because all of these things have to be balanced in turn. We have a much better line of sight now, thanks to a much bigger testing programme, on the levels of community prevalence, the ability to understand who's coming into our hospitals and our ability to plan and deliver non-COVID care as well. What I wouldn't want to do is to undermine our approach to be able to deal with those issues by undertaking an extra area of activity that wouldn't deliver that wider benefit, and, again, it's another neat example of balancing all of the potential benefits together with the potential harms from any course of action.
Minister, having heard what you've said to others about the difficulty of creating COVID-free areas or COVID-free hospitals, I've had some correspondence this week from constituents who were worried about going into Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli for non-COVID-related treatments because they're concerned about the possibility of contracting COVID there. What further reassurance can you give those patients, working with the local health board, that they are able to undertake those non-COVID treatments safely? Because I very much associate myself with what you've said about how important it is that people do carry on getting non-COVID treatments at this time.
I think there are two points to make. The first is that our health service is now in a different position to where it was in March and April. Our ability to test everyone who is coming in, regardless of the reason, is there now and that is being applied consistently across the service, so people can have that extra reassurance that an extra check is being undertaken, and this is all about minimising the risks, the way that PPE provision now works. All of these different things and the way in which we've organised our service to have zones that are COVID light, as well as COVID positive and COVID-suspected areas, to try to have that separation of patients, and, indeed, the way that we're looking to have some separation in the way that staff groups work as well—. So, all those measures are being taken to try to reduce the risk of harm to anyone who comes into an NHS hospital, or indeed into primary care as well; primary care has still been extraordinarily busy throughout the pandemic as well.
The second essential point I'd make is—and it goes back to comments that were made earlier in these questions—there's real harm in either stopping or not attending non-COVID activity. In the first half of the pandemic, we saw a significant fall in emergency admissions in our emergency departments, and also, very visibly for me, as well as the impact on cancer care, with people opting out of that, we saw a significant drop-off in emergency admissions for stroke. Now, that wasn't because the public suddenly became much healthier overnight; it was because people were so worried about going into an NHS hospital that they opted out, and that would have meant there would have been poorer outcomes for those people, including potentially avoidable mortality. So, it's really important that people recognise the NHS is open for business. It is there to serve you and protect you, and we are taking every reasonable measure to reduce the risk—as low as possible—to protect people from harm from COVID.
5. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve public health in South Wales Central further to the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ55781
There are a wide range of well-established public health programmes. These are unprecedented times and sadly COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on older people, those with underlying health conditions and, indeed, on people from black and Asian origin backgrounds. The safety and protection of the public is a key priority, and we are of course being guided by the latest scientific evidence and medical advice.
Thanks, for that response, Minister. Can I make a plea at this stage of the crisis on health grounds for gyms? Gyms are vital to many people's physical health and mental well-being, so there is a strong case that gyms could be designated as being for essential use, and I would urge your Government to take that course of action. During some periods of the recent crisis, gyms have been allowed to stay open in the rest of the UK, but here in Wales they have been forced to close, despite adhering to social distancing rules. I know that isn't the case at the moment, but the future is still very uncertain for most of our gyms in Wales. Minister, in the event of a future lockdown in Wales, could you give some good consideration to the idea that gyms should be classed as being for essential use on health grounds and should be allowed to remain open?
I think there are couple of points to make in response. The first is that with the firebreak that we're going through, we should remind ourselves (a) that there was a rising tide of coronavirus that necessitated the need to have a firebreak, to give us space to make sure we don't overwhelm our NHS and have unnecessary harm and death being caused. We chose to prioritise the interests of children and young people because we knew the mental health impact that closing schools for a significant period had upon children and young people in the here and now. We also know it has a significant impact on their future prospects, and that is an uneven impact, with children from our least advantaged backgrounds having the biggest impact from school closures. Once we decided to maintain all primary schools and to have face-to-face learning for years 7 and 8, that meant we had to take a much more strict approach with other closures to make the stay-at-home message and the impact of the firebreak as effective as possible. That's why non-essential retail, why hospitality and gyms were all sectors affected by the closure.
In terms of moving forward, you can see that England are also closing all gyms with their four-week lockdown as well, but for the future, what I can't say is that we'll definitely take one form of action or not. We're looking to have a consistent set of national rules to get us all to the end of the year, and we then need to try to reset and understand the position that we're in. Any future action the Government takes won't be determined on arguments run now, it'll be about the evidence at the time and an understanding of what we all need to do. So, the evidence will continue to guide the approach that Ministers take, the advisors will advise us, and Ministers will ultimately have to decide and be accountable to the public for the choices we are making to keep us all safe and to save lives and livelihoods.
Minister, the over-50s are the most at-risk group, and the importance of exercise for this group in general health and preserving high levels of mobility, which often decline with age, is really important for your immune system and for your ability to get vitamin D. However, there are many people, I think, who are quite afraid about going out sometimes, and when we are having this message of 'stay at home', it is important that that is balanced by the need to take regular exercise, and the best exercise for people over 50 is to walk regularly. But I am concerned, from what I see outside, that the age group that you least see outside is that, of which I am now a member.
I thank the Member. That's a really important point. The effectiveness of our 'stay at home' message is really important, but we have balanced that by saying we positively want people to be able to exercise and to exercise safely. And we've seen that it is possible to go for a walk, to go for a cycle and to do that with your own household at this particular point in time. And we want to see that continue, because you make a fair point: with each decade that we add to our lives, we become more vulnerable to harm from coronavirus. And so maintaining and being as physically healthy as possible is important in terms of the potential response to the virus, but also it's hugely important for mental health and well-being. And more generally, there's work that we're continuing to do on our Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales programme, rediscovering and reimagining our latest options with diet, but with exercise too, and how we make it a normal thing that is easy for people to undertake with normal activity, so that we build back into our lives. And that is work that both ministerial colleagues Dafydd Elis-Thomas and now Eluned Morgan will be leading on, and I think the importance of that work will have been highlighted, not diminished, by the reality of the COVID pandemic. But a very useful and I think important intervention from David Melding about reminding us of the benefits of exercise.
6. What planning is the Welsh Government undertaking for the roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccination programme across Islwyn? OQ55806
The Welsh Government is working on an all-Wales basis with key stakeholders, such as Public Health Wales, health boards, including, of course, the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board serving Islwyn, trusts and local authorities on plans to distribute a vaccine when one does becomes available.
Diolch. Minister, we know that there is no current vaccination for COVID-19, but constant suggestions that 2021 could see one or more first generational COVID-19 vaccines. Albert Bourla, the chief executive of Pfizer, has said that the German vaccine was in the last mile, and that the pharmaceutical company expected results within a matter of weeks, and we know that pharmaceutical and drug companies say this. It is also mooted that the UK Government has bought enough doses for 20 million people, whilst the Oxford vaccination moves towards its final stages of trials. But we also know that early vaccines will not be a magic bullet. Bearing in mind that the UK Government has now stepped back from some of the normal EU drug test processes, how is the Welsh Government pairing alongside the other nations of the United Kingdom to ensure that the people of Wales have confidence to take a new vaccination and that there are enough qualified professionals available to administer it and within enough locations?
Thank you. I think it's really important to remind ourselves that a vaccine won't be a magic bullet in itself. It is really important to reflect that the efficacy and impact of a vaccine in its first stage of delivery is not something that we will fully understand until it's given on a wider population basis. That's why the safety trials for a vaccine before being introduced are so important, and many vaccines that look promising, once they get to the final stage, don't ultimately go forward into population use. So, it is generally encouraging. There are lots of vaccines that are in trials that are promising, but we should not expect all of them to be delivered and to be successful. We should not expect all of them to be delivered and successful in the very, very near future. But, when one does become available, the Member, I think, can take comfort in the fact that we are already planning about how to deliver that, about which groups of staff would deliver that, how we would do that in different venues, different professional groups working together. And that then comes back to the point about what we choose to do, because a vaccine is unlikely to be delivered that will provide a lifetime's worth of protection. We have a seasonal flu vaccine that people are asked to undertake every year. We may have something that is of that effect, or even it may be something that has a lesser time frame in terms of its impact. We'll need to understand all of that as we're going through the delivery of any vaccination programme.
So, the essential messages about our behaviour and about the choices we make will still be different to the way we lived our lives before the pandemic for some time to come. Coronavirus is still going to be with us for a significant period of time, even with a first-stage successful vaccine. So, again, the choices in what each of us should do will be really important, not just for now and the next few months, but for a longer period of time as well.
7. Will the Minister make a statement on transparency within Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board? OQ55791
I expect all health boards in Wales to behave in an open and transparent way, while balancing their obligations in respect of safeguarding the rights of individuals to privacy.
Thank you very much. The board at present, as the Minister knows, is appealing against the Information Commissioner's decision that the Holden report into problems at the Hergest ward at Ysbyty Gwynedd should be released. I think that reflects poorly on the board, and this isn't an historical issue. Other reports have suggested that problems are ongoing—a report on psychological therapies last year notes systemic and deep cultural problems, and, where lives have been lost, the failure to be transparent is entirely unacceptable.
In response to a freedom of information request some four years ago, the board said that there had been no deaths in Hergest between 2011 and 2016, but the coroner's report suggests otherwise, with a number of deaths either in the unit or as a result of people not being treated there. I know of three in Anglesey.
Now, I am aware, of course, that there is a Minister for mental health in place now, but this is a question on transparency and it goes beyond mental health. I've raised a similar concern about the way an external investigation into speech and language therapy has been handled by the board.That was a report in 2017, and that's a report that has also not been released. Will the Minister now insist that these reports are published and insist on that full transparency in Betsi Cadwaladr, because patients and staff, in the past and in the present, deserve that?
I think it's important to understand that there is an ongoing process. The health board has appealed the decision for a full release of the report, as opposed to the summary that it's already provided, including the recommendations that have already been published. That's on the basis that the health board want to protect staff who raised concerns and contributed to the report.
If I can just take a step back from the individuals and think more generally about my former life, when, as an employment lawyer, I was looking at a variety of issues and thinking about the interests of our trade unions and the staff they represent, we all want a process where whistleblowers are listened to, their views are respected and action is taken seriously to investigate concerns they raise. To give people confidence that they could and should raise concerns, the culture of any organisation, including the particular workplace or workplaces people work in, is a hugely important part of that.
We know that some people are fearful that their complaints will lead to action being taken against them, but it's also the way that people are then identified on a wider basis as well. It is important that whistleblowers who want to raise complaints or concerns anonymously—those who want to contribute to reports but don't expect their names to be put into the public domain—have an opportunity to do that so we do genuinely learn from and understand what people are doing in their workplaces and the concerns that they have.
This is a balance. I don't think there is a hard-and-fast—that there is only one right or wrong answer, because I would not want to try to insist on a course of action that, actually, might prevent people coming forward in the future.
8. Will the Minister provide an update on the provision of services for people in Wales who are suffering from the effects of long COVID? OQ55801
Da iawn. I issued a written statement about long COVID on 23 October. Our approach has focused on research and rehabilitation. Our multiprofessional primary and community health and care services can assess and meet the majority of people's individual needs close to home, with in-patient specialist rehabilitation only where necessary.
Diolch. I've had two constituents in particular who've contacted me about the effects of long COVID. One first experienced symptoms in February—[Inaudible.]—in March and then worsened, and it caused him a great deal of anxiety, as the GP surgery wasn't able to help him with the symptoms of a virus about which medical science is still learning. However, he has been diagnosed with post-viral fatigue. Another constituent has also written to me because in his experience long COVID has prevented him from returning to work. He's self-employed. He's now having financial consequences of this, and he either pays himself sick pay, without an income to do so, or risks possible—[Inaudible.]—damage due to the effects of long COVID on returning to work too early. What measures can the Welsh Government put in place, both in health service provision and financial support, to ensure that people with long COVID aren't forgotten?
I thank the Member for the question. We certainly haven't forgotten the numbers of people who identify with being affected by long COVID, and this is both for those people who have needed hospital treatment, but large numbers of people who had never been into a hospital but are suffering longer term impacts, and I know that is a deeply distressing experience for those people, and that does have an impact on their well-being and an economic impact, particularly if they're not able to return to work. That's both why we've looked at the perspective of what treatment we can provide people as well as the really important aspect of research and learning, because you are right to identify that this is a condition that we don't understand the longer term impacts of. We're still learning more about not just transmission but about impact on people as well.
We're involved in a range of research initiatives across the UK, and I think that's really important, because at the moment we couldn't say we have an exact treatment and rehabilitation regime. What we do have, though, is the provision of our current knowledge and understanding being deployed as close to home as possible, and I think that's really important. There is a risk that we could say that we have one or two national clinics, and actually that wouldn't provide access to most people for their treatment to be dealt with appropriately, and, actually, this is a condition that is mainstream business for our health service. That's why the work that's being led by the chief therapies adviser is so important in making sure that our services in each part of the country understand what they could and should do to help support people with long COVID, and I'd only want to see people going to hospital where it's absolutely necessary.
We're continuing to look at the economic support that we are and aren't able to provide people, both here from the Welsh Government and indeed from the UK Government, about those people who are suffering the direct impacts of this insidious and continuing disease. I've issued one written statement, and I expect to issue more in the future as our knowledge develops and as our understanding of how we genuinely help people develops again in the future.
The next item is questions to the Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language. The first question is from Gareth Bennett.
1. What assessment has the Minister made of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism to Wales? OQ55783
Is that better?
Thank you very much. I do apologise for that.
Thank you for your question, Gareth. We undertake regular and extensive research into tourism and that, obviously, during the period of the pandemic, has included research programmes on the impact of the pandemic on tourism industries. The centrepiece of my activity is a regular weekly meeting with representatives of the tourism industry throughout Wales and Welsh local government and businesses so that we can have an up-to-date analysis of the situation. We will be holding the next one of those on the coming Friday.
Thanks, Minister. Tourism has taken a major hit during the past few months, for obvious reasons. Although the sector was bound to be hit hard by the pandemic, I do worry about the long-term effects. Tourism has traditionally formed a big part of the Welsh economy and we want it to recover from the shock of this year, but it is going to be hard to get tourists, particularly from England, to come to Wales if there is a perception that they're not wanted here, and if there is a perception that a hard border has gone up between Wales and England. And that perception has certainly been formed, to some extent, during 2020. So, how are we going to be able to remove this perception once the pandemic has eased and we're wanting the English tourist pound once again?
You're quite right, of course, in emphasising the importance to the tourism sector of incoming visitors, both day visitors and visitors who come and stay for three or more nights, making a substantial contribution during a period of economic activity. You're quite right to emphasise the close relationship between the major population centres of the north-west and the south-west, and indeed, the midlands and the south-east of England on the tourism industry.
We are now reaching a situation where there is, hopefully, a closer understanding between the devolved administrations and their Governments and the UK Government, as the devolved Government for England in this context, about the measures that need to be taken. And as we plan, within the confines of this appalling pandemic, for a return of the visitor economy to something similar to its previous achievement, then it is obvious that we need to do this on a UK basis as well as on a Wales basis. And for that purpose, I do share regular meetings and discussions with my tourism colleagues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and, of course, in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in England.
First of all, Deputy Minister, can I thank you for your willingness to appear regularly at the cross-party group on tourism, where you'll have heard that tourism and hospitality, perhaps more than any other sector, have been raised as a point of concern by Members?
I'm just a bit worried that the position of attractions might be lost in this wider focus on pubs, restaurants and accommodation. And while they're obviously reasons why people visit an area, they're also a contributor to the well-being of people who live nearby, who perhaps now more than ever would appreciate a little bit of joy in their lives. The First Minister's message of asking what you should do, rather than what you can do, might undermine an alternative message that visiting local attractions, observing all the rules, could actually be good for your health, especially if it involves spending time outdoors. I wonder if you could tell us how you're working with Cabinet colleagues about messaging on this, as I'm sure that attractions would prefer to stay open and trading safely and profitably rather than seeking income support.
Attractions and events are separate important strands in the tourist economy and should be seen as such. As it happens, I was in conversation, as I am most weeks, with a neighbour of mine who I don't see in the flesh anymore, because obviously I'm unable to travel—this is Sean Taylor, he of Zip World and other developments—and we were discussing this very issue. What we are very keen to do is to ensure that, in our discussions with the tourism operators, as soon as it is possible within the framework of public health for attractions to remain open or to reopen, the potential of these attractions can be marketed directly within Wales, as would be possible now, within communities. Certainly, it is important that we do that first of all within the public health context, but, beyond that, the attractiveness of Wales, from all the surveys that I've seen and the private discussions I've had, has not diminished in the crisis. In fact, the understanding of the centrality, which you quite rightly describe, of the tourist economy to Wales and the attractiveness of the Welsh landscape and our specific visitor attractions has been enhanced by people's inability to be able to take advantage of them.
Minister, just north of the M4, just north of Bridgend, is an often-overlooked gem of the Ogmore valleys, where not only is it a real destination for day visitors and tourists for adventure tourism, with the Afan Argoed park, and so on, and the hills along the drovers' route, walking up onto the Bwlch mountain, but we also have little communities of yurt accommodation, we have caravan and camping sites, we have bed-and-breakfast offerings, and so on. I'm just wondering, as the firebreak lifts, and the travel restrictions are lifted within Wales, how do we give a clear message to people about what they should be doing—not just what they can do, but what they should be doing? And what message should we be giving, not only to day visitors and tourists in Wales, from Wales, but also to tourism providers as well? Because we need to deal with this responsibly because of where we are with the virus, but I think they are looking forward to, as you said, Minister, the day when we can point to some light at the end of the tunnel.
Well, I'm pleased to say that I have been able to walk in the area that Huw describes, and it is indeed extremely attractive. I find the Garw valley irresistible, because it's so different, and yet has a landscape that I'm familiar with in mid Wales and in north Wales.
I think the key thing here is the co-operation between communities, between local authorities and their tourism officers with the local community. At the very beginning of this pandemic, we discussed with many communities the importance of ensuring that, when it was possible to return to a more balanced potential for the visitor economy, there had to be community consent, and that people wanted to have people visit their communities. Because in the traditional way of describing tourism, there is a host community, there is a visitor community, and without one you can't have the other. So I'm very keen, hopefully, that we will be able to return to that way of thinking about the industry, because it is so economically essential for our communities, but it is also so important for emphasising the partnership of nations within the United Kingdom and on mainland Europe.
Minister, we know that the lockdown measures are having a devastating effect on the Welsh tourism industry—many thousands of businesses will not survive this series of lockdowns. And to echo Gareth Bennett's comments, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that we are actively discouraging the English, in particular, from coming to Wales. Does the Minister not accept that this will have a huge detrimental effect on our ability to attract these alienated tourists back to Wales in the coming years?
Well I'm sorry you choose to try to turn this reasonable discussion about tourism into a discussion of relationships between the English and the Welsh because this is not the issue. It's not about nationalities within the United Kingdom; it is about public health, and we have to concentrate on that. I have spent a lot of time and energy during this pandemic in trying to ensure that people do not turn this into an anti-English position, or indeed an anti-Welsh position. And in a sense, with the new measures in England as well as the new measures in Wales, hopefully we can now understand that we are all, as it were, in the same boat—or at least in two boats that are moving in the same direction.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of the national lockdown on the mental health and well-being of people in mid Wales? OQ55773
We are monitoring the impact of the pandemic on mental health and well-being through a range of surveys and other evidence. On 9 October, I issued a detailed written statement setting out the actions we are taking to respond to the mental health-related effects of the pandemic.
Thank you for your answer, Minister. I also noted the funding that you announced this morning. I read the Welsh Government press release in regards to an additional £3 million of funding. I'd like to think that perhaps my question submitted last week, and asked today, helped prompt that funding announcement. Can I ask how, Minister, you've reached that figure of £3 million? Do you think—? Have you got evidence that you can provide to ensure that this is an adequate amount for the increased demand for mental health services, for those directly and, indeed, indirectly impacted by the pandemic? I'm particularly concerned about people who live in the most rural parts of Wales, and I wonder how, Minister, you will ensure that any extra support and grant funding reach those in the most isolated parts of Wales, including those third sector and charitable organisations that do an excellent job in providing mental health support in these particular areas.
Diolch, Russell. Just to make it clear that any funding that we're announcing now is on top of the annual amount of £700 million that we spend. We must not lose sight of that. We spend more money on mental health than on any other aspect in the NHS, and so this funding is additional to what was already in place. And the funding I've announced today is on top of the funding that we've announced previously during this pandemic. You'll be aware that we already have suggested that we're going to spend more money on tier 0 and tier 1 support, because those are the low-level interventions that save you the money later on. And so that's what this additional funding that we've put in place today—that's some of it. In fact, most of it will be spent on that low-level intervention. You're quite right: that will be available to organisations in Powys and elsewhere. You'll be aware that the person leading on this is the chief executive of the health board in Powys, with whom I had a meeting last week, because she is the lead on mental health for the whole of Wales, and you can be assured that the concerns of rural communities are very much at the forefront of her concerns.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Thank you, Minister.
We now turn to spokespeople's questions, and the first up again this afternoon is the Conservative spokesperson, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, congratulations on your appointment to Cabinet in this very important role. We have some five/six months now before the next parliamentary elections for the Welsh Parliament. I appreciate it's a very tight time frame, but in your initial assessment of what you can achieve in those five to six months, what goals have you set yourself, so that when you look back in March, and we, as legislators, scrutinise what you've achieved in that period, you'll feel are attainable goals within the department?
Thank you very much, Mr Davies. And just to clear that there are a set of priorities that have already been set out within the 'Together for Mental Health' plan. Those priorities won't be changed, but what I think you may see is a shift in emphasis, and what I'm hoping is that my appointment will help to speed up the system—that I can really put some focus on some specific areas of attention.
You'll be aware that already we're very focused on issues relating to mental health in young people and that we're very keen to make sure that psychological therapies are also available to people, amongst other things. I'm particularly keen to make sure that we retain that focus and that we go early on that early intervention and make sure there's provision there for that tier 1 and tier 0 support. I've been a long advocate of social prescribing and I'm very keen to see how those pilots that we've already set out are working.
I'm also very keen to make sure that we monitor how this situation changes, because we're still in the depths of this. There will be people who'll lose their jobs in the next few months, and we'll need to make sure that support is put in place for them. Debt is going to become a big issue and we need to make sure that we understand the relationship between debt and mental health, and put some very key support measures in place to support that.
And, then, the other thing, of course, is that this pandemic will impact on some to a greater extent than others. We know that the black and ethnic minority community, for example, are more likely to be affected, and are less likely to go and seek support. And, so, we need to make sure that we give them access to services in a way that they feel comfortable with. And the other thing, of course, is to keep an eye on people who are already, were already, suffering mental health issues prior to the pandemic because they're confronting this in a more difficult way perhaps than many others.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Could I draw your attention to the tragic case that's been reported today of Dr Deborah Lamont? She tragically took her life last year, and the findings have come out around the mental health legislation that govern hotel rooms, and in particular assessments and sectioning. There seems to be an anomaly in the categorisation of hotel rooms because they can be designated as your house, even though you might only be staying for one night in that particular area. There is a campaign, as I understand it, supported by the police as well, to try and have this piece of legislation reformed and amended, so that it offers greater protection to people, both on the law enforcement side and the mental health teams, but also people who are in vulnerable positions themselves.
If you're not familiar with the particular case, I fully understand, but could I seek a commitment from you today to review this, and if you feel it's suitable, and I hope you will feel it suitable, to offer your support to amending this piece of legislation, which, as I understand it, is a Westminster piece of legislation, to afford the protection that Dr Deborah Lamont sadly didn't have in this particular instance?
Can I, first of all, pass my condolences on to the family? Every suicide case is one too many and we have got to make sure that services are available for anybody who wants to access mental health support. We know that about 25 per cent of people who take their own lives are not known to social services and other healthcare workers. So, there is space for us to do more here. You'll be aware that we have got a very clear strategy, 'Talk to me 2', which is about reducing suicide and self-harm. But I will make a commitment to you that I will look into that particular issue, to see whether there is indeed an anomaly and whether there is anything we can do, specifically in Wales, to address that issue. But, as you pointed out, it may be that this is UK legislation, in which case, if there is an issue, we can look to whether we want to pursue that with the UK Government.
I'm grateful to you for the commitment you've given there. I'm sure the family of Dr Lamont will also be very grateful for that assurance that you've given this afternoon.
Another area of concern in this particular case was the ability for the triage team to access the records. If they had accessed them on the night that the police were seeking advice from them, it would have shown that Dr Lamont had already attempted to take her life on a previous occasion. Regrettably, the access to her records wasn't available on that particular night, as I understand it. Since the review, the case review, Cardiff and Vale have said that they've put measures in place to try and make sure that this doesn't happen again, and mental health triage teams in their area would be able to access patient records, so that a whole picture can be developed on the person that they're being asked to give advice on. Can you also commit to looking at this particular portal that Cardiff and Vale have set up for the triage teams, and make sure that, if it is required, it is rolled out across Wales, because I'm sure this isn't an isolated incident and it would will be a terrible circumstance if we found that good practice had been developed out of this tragedy in one part of Wales that other parts of Wales hadn't shared through a lessons learned exercise?
Thanks very much. I know that there's a lot of work being undertaken in relation to crisis care, and there is an assurance group that has been set up, including the police, and I was fortunate enough to be able to discuss with them the issues relating to crisis care in the past couple of weeks.
I think what's important is that we make sure that the concordat that has been proposed is looked at in detail now, and I'm sure some of the issues that you've pointed out there, which is about making sure the different services are speaking to each other, are aware of what each other are doing and have access to that information that could be of use under those particular circumstances. So, I'll check to see whether the issue that you have outlined is referenced in the concordat, which has recently been produced by that crisis care group.
Thank you. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’ve already had an opportunity at health committee this morning to congratulate the Minister on her appointment. That role within the Cabinet is certainly an opportunity to increase the profile of mental health within Government.
If I could start with mental health stigma, tackling that should be a priority across the board. In England, however, we hear that the Time to Change campaign is to lose its funding from next year. The campaign here in Wales says that they are seeking their own funding sources. Is the Minister in a position to say whether she intends to continue to fund Time to Change or a similar campaign here in Wales?
Well, I was surprised to see that the UK Government, in the midst of a pandemic, was to halt funding for this important programme—a programme that seeks to prevent stigma in terms of mental health, and there is still work to be done in that area. It’s a huge shame because we know that people working on this programme in Wales have worked with those over the border and, of course, that won’t be possible in the future. But I certainly hope that we will be able to continue with Time to Change here in Wales because I do believe that it’s an important programme and there is still work to be done in that area.
I welcome that and I look forward to confirmation of that in due course. The Office for National Statistics says that cases of depression have doubled during this pandemic and, this summer, this was said in The Lancet:
'As the economic consequences of lockdown develop, when furloughs turn to redundancies, mortgage holidays expire, and recession takes effect, we believe it is reasonable to expect not only sustained distress and clinically significant deterioration in mental health for some people, but emergence of well-described long-term effects of economic recession on mental health'.
Will the Minister commit to having a very specific recovery strategy for mental health in order to prevent this scenario as we come out of the period of pandemic?
Well, the first thing to do is to ensure that we have the necessary information. We’ve looked at what the World Health Organization have said on this issue and, of course, what we need to do is to put things in place so that we don’t see this huge increase, which is bound to happen, becoming something that is more difficult for us to deal with. So, swift intervention is crucially important and that’s why we’re not waiting to carry out a new assessment and to revamp the whole strategy—we are already making those changes, we are already intervening, already ensuring that there is more care available, and available at a low level. I think it’s important that we do work with the voluntary sector in this regard because, very often, people don’t want to go through their GP to access the help they need, and perhaps we can find alternative ways of providing that support and ensuring that it reaches the people who are suffering.
So, of course, we will be keeping a very close eye on those developments and, of course, at whether we need to review the plans that we have—we amended our plan in October, just before my appointment—and if we do need to look at it again, then we will.
Thank you very much, and I understand, given that she is new to the role, that it’s unfair perhaps to expect concrete proposals from the Minister, but it is clear that dealing with the impacts of the pandemic is going to take a huge amount of effort and also, I think, a radical change in the way in which we tackle mental health problems.
Many committee reports over the years have suggested that one of the main problems with mental health services is that people are often turned away because they are not considered to be in sufficient difficulty, and then those problems do get worse. Does the Minister acknowledge that, and how does she intend to change the way we deal with that and ensure earlier intervention?
Well, I think the first thing to say is that we must be careful not to look at mental health problems as simply being a health issue; it does relate to issues such as unemployment, relationship issues, debt problems. There are all sorts of contributing factors here, and that is why you can't simply put it in one box labelled 'health'. That's why the intervention has to be intervention that is cross-governmental, and I know that you, Rhun, would recognise that.
I am concerned if people are being turned away from assistance when they seek assistance in terms of mental health. I think what we need to be careful of is that we don't push people into a situation where we medicalise their problem. We need to ensure that we do offer that support at the lower level first and, if they need further assistance, that we do increase provision as we move forward. So, we must ensure that, for example, GPs do have the necessary resources and the routes to ensure that people are diverted to the assistance that they need, which isn't necessarily going to be medical in each case.
3. Will the Minister outline the Welsh Government's priorities for mental health for the remainder of the current Senedd term? OQ55804
Diolch yn fawr, Angela. Our priorities are set out in the 'Together for Mental Health' delivery plan 2019-22, which has been strengthened to reflect the impact of the pandemic. Now, my focus in the shorter term is on driving the necessary cross-Government and multi-agency working needed to deliver on these well-evidenced and agreed priorities.
Thank you for that, and, first of all, may I say welcome to the role? I think it's excellent that mental health has a focus specifically on it, especially at this time. I was delighted in your answer just then that you talked about the inter-governmental and cross-departmental working, because I believe that there has been good progress made with mental health support for college and university students, provided for by partnerships between the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, educational establishments and student unions. However, I am concerned that there remains no overarching official Welsh Government strategy for student mental health and no strong methodology in place for monitoring the effectiveness of the schemes currently running, and I think this is even more key now, given that our students are under extraordinary pressures never before experienced, because of COVID. And I know we can say that that goes for all of society, but they have a disruption that will live with their generation for many, many, many years to come. So, Minister, could I ask if you would commit to working with your colleague the Minister for Education to deliver and implement a student mental health strategy at the earliest opportunity to ensure that the mental health needs of our student population is safeguarded, and also that schemes currently commissioned fully deliver on their aims—that the ones that work well are promulgated throughout Wales, and the ones that aren't working are hit on the head and that money is then used elsewhere to deliver for mental health?
Well, thanks very much, Angela. As someone whose child has gone to university this year, I'm one of these people who is very aware of the kind of pressures that many students are under, the first time away from home.
Just to make it clear, in 2019 all universities committed to a step change in relation to mental health, and they came up with proposals where every university was required to submit well-being and health strategies. So, all of those have been received, and so there should be a programme that they're already undertaking. Now, what we haven't done is to, as you suggest, set out a methodology and things at this point. You'll be aware that we've just put an extra £10 million into this area. Now, we could have sat around and said, 'Let's work out the methodology'; we thought it was more important to get the funding in there to really make sure—. We're in a crisis period; we have to get the money to the front line as soon as possible. We've done the same thing in relation to help for health workers. We've got the money there, without the evidence sometimes that there's a massive problem. We're just guessing that there is going to be a big problem, and you're quite right that we probably need to put some methodology behind it now, just to look at whether we are doing the right thing. But we're not starting from scratch here, as HEFCW have done quite a lot of work in this space, but what we probably could do is a bit more of learning best practice to see what works in one university and whether we can share that amongst the other universities. So, thank you for that question.
Minister, the Children, Young People and Education Committee published our follow-up to our landmark 'Mind over matter' report last month, and we are eagerly awaiting your response to our updated recommendations. The report does, I believe, set out a clear route-map for the changes that we know are so urgently needed to support children and young people's mental health. Although there has been some very welcome progress on the whole-school approach to mental health, there is some considerable way to go in ensuring the system-wide reforms of health and social care that are so crucial. Would you agree with me, Minister, that the COVID pandemic makes it more, not less urgent, to deliver on these recommendations, and would you agree with me that we know what needs to happen and the priority for the remainder of this Assembly term must be an unrelenting focus on delivery?
I would agree with you. I think it is really important. I am very aware of the stresses that young people are under. I'm very pleased that there has been considerable progress in terms of the whole-school approach. I think there is more work to be done on the whole-system approach, but I do think that we're heading in the right direction. I think the Together for Children and Young People programme is making considerable steps in this space. You'll be aware that we've put £5 million extra into this area. One of the things I'm really keen to do is to make sure that we're developing these structures and there's some clarity in terms of the user, in making sure that we're not just focused on the plumbing—and I think there's work to do on the plumbing—but that we're looking at the whole system from the perspective of the user. We have to just make sure that that is something that we're taking into consideration. I do hope that I'll be able to report back to you within the time frame set so that we can really focus on those areas where the progress has not been perhaps as fast as you and the rest of the committee had been keen to see.
I was very pleased, Minister, to hear what you said to Rhun ap Iorwerth about the Time to Change campaign. I was also pleased to hear what you said about not unnecessarily medicalising distress. In the region that we both represent, in Llanelli and Carmarthenshire, there is a very innovative project being run by the voluntary organisation Connecting Children, Youth and Adults, where GPs are prescribing support from that charity to children and families, and a wide range of support that I can't go into here. I'd like to invite you, Minister—. I don't think we can do a visit at this time as it wouldn't be appropriate, but I wonder if you would agree to meet with Tracy Pike, who is the chief executive, who's developed this really innovative model where the GPs are prescribing not just counselling, but a whole range of social support for a family. The initial results have been hugely encouraging, and I'd like to think that that's a potential model that might be able to be developed and provided elsewhere—a very useful partnership between public sector money through the local health board, through the GPs and third sector innovation. So, if I write to you on that matter, Minister, would you consider a meeting with Tracy and her team to see if there are lessons that could be learned for communities elsewhere in Wales from this innovative work?
I like the sound of that, I must say. I'm very much up for seeing how we can get GPs to prescribe things that aren't necessarily medical at all times. My husband's a GP, and I know that for several years he's been involved in prescribing sports, for example, and exercise, and that's something that has been going on for a long time. I'm keen to see that expanded to other areas—things like arts and other facilities. So, I'd be very interested in hearing more about that. Some of this is about support systems and networks, and really providing people with that extra help. In particular, some people were struggling on their own in families, under huge pressures, and sharing that burden sometimes can be enough to get people back into a different place.
4. Will the Minister provide an update on support for people in Wales whose mental health is impacted by lockdown restrictions? OQ55802
Thank you, Hefin, and thank you for asking two questions through the medium of Welsh today. The pandemic and the restrictions have impacted us all in one way or another, but we recognise the additional impact that there has been on mental health and well-being. As a result of this, we have invested over £9 million in addition to support mental health services and to respond to changes in this area.
Diolch, Minister. I approve of the announcement made today as well—the investment in mental health that you've announced this afternoon. The concern I've got is the constituents who've contacted me who've been affected by COVID, who've never had mental health problems before and are being affected by it directly because of this COVID crisis. Can I ask you if more money could be put into the CALL helpline to support those people? What else are you doing to help people who may not want to go to their GP with their mental health problem because they've never had to do it before? What action is being taken in those areas, please?
Thanks, Hefin. I think we've got to recognise that some people still feel a bit embarrassed about the fact that they may need mental health support, and so we have to make sure that there are mechanisms for them to get some help. Sometimes they may not want to go via their GP, and that's why we've already expanded the CALL helpline, so thank you for inquiring about that. That facility has already been expanded. We've seen an increase in calls to that helpline. I was fortunate enough to speak to the head, based in Wrexham, about the services that they can provide, and they can also be a signpost where people can go for additional support.
The other thing that I'm very proud that we've introduced is a new online cognitive behavioural therapy support scheme. This is called SilverCloud. It's only been launched since September, and already about 2,000 people have used it. It's supported by experts and I'm hoping that this will be a mechanism that people, perhaps, who haven't needed to deal with this issue before may be willing to use to see if they can deal with some of their problems through this online support facility. So, I'd be very grateful if Senedd Members would help to advertise that to their constituents.
Minister, I've been in contact with ColegauCymru, who are very concerned about the support that further education learners and the sector are getting. Higher education has been given another £10 million for mental health services and while some of that is for students who've had to lock down in their student housing, there is some, I believe, for suicide awareness and dealing with mental health issues. Can I ask you—I know that this covers education as well—could you have discussions with the Minister for Education to see whether this sort of support could be extended into further education as well? I think there is a need for further investment, greater investment, in mental health issues, counselling and in suicide awareness, particularly within the further education sector.
Thanks very much for that, Nick. Certainly, I think we have put considerable support into schools and into HE. I will look into whether we need to give additional support to further education. Presumably they will be able to access other pots of funding, but I'm not aware so far that there is a specific pot for further education, so I will look into that, Nick. I'm only a couple of weeks into the job—I'll take a look at it.
Yes, carry on.
Diolch. Welcome to your new role, Minister. Our mental health is not just a matter for the health service, it's a matter for each individual, families and communities. I'm deeply concerned at the closure of gyms, which as well as providing the mental health benefits of exercise are mini communities within themselves, and also places of worship for communal prayer. Both establishments provide a sense of purpose and a feeling of community at a time when we need those things now more than ever. Minister, will you acknowledge the importance of gyms and places of worship—and you've just mentioned exercise as well—for our sense of well-being, and can you do all you can to ensure that they remain open after this firebreak ends in Wales, please? Thank you.
Thank you, Mandy. Just to say that the Government had to make some very difficult decisions. The decision we came to was that it would be better to lock down quite brutally and have a shorter period of a lockdown, rather than to leave some open. And there were plenty of cases where we could have said, 'Well, just this one', or, 'Just that one', and all of that would have contributed to an overall lesser impact on trying to stop the virus from spreading. And that's why we went along with closing gyms. We absolutely understand. There is an acknowledged connection between physical activity and improved mental health. So we know that closing gyms is not something we did lightly and that's why we're going to be reopening them.
And certainly places of worship—we know how important that is for people's mental health and well-being. There's evidence again to suggest that people's spiritual—that the spiritual aspect of their lives is something that can improve their mental health. And certainly, as a woman with a husband who is a priest, I know that it is an important issue for many people and, once again, we'll be very pleased to be opening those places of worship a week on Sunday.
5. Will the Minister make a statement on mental health care in North Wales? OQ55787
We expect all health boards to maintain essential mental health services and to monitor and respond to changing mental health needs due to the impact of the pandemic. And, of course, it's important that they respond to those changes. Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has set out plans to do this in its quarter 3 and 4 operational framework reports.
Well, I hope that you're already starting to see the concern across north Wales about mental health services, and it's not just because of the crisis that we're currently facing but for historic reasons, too. You will know that deficiencies in the mental health services was one of the reasons why the board was placed into special measures in the first place, and many people feel that direct control by Welsh Government hasn't improved the situation over the last five years. And one reason for that, of course, is the confusion and the failures that there have been in sharing a very important report on one mental health unit, namely the Holden report.
The health board has failed to publish the report. They've failed to provide honest answers to families who are grieving. And, of course, they have hidden the truth that their own staff were hugely concerned that the care provided at the Hergest unit was deficient. And if the health board had taken action on this, then it's very possible that other scandals, such as Tawel Fan, would not have happened. So, will you commit to ensuring that the Holden report, which is now eight years old, is released so that we can ensure that we have a transparent and open discussion, and also that we have an inquiry led by someone independent like Donna Ockenden, so that we can reach the truth and ensure that this can never happen again?
Well, Llyr, I hope you will give me some time to look at that report and to look into more of the background to this issue. But I'm sure you will be pleased to hear that an additional £12 million was announced yesterday by the Minister for health, which will go towards helping mental health in north Wales. They have their own mental health strategy within Betsi Cadwaladr and, of course, throughout the pandemic, the mental health services have been essential services, and they were open throughout the period, although I know there was a period when there was some talk in Betsi Cadwaladr that they weren't available. Of course, we put that right immediately in order to ensure that people were aware that those services were open and available. Also, just to say that there have been successes in terms of ensuring that there is improved joint working with the various organisations involved with mental health in north Wales. And, of course, there are other developments in terms of the I CAN mental health urgent care centres, and the idea here is that there should be something else available, rather than having to deal with these issues in a traditional way. But I will look at the Holden report and see exactly what the situation is here.
Minister, even before the present COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness affected as many as one in five people across the UK. Indeed, as we are all too aware, over the past few months our lives and daily interactions with friends and loved ones have changed considerably. Now, according to statistics compiled by the Red Cross throughout the pandemic, there is a strong correlation between engaging in meaningful conversations and people's confidence in their ability to cope with the present health crisis. Fifty-one per cent of those who last had a meaningful conversation over a month ago agreed that they are confident in coping, whereas this increased to 81 per cent for those who have had a meaningful conversation within the last week. With this information in mind, will you look to review the regulations around support networks, particularly to allow those elderly, unpaid carers to nominate a single friend to attend their property throughout any future lockdown? I've been approached by a number of people whereby they care for an elderly person or somebody, perhaps, with dementia, and they themselves need somebody that they can, perhaps, just speak to, have some conversation with, because it can be very difficult. So, will you look at that as an avenue to open, so as to allow support, so that that then helps the carer to look after their loved one?
Thanks very much. I think loneliness is something that is in the portfolio of Julie Morgan, but, certainly, I think there is a recognition that what we need to do is to make sure that there are opportunities for people to be able to overcome these situations. One of the things that's been quite interesting about the pandemic is that there have been some innovations. So, look at us all—we're all using technology now that we may not have used before for the kind of use that we are now using. That has been really helpful for some people who were dealing with loneliness. But I think we've got to recognise that there's a whole group of people who will not be able to access technology in the same way was we are. So, certainly, some of the funding that we've announced today is to go towards making sure that there are opportunities for people to access digital services so that it can help with their mental health.
6. Will the Minister make a statement on continuity of care for young people progressing from child and adolescent to adult mental health services? OQ55780
I fully recognise the importance of a smooth transition and continuity of care for young people moving from child and adolescent mental health services and into adult services. The actions we are taking to improve transitions are set out in the recently published 'Together for Mental Health' delivery plan for 2019-22.
I'm grateful, Minister. We're all very aware of the difficulties facing young people, and, in many ways, the last few months has only sought to emphasise this. Over the years, in Blaenau Gwent, I've had to support a number of families who've found it very difficult to access mental health support for people who are adolescents who are moving between the two services. In the last week we've been trying to support a family who've been through a really heartbreaking experience, whereby the services they were receiving from the children's mental health team were very, very good, but most services stop, of course, at age 18, and the young person involved was not able to have the support that they required as they moved into adult mental health care. It is absolutely unacceptable that we're unable to provide seamless care for our young people in this way. I hope, Minister, that in the time you have available—and I know, in answer to an earlier question from Andrew R.T. Davies, you were very clear about the position of young people as being a priority for you—you'll be able to look not simply at the services themselves but transition between services and the linkage between different services to ensure that young people have the support they require seamlessly as they grow up and seamlessly between different service providers.
Diolch, Alun. I think there is an acknowledgment in the 'Together for Mental Health' report that, actually, there is a need to do some work on this, and we're certainly aware that we need to do better in this area. Just to be clear that during the first phase of the pandemic, all CAMHS services paused that transition of young people into adult services, and I think that was the right thing to do. We've got to accept that, actually, just hitting 18 doesn't make everything better; it doesn't change everything and it doesn't turn you into an adult overnight. So, we do need to make sure that we are perhaps more sensitive to the needs of those people who are transitioning. There is, of course, very clear guidance that has been set out with the Together for Children and Young People programme, and people should be following that guidance to make sure that we don't fall into some of the difficulties that I know some people have faced.
Of course, on top of that, there is the young people's passport and the idea here is that we're empowering the individual to take a bit more ownership of the process, and that, of course, was reviewed in 2019. So, we know there's more work to do here, we know what we need to do, but we know that there are still steps that we need to take and it is of course part of our action plan during these next couple of years.
Minister, I would say this is a key area, not just for the transition process itself, which has often caused difficulties and gaps, but there are several serious mental health conditions that tend to first present in late adolescence and early adulthood, and therefore the management of these conditions, especially when they first appear, is very key to a patient's long-term recovery. I think a lot of attention needs to be given and that we see that period up to 25 being much more like the period just before 18 as well, and this has not always been the case. I know there are well-designed services out there, but we need to see that much more commonly embedded.
I think that's right, David, and I think there are some organisations that already offer that service, that people can stay in the system until they're 25, and I think what we've got to do is to work towards a system where perhaps that is the offer generally, but that we should give people the choice as to when they want to transition from one to another. That's where I'd like to get to, but I think we have got some work to do in that space. Some health boards are better than others in this space and we just need to put the pressure on those areas that perhaps haven't got as good a system as others.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 3 on the agenda this afternoon is topical questions. There is one topical question to be answered by the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales. Helen Mary Jones.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the early closure of applications to the economic resilience fund relating to the firebreak lockdown? TQ499
Yes, of course. The third phase of the economic resilience fund comprises of two parts, firstly the £200 million lockdown business fund, which is designed to target operating costs for businesses through the firebreak, and remains open for applications via applications via Business Wales and also via local authority websites. The second part, the £100 million longer term business development grants fund, has received nearly 6,000 applications and has therefore been paused to new applicants. We are committed to getting funds out as quickly as we possibly can do to successful applicants.
I'm grateful to the Minister for his answer. I'm sure he will acknowledge that because of the oversubscription to this fund, there were many businesses who were disappointed and some business owners who were quite distressed not to be able to make the applications that they expected to be able to make. And I say this while fully understanding the pressure on the Minister's budgets and the fact that he won't ever be able to help every single business, and that there are UK responsibilities here as well.
Can I ask the Minister, with regard to the administration of the scheme, whether he is confident that there is sufficient capacity within Business Wales to deal with this level of pressure of work? Particularly bearing in mind that this is not a one-off, as we might have expected it to be, perhaps, or hoped it might be at the beginning of this crisis, but this is pressure that's going to be on Business Wales for some time to come, unfortunately.
And can I also ask him, given that resources are limited and that the Welsh Government can't do everything, is it time now for Welsh Government to take a more targeted approach to the businesses that you continue to support, prioritising those businesses that are most in need now, perhaps, in the short term, but also those businesses that were completely viable before lockdown that can't trade at all during the pandemic but that will be viable afterwards? Do we need a specific hibernation scheme for businesses like those, and should you be targeting support, Minister, to businesses like certain businesses in hospitality, some businesses in tourism, cultural businesses that may not be able to open at all, until we reach a point where we have a vaccine? I would put it to the Minister, Deputy Presiding Officer, that if he can't do everything—and I understand that perhaps he can't—is it now time to do the things that need doing most in terms of business support?
Can I thank Helen Mary Jones for her questions and also thank Helen Mary Jones for the very constructive part that she has played, and indeed other Members of the Chamber have played, in shaping the economic resilience fund during the various phases of this support?
I'd like to just make a number of points at the outset. First of all, as Members are aware, the Welsh Government is offering the most generous and comprehensive package of support to businesses anywhere in the United Kingdom, but as Helen Mary Jones has rightly identified, it would simply not be possible for any Government to support every single business with both emergency cash for operating costs and with support for business development, and therefore we do have to approach this in a targeted way, as Helen Mary Jones identified, and I'll come back to that point.
The second important issue to raise with perceptions of the third phase of the economic resilience fund is that there are two parts to it, and the majority part remains open, and I'd urge businesses to apply—if they're looking for emergency cover for their businesses—for the £200 million lockdown business fund. The £100 million business development grant was for development projects, and I'll come back to the reason why they were different. But the third point to make regarding the overall package of support is that there has been some misunderstanding of the purposes of the development grants, and it does appear that a number of businesses have been attempting to access emergency support either through, first and foremost, the development grant online system, or through both the non-domestic rates-linked grants and the development grants. As a result of this, we've already been able to sift a significant number of applications and we've found that there will be a rejection rate that will be quite high because a significant number of businesses who submitted applications on that Friday did so without supporting evidence, or did so without a strong plan for the development of their business, or because they didn't provide any cash-flow data, and were simply after support for cash flow, or because their projects were ineligible, for example because a number of applicants were applying for deposits on holiday lets.
We ensured that it was a targeted approach, and all of the guidance pointed businesses to the fact that it was targeted, it was for the purpose of developing their businesses, creating jobs or securing jobs. They had to comply with our principles of value for money, they had to be of a high quality, and they had to enhance the business prospects for the medium and the long term. Now, I can tell Members that there is a further £300 million that the finance Minister has earmarked in principle for business support in the first quarter of 2021. In addition, there remains unutilised budget from the original round of the COVID-19 NDR-linked grants, and officials are working very closely at the moment with local authority treasurers to confirm how much of this funding remains unused across the 22 local authorities and what options might be available to potentially repurpose it. I can also tell Members that, with regard to the £100 million development grant fund, we will appraise, as a priority, all of those applications that have come in. I am currently seeking further advice on the next steps in relation to what we do with the development grant fund, and I hope to make a further statement in the very near future.
But just in answer to some of the other points that Helen Mary Jones raised—capacity within Business Wales. We constantly review capacity within Business Wales. We increase capacity when necessary and decrease. I'm not so much concerned about human resource capacity as I am with the way that those people who operate on the helpline service are being treated by some—a tiny minority. But I have had reported to me that some of the Business Wales helpline staff have been verbally abused, and I'm sure nobody in this Chamber would condone such behaviour. I know that this an incredibly tense and anxious time for business owners, but it's important that we also respect those people who are trying to help us, and so I would urge all people who are calling the Business Wales helpline to be courteous and to be respectful to the Business Wales staff.
Then, finally, to the point that Helen Mary Jones made—again, an incredibly valuable point—about the importance of considering how we hibernate businesses that may not be able to operate through the winter and until next year, but which we know are viable businesses. That, of course, can be provided through an extension of the job retention scheme and, of course, with any support from the Welsh Government that would aim to plug any gaps or to provide an additional safety net to complement the JRS. But, of course, that does require the UK Government to agree to a further extension of the job retention scheme, and, for that matter, a further extension of the self-employment income support scheme until such a time that parts of the economy can truly reopen safely, and whether that's with an array of vaccines or through further adaptations and through suppressing the virus to a level where we can do so. But it's absolutely essential that the UK Government considers, as a matter of urgency, a further extension to JRS and the self-employment income support scheme.
Can I thank the Minister for his answer just now? It was very comprehensive and it's what I think I and many other Members need in terms of answering queries from constituents. And can I thank Helen Mary Jones for putting in the question that she has done? I also think it's very disappointing that there are people being abusive to Business Wales staff. I understand people's frustrations, but they shouldn't be taken out, of course, on the people trying to help them.
From my perspective, there has been quite a bit of confusion, Minister, from businesses and amongst local authorities. And I'm aware, in some instances, local authorities have received various guidance—sometimes on the same day, on the same issue—so I think there are some lessons to be learnt for next phases. And I'm aware that some local authorities have taken different application processes in very different ways, so I think there are some real lessons to learn in that regard going forward.
I noticed, Minister, Cardiff University has estimated that the Welsh Government has £1 billion left to be allocated from funds to fight COVID-19, and they've looked at the £4.4 billion from the UK Government, and the amount reallocated from existing Welsh Government budgets. Can you confirm that that is the case in your opinion, or do you believe that Cardiff University have got this incorrect? And if it is, why is the Welsh Government perhaps not committing this money now to support businesses now, rather than leaving it back for a later date? The UK Government has also, of course, given the certainty by guaranteeing at least £1.1 billion via consequentials before the end of this year. If that's not enough, and I know that the supplementary budget is coming up, what more can be reallocated from existing budgets to ensure that businesses get the support that they need now, before the winter, rather than giving it to them when it's too late? And briefly and finally, given that there is ring-fenced funding for tourism and hospitality businesses, concern is being raised that, if a business in receipt of the NDR grant, they are precluded from applying for the discretionary grant. So, if you didn't address that in the earlier question—I was drastically making notes—can you perhaps address that point as well?
Yes. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I thank Russell George for his questions, and say that I am sorry for any misunderstanding of the purpose of the development grant fund? We attempted to make as clear as we possibly could on the Business Wales website the purpose of that fund and the eligibility criteria and what was required in order to make an application. Unfortunately, in spite of that, it appears that, perhaps through desperation, a significant number of businesses nonetheless made applications that did not meet the criteria, that were not supported by any satisfactory documentary evidence of need for developments. And so, as a consequence, the fund was overwhelmed and paused. But we will scrutinise and interrogate each and every application on the basis of ensuring that, through a qualitative approach, we support those businesses with the best ideas and the best proposals. And as I've already said to Helen Mary Jones, I'm hoping to make a further statement in the very near future regarding the appraisals of the current applications and the next steps.
The £1 billion that Russell George referred to really I think is a matter for the finance Minister to address. But what I can say to Members is that the finance Minister has kindly agreed to put aside, in preparation for quarter 1 of 2021, an additional £300 million. And of course we are awaiting clarity on any further consequentials from the UK Government as a result of recent announcements. And as the First Minister has already said on a number of occasions, any consequentials relating directly to business support will be provided as business support when they come through to Wales. And I think it's important again for Members to remember that we are operating in a crisis, and yet, during the course of this crisis, throughout this crisis, we've been able to support businesses with the most generous package of support anywhere in the UK, utilising the ERF as a fund and a system to plug holes and to provide safety nets that otherwise would not exist.
And on the very important point that Russell George raised lastly, those businesses that have been unsuccessful in getting discretionary grants because they've had NDR-related grants, well, the discretionary grants that we've made available through local government are designed to support those businesses that do not occupy properties—businesses that operate from shared premises and so forth. And that's to ensure that we capture as many businesses, microbusinesses in particular, as we possibly can do.
Thank you, Minister. I just want to start by thanking Helen Mary Jones for giving this Senedd another opportunity, following on from yesterday, to get across to the Government just how important it is to reopen phase 3 of the economic resilience fund—the business development grant side of it, as you've outlined, which is different to the other—and to reopen it quickly, Minister. Because businesses across south-east Wales and our country were relying on this fund. Businesses of all sizes spent weeks preparing for this fund, as we said yesterday, and they were relying on it, even though they were issued with new guidance for the fund on the morning that it was opened, so that, obviously, took time. And then, within 24 hours, the fund had closed. This indicates to me that there is a severe lack of oversight as to the need for this fund and the demand that was going to happen. And taking out what you've just said of the people who applied for it for the wrong reasons, not only were they told that it had been shut within 24 hours, they were told that, instead of the £150,000 that they were trying to apply for, they would then be just signposted off to trying to apply for £2,000, which obviously is not going to cut it. I was delighted to see the support from across the Chamber yesterday after I'd raised the issue for this urgent statement—even from your own party, people recognise that it's important to reopen this fund in particular. I welcome what the First Minister said in response, saying the Government would look at reopening it and, as you've said, there are moneys available if you decided to do that. So, I welcome that as well, Minister.
And due to support, am I now right to assume that it's not a matter of 'if' it will be reopened, but now a matter of 'when'? And when will you be making this statement on the business development grant? Because there are so many confused people out there that are stressed and didn't even get their e-mails answered from Business Wales. So, I'd like you to look into that, and perhaps give those businesses that were refused better advice in the future. But I thank you for your extra clarity this afternoon, Minister. Thank you.
Can I thank Laura Anne Jones for her questions? And, as I've already said, the applications that have come in were huge in volume. Many businesses, unfortunately, applied for support not because they were seeking support for a development, as such, that would secure jobs, that would enhance business prospects, but instead because they were seeking emergency cash. Now, that is not the purpose of this fund, and I don't think it's fair to compare the £150,000 maximum grant available for business development with the emergency support, which albeit was less, because the two funds, or the two parts of the fund, operate for different reasons. One part—the emergency cash part—is intended to support businesses through the firebreak; the other—the business development grants—is intended to support business development for the longer term, and that's vitally important. It's vitally important to distinguish between the purpose of those two parts of the fund.
Now, in terms of next steps, I've already said to Members I'll be making an announcement in the very near future, once we have appraised the business development grant fund. I'm seeking further advice from officials regarding the next steps, but I think it's absolutely right and proper that we scrutinise those applications that have come in so far, that we learn from them, and that we tailor support for the purpose that it's designed. And the design of the ERF business development grant scheme was to ensure that businesses have a longer term future, that they don't just survive through the firebreak, but that they are able to thrive in the future. And I can point to a number of excellent applications that have come in that demonstrate how some businesses did approach it in the most responsible way with excellent applications, and those businesses that missed out, I'd say, 'Hold on to your documentation; there is £300 million that's going to be made available.'
Laura Anne Jones asks about when we will be opening up a future fund. Well, quarter 1 of next year is when we intend to be able to support businesses. But we want to make sure that businesses are able to develop the best possible proposals to submit to Welsh Government. And one such proposal—I can't name the business, I'm afraid; it's located in Denbigh—that has been successful already through the development grant fund submitted an excellent application that dealt with the grounds of their property that would enable them to hold more weddings and we were able to support them with an offer of a grant at a 72 per cent intervention rate. I think it's important that I mention the intervention rate, because there is also, unfortunately, the belief that businesses are able to, on every single occasion, secure the maximum amount of grant, but instead we're looking at intervention rates associated with value for money for the taxpayer.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 4 on the agenda is the 90-second statements, and this week we have one from Llyr Gruffydd.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. As we all know, this week is Climate Week, and it's a chance to reflect on our collective efforts and commitment to addressing the present and enduring climate and nature crisis. Since the Senedd declared a climate emergency in 2019, we maybe haven't seen the decisive shift in approach that many of us would have hoped for, indeed maybe would have expected, and I know that many of us are also frustrated that Wales doesn't have the powers we need to make the biggest possible difference. But, where there have been positive steps towards tackling climate change and the associated threats to our ecosystems, our economy, our health and the well-being of our future generations, then, clearly those have been very welcome.
So, this week we should take stock of what's been done, what's being done, and what more we can all do to get a grip on this global crisis. We all understand the significance of this challenge and, of course, the pressures of the current COVID-19 crisis and our exit from the European Union will only add to this greatest of efforts. I'm sure we can all agree that more needs to be done to make sure that Wales plays its part in tackling climate change and reversing biodiversity loss. From reducing energy demand through increasing energy efficiency to growing renewable energy, to unlocking more of Wales's natural resources, to decarbonising transport, reforming land use and promoting more nature-based solutions and green infrastructure, we must all commit to going further, faster. And Climate Week this week gives us that opportunity to reflect, to reset and to recharge our personal and collective commitment to carving out that path to a greener tomorrow.
Item 5 on the agenda is a motion to amend the Standing Orders on suspension of the proceedings before remote electronic votes. I call on a member of the Business Committee to formally move the motion—Siân Gwenllian.
Motion NDM7448 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:
1. Considers the report of the Business Committee, ‘Amending Standing Orders: Suspension of proceedings before remote electronic votes’, laid in the Table Office on 20 October 2020.
2. Approves the proposals to amend Standing Order 34.14D, as set out in Annex A of the Business Committee’s report.
Diolch. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? I don't see any objections. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 6 is the motion to elect a Member to a committee. And the motion is to elect Caroline Jones, Independent Alliance for Reform, as a member of the Business Committee, and I call again on Siân Gwenllian to move the motion formally.
Motion NDM7453 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.3, elects Caroline Jones (Independent Alliance for Reform) as a member of the Business Committee.
Diolch. 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.
Item 7 is a motion to elect a Member to a committee, and this time a motion to elect Mark Reckless, as an Independent, as a member of the Finance Committe. And I call again on Siân Gwenllian to move the motion formally.
Motion NDM7454 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.3, elects Mark Reckless (Independent) as a member of the Finance Committee.
Diolch. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. I see no objections. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 8 is a motion to note the annual report on the Senedd Comission's official languages scheme for 2019-20. And I call on the commissioner with responsiblity for official languages to move the motion—Rhun ap Iorwerth. Rhun.
Motion NDM7447 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with paragraph 8 (8) of Schedule 2 of the Government of Wales Act 2006:
Notes the Annual Report on the Senedd Commission’s Official Languages Scheme, laid before the Senedd on 18 June 2020.
Thank you very much, Deputy Llywydd. It is a great pleasure to present this report on our official languages scheme for the year April 2019 to March 2020. In line with usual practice, the report had been completed in June this year, but, of course, circumstances have prevented us from holding the debate until now. The report looks back at our work as a Commission over the year, celebrating successes, but also, very importantly, noting those times when we haven't managed to reach the ambitious targets set out in the scheme.
We have achieved much during the year. Perhaps one of the main highlights was holding a Senedd Commission staff Welsh language skills survey. You can see the details in the report itself, but it was very encouraging to see over 80 per cent of the respondents to the survey noting that they have some Welsh language skills. Those vary from courtesy level Welsh to fluent Welsh speakers, and it's testament that our recruitment system, based on the language skills matrix, is working. Without doubt, this is a much more accurate reflection of the linguistic continuum that exists in Wales now than the old binary method of describing individuals either as Welsh speakers or non-Welsh speakers. It's also testament to the success of our Welsh-language skills training provision, with the numbers receiving support to learn or improve their skills increasing on an annual basis. The information obtained through the survey will strengthen our continuous work on capacity planning and ensure that we have the right skills in the right places across the establishment.
Another notable development during the year was the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Senedd Commission and the Welsh Language Commissioner. Of course, the fact that we have our own Act means that we are not accountable to the Welsh Language Commissioner, but rather we are accountable to the 60 elected Members of this Senedd by holding an annual debate in this Plenary, and via continuous feedback from you on our services. However, I think that establishing the memorandum has meant that we are able to maintain a relationship with the commissioner, and, more importantly, means that we strengthen our ability to learn of the most recent developments in language planning and the provision of bilingual services in Wales, and can share our own good practices with others too.
It would be very strange if I weren’t to refer to the situation around the coronavirus pandemic in these few words. The first lockdown was introduced towards the end of the reporting period. The fact that we are here participating in another debate conducted virtually is testament to the innovation in the Senedd as a result of the restrictions, and a central part of that was the need to ensure that we are able to continue to operate bilingually in the virtual world, and later on in the hybrid world.
As the report was being drafted, we were already among the first legislatures to hold fully bilingual virtual Plenary meetings. We have also advised a large number of establishments and institutions across Wales on the use of technology to provide bilingual services. It’s been encouraging to speak with pride about our experiences in international events, as the chair of the Welsh branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and I know that Commission staff have participated in international events too. We will certainly be learning from our experiences and will be seeking new opportunities to use technology to improve our bilingual services. We can discuss that more in next year’s report.
One of the things that I am eager to do, as we move forward, is to learn more about what encourages language choice among Members and their staff in the work of the Senedd. The report notes a slight reduction in the use of the Welsh language. I’m always pleased to see Members having a go at using the Welsh language in the work of the Senedd, but I think we need to work at all levels in order to ensure that any barriers to the use of the Welsh language, be it an issue of confidence, an issue of technology or the use of Senedd contributions in the media and so on, are all overcome. There is an important role, and we should recognise that, for this Senedd as a linguistic role model for Wales, respecting people’s language choice, but also encouraging people to make the most of the fact that we are a bilingual institution.
In looking towards the future, to conclude, we are drawing to the end of the fifth Senedd and the remaining time will be an opportunity to focus on ensuring that we have achieved all of our objectives and on planning for the sixth Senedd. Of course, we’ve already started to review the current scheme to understand what works well and in which areas we need to make improvements. I would encourage Members to contribute to that work when the Commission opens its consultation.
Thank you very much, Rhun, and to all the officials who have been working on this scheme for many years now. I know that there will be slight disappointment in hearing that some of us haven’t been using as much Welsh in the Chamber as we have done in the past, and I’m certainly one of those—I will admit to that. Perhaps it would be a fair comment to say that this year hasn’t been a normal year and I also feel that we have had fewer debates and questions and ministerial statements on the Welsh language during this period too. Having said that of course, there is nothing preventing us from contributing in Welsh on any item of business, so this report does remind us—it certainly reminds me—that we should be looking towards seeing an increase in the use of the Welsh language rather than a reduction.
It seems that the situation looks more positive among Commission staff and Member staff, and I think it’s an important point that we do note the spirit of Welsh language standards without being subject to them. The reduction in the number of English-only documents is to be welcomed and the fact that there have only been a handful of other breaches is also a significant achievement.
But, for me, the main success of this year is the understanding of the learner experience. We said that more Commission staff are fluent in both languages as opposed to the other levels, which is a positive thing, but it may lead to the question as to whether we are truly extending out to all parts of Wales in our recruitment. But, the recognition of the value of lower level skills and developing skills has been so very important too. Being a Welsh language learner, surrounded by fluent Welsh speakers, can be frightening on occasion, however kind those individuals are. If we can't get Welsh in the workplace in a successful way for our Welsh learners, well, we do have to ask how realistic the target of 1 million Welsh speakers is. If we can't show that a bilingual working environment can work, then how will the general population begin to think of this as something that is normal? If our staff who have a little or no Welsh language skills can't leave every night saying, 'There's no need to be afraid', and that no-one is excluded or judged, how can we persuade other employers that this is possible and worth while?
Just one point in conclusion, here, Rhun: I can see that officials have been sharing their thoughts and experiences with other organisations on how we nurture bilingualism. Would it be possible to include school and college leaders at some point? Many people will be considering how they can deliver the expectations of the curriculum in order to make bilingualism a reality for our pupils. Part of that is to create the right environment and the right culture, and it appears that we have positive information to share with them. Thank you.
Thank you for the report. I would also like to thank Commission staff for responding very positively to the challenge of continuing to provide bilingual services of the highest quality during this current crisis. The Commission has taken full advantage of technology in order to be in the vanguard in our work, and I think we should all, in this Senedd, be very proud of that.
As you've noted, we do need to use those experiences in order to learn how we can incorporate technology into our provision of bilingual services. Zoom interpretation in Plenary and committee meetings has worked very effectively, I believe—more effectively than the service in normal Plenaries and committees, perhaps, certainly from the perspective of those of us who use the Welsh language.
The experience with meetings on other platforms isn't as positive, and we still need to apply pressure in this area. There is concern that Teams is favoured and promoted for virtual working internally, rather than Zoom, although Teams doesn't support interpretation at the moment. Political groups have to fund the cost of Zoom from their own office costs in order to hold bilingual meetings. So, I do think, and I know that you would agree with this, that we do need to continue to try to find a solution in terms of Teams, but, in the meantime, we should continue to promote the use of Zoom in order to make it as easy as possible for Members, Commission staff and Members' staff to use it in order to continue to hold internal meetings in Welsh with interpretation where necessary.
You have mentioned this afternoon, and Suzy Davies has also mentioned, the use of the Welsh language by Senedd Members, by those of us who are Welsh speakers. I'm talking here about the use of the Welsh language in Plenary meetings and so on, and this has been covered in the media too. One barrier, in my view, is the views of broadcasters and their attitude toward this. They are very reluctant to use a Welsh language clip in an English language broadcast. This does place Members such as myself, who make a great deal of use of the Welsh language, at a disadvantage, if truth be told.
I do very much hope that this is an issue that you will continue to discuss in detail with the broadcasters over the next year. It's an issue that's been raised on a number of occasions. It is important to bear in mind that the Commission has control over our sound and broadcast feeds, which are shared with our broadcasters. That, perhaps, would find a solution for us to put more pressure on them to make more use of and to have principles in place in return for access to those audio streams.
I was pleased to see that the Translation and Reporting Service had started to provide subtitling training to staff, so that short video clips of high quality could be provided with a swift turnaround. Perhaps the BBC and others could follow the good practice within the Commission, and seeing the broadcasters doing this and using clips with subtitles would normalise the use of the Welsh language as an important part of the life of all people in Wales.
If I could just turn, in conclusion, to a few comments on the next Senedd. As we prepare for that Senedd and as we approach a decade since introducing official languages legislation in this place, we do need to consider, I believe, whether the official languages regime is fit for purpose in light of the 1 million Welsh speakers strategy and the cross-party support that exists for the aim of promoting the Welsh language. I will perhaps be the first to put the question out there: should the Commission be subject to Welsh language standards, whilst also strengthening the independence of the Welsh Language Commissioner from the Welsh Government, so that the checks and inquiries could happen properly in such a scenario? For me, it would make sense and be a signal of the cross-party support for the 1 million Welsh speakers strategy.
Just a few brief points to conclude, if I may, Deputy Presiding Officer. I do believe that we need to build on the language skills work that was done at the beginning of this Senedd. There is more work to be done there. And then, a translation fund for Members; I think it is now time that we review the arrangements in place to translate certain materials for constituency work. Why limit the support for Members to do more bilingually to simply one aspect of our work, namely our work within the Senedd? So, just a few constructive comments there, and I hope you will take them in that spirit. Thank you very much.
You really are out of time.
Thank you. Gareth Bennett.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you to the Commission for this report.
I wasn't speaking a bit of Welsh just for the effect.
I am a Welsh learner.
So I am making a bit of an effort with the language, and I would point out that I do have an O-level in Welsh from my school days. I'd rather say it was a GCSE, because the O-level does age me a bit, but I'm afraid it was an O-level. So, can I say that efforts to boost the usage of Welsh are generally to be welcomed, albeit the best use of Welsh is as a living language, and resources are generally probably better directed into retaining Welsh as a living language where it is used as such, rather than in looking to hit targets that may turn out to be illusory or targets that end up being little more than a tick-box exercise?
Now, I take on board what Rhun has said today about Welsh speaking being a continuum rather than a binary 'yes' or 'no' issue, and the report that Rhun, as the Commissioner, is presenting today is regarding the use of Welsh within the Senedd, not in Wales as a whole. To some extent, I believe there is a case that the Senedd should try to replicate Wales as a whole, by which I mean the general demographics of Wales. There is a danger of groups being under-represented in terms of their employment within the Senedd, but there is also a danger of groups being over-represented. The problem with creating a policy of bilingualism across the Senedd estate is that one runs into the danger of over-representing Welsh speakers on the staff here, and the logical follow-on from that is that if one is over-representing Welsh speakers then one is discriminating against those people who do not speak Welsh, which actually amounts to some 70 per cent of the population of Wales. Now, of course, the picture is complicated, because some people have taken advantage of the Welsh courses on offer here at the Senedd, as I have done, to try and increase their ability in Welsh, and that is to be recommended. I would heartily encourage everyone who is interested in improving their Welsh to take advantage of the very good Welsh tuition that we have here at the Senedd.
But can I offer a few words of warning about the dangers of following a recruitment policy that seeks to effectively overrepresent Welsh speakers on the staff? Because I can see from the report that 100 per cent of all jobs that were advertised here last year did require at least some level of Welsh, ranging from fluent Welsh to what is now termed 'courtesy level' Welsh. And when you have a population in Wales in which some 70 per cent of people, according to the last available figures, do not speak any Welsh at all, then clearly, you're effectively discriminating against a large majority of the people of Wales when it comes to getting jobs here at the Senedd. Surely, one would want the Senedd to represent all the people of Wales, and not turn the staffing of it into a little Welsh language bubble. It is completely unrepresentative of the population of Wales. This, I'm afraid, is the danger of pursuing a policy that is too obsessed with bilingualism, and there will be that perception among a lot of the public that the Senedd is not really there to represent them; it's just there for the benefit of a small, elite group of Welsh speakers. So, I just wanted to add that note of caution.
Thank you very much and thank you once again for the report.
Thank you. Nobody has taken the opportunity to make an intervention in this debate, therefore I'll call Rhun ap Iorwerth to reply. Rhun.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you to the three Members who contributed to the debate. I will keep my closing comments quite brief.
Suzy Davies, first of all. Thank you for those comments. Suzy said that she was disappointed to see the number using the Welsh language going down and she pointed the finger at herself. Nobody should do that, of course. What we need is encouragement and to give people the opportunity to consider their options to use the Welsh language. But it is something that we should be aware of, and in that regard, I agree entirely with what Suzy said. And we should also bear in mind that we need leadership from Government as well as from backbench Members.
There are challenges, of course, that we are seeking to overcome. And given the point that Suzy Davies made in terms of reaching out to schools and colleges, well, the linguistic challenges exist across Wales, and I do agree that we could be seeking ways to share good practice with those sectors, too. We will seek ways to do that, because it's an issue of the Senedd taking its national role seriously and reaching out to people and allowing people to learn from our experiences too.
In terms of the use of Welsh language—if I can return to that—she said that it's been an unusual year and I wonder whether that accounts for the reduced use of the Welsh language. Very strangely, I've found it easier to use the Welsh language in committee meetings and Plenary meetings; there is no delay now as people reach for their headphones and so on, it happens far more smoothly in the virtual scenario. So, there are benefits that can emerge from operating virtually in this way. But thank you for those comments.
Siân Gwenllian raised a number of points encouraging me as Commissioner. Now, I wouldn't disagree with the need to look again at what our status is and whether the Senedd should be subject to Welsh language standards, and so on. What I would say is that what's important is what we do as an institution, not so much what our motivations are or what the legal expectations upon us are. It's quite right that that debate should continue and it should be a lively debate.
In terms of technology, Siân made some very good points. Zoom was something miraculous that happened just before the pandemic. I came across Zoom for the first time in December of last year; all of a sudden, we have this platform where we can work entirely bilingually. And, yes, there is some catching up work to be done for other platforms, including Teams. Teams, of course, internationally, has had to develop from being a platform for just four people back in March; now it's a far larger platform. But we do need to make the most of the relationship that the Senedd has with companies like Microsoft in order to ensure that that ability to work bilingually on all platforms is made a reality.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
In terms of broadcasters, I agree very strongly with the comments that we heard from Siân Gwenllian. I have had some discussions with one of Wales's leading broadcasters recently, and I made the very points that we heard from Siân Gwenllian. There are technological barriers on occasion, and we need to recognise those, but also, if there are barriers in terms of culture, attitudes or policies in broadcasting, then it's very important that we continue to push for changes in those broadcaster attitudes. Because I agree, it does place a Member who chooses to use the Welsh language at disadvantage if the norm is not to use that material in Welsh on English language broadcasts. So much has changed in recent years. We wouldn't have had programmes such as Hinterland, where both languages are heard alongside each other, some years ago. It's becoming the norm, and that also needs to happen in relation to how this Senedd is broadcast.
Returning now to Gareth Bennett to conclude. This isn't an obsession with bilingualism, I can promise you that. I am bilingual, we all have two languages, and we all take ownership of two languages, whether we speak those languages on a daily basis or not. And it's also important to bear in mind that what the Senedd policies do is to provide everyone who comes to work in this institution the opportunity to develop themselves along that linguistic continuum. Courtesy level Welsh is very basic, but what's clear is that the ability to acquire those basic skills is not only important to the institution as a national body, but it's also important to the individuals. It's also crucial that we ensure that we do reach out to all communities in Wales and give the same opportunities to all those communities.
I will conclude there. Thank you once again for the contributions. I will close with some thanks: to Siân Gwenllian for the work that she did as Commissioner, who preceded me, doing excellent work in leading to the drafting of this report; and thank you to the staff who work so very hard to implement our language policy and our official languages scheme, who've also been so crucial in preparing this report that we're discussing today.
The proposal is to note the report. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes, I see an objection, and therefore I will defer voting until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
The next item is a debate on petitions on teaching history in schools, and I call on the Chair of the Petitions Committee to move the motion—Janet Finch-Saunders.
Motion NDM7450 Janet Finch-Saunders
To propose that the Senedd:
Notes the following petitions concerning the teaching of history in schools:
a) Petition ‘P-05-992 We call on the Welsh Government to create a common body of knowledge about Welsh history that all pupils will learn’ which received 7,927 signatures; and
b) Petition ‘P-05-1000 Make it compulsory for Black and POC UK histories to be taught in the Welsh education curriculum’ which received 34,736 signatures.
Diolch, Llywydd. Thank you. This debate is a first for the Petitions Committee as it actually covers two petitions, both of which concern the teaching of history in our schools. We welcome the opportunity to discuss these petitions together and we believe that this is a timely debate, given that the new curriculum for Wales is currently being scrutinised and due to be taught from 2022. The petitions we are discussing today both relate to what students learn about the history of Wales and its people. Both have demonstrated strong public support.
I will start by outlining each petition and its context before moving to the points of similarity between them. These lie in several questions about how schools and teachers will be guided and supported to equip our young people with the knowledge proposed by the petitions. The first petition received, petition 992, concerns the teaching of Welsh history. It was submitted by Elfed Wyn Jones, having collected 7,927 signatures. It calls for the Welsh Government to create a common body of knowledge about Welsh history, and for this to be taught to all pupils in Wales. It argues that this history and heritage is crucial to an understanding of modern Wales and that key events and subjects in the nation's history should be taught to everyone.
The petition references a similar recommendation made by the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee as part of its inquiry into the teaching of Welsh history. That committee noted that taking this approach would allow all pupils to have an understanding of how their country has been shaped by local and national events, within the context of Welsh, British and international histories. That recommendation was rejected by the Welsh Government on the basis that the new curriculum is purpose led and intentionally moves away from specifying lists of topics and content to be taught. Instead, as the Minister has outlined on other occasions, the new curriculum seeks to give teachers and schools the freedom to take their own decisions about what is taught within a broad national framework.
Now, if I may digress slightly, this tension between the vision for the new curriculum and calls for specific subjects and issues to be taught as part of it has been a regular feature of Petitions Committee meetings over the past few years. It is a genuine tension, and it illuminates the crucial importance of getting the guidance and the resources that will accompany the curriculum right. That issue is at the heart of both of these petitions.
To outline the argument made by this petition further, the petitioner asks how can we understand the society in which we live if we cannot understand what has happened in our past. He argues that the extent to which pupils are taught about key moments in this history is variable and wants this to be addressed by the new curriculum. Central to the petition is a call for core historical content to be established and for resources to be developed to support schools and teachers to deliver consistent teaching, a point I will return to later on.
I will leave it to the Minister to outline the way in which she has responded to these arguments. However, I will mention that the Petitions Committee has considered written evidence from Estyn, which is currently conducting a review of the teaching of Welsh history in schools. It is seeking examples of best practice and may end up making its own suggestions. The work, of course, has been badly affected by the pandemic and is now not likely to report until summer 2021.
I will now move on to the other petition in this debate, which is also the one thousandth petition to be considered by the Petitions Committee, certainly a significant landmark for our processes. It is also one of the largest petitions we have received, having gathered—and I did say one of the largest petitions we have received—34,736 signatures after it was submitted by Angharad Owen in June of this year. The petition was submitted following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in the USA and the protests that followed across the world, many, of course, linked to the Black Lives Matter movement. The petition is one of the fastest growing petitions to the Senedd, reflecting the importance of the issues it raises and the pressing need for us to do more to tackle racism in our society.
In Britain, many of the protests that followed George Floyd's death focused on the legacy of colonialism and slavery. This petition calls for that history, and specifically the part that Wales played in it, to be represented in the curriculum. The petition argues that the British empire has sometimes been glamorised, whilst the global impact of colonialism has also been downplayed, with a direct impact upon the lives of black and minority ethnic people in Wales today.
Where this petition is focused is on ensuring that sufficient coverage is given to teaching about the legacy of these aspects of our history in our schools, including the role Wales played and the impact on black and minority ethnic people in Wales. The petitioner has acknowledged that teaching these issues can be daunting for teachers. It can be a highly charged subject with a direct personal relevance to the experiences and perspectives of individuals as well as current world events. Therefore, the petition argues that additional resources and support are required to equip teachers with the information and confidence to address these subjects appropriately with their students.
Responding to the petition, the Minister has referred to a working group established to consider black and minority ethnic histories as part of the story of Wales under the chairing of Professor Charlotte Williams. I will leave it to the Minister to explain more about this work, which has the potential to lead to some of the change sought by this petition, but I want to note our support for it at the outset.
In concluding my opening remarks, it is important to acknowledge that the histories raised by these two petitions are both equally part of the story of Wales and its people. A full teaching of our history, good and bad, and what it means for today's Wales, must seek to speak to everyone, and to develop in our young people a rounded and nuanced view of what came before them. That is no small challenge. However, this is an opportune moment to hold this discussion, both due to world events and the development of the new curriculum and the resources that will support it. The Petitions Committee acknowledges the flexible approach at the heart of that curriculum's design. The challenge, of course, for the Minister, and everyone involved in its development, is to ensure that people can have confidence that pupils will be provided with key information about the forces that have shaped today's Wales, and that our teachers and students will have the resources and training to support them in this. I very much look forward to hearing the contributions of other Members during the rest of this debate. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you.
Can I just say 'well done' to all the people who signed both of these petitions? My group will not only be noting these today but supporting what the petitioners are asking for. Petitions themselves are a part of our history, and in particular they were encouraged by that great Plaid favourite, Edward I. Monarchs and Governments had for decades been routinely dismissing prayers for aid or justice made by the aggrieved, and it was Edward who encouraged them to bring forward their business directly to Parliament to influence the Government and the King. Whether that was about being a good king to his people or simply a public relations stunt to improve his reputation, who knows? But the decision was the beginning of an evolution of the concept of Parliament into a place where the voice of people, all people, is heard and respected.
I'd just like to pick out an issue from each of the petitions, and the first is from the first petition. What's in and what's out? What goes into this? Who still cares about Edward I, for example, and why? It's over 700 years ago since he was part of our story, and that's a long time to hold a grudge, so why even mention him? And if the compulsory teaching of Welsh history means that our children only ever hear of him as the villain who battered Wales and sneaked a changeling into the role of Prince of Wales, then they're going to get short-changed anyway. If, however, he's presented to Welsh pupils as a real case study about what motivates powerful figures of history and the ripple effects of their decisions, then he's a really interesting example. Was he just a violent narcissist? Was he a creature hyperconscious of his divine duty? Was he immersed in contemporary expectations of leadership? In judging who he was and what he did, what do we learn by comparing him to Stalin or Mao Tse-tung, for example, by applying modern mores? What was his effect on the everyday life of everyday people and how does that compare with our relationship with people in power these days? There's a school term's worth of history lesson right there, and every bit of it will count as Welsh history.
Welsh history is not just about what happened in Wales, but how events and decisions elsewhere affected Wales. What if the mine owners and merchants of South America 300 years ago had decided to get their copper smelted on the river mouths in south-west England? Who would be living in Swansea today? So where on earth do you start if you're a school leader committed to your pupils receiving a good experience of learning about Welsh history when this tiny fragment could spark such a chain of discussion? And I think it's important to highlight that this petition calls for a common corpus of Welsh history to be taught in all schools, but it's not asking to influence how it's taught. Nevertheless, it points to a deep desire that all our children should grow up knowing more about how the nation in which they are being raised got to be that way. And perhaps this is a good moment to introduce the evidence presented to the Children, Young People and Education Committee by these very children. They have told us that they want to be learning the same things as their peers, and that's not just history. And so I don't think this undermines the freedom of the new curriculum. The design of this curriculum, in part, is to be informed by what pupils want to learn, so here is a clear instruction that they want at least some common ground across Wales.
My second point is about the local curriculum and this involves the second petition. There will be communities in Wales who might think that black and ethnic minorities have no more relevance to their local curriculum than Edward I. Now, that is an incorrect conclusion, as the petition itself reveals. And history is a bit like the universe—we can only see about 4 per cent of it, but the other 96 per cent is no less real and no less part of the explanation of why we are, who we are and where we are. And while there will be other overlooked contributors to the history of Wales, the least they can do is start looking, and start looking at black and ethnic minorities who have been here for centuries, just as we look at how events and decisions made about people of colour in other parts of the world have affected our domestic story.
I suppose the story of the Chartists will make the cut in whatever finds its way into any common syllabus. They, of course, are some of our most celebrated petitioners in UK history, let alone Wales. Events didn't turn out quite as they expected, but little did they know that Edward I could claim a tiny little bit of their story, or, indeed, the stories of MI5. As of 2010, their ranks boasted more medieval history majors than holders of any other degree. Valued for their skills in working with minimal and unreliable information, history is always useful, and that is one hell of a ripple effect. Thank you.
First of all, I would like to thank the Petitions Committee for bringing both petitions to the attention of the Senedd, and thank you for bringing them together in a single debate, which is the right and appropriate thing to do. And I'd like to thank too those people who arranged both petitions, Elfed Wyn Jones and Angharad Owen, who worked so hard to gather so many signatures. I know that Elfed Wyn Jones had intended to walk from the farm where he lives in Meirionnydd to the Senedd in Cardiff to present the petition, and had hoped to attend the debate, but, of course, because of restrictions, that wasn't possible. But he has been walking the same distance on the farm, back in Trawsfynydd, and has drawn attention to this issue that he feels so passionately about.
In the Children, Young People and Education Committee, we have been discussing the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill, gathering evidence from a number of different sources. And I have been trying to make the point consistently during those evidence sessions that we do need to think not only of the content of the Bill as it currently stands, but we also need to think about those issues that aren't currently contained within the Bill—those that need to be on the face of the Bill but aren't currently there. And I do believe that both issues covered today, which do interweave—they both need to be on the face of the Bill, and Plaid Cymru has been consistently making this point.
We need to ensure that the people of Wales are aware of our past as a people, our past as a nation in all its rich diversity. The lockdown has highlighted the importance of our national identity and it has also highlighted the need to give particular and urgent attention to deal with and eradicate race inequality.
We need major structural change. Just as we need to provide education on healthy relationships on a cross-curricular basis in order to create societal change and in order to generate that change in the relationship between men and women, we also need to highlight the importance of the diversity of Wales to be cross-curricular, which deserves the same consistency and status as healthy relationships and sex education. The only way to do that is to actually upgrade these issues to be on the face of the Bill and to include them as a mandatory element in all schools in order to secure consistency for all pupils.
Having said that, I am highly aware that there are a number of significant challenges related to this, and I don't want to downplay those challenges, and I think it's important that we do discuss them. Elfed Wyn Jones's petition calls on the Welsh Government to create a common body of knowledge on Welsh history. I would challenge Elfed here. Who will decide what the content of that common body of knowledge will be? I do agree that we need a common body of knowledge, but we also need to recognise that we would need very thorough work from our historians and some discussion before we actually reached that point.
The second petition calls for it to be made mandatory for the history of BAME communities and the history of people of colour to be taught in the Welsh curriculum. I agree, of course, but I would also challenge Angharad. Isn't slavery and colonialism just one aspect of BAME history, and in focusing on these aspects, aren't we at risk of forgetting the rich contributions made by black communities in Wales and ethnic minority communities in Wales to the history of Wales in all its diversity?
I do want to draw your attention to an important report drawn up seven years ago now by a panel chaired by the historian Dr Elin Jones. I do think it’s important that we remind ourselves about what was said in that report, which was entitled, 'The Cwricwlwm Cymreig, history and the story of Wales'. These are the words of the panel:
'Much of the debate on the history taught in school tends to emphasise the factual content of the curriculum. There is, however, far more to the discipline of history than chronology and factual knowledge alone. While chronology and factual knowledge provide a framework for understanding the past and the relationship of different periods, developments and individual actions',
history also provides other opportunities too. And in the words of the report once again:
'One of the most important aspects of the discipline of history is the opportunity it provides of understanding that every narrative or historical argument is open to criticism, and that every historical judgement is provisional. There is no one history: every individual has their own experience, and their own unique perspective on the past…Realising this is a means of accepting and respecting different versions of history, while evaluating them against more objective criteria than our personal knowledge of the past, or a familiar version of it.
'Effective history teaching can help to develop the active citizens of the future. It can enable learners to understand their own history, and the way in which the past has formed the present, but, more importantly, it can help them to investigate that history, and evaluate different versions of it. It can equip every citizen to deal effectively with all kinds of propaganda.'
This is an important statement—and I am drawing to a close here—but I think it's important that we do bear in mind this context that Dr Elin Jones gave us. Teaching history effectively does refine our skills to analyse, to question, to not accept everything at first sight and to identify propaganda and fake news, which is so very important in the current climate.
There is a strong argument for including identity and the diversity of Wales, including Welsh history and black and people of colour's history, as a mandatory part of the curriculum, but let's not forget that there is far more to teaching and learning history and a huge value to it in our ambition to create young people who are knowledgeable and informed for the future. Thank you, Llywydd, and thank you for indulging me.
You were discussing Dr Elin Jones, so I was going to allow that. Mick Antoniw.
You need to be unmuted. Hold on just one second. Try again. Not quite. I'll come back to you, Mick. Jenny Rathbone. I'll come back to you, Mick. Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you very much for calling me. This is a very important subject and the use of words carries huge significance. In the English language, we talk about 'history' as if it was a male-dominated business. Obviously, 'herstory' is just as important, whether we're talking about the history of women's suffrage in Wales and the struggle we had to go through to get it or whether we're talking about much wider issues.
I think, in the context of this specific petition, it is a contemporary theme and it's really sobering to understand that the failure to have any sort of reconciliation after the American civil war still has massive implications for events going on in the United States today, which allows some citizens to have utter disregard and complacency about the suffering of other citizens that we in this country find really quite extraordinary.
But I think we cannot criticize others without looking to our own history and our failure to look at the history of the British empire, which I think very much fuels a lot of the resentment felt, quite rightly, by black citizens of our country. It was founded on slavery, and yet we continue to romanticise the British empire, glamorise it. We still give people who have performed extraordinary services, public services, medals that contain the words 'member of the British empire', 'commander of the British empire', 'British empire medal', which is an utter anachronism to today's society and clearly something that we have to address.
It's equally inappropriate that on Remembrance Sunday we sing, 'Send her victorious, happy and glorious' about our monarch as the national anthem of the UK, particularly on Remembrance Sunday, when we are commemorating the horrors of war. But I also think that we have to look in great depth at more contemporary issues, for example the Windrush scandal, which has yet to be resolved. People who were refused to be allowed work, refused benefits, and, in the worst cases, deported from this country, have still to receive compensation, and many of them are now dying. How scandalous is that?
We really do need to re-evaluate our history in light of contemporary problems, and nowhere is that more obvious in this week of all weeks than in relation to climate change. What we do in this country has an impact on people living on the other side of the world, and it's really important that we take these responsibilities seriously and amend our behaviour in solidarity with people who we have never met and are never likely to meet, but who suffer because of what we do and the way in which we burn up the resources of the world. So, I think these are excellent petitions and I look forward to seeing the outcome of them in the way we treat history in the new curriculum.
The teaching of our history in Welsh schools matters. The past informs the future; a loss of the past would mean the most thoughtless of ages. History teaches us that 'Welsh' means British. Both England and Scotland are named after their invaders. However, the Britons remained. Wales is named after the term used by the invaders—meaning 'foreigner' in their language—to describe the Britons across our islands, who referred to each other as fellow countrymen and women, 'Y Cymry'. We hear of the iron ring of castles built in north Wales after Anglo-Norman conquest, but we hear little of the 100,000 fellow Britons who had died in the attempted genocide in northern England by the Normans—the harrying of the north—two centuries previously.
The first petition we're debating refers to the Glyndŵr rising. We hear of his dream of a Welsh Parliament, two Welsh universities and a Welsh free church. However, history also teaches us that he previously dutifully served the last Plantagenet king and joined the army that king led into Scotland, before rebelling against the first king since the Norman conquest whose mother tongue was not French, in a plot with Mortimer and Percy to divide the kingdom into three parts.
The first petition also refers to the drowning of Capel Celyn, which belongs to every community in Wales. However, history teaches us that this is also part of a wider British experience, where communities were flooded when the Rivington reservoirs were constructed to supply water to Liverpool a century earlier.
Myths tell stories about the early history of a people. There are those who believe that the destiny of mystical Britain—Albion, Alba, Alban—is waiting to be awoken as a spiritual leader of the world. According to the twelfth century The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, the exiled Brutus of Troy was told by the goddess Diana,
'Brutus! there lies beyond the Gallic bounds
An island which the western sea surrounds,
By giants once possessed, now few remain
To bar thy entrance, or obstruct thy reign.
To reach that happy shore thy sails employ
There fate decrees to raise a second Troy
And found an empire in thy royal line,
Which time shall ne'er destroy, nor bounds confine.'
Although commonly dismissed now, Geoffrey of Monmouth's work was regarded as fact until the late seventeenth century, and the story appears in most early histories of Britain. The teaching of black and POC UK histories in Welsh schools matters. From one of the first black people to have lived in Wales, named John Ystumllyn, brought to Wales in the eighteenth century and believed to have married a local woman, to the likes of Shirley Bassey, Colin Jackson, Cardiff's current mayor, and the former mayor of Colwyn Bay, Dr Sibani Roy, the BAME population of Wales has made significant contributions.
Most societies have exploited slave labour at some stage in their history. This is also true of Wales. A slave chain discovered on Anglesey made to fit five people can be dated to the Iron Age, about 2,300 years ago. When the Romans invaded, they brought their own slaves with them, slaves from nations across the Roman Empire in Europe, North Africa and the middle east. After the Romans left, the British tribes enslaved those they defeated in battle. The transatlantic slave trade flourished from the early sixteenth century until 1807, when the British Parliament passed an Act to abolish trading slaves within the British Empire. Campaigns to stop slavery had been started by black and white people more than 30 years before the Act was finally passed. The British abolition movement got under way in earnest in 1787, when Thomas Clarkson founded a committee to fight the slave trade. One member, William Dillwyn, was an American Quaker of Welsh descent. Campaigners had been laying the groundwork by publishing documents about the cruelty of slavery. One of these was William Williams of Pantycelyn, who wrote the hymn 'Bread of Heaven'. In the 1770s, a number of former slaves published their life stories, and Williams was the first to translate one of these into Welsh. Although Britain was the pre-eminent slave trading nation during the eighteenth century, and illegal British slave trading continued for many years after the passing of the 1807 Act, the Royal Navy's role in the suppression of the transoceanic slave trades represents a remarkable episode of sustained humanitarian activity. However, illegal slavery still continues in many parts of the world today, even in Wales. As Martin Luther King said,
'I have a dream…let freedom ring'.
I like the wording of the first petition that we're discussing particularly. The point has been made that the language is florid and important. It calls on the Welsh Government to create a common body of knowledge about the history of Wales that every pupil would be taught. And the second petition is related to that, because it asks for the histories of black people and people of colour to be taught in the Welsh curriculum.
Now, the idea of creating a common body of knowledge is crucial. The petition is speaking literally here and talking about certain incidents in Welsh history being taught in all parts of the country. But there is also a broader meaning: a common body, a corpus of knowledge, being created. Yes, a collection of sources, of events, but the issues that have formed the corpus of the nation and formed the population—a common body, the identity of the nation, the population's awareness. Because neither petition talks about the need to teach children about the history of others—no, it's learning about the history of the people of Wales, people from all sorts of different backgrounds, which are all part of that common corpus, an identity with diverse layers, where each and every one of them forms a whole. The wording reminds us that history does connect us, yes, but it also connects us with our past. It's history that has made us, for better and for worse. It's history that provides us with our roots. We can learn lessons, it enhances each and every one of us, but only if we hear about and learn about those histories can that happen.
Before the summer recess, we in Plaid Cymru staged a debate on this issue, setting out why it is so hugely important for young people to learn about the histories of their nation. And I use the word 'histories', as has already been said in this debate, because there is no strand of history that is more important than the others. Indeed, the children of Wales need to learn the histories of those people who didn't write the history books. As I said in that debate before the summer, unless every child in Wales learns about the important issues within our nation's history, then this can deprive whole generations of their sense of identity—they won't see themselves in the corpus. And that is just as true about the drowning of Capel Celyn, the history of Glyndŵr and the investiture, and Wales's relationship with slavery, and the cultural and industrial histories of areas such as Tiger Bay.
Since the summer there have been some developments that are to be welcomed, and I was discussing some of these with Dr Elin Jones recently. She's already been mentioned, and she chaired the taskforce on Welsh history in 2013. And I agree with her that there is reason to welcome the appointment of Professor Charlotte Williams to review the resources available to support teachers to assist them to plan lessons on histories of people of colour and black people's history. This can lead to delivering the recommendation of that report on developing pupils' awareness of the multicultural and multi-ethnic Wales in which we live, and guarantee that the children of Wales will not be deprived of information about their own history. And this is important, Llywydd, for our nation more generally. Unless Welsh histories are taught in our schools, then students won't learn about those subjects at university either, and this can lead to a further decline in the number of Welsh history centres and Celtic study centres within our universities. That would have an inevitable impact on national knowledge and the way the nation portrays itself on the world stage.
Given the awful decline of the University of Wales, it's important that we protect the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, the University of Wales Press and the Gregynog higher education centre. This is all interrelated. If there is no enthusiasm or expertise on Welsh history—those Welsh histories that we're discussing—it will weaken the whole concept of Wales and its academic rigour. We need to secure the future of our nation and our centres of expertise, and to create new centres of excellence and departments for Celtic studies, not just in Wales but across the world. This is what we are discussing today and this is the start of that process to create a common corpus to guarantee the awareness of our young people of their identity. I very much hope that our legislature, the Senedd, will agree on the importance of that. Thank you.
Mick Antoniw. I think we're still struggling to hear you, Mick. You may need to use the sound control on your own headset.
There we are. Well, thank you, Llywydd. I was going to say, when I started earlier, that there'd be some excellent contributions. I was particularly impressed with the contribution of Siân Gwenllian, because I thought she set out not only the philosophy around the teaching of history, but also the considerable challenges that exist.
I chaired the committee that looked at the votes at 16 legislation. Of course, we looked closely at the issue of civic education, and I think the teaching of history in the curriculum and civic education actually go hand in hand, because history is, essentially, pure politics—I say it with a small 'p'—and an understanding of what's happened within our society and its engagement.
Now, one of the concerns I really have is the lack of materials on many of the historic events and individuals in our communities at a local level. For me, history is not about the teaching of kings and queens, particularly—even Welsh princes. It's really about communities; it's also the history of working people and working people's communities.
So, in the time I have, I'm just going to go through some of the people who, I think, really are deserving, in our history curriculum, of being mentioned, certainly in the communities I represent, where there ought to be materials and they ought to be incorporated. When I go around schools, I find very little information about any of these people, even though they were such significant Welsh figures.
Dr William Price of Llantrisant, a Chartist who dealt with occupational health and who did the first modern cremation, of very significant political consequences. Arthur Horner, president of the South Wales Miners' Federation; in 1946, president of the National Union of Miners and a major figure in the nationalisation of the coal industry that had such significance. A.J. Cook, there's a plaque to him just outside my constituency in the Tŷ Mawr Lewis Merthyr colliery; he was the general secretary of the Miners Federation of Great Britain, but very little is taught about this significant figure.
What about the history of devolution going back to the 1920s, perhaps even earlier, but also to Kilbrandon and so on? The history of the miners' federation: how can you talk about modern south Wales's history without talking about the development of the South Wales Miners Federation? The importance of the Taff Vale judgment and the implications of that for democratic rights for trade unions. Wales and the slave trade. Gareth Jones, the Welsh journalist, whom I've spoken on many times, who now has a street named after him in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Hughesovka—John Hughes founded one of the biggest steel-producing areas in the world. The 1926 general strike, how we don't talk about the impact of that on the communities of south Wales. We remember the poem by Idris Davies, 1926, and how we'd remember it 'until our blood runs dry'. Well, I think many of our schools and our history curriculum have forgotten about it. Robert Owen, the founder of the co-operative and trade union movement in many parts of Wales and in Britain; the 1984-85 miners' strike that so impacted; and Evan James, who wrote the Welsh national anthem, who came from Pontypridd.
These are just some of the people. There should be materials; they should form part of a broader corpus of the history that has affected and formed the communities that we represent. For me, that is the important part: the history of working people and working-class communities. Thank you.
It's a great pleasure to take part in this debate, chaired by a distinguished historian herself. For me, history is a living thing. The continuum in which we live is a vitally important part of my imagination, and I'm constantly reflecting on the events of today in their historical context. Therefore, the teaching of history is vitally important. As Mick Antoniw said, a minute ago, history is dead politics, but actually, history is a living thing and the politics of previous generations is also a living thing today. We see this in the debate that has arisen as a result of the Black Lives Matter protests and what's been said about slavery and the role of the British empire and all that. So, it's vitally important that, when history is taught, it is taught in an objective way, or as objective a way as is possible.
I strongly support the petition on a common corpus of knowledge of the history of Wales. I studied Welsh history in school, and history then was taught in perhaps a rather different way from the way it's taught now, but I think it is very important for people to learn about their place in the history of their nation. You can't, I think, understand the events of today without having some real understanding of how we got where we are. As the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville said,
'as the past has ceased to throw its light upon the future, the mind of man wanders in obscurity'.
And I think that is a basic truism. But the teaching of history is itself, in some ways, a political act, or could be a political act, and we have to be careful, therefore, not to allow history to be used as a weapon of political propaganda, even though that might be subconscious. I think the second petition on the British empire displays a lack of understanding in its fullest sense of the role that the British empire played. It's vitally important, therefore, that we teach both sides of historical controversies. History is a chequerboard; it's got black and white squares on it. To have a full understanding of what happened in the past, we have to revive the controversies that have surrounded the events and movements that we are teaching about.
The British empire was, in many, many ways, a force for good, and the role that Britain played, as Mark Isherwood said, in the suppression of the slave trade is a vitally important part of nineteenth-century history. I think what the petition says, that Britain, including Wales, benefited from colonialism and slavery for centuries, overstates the economic importance of slavery. It was actually marginal in the economic development of the United Kingdom, and, of course, most of the British empire never had slavery at all: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India—great tracts of the world. The slave trade was fundamentally a transatlantic trade, and slavery, of course, has been endemic in all civilisations up to the modern day, all around the world. So, the idea that the British empire came in and enslaved people who were otherwise living in free, democratic countries is, of course, preposterous.
So, we have to see the events of the past in the context of their own time, and we have to understand the minds of the people who were making history at that time against the context of those days. Therefore, many individuals who were regarded as great men in their days we now regard as flawed, in many respects, but we need to teach the good with the bad and the bad with the good, so that's vitally important as well.
Britain, through its empire, which of course covered a quarter of the globe at its zenith in the 1920s, introduced to those countries the rule of law, incorrupt administration. It gave these countries the English language. India was unified as a result of its incorporation into the empire. Modern India would look very different, in geopolitical terms, from what it does today, had it not been for the British empire. As I said a moment ago, we suppressed slavery and we gave these countries the cultural gift of democracy, which was the successor to the British empire. And also, we promoted the economic development of large parts of the world, which supplies the wealth that, of course, the populations enjoy today. So, there are lots of good things that Britain was responsible for. Slavery was a stain, obviously, but we played an honourable part in its suppression.
Black history is important, but I think we have to keep it in its context and in proportion as well, because mass immigration into this country, of course, is a very, very recent phenomena. And even today, the 2011 census tells us that Wales had a population that was 96 per cent white, 2.3 per cent of Asian origin and 0.6 per cent black. So, yes, of course, everybody, whatever race or ethnic make-up that they are, wants to know the history of their own people, their own forebears, and I think that's an important and necessary part of any history curriculum, but I don't believe that it should dominate everything.
We need to teach the history of Wales, we need to teach the history of Britain, and we need to teach the place of Wales and Britain in the world. And if we do that in a constructive, objective way, but encourage people to understand that history is not a fact, because ultimately, all history is myth, in a sense; we are constantly reinterpreting the events of the past. What we need to teach people is that history itself is a problem that, probably, there is no hard and fast solution to. It teaches you how to analyse events and motivations and to understand that history is actually what is written by historians, but it isn't necessarily what happened at the time.
Before I call Mike Hedges, can I just, for the record, say that I'm not the Elin Jones referenced several times during this afternoon's debate? Dr Elin Jones is a pre-eminent historian in Wales and I'm no doctor at all. Mike Hedges.
Just very briefly, I think if we're going to teach the history of Wales, we need to teach the history of the kingdoms of ancient Wales. They actually mean something to many of us.
We seem to have gone backwards. When I did O-level history, we did social and economic history. Now, in their GCSEs, they study America, South Africa and Germany. I think we need to go back.
Finally, people need to understand their own area, how it happened and how different places relate. I think if we're going to put a curriculum together, or put some ideas together, we need all of those in. Thank you.
Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd.
The number of signatures received by both petitions is a clear indication of the strength of feeling about the teaching of history in Wales. We have enjoyed many debates in the Senedd on this topic and today has been no exception, with some very, very thoughtful speeches and contributions. And, of course, this debate today is taking place on a very important date in our history when, on 4 November 1839, under the leadership of John Frost, we saw the Newport uprising. So, I don't know whether it's coincidence that the Petitions Committee has been able to secure the slot today, but it is the most relevant of days to be discussing this subject, once again.
And I'm very happy to update the Members on the current situation regarding curriculum development. As I have said many times before, studying the history and histories of Wales is an important element in meeting the four purposes of our new curriculum. The new curriculum framework reflects Wales: our cultural heritage and diversity; our languages and our values; and the histories and traditions of each one of our communities and all of our people.
I am happy, Presiding Officer, to clarify that the new curriculum will contain mandatory elements, including the statements of what matters for each area of learning and experience. Therefore, every school's curriculum will be required, by statute, to include learning in each of the statements of what matters. And within the humanities area, this must include cultivating a sense of cynefin—a place and a sense of belonging—an appreciation of identity and heritage; a consistent exposure to the story of their locality and the story of Wales; developing an understanding of the complex, pluralistic and diverse nature of societies, both past and present; and engagement with the past, contemporary, and anticipated challenges and opportunities facing them as citizens, their communities and their nation. These will be non-negotiable elements of every school's curriculum, for every learner at every stage. It will simply not be possible to ignore the central and critical role of all of our histories, our local and national stories, including black history, in a school's curriculum.
Now, we have all agreed that learning must be inclusive and draw on the experiences, the perspectives and the cultural heritage of contemporary Wales. Confidence in their identities helps learners appreciate the contribution they and others can make within their different communities, and to develop and explore their response to local, national and global matters. This will also help learners to explore, make connections and develop understanding within a diverse society. The curriculum recognises that our society is not a uniform entity but encompasses a range of values, perspectives, cultures and histories that includes everybody who lives in Wales. And let me be clear: cynefin is not simply local but provides a foundation for a national and international citizenship. As part of the mandatory statements of what matters in humanities, all schools will have to include learning on the appreciation of the diverse nature of societies, as well as understanding diversity itself.
In the summer, I appointed Professor Charlotte Williams to lead a working group that will provide advice and recommendations about the teaching of themes related to black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and experiences, and I'm glad that the Chair of the Petitions Committee has welcomed that work. Now, this, it is crucial to say, is not limited to history; it covers all parts of the school curriculum, and I am very much looking forward to receiving the interim report later this month, which will focus on learning resources. The group has developed this work in the context of the new curriculum framework, which avoids prescribing a full list of specific topics or activities. Guidance sets out the concepts that should underpin a range of different topics, learning activities and the acquisition of knowledge, and learners of all ages will be exposed to a range of historical periods on a local and national level. They will consider how local, Welsh and world history are connected, shaped and appreciated, through events such as Glyndŵr's uprising, the Spanish civil war, and the world wars of the twentieth century. This is already set out in the guidance that we published earlier this year.
I recognise that we need to continue to support teachers with their professional learning to help them move forward with identifying resources, topics and connections. In order to allow time and space for practitioners to work together across schools to prepare for the new curriculum, we have heavily invested in professional learning, with some £31 million already awarded directly to schools, and we will continue to build upon these strong professional learning foundations as we move closer to implementation of the curriculum in 2022. Therefore, I am confident that the resources, support and guidance being developed will empower schools to deliver meaningful learning about the histories of Wales and its diverse communities in every area of learning and experience right across the curriculum.
Schools will be supported to engage with heritage professionals, museums and galleries, as well as community and cultural leaders when designing their curriculum in order to enrich the learning and experiences of each and every pupil. So, within the parameters set out in the guidance, teachers will have the flexibility to tailor the content of lessons to allow learners to explore their cynefin. We believe that that is the best way forward for them to understand how their local identities, landscapes and histories connect with those on a national and international stage.
Teachers will have the freedom to teach the many and diverse histories of Wales and the wider world, and, as I have said before, exploring the stories of the people and communities of Wales should not simply be limited to history lessons. The whole purpose and design behind the curriculum for Wales encourages learners to explore themes across the curriculum. The diverse histories of the people of Wales can be taught not only in the areas of humanities, but also in languages, literature and communication, and in science and technology. We will create further resources that will refer to key events and topics in the histories of Wales and the world as we move forward to implementation, and these resources will be there to enable teachers to develop their own curricula.
As I mentioned earlier, the working group chaired by Professor Williams has reviewed existing resources to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME experience and contributions right the way across our curriculum, and, as has also been referenced, Estyn will also report on their review on the teaching of Welsh history and diversity in schools next year. Its findings will further help us to commission resources to ensure that teachers have the support that they need to deliver the curriculum successfully.
However, we recognise that access to good-quality learning resources will not necessarily be enough by itself and that teachers will need to be provided with the relevant professional learning and development. Early next year, I expect to receive a second report from Professor Williams's working group, which will be considering the professional learning and development needs of staff in our schools in the coming months. The group will provide recommendations on how to ensure that teachers across the curriculum can competently deliver learning related to black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and experiences. And forgive me, Llywydd, I can't recall which of my colleagues made the point, but Professor Williams is very clear to me that when learning about black history, it must go simply beyond learning about concepts of slavery. There is much, much more to talk about, and the Member that talked about BAME communities' positive contribution to Wales—that point was very well made indeed.
So, in summary, as part of the mandatory statements of what matters in humanities, all schools will have to include learning on and an appreciation of the diverse nature of societies, as well as understanding the concept of diversity itself, and an appreciation of their cynefin. We are continuing to work on the content of the curriculum to ensure that it encompasses experiences and histories that represent the diverse nature of societies that we have here in Wales and across the world. But I thank the Members once again. I always find these debates to be some of the best that we have in the Chamber, and today has been no exception, as I said. Diolch yn fawr.
The Chair of the Petitions Committee to reply to the debate—Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thank you, Minister, for your contribution in responding to this debate, and a serious thank you to all the Members who have participated today. I just want to echo, really, that there have been some really thoughtful and some really good contributions here today. So, in concluding, I want to thank both petitioners and everyone who supported those petitions in order to get them to this point. I'd like to thank my colleagues on the Petitions Committee and the committee clerking team. The mere fact that petitions can result in these issues being discussed in our Welsh Parliament, albeit virtually in this case, I believe, actually goes to prove and demonstrate the value of the petitions process. This debate has enabled some very important issues to be raised, and these two petitions in particular will be considered further by our committee. In taking the petitions forward, of course, we will be mindful of the scrutiny being given to the curriculum elsewhere and to the young people who will be greatly affected by any outcomes of these petitions. The work that's under way by the working group and Estyn and Professor Charlotte Williams has been also mentioned here today, and, really, I think it's been a fantastic debate, and I'm sure that anybody watching who may have started the petitions or signed those petitions will be greatly heartened by the interest that these petitions have attracted today. Thank you, Llywydd. Diolch.
The proposal is to note the petitions. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I see that there is an objection, and I will therefore defer voting until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Before we move to voting time, we will take a five-minute break in accordance with Standing Order 34.14D. We will reconvene to hold voting time in five minutes.
Plenary was suspended at 17:10.
The Senedd reconvened at 17:18, with the Llywydd in the Chair.
That brings us to voting time, and the first vote this afternoon is on the motion to note the annual report on the Senedd Commission's official languages scheme for 2019-20, and I call for a vote on the motion tabled in my name. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 52, three abstentions and none against. Therefore, the motion is agreed.
Motion to note the Annual Report on the Senedd Commission's Official Languages Scheme for 2019-20: For: 52, Against: 0, Abstain: 3
Motion has been agreed