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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. I call the National Assembly for Wales to order.
 
Questions to the First Minister
Fuel Poverty in Delyn
 
13:30
Sandy MewiesBiography
1. Will the First Minister provide an update on how the Welsh Government is helping to tackle fuel poverty in Delyn? OAQ(4)1625(FM)
 
13:30
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Our energy efficiency programme that includes Nest and Arbed is tackling fuel poverty by improving the energy efficiency of households across Wales, including, of course, in Delyn.
 
13:30
Sandy MewiesBiography
Thank you. I am really heartened to hear about the Welsh Government’s work to help people trapped in fuel poverty. However, it is essential that local authorities also keep a focus on households who are suffering in this way. For example, Flintshire County Council, working with Wales and West Utilities, has secured money for loans that will enable around 600 private households in Mostyn in my constituency to connect to the gas main. Based on today’s prices, that will secure a saving of around £774 per year, per household. The loans will be either at nominal or low interest, depending on the criteria. So, First Minister, will you join me in congratulating the authority on being proactive in this very important area?
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. I understand that the scheme will provide for 233 council-owned properties to be connected to the gas main free of charge. It will also offer private home owners a nominal or low-interest loan to join up. I very much welcome the scheme and congratulate all those involved in taking it forward.
 
13:31
Mark IsherwoodBiography
The Flintshire affordable warmth scheme, which clearly works successfully with Flintshire council, was the idea of the North Wales Energy Advice Centre. It said that the qualifying criterion is that the client be vulnerable in any way, rather than simply based on benefit eligibility. How, therefore, do you respond to the recommendation in the 2014 UK fuel poverty monitor that there is no current action plan for eradicating fuel poverty in Wales and that the Welsh Government should outline how it intends to prioritise vulnerable households?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That is a clear nonsense. We know that we have a number of schemes to deal with fuel poverty deal—Nest and Arbed being two of them. However, I do very much welcome the Member’s praise for a Labour council and its initiative in ensuring that fuel poverty is tackled within Flintshire.
 
Mineral Extraction
 
13:32
Lynne NeagleBiography
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on mineral extraction in the south Wales coalfield? OAQ(4)1608(FM)
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The acceptability of minerals extraction in the coalfield should be assessed in accordance with the appropriate local development plan, national planning policy on minerals contained in ‘Minerals Planning Policy Wales’, the minerals technical advice notes and any other relevant material considerations.
 
13:33
Lynne NeagleBiography
Thank you, First Minister. You will understand the dismay of local residents and campaigners after it emerged that Glamorgan Power, having spent years getting rid of the previous application, now intends to submit a fresh application to opencast at Varteg Hill? The community there now faces another period of uncertainty. One of the most worrying aspects of the previous application was that the planning inspector seemed to pay scant regard to ‘Minerals Technical Advice Note 2: Coal’, and it was only thanks to the good sense of the Minister, Carl Sargeant, that the application was overturned. First Minister, the details of this latest plan are not yet clear, but what more can you do to ensure that planning inspectors abide by the MTAN 2 guidance, which was, after all, unanimously backed by Assembly Members in this Chamber?
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Indeed. Without commenting on an individual application—and the Member will understand why I cannot do that—the whole basis of the planning system is that it is for both local authorities and planning inspectors to take into account buffer zone policy and its application in any given case and to accord it appropriate weight in decision making. However, the MTAN is there to be observed and given appropriate weight to. I understand that, where there is a fresh application, that leads to a period of uncertainty, but the planning system enables applicants to make more than one application. However, that does not change the fact that, with regard to the MTAN and ‘Minerals Planning Policy Wales’, we expect the guidance contained in both those documents to be followed by inspectors.
 
13:34
William GrahamBiography
Although I appreciate, First Minister, that you cannot comment on specific applications, you will be aware of public concern both in Varteg and also in the Upper Rhymney Valley about applications of this kind. Will you write to local authorities reinforcing your Government’s support for a 500m-buffer zone at the very least?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There is no question that the 500m-buffer zone is contained in the planning guidance, and, as I said, that must be given appropriate weight with any planning application regarding opencast mining, particularly, but also with regard to any minerals extraction applications.
 
13:35
David ReesBiography
First Minister, opencast mining can leave many areas in a poor state, following the extraction of the mineral, and basically earn a profit for that extraction company. What action is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that restoration schemes for opencast sites—which are part of the original planning application process—are monitored, are adequately funded by the companies, and that amendments are made, if necessary, to ensure that that funding is there, so that they can be acted upon following the completion of the works at the site? This would alleviate the terrible environmental scenarios that we are seeing today in areas such as Parc Slip in my constituency, and which actually borders your constituency and the constituency of Ogmore.
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The national planning policy position is that, when putting forward proposals for opencast coal working, operators and landowners should ensure that sufficient finance is set aside to enable them to meet restoration and aftercare obligations. The difficulty, of course, is that when we talk about permissions that were given in the 1990s, as a result of the privatisation of opencast coal mining, the bonds that were required to provide full restoration were not sufficient, and that was the view of the Government of the day. He will know, as I do in my role as a constituency Member, that the problem that exists at Parc Slip is the lack of money to pay for restoration at this stage, because of what was done some 20 years ago.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:36
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the leaders. I call first this afternoon the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:36
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch, Lywydd. The First Minister’s party leader has sought to belatedly enter the debate on the misuse of zero-hours contracts. Now, I found it particularly interesting that he cited the social care sector as an example of their inappropriate use. In the light of this, will the First Minister now commit to backing future Plaid Cymru amendments to ban the misuse of zero-hours contracts, especially in the provision of public services?
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I can assure the leader of Plaid Cymru that I do not have a party leader, in the sense of being the leader of the Welsh party, any more than Elfyn Llwyd is the leader of Plaid Cymru because of the fact that he is the spokesperson for Plaid Cymru in Westminster.
 
She and I are on the same page in this regard; there is no difference in terms of our viewpoint. The difficulty that we had with the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill was the issue of competence—we were not prepared to risk the entire Bill over an issue where it was not clear that we had legislative competence. We do not believe that that was a responsible way of doing it. However, when it comes to the approach to zero-hours contracts, she and I are very much on the same page.
 
13:37
Leanne WoodBiography
Llywydd, on the matter of zero-hours contracts, the First Minister is determined to divert attention to phantom legal pitfalls. He claims that he is powerless to act on zero-hours contracts. I would like the First Minister to explain why he disputes your ruling, Presiding Officer, that Plaid Cymru amendments on zero-hours contracts through local authority commissioning are, indeed, in competence and in order.
 
13:38
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The competence is not clear. The competence is not clear for the simple fact that it is not clear whether this would be part of the field of social services or the field of employment. Now, there is no easy answer to this, as we know, of course, because the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill has gone to the Supreme Court. We were not prepared as a Government to risk this Bill—the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill—going to the Supreme Court, and possibly losing the entire Bill for the sake of one amendment. That said, however, if there are other ways of ensuring—as we want to move forward with this, and I am sure that she does as well—that zero-hours contracts become a thing of the past, we are of course prepared to do that, without jeopardising a substantial piece of legislation.
 
13:38
Leanne WoodBiography
The Presiding Officer may have a view on that, and our amendments were specifically in relation to local authority commissioning. Now, if there is compelling legal advice on zero-hours contracts and this Assembly’s competence in relation to them, will he agree to publish that legal advice in full? However, is it not the case that, rather than fight for the rights of exploited workers in the Supreme Court, if need be, the Labour First Minister of Wales would prefer to vote with the Tories against Plaid Cymru on the issue of zero-hours contracts, because that is what has happened here, in this Chamber, on three separate occasions?
 
13:39
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The leader of Plaid Cymru will not help workers on zero-hours contracts by running headlong into a brick wall, which is something that she clearly wishes to do. She and I are in the same position with regard to zero-hours contracts, but what we were not prepared to do was to take a piece of legislation that had taken up the time of this Assembly for many, many hours, and jeopardise it. I do not believe that that is responsible government, and I believe that there are others on her benches who take the same view.
 
13:40
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:40
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, in your Government’s delivery plan for the critically ill, you say that critical care units should run at an average bed occupancy of around 65% to 70%. However, last year, all units in Wales reported rates of bed occupancy greater than 80%, and many often operating beyond 100%. Could you tell the Chamber what improvements have been made in bed occupancy rates in our critical care units since the delivery plan was published by your Government?
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I can point to the fact that, over the course of the winter, there was no winter crisis, as was suggested would happen. Local health boards dealt with the issues that arose over the winter. They made proper preparations and they were in a position to ensure that critical care beds were available in order to deal with the situation. That is an improvement on what happened the winter before.
 
13:41
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
However, First Minister, only yesterday, the Royal College of Anaesthetists warned that a lack of critical care beds was forcing clinicians to either choose cancelling operations for patients, including cancer patients, or opt to proceed with surgery without the appropriate critical care bed.
 
You said that local health boards should have published annual reports for the critically ill by March 2014. Could you confirm to the Chamber that all local health boards have published those annual reports and are available to the public?
 
13:41
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I would expect those reports to be published by now, of course, given the date, and I would expect them to be made available to the public.
 
13:41
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Thank you, First Minister. Perhaps you could check whether that is actually the case. It does not seem to me that the local health boards, certainly on their websites, have those documents available to the public.
 
First Minister, in the same delivery plan, you promised that improvements would be seen when there was better throughput through the whole hospital system, but we have seen a 19% reduction in the number of hospital beds over the last 10 years, and the British Medical Association has warned of a bed crisis. The most recent figures on delayed transfers of care—delayed discharges—show no improvement and remain stubbornly high. When will you stop reducing the number of beds in our district general hospitals and when can we hope to see an improvement in delayed transfers of care?
 
13:42
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
While it is correct to say that the number of beds has dropped over 10 years, that has been true in all parts of the UK, and there have been reasons for that, which include, for example, the fact that people now get treatment outside of hospitals for certain conditions, for which they needed hospital treatment before. She mentions delayed transfers of care, and they are, to my knowledge, at a 10-year low in Wales, whereas in England they have seen a spike in delayed transfers of care. So, yes, while delayed transfers of care remain for some individuals—and they must be reduced, that much is true—we are nevertheless seeing an improvement that is historically very high as far as Wales is concerned.
 
13:43
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Finally, I call the leader of the opposition, Andrew R. T. Davies.
 
13:43
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
First Minister, is it still the goal of the Welsh Government to get the PISA rankings for Wales in the top 20% by 2015?
 
13:43
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We want to see an improvement in PISA rankings, and that is what we expect to see with the improvements that we have put in place.
 
13:43
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
I am not sure whether that was confirmation that that goal is still an aspiration central to Government thinking or not. However, how can people have confidence that you will be able to lift the rankings of Wales in that league table when a recent report clearly identified that there was a lack of long-term vision from the Welsh Government, that implementation from Welsh Government Ministers was weak and that teachers were overwhelmed with the constant reform agenda that is at the heart of what your Government is seeking to do? So, how can you correlate the improvements that we all want to see in education here in Wales with that independent report highlighting the failures of your Government and successive Labour Governments?
 
13:44
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, the report he refers to, I believe, is seven years old. Secondly, I do not believe that he has seen it. He has not, because I know that the alleged report that was given to the BBC was only summary and conclusions—and selectively—and not the report itself. He is perfectly welcome to see the report, of course, as are all Members, but if he could confirm that he has actually seen the report and draw on whichever part of the report he wishes to draw on, then, of course, I will be more than happy to answer his questions in that regard.
 
However, I remind him that we have seen school spending increasing in Wales; we have seen school building carrying on in Wales when this has been cut in England; and we have seen many of the recommendations that were in that report being put in place by this Government.
 
13:44
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
I am completely dumbfounded by that. The report that I referred to was your own Government-commissioned report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that was released just before Easter. It is in the public domain; it is there for everyone to see; and it was an independent appraisal commissioned by the former Minister for education of the failings of the Welsh education system. I quote again to you, First Minister. It said that the Labour Welsh Government ‘lacks a long-term vision’, that the implementation by Labour Ministers was ‘weak’, and that teachers were ‘overwhelmed’ by constant reform.
 
You then refer to a report that your Government has sat on since 2007. We know that there has been a damning indictment of failure on education delivery by your Government and successive Labour Governments. You are unable to give us any indication of where you want to see our rankings in 2015. Is it any wonder that there is a bunker mentality at the heart of your Government and that your eyes are shut with regard to education? What do you want for Welsh education? Do you want to reform and improve or do you want to carry on as you always have done?
 
13:46
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
When the leader of the opposition is caught out he thinks that, by speaking for a long time and shouting, he can avoid the fact that he has been caught out; we know that. Given what his party is doing in England with the endless weekly reforms being implemented there, he is on weak ground. He has not seen the report. That is what we now know. He has not seen that report. He is drawing on a piece of paper that he is reading from and not from the report itself, and so he is drawing from a report that he has not in fact himself seen. That much is a fact. He does not know what the report contains. He does not know what recommendations have been taken up by the Welsh Government. All he knows is what he has read in the media. Nevertheless, he does tell us, of course, that he is dumbfounded. It does not take much. It does not take much—we know that; we have seen it many, many times in this Chamber. I noted today that, at his press conference, he said that he is not a career politician. I applaud that point of view. [Laughter.] He is not a career politician; he can go back to a business whenever he wants to. May I say that we on these benches would like nothing more than to see him stay until at least April 2016?
 
Geological Disposal Programmes
 
13:47
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s policy on geological disposal programmes in Wales? OAQ(4)1621(FM)
 
13:47
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Since 2008, Welsh Government policy has been to neither support nor oppose geological disposal for higher-activity radioactive waste. However, the Minister for Natural Resources and Food has today launched a call for evidence, seeking views as to whether the policy for disposal of HAW should be reviewed. However, historically, such waste has gone to Sellafield and there is no sign that this will change in future.
 
13:48
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
May I thank you for the statement made earlier today? As we understand it, the Government has no view in favour or against geological disposal. That is a disappointment for the people of Anglesey. However, I welcome the fact that there is a review possibly in the pipeline. I invite the First Minister, given the clear views in Anglesey against such disposal on the island, to say that he will now be entirely clear in his support for a campaign against any disposal of that sort, which would import radioactive material to Anglesey in future.
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are not in favour of any importing of waste into Wales. We are not in favour of any burial of such waste. We want to ensure that the position that has existed so far continues, namely that the waste goes to Sellafield. We do not intend to change that, and neither does the UK Government from what we can see.
 
13:49
Russell GeorgeBiography
Even though the Welsh Government has decided to reserve the powers over geological disposal facilities, should a community in Wales wish to express an interest in hosting a GDF, would it still make that expression to you, which would then compel you to consider your policy position, or would it direct that interest to the UK Government?
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I know not of any community in Wales that is volunteering to accept waste of this kind but the policy up until now—and I hope that it remains this way—has always been that, where communities wish to accept the waste, as the communities around Sellafield have done, that should continue to be the case.
 
Opencast Mining Locations
 
13:49
Lindsay WhittleBiography
4. Will the First Minister clarify the Welsh Government's policy towards opencast mining locations in Wales? OAQ(4)1623(FM)
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
In answer to the Member’s question, I can refer him to previous answers I have given this afternoon, particularly with regard to ‘Minerals Planning Policy Wales’ and MTAN 2.
 
13:50
Lindsay WhittleBiography
If the Nant Llesg opencast mining operation in the Rhymney valley goes ahead, and I oppose it, a number of companies in the area have already said that they will relocate. We know that jobs are needed in the Heads of the Valleys area, but do you think that it is right to put the promise of relatively few and short-term opencast mining jobs above the enormous environmental cost that would be the result of opencast mining? We, the people of the communities of Nant Llesg, Varteg and Llwydcoed, have paid the price of coal. Do you agree that we need protection by law?
 
13:50
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Member will understand that I cannot comment on any individual planning application, but I reiterate the fact that the buffer zone exists within the MTAN and within ‘Minerals Planning Policy Wales’.
 
13:50
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
First Minister, when I sat on the Petitions Committee in the last Assembly, we dealt with many petitions in relation to opencast mining and the planning process. Your Government is bringing forward a new planning Bill. Has your Government given any consideration to making more robust the procedures that enable members of the public and interested parties to contribute to the decision-making process around these applications? One of the big things that I come across time and again is the disconnect that many people feel that they have from the decision-making process on such applications.
 
13:51
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There are always calls, and I have heard them before, that buffer zones should, for example, be put into law. The difficulty with that is: where does it end? Do you end up with no planning policy and everything contained in a Bill, in which case there is no flexibility, or do you carry on with the situation where the planning system is set up by law, but planning policy and guidance are done through MTANs and through TANs? That is what we have to wrestle with. The difficulty with suggesting, for example—he did not suggest this, but it has been suggested before—that you introduce a buffer zone in law, particularly with regard to opencast mining, is why not do it for everything else? Why pick on only one particular area? Of course, that opens up the debate as to what the balance is between policy and law. In Scotland, for example, we know that even though there was, if I remember rightly, a wider buffer zone, there were still successful planning applications for opencast mining within the buffer zone; it is not quite what it appears to be on occasion. I believe that the approach that we have taken, historically, as a Government is the right one, namely to put in place a buffer zone, rather than the approach that has been taken in England by Governments of different parties, where, instead of having a physical buffer zone, there have been a number of criteria that have to be met. We do not think that that is the right approach, and we believe that the buffer-some approach is the correct one.
 
13:52
William PowellBiography
First Minister, it was my privilege to accept an invitation to speak at the rally last week of the united Valleys action group at Ystrad Mynach with regard to the particular application that was referenced earlier by Lindsay Whittle AM. One issue that was brought up by some of the activists at that event was the alleged practice of some operators within the opencast sector of dipping into community funds so as to top up their own legal war chests to fight challenges brought by the community that those funds were intended to compensate. If that was borne out to be true, First Minister, would you condemn such a practice and, secondly, would you undertake to strengthen the guidance around the governance of such community funds in the future so as to avoid such dangers?
 
13:53
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It is a serious point that the Member raises. If he could write to me with further detail—if he wishes, he could pass that detail on confidentially—I would be willing to consider the points that he has made.
 
13:53
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We have reached question 6, which is to be asked by Mohammad Asghar.
 
Services for Dementia Sufferers
 
13:53
Mohammad AsgharBiography
5. What action will the Welsh Government take in 2014 to improve services for dementia sufferers in Wales? OAQ(4)1609(FM)
 
13:53
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I believe that this is question 5, Llywydd, rather than question 6.
 
13:54
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I beg your pardon; it is question 5, but it is still Mohammad Asghar.
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
‘Together for Mental Health’ sets out the steps being taken to further improve dementia services. Our focus is on improving rates of diagnosis, raising awareness and increasing access to information and support. We will continue to work to improve standards in primary care, in district general hospital settings and, of course, within community services.
 
13:54
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you very much, First Minister, for the reply. A recent review by Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales found that dementia services across Wales were not sustainable. It found significant gaps in planning and provision of prevention and early intervention services, while services for carers varied, and were underdeveloped in some areas. What action will the Welsh Government take to address these issues and to improve services for dementia sufferers in Wales?
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I would refer the Member to the dementia friends initiative that was launched in January by the Minister. It was the Alzheimer’s Society’s initiative. It is funded by Welsh Government and it is designed to increase wider understanding to augment advocacy services and to roll out training for those delivering care. The aim, of course, is to bring the issue of dementia to the forefront of people’s minds in communities across Wales. That initiative, of course, is another example of our commitment to providing a dementia-friendly Wales.
 
13:55
Lynne NeagleBiography
First Minister, I was pleased to go along to the launch of the dementia friends initiative along with colleagues from across the Chamber, and I certainly commend this initiative. The approach of trying to turn all communities into dementia-friendly communities is valuable, particularly given the fact that we know that two thirds of people with dementia live in the community rather than in a care setting. While welcoming the support for the initiative in terms of funding from the Welsh Government, will you personally commit to supporting this initiative and leading on this through the Welsh Government as we seek to turn Wales into a dementia-friendly country?
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I can say to the Member that dementia friends does have my support, and that of the Government, of course, in that regard. Dementia friends will help us to realise a more compassionate society and, in turn, give confidence to those with dementia and their families and carers. We know that, by increasing public awareness, we can help to ensure that those with dementia are treated in the least restrictive and most understanding way possible. It is for that reason that we also support the appeal that the Alzheimer’s Society has made for 4,000 volunteers to come forward to participate.
 
13:56
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, Wales has the lowest diagnosis rates for dementia in the UK, at 38.8%. In other parts of the UK, there is a target for diagnosis. A diagnosis is crucially important as it is often the key that unlocks both statutory and non-statutory services and support for the individual and their carers and families. Could you outline what specific steps the Welsh Government is taking to improve the diagnosis rate in Wales?
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. We are confident that the Wales mental health in primary care network primary care training module and the use of intelligent targets will help us to realise real progress in 2014. There is work to be done, and the Member is correct in pointing that out. There will be a forthcoming Public Health Wales audit on the capacity and activities of memory assessment services, which will help us to identify where those improvements are needed. Those measures, together with the impact of the 2010 Measure and the continued use of the Alzheimer’s Society’s cognitive assessment toolkit, will help us to improve performance this year. Of that, we are confident.
 
13:57
Rebecca EvansBiography
First Minister, a chain of care homes operating across Wales plans to offer CCTV in residents’ rooms to help stop abuse, neglect and theft by staff. On the one hand, it could prevent abuse, but, equally, I am quite uneasy about filming intimate care procedures or filming people who are unable to give their own consent to that. What is the Welsh Government’s approach and will you provide guidance?
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I do appreciate the concerns. Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales will be meeting with the care home operators next week to discuss how they plan to address the concerns that you raise. The inspectorate will want to understand what full consideration has been given to this proposal, particularly the difficulty of filming when someone is receiving intimate care and the impact on their dignity. I think that that needs to be resolved fully before such an initiative is taken forward. That meeting will be important next week.
 
National Health Service Targets
 
13:58
Elin JonesBiography
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on progress towards meeting Welsh Government targets for the NHS? OAQ(4)1612(FM)
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We continue to make progress on the majority of national health service targets. I am sure that the Member will welcome the investment in Bronglais hospital on the new accident and emergency department, the new maternity department and the new department for out-of-hours GP services.
 
13:59
Elin JonesBiography
First Minister, 95% of patients in Scotland receive an MRI scan within six weeks, while 98% of patients in England do so. However, only 56% of Welsh patients get MRI scans within six weeks, and only 76% get an MRI scan within 12 weeks. I am sure that you agree that such performance compares unacceptably for us in Wales. In your opinion, why are Scotland and England succeeding to provide scans within six weeks for over 95% of their patients, while Wales manages to provide MRI scans for only 56% of our patients within six weeks?
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Those figures are correct, of course. There is scope, therefore, to improve the situation. However, there are areas where we are doing better than Scotland or England, in terms of cancer, for example, where the situation in Wales is much better than in England. It is true to say, according to the Nuffield report, that there is not much difference between the health services in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is an objective report that shows the situation. It is a big disappointment that the Member has not welcomed the substantial investment made in Bronglais hospital.
 
14:00
Aled RobertsBiography
First Minister, I want to move on to CT scans in north Wales, where Government standards seek a target of around eight weeks. Over Easter, I had a conversation with a patient who was asked to wait for 14 weeks for a CT scan. It had also been suggested to the patient that the scan would be available privately if he were willing to pay £350. Is that acceptable within the national health service?
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It is very difficult, of course, for me to give a view on the situation of an individual without knowing the full details. However, the Member is welcome to write to me with the details so that we can consider the situation of that individual.
 
Regenerating Town Centres
 
14:01
Keith DaviesBiography
7. Will the First Minister provide an update on Welsh Government activity to regenerate town centres? OAQ(4)1620(FM)
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Our ‘Vibrant and Viable Places’ framework sets the policy for the regeneration of town centres in Wales. We are also providing business improvement district support and developing a town centre loan fund. We will lead a high street support campaign this autumn, among other actions.
 
14:01
Keith DaviesBiography
I am pleased to hear that update, and I am sure that those funds will be used within our communities. What concerns me, in walking through Llanelli town centre, is that there are so many vacant units, including some above shop fronts. Could we use this funding to turn those vacant spaces into flats, as happens in other towns in Wales?
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There is a meeting this afternoon, I understand, between officials from every local authority, including Carmarthenshire, in order to consider the criteria for this investment. This is a project that has been set out as a project that could come within this scheme. I am sure that this matter will be considered this afternoon, during the meeting that I mentioned.
 
14:02
William GrahamBiography
Last week, we all welcomed the welcome news that a £13 million investment could take place in Ebbw Vale town centre. Such regeneration is obviously welcome to us all. Would the First Minister join me in supporting the proposed Circuit of Wales racetrack, which would not only regenerate Ebbw Vale, but also the surrounding boroughs, for years to come?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Again, the Member will know that I am in some difficulty over commenting on this, given the potential proposals for re-registration of common land. Nevertheless, I am aware of the full circumstances surrounding the application.
 
14:03
Simon ThomasBiography
First Minister, would you agree with me that the £0.5 million that has just been provided to Llanelly House directly from European funds shows the value of membership of the European Union for us here in Wales? Further, at the other end of the town of Llanelli, what can the Welsh Government do to improve Llanelli station, which looks in a very poor state at present, given that the Eisteddfod is about to visit the area?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
In terms of the station, we do not own the station. A request has not come before us at the moment about improving the station, but I understand the point that the Member is making. In terms of Llanelly House, the £555,000 would not have been there except for the fact that we are members of the European Union. It shows once more the worth of our membership to the people of Wales.
 
14:04
Eluned ParrottBiography
First Minister, business rates continue to be a critical issue for town centre businesses. We know that in places like Newport, where there has been a catastrophic decline in occupancy and therefore rental values, the decision to delay the revaluation for business rates, which could have brought down business rates quite considerably, has been met with dismay, obviously. What assessment have you made of the impact that that delay is going to have on town centre businesses in Wales, and how can we make the rating system in future more responsive to these kinds of changing circumstances?
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We look forward, of course, to business rates being fully devolved; they are not yet. We know that the UK Government supports their devolution, and we trust that this will happen sooner rather than later.
 
Disabled Access to Sporting Venues
 
14:05
Ann JonesBiography
8. What assessment has the First Minister made of disabled access to sporting venues in Wales? OAQ(4)1614(FM)
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We work with the providers of sporting venues and we support the provision of appropriate disability access to those venues across Wales, although, of course, ultimate responsibility for this provision rests with the owners of the venues.
 
14:05
Ann JonesBiography
Thank you very much for that, First Minister. I do know that the governing bodies have responsibility, but, having travelled across Wales in support of a team you all know I support—I will mention it: Rhyl FC, which is now in the top six of the Welsh Premier League—I have been dismayed to find that disabled facilities vary across sporting venues, and that goes for rugby fields as well. Often, disabled people are left, not to sit with the travelling fans, but to sit on their own. Where we have segregation, because there are some people who cannot get along with everybody else—I do not know why, but there are—disabled people are often left and can be quite vulnerable. What can the Government do to talk to governing bodies about how they make sure that disabled people who want to just spectate can be made safe, while also feeling part of the travelling team or the home team that they want to support?
 
14:06
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I can say to the Member that Level Playing Field, formerly the National Association of Disabled Supporters, has undertaken an audit of all Welsh Premier League stadiums on behalf of the Football Association of Wales throughout this season. The FAW is awaiting the results of that audit. I know that the FAW itself encourages all domestic league clubs to undertake a review of their own procedures with regard to the level of service provided for spectators with disabilities, but I can say that the Minister for Culture and Sport is soon to meet with the FAW. I will ask him to raise your concerns with the FAW, and I shall ensure that those concerns are also conveyed to the Welsh Rugby Union.
 
14:06
Nick RamsayBiography
I should have realised that this question was a chance for Ann Jones to get in a well-earned plug for Rhyl FC.
 
First Minister, you have just mentioned the Level Playing Field organisation that has done a lot of work in this area to try to increase disabled access to sporting venues. Actually, the two Welsh clubs currently in the Premier League came out very well in a recent report on disabled access, but that sort of disabled access success is not mirrored lower down the league pyramid, or, indeed, in other sporting venues. I would be grateful if, following on from your answer to Ann Jones, you could tell us what you are going to do to try to spread that good practice, which some football clubs in Wales are doing, to other areas of sporting life.
 
14:07
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I believe that I answered the Member’s question in the answer I gave to Ann Jones. He refers to Cardiff City Stadium and Liberty Stadium; they are fairly new stadiums, so it would be expected that they should have the best facilities possible for disabled spectators, but, of course, not every stadium is that new. We are waiting to see the result of the audit that is being carried out on behalf of the FAW, and I have mentioned, of course, the meeting that the Minister will be having in due course.
 
14:08
Lindsay WhittleBiography
What consideration is the Welsh Government prepared to give to assisting local authorities to provide special changing room facilities for disabled people using leisure centres?
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I think that the first thing to understand is the extent of the issue, as there are some local authorities that have newer facilities than others. It is important that local authorities do have an understanding of the adequacy of the changing facilities that they have within their own boundaries. Then, of course, it might be possible to see what might be done to assist.
 
Safeguarding Welsh as a Community Language
 
14:08
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress of the Welsh Government’s efforts to safeguard Welsh as a community language? OAQ(4)1617(FM)
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Welsh Government undertakes a range of activities to increase the use of the Welsh language and to safeguard the language as a community language. I will present a policy statement to the Assembly that will respond to the main findings of recent reviews in this area and offer foundations for implementation over the next three years.
 
14:09
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
In the ‘Cynhadledd Fawr’ that you assembled in Aberystwyth, one of the main findings was that population movement is an important factor in the decline in the number of areas where the Welsh language is the language of day-to-day communication. In looking at the Government’s policies and plans, we note that the new TAN 20 does not change hardly anything in terms of what was previously in place under TAN 20. There has been no further guidance, although that was promised, in order to demonstrate how that TAN is to be implemented, and there is no reference to the Welsh language in the proposed draft planning Bill. What is the Government’s intention, therefore, in responding to this outcome of the ‘Cynhadledd Fawr’ that you yourself called?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Work has been done to ensure that a consistent assessment is available to each local authority to use. There are good examples where this has happened already—for example, in Gwynedd. In terms of the point that the Member made regarding the planning Bill, I am open to anything that could be done to strengthen the position of the Welsh language in terms of the planning system. What would need to be considered is in which way talking about the Welsh language in the Bill itself would make a difference. That is something that we could consider in the future.
 
14:10
Keith DaviesBiography
I welcome the work that has been done in Carmarthenshire, which is Labour-led, by the cross-party executive group on the census. The full council has now accepted the report and I hope that you are looking forward, as I am, to seeing it being delivered.
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I am looking forward to that because it is extremely important that Carmarthenshire County Council plays a key role in ensuring the future of the Welsh language in the county and I am very happy that the county itself has moved this forward. As you have said, it has now accepted the report itself, but what is extremely important is that the report is implemented in order to ensure that the problems that we have seen in every part of Carmarthenshire, in my opinion, are reduced in the next decade and that we see the Welsh language growing—not only in terms of the numbers of Welsh speakers, but also the use of the Welsh language in the old mining communities especially.
 
14:11
Paul DaviesBiography
First Minister, in response to the task and finish group on Welsh-speaking communities, as a Government you say that you will consider a designated fund to support Welsh-speaking communities, along with making changes to the way that you fund the ‘mentrau iaith’. Can you tell us when you, as a Government, will make a final decision as to whether such a fund will be established?
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That will be part of the statement that will be made by me in the National Assembly.
 
Front-Line Advice Services
 
14:12
Joyce WatsonBiography
10. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of front-line advice services? OAQ(4)1610(FM)
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Further funding of £1 million is available this year for front-line advice services that offer help with welfare benefits, debt and money management and discrimination advice. Not-for-profit advice providers, many of which have seen their budgets cut, can apply for this grant to help them to continue to provide services.
 
14:12
Joyce WatsonBiography
I am very pleased to hear that and, of course, I welcome the announcement of the extra £1 million fund. I recently did some work with the Bevan Foundation to examine the effects of spending cuts and benefit changes on women and their families in the Ystradgynlais area. One of the clear messages of that research was the importance of face-to-face and over-the-phone advice. I want to ask, Minister, whether there might be any more money for free debt services next year, when pay-day lenders will also have to pay the Financial Conduct Authority levy.
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I assure the Member that independent and not-for-profit organisations that can demonstrate that they have measures in place to quality assure the advice that they provide will be able to apply for the fund. For example, citizens advice bureaux, including the one in Powys, which was awarded a share of the funding in 2013-14, will have the opportunity, along with other advice providers that have had their funding cut, to apply for the funding, as long as they meet the eligibility criteria.
 
14:13
Antoinette SandbachBiography
First Minister, access to front-line health advice services is vital in rural areas. The latest rural observatory report highlights the difficulties that those living in rural areas have in accessing health advice in their immediate community. This is most obvious in dentistry, where 84% of rural communities do not have access to a locally based dentist. What does your Government plan to do to increase dental services in rural areas?
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It depends what she means by ‘a locally based dentist’. There are dentists in rural areas. There was a time when it was difficult to access an NHS dentist in many parts of Wales, but that is an issue that seems to have diminished greatly over time. Services are available to people in rural areas as they are in urban areas.
 
14:14
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
First Minister, would you consider developing a bedroom tax appeals strategy to assist tenants in their plight?
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I do not know what a bedroom tax appeals strategy is. Of course, if the Member could provide me with information on that, I would be more than happy. I am more than happy, of course, to condemn the bedroom tax, as I have done before. If the Member is suggesting that an appeal fund should be put in place, then that is something that we would be perfectly willing to consider, but in terms of an appeals strategy—. Well, anyway, I invite the Member to provide further details to see what we can do in order to move forward with our shared aim of condemning the bedroom tax.
 
14:15
Business Statement and Announcement
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Local Government and Government Business
I have one change to report to this week’s business. There are no questions for answer by the Counsel General this week. Timings tomorrow have been adjusted accordingly. Business for the next three weeks is as shown in the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers, which are available to Members electronically.
 
14:16
Mark IsherwoodBiography
I call for two statements: first, on education programmes in Wales to discourage young people from going down the route of criminality by making informed choices and encouraging good citizenship. You will be aware of the ‘Justice in a Day’ events across north Wales in recent weeks and months, run jointly between the police and community trust and Clwyd Theatr Cymru, with professional actors working with young people aged 14 and 15 from schools through drama on issues such as youth assault, peer pressure, underage drinking, use of social media, and how to tackle those. A statement on this would be welcome. My last recollection of a reference to this was in the substance misuse strategy, when the Welsh Government was highlighting the work of South Wales Police going into schools in a uniformed capacity, but the power of this is that it is a partnership with the police, but delivered by actors in an interactive environment with no uniforms present.
 
Secondly and finally, could I call for a statement on the substance misuse peer monitoring scheme? During recess, Members received a letter from the Minister for Health and Social Services confirming that the scheme had ended at the end of March this year, but his officials have been working closely with the Welsh European Funding Office and the six third-sector providers, seeking a further extension to September, when, hopefully, a new scheme may kick in. We learned that the European Court of Audit produced a report for or to the Welsh Government on 7 March, which raised issues that
 
‘were both new to the Welsh European Funding Office and the peer mentoring project team’.
 
However, the drug and alcohol charities that have been delivering the scheme in Wales advise that the cessation of the service is a severe blow for health, substance misuse and criminal justice in Wales, despite having worked extensively and hard to push for continued provision pending the next funding round from the autumn.
 
‘The inescapable impediment centres on queries concerning Welsh European Funding Office and Welsh Government audit of the scheme. We are comfortable, for clarity, that we have fulfilled our obligations in this regard.’
 
Could we have a statement to this Chamber accordingly?
 
14:18
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I am aware of many educational programmes that are being undertaken right across Wales with young people to prevent them entering the criminal justice system. Just last week I visited South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and its Project Bernie, which works with young people in that way. I am sure that the Minister for education can look at that as part of the curriculum review.
 
On your second question, around substance misuse, as you said, the Minister for Health and Social Services informed Members over the Easter recess that his officials were undertaking a piece of work and would report by the end of September.
 
14:19
Rebecca EvansBiography
I would welcome a statement from the Welsh Government following a change in the UK law that means that it is now legal for people to test themselves for HIV at home and to read the result at home. The first kits are due to be on the market towards the end of this year, or the beginning of next year, I understand, and this is good news because it might increase diagnosis, but I am keen to know the Welsh Government’s approach to ensuring that people who do decide to diagnose themselves at home have access to all the professional advice and support that they would need.
 
14:19
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I think that is a very important point. As you say, the law changed on 6 April 2014, and that does make self-testing kits available. I do think it will increase options for people in the way they are tested. We know that there are possibly up to about 25,000 people who live in the UK with HIV and are undiagnosed. I think it is important to recognise that the self-test kit will not replace clinic-based testing. I think that it is also important to note that a self-test result that is reactive—that is, positive—does not mean that a person definitely has HIV. The guidance and information following such a self-test result is that they should then have a clinical test performed so that they can know what the outcome is.
 
14:20
Simon ThomasBiography
May I tell the Minister for business how disappointed I am that I will not have my usual opportunity to ask my normal question to the Counsel General tomorrow, as there is a clash of events this week? Could I ask the Minister to look specifically at two things? First of all, there has been no statement today on an important piece of research published by the Government on skills and the Welsh language. There has been a press release, Presiding Officer, but no statement to this Chamber, and I would like to ask why there is no statement to be made by a Minister so that Members can actually have a direct look at that research.
 
The second thing that I would like to ask the Minister is on the role of the Electoral Commission in Wales. I am sure that the Minister will be aware that a party was allowed to register in Wales with a description that makes reference to the appalling murder that happened on the streets of London, and that that description could lead to tension within some of our communities. I am extremely disappointed that that happened in Wales. I am disappointed that the Electoral Commission allowed that to happen, and I do think that the chair of the commission should stand down immediately, because this is not the first time that the Electoral Commission has made a terrible error in terms of the advice that it provides to candidates in Wales. However, specifically, is it now the Government’s intention to raise this issue directly with the commission and to raise the issue with the Speaker of the House of Commons, who, as I understand it, is responsible for overseeing the work of the Electoral Commission, not just in England but also in Wales?
 
14:22
Lesley GriffithsBiography
The Counsel General was also very disappointed that you withdrew your question, for very legitimate reasons.
 
In relation to your first point, regarding the research in relation to skills and the Welsh language, I will ask the Minister to make a written statement.
 
In relation to Britain First, I think that you are absolutely right—it is absolutely appalling that this tiny political party should use the tragic events of a year ago in this way. I was made aware of it at the weekend; I had conversations with my officials. Obviously, this is a UK Government issue. However, it is only Wales that is going to be affected. I can reassure Members that I have already written to Greg Clark, the Cabinet Office Minister responsible, putting forward my views that something should be done as soon as possible. I think, most importantly, it is so hurtful for the family of the late Lee Rigby. We are not sure what can be done in such a short timescale. However, again, my officials met with Cabinet Office officials yesterday to offer any help that we can give. Obviously, the chair of the Electoral Commission has admitted that this should not happen. The fault lies with her organisation, and I think that she has to consider whether this is down to a failure of corporate management and obviously consider her position accordingly.
 
14:23
William PowellBiography
I would like to request an update, leader of the house, from you or the Minister for Natural Resources and Food regarding the proposed changes to the dog breeding regulations. These have been some time in the gestation, and I think that it is fair to say that there is quite a lot of concern across Wales among organisations, particularly dog welfare organisations, to have clarity on the matter. I have been seeking advice from the Minister on this, and I think that it would be useful if that could be brought forward in the near future.
 
14:24
Lesley GriffithsBiography
The Minister will be bringing forward further information on this before the summer recess.
 
14:24
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Minister, you will know that, in England, there is a cancer drugs fund that is available for those who cannot obtain drugs under the NHS, which allows them to argue that they fall within certain criteria. There is very detailed information set out by the cancer drugs fund as to the circumstances that have to exist in order for the applications to be successful.
 
Of course, here in Wales, that is a much more ad hoc process, and the patients have to make out an exceptional case, but there does not seem to be any kind of guidance available in the way that there is for the cancer drugs fund. I am sure that you will be aware of constituents in your own constituency in Wrexham, who have also written to me about concerns that they have been told that they have to go over the border to England because there has not been a single approval of treatment of a particular cancer drug in Wales since that drug has been available. I would like to call for a statement from the Minister as to the criteria that the health board should publish to ensure that there is transparency and consistency of decision making in these exceptional case circumstances. After all, this is an NHS that we hope is available and has support for people in the very worst times of their life, and being told to move over the border when you are facing the last moments of your lifetime, effectively, is not an acceptable response from the Welsh NHS.
 
14:26
Lesley GriffithsBiography
The Welsh Government takes the view that a cancer drugs fund is not needed. There are no drugs available in England that are not available in Wales. Where do you stop? Do you have a drugs fund for multiple sclerosis? Do you have a drugs fund for Parkinson’s disease? Every drug is available. The criteria are there. Every clinician can apply to that panel to have those drugs for their patient.
 
14:26
Joyce WatsonBiography
Could I ask for a Government statement to update Members on the latest situation at the Murco refinery in Milford Haven? Over the Easter recess, on 11 April in fact, the Minister announced the establishment of a special taskforce to help to secure the future of that refinery. That is very welcome and well supported in the Milford Haven area, where there are over 400 jobs in the plant alone and 1,200 jobs potentially at risk in the wider community. So, could I ask the Minister for an update report on what progress has been made so far, as soon as that is possible?
 
14:27
Lesley GriffithsBiography
As you stated, the Minister for the Economy, Science and Transport has established a taskforce to support the company in maintaining the future of the refinery operations at the site. The taskforce is led by Lord Nick Bourne, chair of the Milford Haven enterprise zone board, and the membership of the group includes representation from the UK Government. The Minister will update Members as appropriate.
 
14:27
Peter BlackBiography
Minister, could I ask for two statements, please? The first one is in relation to the data security breach at three Welsh councils in relation to the electoral role data. I am interested in what contact the Government has had with those councils where they have been in touch with other councils, many of which share the same software, to find out if this is happening elsewhere in Wales. I would be interested if the Minister could give us a written statement on that particular issue.
 
I would also like an oral statement on the decision to give a £3 million invest-to-save loan to the proposal to merge the control rooms of Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service and the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, which is causing some concern in my region and elsewhere in Wales, particularly in terms of access to Welsh-language services but also in terms of back up and familiarity with the huge area that that control room will take. I think it would be useful to have an opportunity to be able to question Ministers on what rationale was put in place to give that loan.
 
14:28
Lesley GriffithsBiography
In relation to your first question regarding the data security breach, that is work that is currently being undertaken, and I am happy to update Members at the most appropriate time. In relation to the invest-to-save funding, I have just today signed a letter to the Member. Several other Members have raised this with me, and I will be very happy to share that information.
 
14:29
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Leader of the house, could I endorse the comments made by Simon Thomas in his earlier remarks, and also seek a point of clarification? You said that you had written to the Westminster Government. As I understand it, the Electoral Commission is accountable to the Speaker and the House of Commons. Can you clarify whether you have engaged with the Speaker in making your views known?
 
However, the substantive point that I want to raise with you today is this: is it possible to have a statement from the Minister for transport in relation to the Coryton roundabout? In fairness to the Minister, she has been very gracious in some of the answers that she has given to me about traffic management around the improvements that have been made around the Coryton roundabout, but there was an accident on 29 March that caused traffic chaos in that area and, as I am led to believe, there is a real issue around the management of the traffic lights system. Anyone familiar with that roundabout knows that there is an inordinate amount of traffic lights on every junction, which is causing widespread congestion because of people jumping the lights and being in the way of through traffic and blocking traffic movement. So, if a statement could be forthcoming from the Minister on traffic management on that vital arterial route into Cardiff, and onto the M4, I would be most grateful.
 
14:30
Lesley GriffithsBiography
The Minister will issue a written statement on the traffic management at the Coryton roundabout.
 
In relation to the Electoral Commission, I wrote to Greg Clark because he is the UK elections Minister. He has subsequently written to the Speaker because he is responsible for looking at that within his role. I have made our views very clear to Greg Clark. As I mentioned in my answer to Simon Thomas, we are the only country that this is going to affect and we are horrified that this has happened; it is a truly shameful position.
 
14:31
Aled RobertsBiography
Minister, a comment has been made this afternoon already on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s report on education in Wales. There is nothing in the timetable on this within the next three weeks. Will the Government consider either a statement or an opportunity for us to discuss the content of the report in the Senedd so that we can learn lessons for the future?
 
14:31
Lesley GriffithsBiography
The Member will be aware that there have been issues around standards and performance in schools in recent years and that is why we have put in place a rigorous reform agenda. We did, as a Government, welcome the recent report that, as you say, we commissioned, and its main thrust was that Wales should keep its focus on the long-term and sustained school improvement strategy and that is what we are doing.
 
14:32
William GrahamBiography
Minister, I rise for the third time to draw your attention to incidents of arson. You will be well aware of the number of grassland fires just recently in the last few weeks, particularly the fire at Caldicott School. The recent dry period has seen our fire and services answer over 500 calls to tackle grass fires, many of which were actually cases of arson. As we are only in the early part of the summer, clearly something needs to be done at this period. How are you going to get the message across that arson is not a victimless crime, that it sometimes causes substantial damage to property, and often to wildlife, and that it places our fire service personnel and the arsonists themselves in some danger? Can we have a statement on the measures being taken to deliver this message?
 
14:32
Lesley GriffithsBiography
We are working very closely with the fire and rescue authorities. You may have heard me mention in an earlier answer that just last week I took part in Project Bernie, which is a South Wales Fire and Rescue Service project that works with young children aged nine, 10 and 11 who have been identified as being on the cusp of offending. When I was at Maesteg fire station, I was told that the figure for grass fires, for instance, in the first quarter of this year had dropped significantly. I think that it was about 150 instead of the 450 in the comparable quarter of last year. However, we have experienced a high volume of grass fires over the Easter period, which, apparently, is a particularly bad time for them. So, we will continue to promote projects such as Project Bernie, and the Phoenix Project, which you are aware of, to try to get that message out that lighting grass fires is arson, and that any arson obviously has serious consequences.
 
14:34
Statement: Welsh and UK Government Alignment of Employment Support
Kenneth SkatesBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology
I am grateful for this opportunity to highlight the work currently being undertaken between the Welsh Government and the UK Government to better align employment and skills services to support jobseekers in Wales. As a substantial policy area devolved to the Welsh Government, skills have a major impact on both the economic and social wellbeing of Wales. Together with policy action to support the employability of individuals, skills provide a strong lever for tackling poverty and strengthening the creation of jobs and growth. However, one of the key challenges we face is the fact that employment policy remains within the ambit of central Government. In order to be fully effective, we must clearly take action to join up our devolved responsibilities with those that remain at a national Government level. Over recent months, we have seen a number of high-profile commentaries in the press around the opportunities that are available to unemployed people in Wales, and the perceived disparity between Welsh Government and UK Government actions, in particular linked to the Department for Work and Pension’s flagship employment scheme, the Work Programme.
 
Early evidence suggests that the Work Programme performance in Wales has experienced some challenges in providing the levels of support that individuals need for employment. In November 2013, the Welsh Affairs Committee published a report into the operation of the Work Programme in Wales, and made several recommendations that will require active collaboration between the DWP and the Welsh Government. These relate primarily to current Welsh Government policy in respect of Work Programme participants accessing Welsh Government and European social fund-funded skills provision. There are some clear challenges here that require detailed exploration, not least the need to demonstrate added value, and to ensure that there is no overlap or duplication in funding coming into the system from different Governments.
 
However, we cannot ignore the fact that we have a common aim with the DWP to support those seeking work, and to fulfil their ambition of gaining sustained employment. We want to ensure that jobseekers in Wales have access to the widest range of help available, and we want to work with the DWP to simplify access to respective employment and skills programmes. In November last year, I met with Esther McVey, the UK Minister of State for Employment, to discuss the support and access to skills training that is being offered to Welsh jobseekers. During this meeting, an agreement was made to look at practical solutions to enable this, including the creation of a senior level working group to take the agenda forward—the employment working group: Wales. This working group is jointly chaired by the DWP and the Welsh Government’s Department for Education and Skills. Its remit is to take forward the recommendations arising from the Welsh Affairs Committee’s report on the Work Programme, and any other issues that require closer collaboration between the two Governments to ensure better alignment of employment policy.
 
With specific regard to the Work Programme, there are a number of key actions currently being progressed through the working group. These include: the Welsh Government putting systems in place to ensure that Work Programme participants are able to access apprenticeship opportunities as a valid employment outcome; the DWP agreeing to provide further information to Welsh Government officials on the likely demand for essential skills provision, and more information on the type of essential skills support being provided by the Work Programme; the DWP undertaking further analysis with Work Programme providers to identify the nature of any unmet demand, which can be considered by Welsh Government officials in the development of future skills delivery arrangements; and the Welsh Government working with the DWP to explore potential solutions relating to access for exiting Work Programme participants to other core Welsh Government schemes, such as Jobs Growth Wales.
 
Aside from the Work Programme issues, there are a number of areas where the Welsh Government and the DWP are already working together with common purpose to understand and mitigate the particular challenges that are faced by those accessing the labour market in Wales. I have already referred to the devolved/non-devolved nature of the relationship between the two Governments. In view of this, there will always remain differences between the operation of the benefits system, and the actions that support people seeking work in Wales. One particular issue relates to the conditionality regime, which is an inherent part of the benefits system—an individual claims financial support from the state with the expectation, in the majority of cases, that individuals will undertake specific actions to improve their chances of moving into sustained employment.
 
While it is acknowledged that there needs to be an emphasis on certain conditions of entitlement within the benefits system, the Welsh Government has always had reservations around the application of benefit sanctions, where individuals may not have been able to comply with those conditions. The Welsh Government position on skills conditionality was formally approved by Cabinet in November 2011. Our policy has been to prevent mandation onto Welsh Government funded provision, pending further evidence from the DWP to support any change in approach. As a result, the DWP introduced its own skills provision in Wales, Skills for Work (Wales), through which it would test the conditionality regime and seek to provide the Welsh Government with the necessary evidence. The programme started in 2012, ran until January 2014, and the first set of statistics was published at the end of November 2013, followed by a more detailed report of findings in December.
 
Following the publication of the report, we have been considering the rationale for reviewing the Welsh Government’s position on skills conditionality. We felt that the evidence presented did not go far enough to convince us to change the current position and I have therefore agreed to a project that will test mandation onto Welsh Government skills provision for jobseekers with a basic skills need. The trial commenced this month and will run for one year until March 2015, following which a definitive decision will be made regarding the Welsh Government’s position on mandation onto skills support.
 
Further to these specific actions, the Welsh Government continues to develop and refine our response to the challenges facing the skills system as we aim to move towards a better integrated and more responsive system that offers better value for the limited resources available to us. This is not only our responsibility but a joint one across the whole skills system, whether it is nationally led or more regionally or locally focused. Our recently published skills policy statement and its accompanying implementation plan, which will be launched in July, along with our ongoing developments to establish programmes that provide relevant, flexible and cost-effective support to both businesses and individuals, are all testament to this joint ambition. Our ongoing relationship with the DWP as one of our key partners is vital if we are to realise this ambition, and I look forward to continuing our collaboration on this challenging agenda.
 
14:41
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Clearly, I have to welcome this statement, having called for it last March—and you responded positively on that occasion. I then referred to the need, in particular, for Jobs Growth Wales and the UK Work Programme to complement each other and to collaborate and be accessible together. I will come back to that point, as I note that your statement does not make that full commitment today.
 
We know that, last November, the Welsh Affairs Committee report on the Work Programme in Wales called on the UK and Welsh Governments to work collaboratively to secure access to skills training, and you have indicated that there has been dialogue with Esther McVey since that point. The concern was that people on the Work Programme in Wales have been denied access to Welsh Government schemes funded by the European social fund and that they are, in fact, still being denied it three years after the Work Programme was launched in Wales as well as the rest of the UK.
 
You state that early evidence suggests that Work Programme performance in Wales has experienced some challenges in providing the levels of support individuals need for employment. Do you, therefore, welcome the news that 26,000 of the 80,000 referrals to the Work Programme during the three years have now moved into jobs? This is the third year of what was a two-year programme, with referrals being for those furthest from the workplace of all ages and figures show that the performance target for 18 to 24-year-olds has been massively exceeded and the target for the over-25s has, once again, been significantly exceeded. I hope that we will all recognise that as being good news.
 
We very much welcome your announcement that the Welsh Government is putting systems in place to ensure that Work Programme participants can access apprenticeship opportunities as a valid employment outcome. We know that Work Programme providers have been calling for this consistently throughout the three-year period; it is good news, especially where overall apprenticeship participation in Wales fell between 2007 and 13 by 2.4%, but increased by 107.4% in England. I know that there is better news among younger people, before you say so, but we have to look at the whole cohort of people who can benefit.
 
You said that you are working with the DWP to explore potential solutions relating to access for exiting Work Programme participants to other core Government programmes, such as Jobs Growth Wales. How would you respond to the young woman who contacted me on the Thursday before Good Friday, who we did refer to your office, and we thank you for the efforts it made, even though we had circumvented the route? However, the rules prevented you or me from being able to help her. She had been required to go on the Work Programme and to apply for jobs, but she had not been able to access either of the jobs she was offered, because both required Jobs Growth Wales support. By 4 p.m. on the day before Good Friday, she was told by the latest employer that she had lost the job; it had gone to another person because she could not secure Jobs Growth Wales support. Would you agree that we should be helping young people like that young woman in north-east Wales and bending the system in any way possible to prevent that from happening again?
 
Finally, if I may refer to the Lift programme, we know that the Welsh Government made a written statement during recess on the scheme, which focuses on people who have spent more than six months out of work or training and face greater barriers, and that you were considering the possibility of an additional area in north-east Wales. Ironically, that was roughly during the same week as when the universal credit was launched at Shotton in north-east Wales, with support tailored to the individual and steps needed to move closer to work agreed with it. So, how will you ensure that your Lift programme and other programmes complement rather than replicate the universal credit, the Work Programme and the Help to Work scheme? I understand that providers for this in Wales are due to be announced today.
 
14:46
Kenneth SkatesBiography
I thank the Member for North Wales for his contribution. First of all, on Jobs Growth Wales and the Work Programme, I have seen Conservatives describe the performance of the Work Programme as being ‘impressive’. I would not agree with that; I think that that is like saying that the acceleration of an Austin Allegro is rapid. I would contend that those participating in Jobs Growth Wales have a far better chance of success in maintaining lasting employment. I fully support the Welsh Affairs Committee in its view that young people should be allowed to exit the Work Programme and to access Jobs Growth Wales opportunities. It rests with the DWP to allow young people to exit the Work Programme without sanctions, and I look forward to progress being made swiftly in this area.
 
The recent press articles in north Wales about Lucy Halfpenny, the constituent of Sandy Mewies and a young person who is on the Work Programme, highlight the injustice of the current position. I would like to quote what she had to say. She said:
 
‘I had no choice but to go on the Work Programme. If I hadn’t, they would have stopped my benefits. In essence, being on the Work Programme has stopped me getting a job. I’ve got a position but they’re keeping me on the dole. I have asked the DWP to relax the inflexibility of the Work Programme and allow young people to exit without sanctions to get meaningful jobs in Jobs Growth Wales.’
 
Turning to contractual arrangements for the Work Programme, it operates a black box delivery model. This means that activities are not specified, and so we are unable to determine at this moment where added value can be demonstrated for ESF purposes. This was one of the primary reasons for forming the joint board to look at exactly what is being offered via the black box contractual arrangements. At the moment, it has not been possible to rule out duplication of provision through the member states’ employment programmes, which we know is prohibited under ESF arrangements.
 
Turning to the Lift programme, the Lift programme is already operating, I believe, in five out of the eight cluster areas where it will be operating. There is an implementation board, which will be considering all of the factors involved in that programme and making sure that we have a joined-up approach across Government, which is one of the two main themes of the Lift programme.
 
14:48
Simon ThomasBiography
I thank the Deputy Minister for his statement this afternoon. It is clear from the statement that there a number of problems and difficulties remain in the co-ordination between what the Government here in Wales is doing and what the Government in Westminster is doing. That is very disappointing. I do not want to blame one side or the other—I want to see what the problems are and how we can resolve those problems, because we clearly need to see best use of public funds being made here. We also need to ensure that young people and, indeed, people of all ages in Wales who are unemployed have the best opportunity to improve and enhance those skills and to move to permanent employment.
 
In that context, I do not think that there is a great deal of hope in the Deputy Minister’s statement, as it reiterates what was found in the report produced by the Welsh Affairs Committee last year. Some of the recommendations of that committee should have been resolved by February of this year if I remember correctly, and it is clear that those problems still exist.
 
14:50
Kenneth SkatesBiography
No.
 
14:50
Simon ThomasBiography
Well, I hope that we will receive a response from the Deputy Minister in a few moments’ time.
 
I have to agree with the Deputy Minister on the Work Programme. The Welsh Affairs Committee stated clearly that the Work Programme in Wales was providing the lowest percentage of people who actually find permanent employment in the UK. So, it is not succeeding in Wales to the degree that it should, and it is clear, therefore, that we need better co-ordination between what the Work Programme is doing and what the Welsh Government is doing.
 
I have two specific questions arising from that. The first concerns access for people on the Work Programme to European social fund programmes. The Deputy Minister has just referred to this, but I have to ask him about it again because he is, if I may say so, using a great deal of jargon in talking about ‘black box funding’ and so on. I do not know what that is and I do not know whether there is anyone watching—if there is anyone watching—who knows what that means. So, could he please explain exactly what the problem is that precludes people on the Work Programme in Wales from accessing ESF schemes that would enhance their skills? Where are the barriers to that?
 
The second question arising concerns Jobs Growth Wales and the fact that it appears that, at present, it is not possible for someone to move immediately from the Work Programme to Jobs Growth Wales. I accept that the Government wants to see that happening and I assume that there is some problem in terms of the rules and regulations regarding penalties within the benefits system that precludes that from happening. Therefore, I would like greater detail on how we can resolve those problems and whether the resolution of that problem is one of the specific tasks of the working group he mentioned that has been established between him and Esther McVey. I would like to know that that is a particular task for that group.
 
My final question is on enforcement. The Deputy Minister said in his statement that the Government policy has not changed in terms of the mandatory approach within this system, namely that there will be penalties in terms of benefits. The Welsh Government has not adopted that approach. Having said that, if I understand it correctly, what you have announced today, Deputy Minister, is a pilot programme that will allow enforcement within the system and for penalties to be imposed if people do not move from the Work Programme to the pilot scheme on basic skills that you have announced today. That means that, if people refuse, there will be penalties within the benefits system. If that is the case, will you make that clear, because this will be the first time that the Welsh Government has agreed to take that approach?
 
14:53
Kenneth SkatesBiography
I would like to thank Simon Thomas for his questions. First of all, with regard to the committee’s recommendations on having actions in place by February, those related to arrangements to address the problems raised in the recommendations, which we have done through the creation of the joint board, and also to answer the needs of those who would otherwise have been benefiting from Skills That Work for Wales, which has now ended and which, of course, is Work Ready within Wales. This brings me to the question of conditionality. We may not always agree, thank goodness. However, you do often agree with your cousins in Scotland, and I can tell you that the approach being adopted for the pilot scheme follows precisely the approach that was adopted by the SNP Government in Scotland. Now, here—and this is the critical point—as in Scotland, providers will be instructed not to supply the Department for Work and Pensions or Jobcentre Plus with early leaver information that could then lead to people having their benefits removed. Sanctions will not be applied through DWP and JCP having information offered by providers. Instead, they will need to collect information from claimants themselves. Experience—and, indeed, I had a meeting with the Minister in Scotland to discuss this very point—shows that claimants do not self-declare reasons that could then lead to sanctions on their benefits—[Interruption.]—
 
14:54
Simon ThomasBiography
Of course not—
 
14:54
Kenneth SkatesBiography
And there is my answer. Therefore, the sanctions issue is resolved. The programme has commenced, as I said, this month in two jobcentres in Swansea and Carmarthen, with full roll-out in May. After March 2015, we will be able to reach a definitive decision on whether to commence it on a full-time basis. In terms of the black box, this is essentially the intelligence we need in order to be confident that the skills support offered via UK Government support is not duplicating what we could be offering with the support of EU money—[Interruption.] This is a very simple case. I would not wish—perhaps you would—to see European-funded programmes halted in Wales, and, certainly, the benefits issue is something that is being looked at by the joint board.
 
14:55
Eluned ParrottBiography
I would like to thank the Deputy Minister for his statement and for the supporting documents. I think that, in particular, the Welsh Affairs Committee report in the autumn highlighted a number of issues that I think we would all be concerned about. I welcome the fact that steps are being taken to work more effectively together.
 
As regards the Work Programme, I think that the Deputy Minister is absolutely right to be concerned that outcomes here in Wales are the worst of any region or nation in Great Britain, regardless of whether or not they are following the same ESF funding rules. I think that this is especially important in Wales, though, where we know that we have a particular issue with long-term economic inactivity and particular problems with long-term youth unemployment, for example. As the Work Programme, unlike other jobseeker support programmes that we may have had in the past, actively incentivises the contracted providers to work with those jobseekers who face the most significant challenges to gaining employment, it is very different to a number of programmes that are delivered here in Wales that make no such effort to target their support at those who find the most difficulty in getting work. I think that the aim, which is one that we would all agree is worth while, is to make sure that the support that is available is targeted at the most disengaged and to make sure that we are not leaving a generation of people behind, simply because they were difficult to help in the first place.
 
One of the biggest issues identified in that report, as you are well aware, Deputy Minister, and which you have talked about, is the issue of compatibility between UK Government and Welsh Government schemes and access from one to the other, with participants in the Work Programme not able to access ESF-funded programmes. However, may I ask you to clarify what exactly the compatibility problem is? There is a discrepancy, I would suggest, Deputy Minister, between your answer to Mark Isherwood just now, and the evidence that the Welsh Government provided to the Welsh Affairs Committee. You have just stated that the main problem was the DWP’s rules on whether or not there would be benefit sanctions. However, to quote from the committee report:
 
‘The Welsh Government’s Welsh European Funding Office determined that Work Programme participants would not be allowed to access other courses funded by European Social Funds (ESF) because it constituted double-funding under EU rules. As a result, all ESF-funded courses in Wales are unavailable to Work Programme participants, including if the jobseeker was taking the course prior to referral onto the Work Programme.’
 
Further in that report, the Employment Related Services Association, the trade body representing providers, also says,
 
‘“the fact that the Welsh Government took a political decision not to allow ESF funding to be used” hindered the effectiveness of the Work Programme in Wales.’
 
I wonder if, perhaps, you can respond to that and tell us what exactly the compatibility issue is. Is it the DWP rules or is it the ESF funding problem that you said that it was in the Welsh Affairs Committee report?
 
You say that you are working with the DWP on this issue. Can you tell us, please, what actions have been taken or have been agreed to date to overcome this barrier, because this is a significant barrier and it is stopping people from accessing support that might otherwise be available to them? We all want Jobs Growth Wales to be open to everyone and not to be barred to those who already face significant and acknowledged barriers. Are you confident that you can overcome this barrier and make sure that people are able to access both streams of support? If you cannot resolve this compatibility issue, what actions are you going to take to provide targeted support for those jobseekers who face the biggest challenges? With the best will in the world, while Jobs Growth Wales is providing people with job placements, it is not targeted in any way at people who have been unemployed for a period of time or who are lone parents. It is, by definition—because it is an open job application process—providing opportunities for the ones who face the fewest barriers in getting a job in the open marketplace. We need to know what you are going to do for the ones who face the most barriers in getting those jobs.
 
14:59
Kenneth SkatesBiography
I would like to thank Eluned Parrott for her questions. First of all, on the issue of those people who are, as you said, most disengaged and the hardest to reach, perhaps you did not notice that we had the Moving Forward project launch, which is specifically for care leavers, young people in the care system and young people who have offended—[Interruption.] Yes, in Wales—it was launched for some of the hardest to reach people in our society. Perhaps you did not notice that we have committed 5,000 jobs for people in workless households, and perhaps you did not notice that we have also committed 700 Jobs Growth Wales positions for Communities First clusters. This Government is making sure that every hand of opportunity reaches out to people in the hardest to reach areas. We are helping people who live in the most deprived areas. We are not abandoning people at all, unlike the Tory-Lib Dem Government at Westminster.
 
In terms of ESF funding and sanctions, I think that you are confusing two different issues there. You are mixing up exit from the Work Programme and having benefit sanctions with the duplication of EU money. I am not sure whether you are suggesting that we put at risk EU compliance, but I can tell you that the advice that we have had time and again from WEFO suggests that we should certainly not be putting at risk our programmes by double-funding skills training opportunities.
 
15:01
Rebecca EvansBiography
I am also grateful to the Deputy Minister for his statement today. Picking up the previous theme, the Welsh Affairs Committee’s report said that the Work Programme’s efforts to incentivise providers to support jobseekers with the most severe barriers to employment was a worthy ambition and significant challenge, but it concluded that the programme’s success in this respect is yet to be proven. I wonder what the Deputy Minister’s assessment is of how well that scheme is working for those people who are farthest from the workplace. The committee was particularly concerned that lone parents were struggling to find sustained employment through the Work Programme in Wales, compared to other areas of Great Britain. It recommended that the two providers operating in Wales ensure that both they and their sub-contractors have some specific measures in place to support lone parents. What is your assessment, Deputy Minister, of how successful that has been? How does Jobs Growth Wales compare in terms of supporting lone parents into work? Indeed, do you even collect that kind of information?
 
In April of this year, the Department for Work and Pensions launched the best practice group, which was formed to help organisations delivering the Work Programme find the best ways of helping the tens of thousands of former incapacity benefit claimants—people claiming ESA, ex-offenders and other harder-to-reach people—back into employment and of helping them to overcome those issues that are keeping them from getting a job. Do you have a view on how successful that has been? Has the Welsh Government or Welsh providers been included in that piece of work?
 
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 15:02.
 
Rebecca EvansBiography
The committee also recommended that the DWP consult on whether the time frame for the Work Programme should be extended for specific categories of claimant, because participants leaving the scheme unemployed after two years will be some of those with the most severe barriers to employment requiring the most intensive help. Do you share my disappointment that the UK Government did not agree to consider some extra support for those people who need it most? What role can the Welsh Government’s Lift programme, or other initiatives, play in helping these particular individuals into work?
 
Finally, the Work Programme providers have noticed a growth in temporary employment and zero-hour contracts, which can mean that they have to support participants into more than one job to claim a job outcome for that person. What impact is this having on the performance of the scheme in Wales, and for the outcomes for Welsh participants?
 
15:03
Kenneth SkatesBiography
I thank Rebecca Evans for her questions, raising a number of very serious matters. First of all, in terms of the issue of extending support for people who need it, I do share the Member’s disappointment. I think that the very poor performance of the Work Programme is particularly damaging for those who are also the most vulnerable people in society. Indeed, an interesting report produced by the Scottish Government illustrated how those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged, such as lone parents, are less likely to secure work through the Work Programme. I do think that there should be better incentives—absolutely—and more intensive help, just as the committee report itself urges. Instead, however, the UK Government has decided to bolt onto the Work Programme a new scheme—Help to Work—for people who are exiting the Work Programme unsuccessfully for two years. I do wish the scheme well—obviously—but I do fear that people who have already spent two years on the Work Programme and have not achieved a successful outcome might effectively be going from the frying pan into the fire. Instead, I would have preferred the Government to have heeded the advice of the committee and offer additional assistance during the process of the Work Programme.
 
Also, the UK Government would do well to replicate the success of some of the Welsh Government’s projects. I rather worry that arrogance is blinding the UK Government. Instead, it should take notice of good practice here in Wales. For example, our Work Ready scheme shows a 35% success rate. Traineeships are now in excess of 60%, in terms of the success rate. Jobs Growth Wales now shows a success rate of over 80%. In terms of the Lift programme and tackling workless households, these programmes are already under way, and I look forward to seeing positive results from them too.
 
Finally, in terms of temporary employment arrangements and zero-hour contracts, the inflexible nature of the Work Programme is undermining positive outcomes for people and is, in many ways, pushing people even further away from the jobs market. Zero-hour contracts certainly run against the inflexibility, and here is the irony: we have a Government that operates an inflexible Work Programme but supports the flexibility of zero-hours contracts, which undermine the Work Programme. However, I very much look forward to a UK Labour Government cracking down on zero-hour contracts and helping people who wish to work and who are able to work.
 
The Approval of the Draft ‘Children's Rights Scheme 2014’ under the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011
The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Elin Jones, and amendments 2 and 3 in the name of Aled Roberts.
 
15:06
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty to move the motion—Jeff Cuthbert.
 
Motion NDM5489 Lesley Griffiths
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with section 3(6) of the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011, approves the draft Children's Rights Scheme 2014 laid before the Assembly on 22 April 2014.
 
15:06
Jeff CuthbertBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
I move the motion.
 
Thank you for the opportunity to share with Assembly Members the revised children’s rights scheme and seek the Chamber’s approval. The intention of the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 is to secure positive outcomes for children and young people in Wales by creating a culture within Government that respects and upholds children’s rights. It forms a critical element of what is referred to by the United Nations as the progressive realisation of children’s rights. It further provides a clear statement that, in Wales, children and young people have rights, and that they are full citizens within our nation, with a stake in our society, now and in the future.
 
The Welsh Government has continually pushed the child rights agenda forward, and May 2014 sees another important step, when Welsh Ministers will be obliged by law to have due regard to the UNCRC when undertaking any of our functions. This duty is pervasive, bold and ambitious. External stakeholders have responded positively to the Measure, offering suggestions and comments with a clear rights focus. There are many examples of officials utilising opportunities to engage with stakeholders in discussions about children’s rights and children’s rights impact assessments, which have led to improved policy making. In developing our approach to mental health, for instance, Welsh Government significantly strengthened the children’s components of the final strategy, ‘Together for Mental Health’, in particular through embedding the UNCRC throughout the document and the priorities for action that we subsequently included for delivery in our delivery plan.
 
Another example of the Measure having a direct impact was seen in the last legislative stages of the groundbreaking Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013, where reconsideration led to amendments to give greater effect to the UNCRC. The Welsh Government stated its position that competent children should be afforded the choice of appointing a representative to express consent to organ donation.
 
An indirect impact was seen in the scrutiny of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013. As a result of the child rights impact assessment process, a policy gap was identified within another ministerial portfolio, and the Welsh Government is now working to develop new statutory guidance on the safety of walked routes to school that places an increased emphasis on safeguarding, as well as taking account of the views of children and young people. This is exactly the kind of organic and evolutionary process that was envisaged for the Measure, where culture and behaviour that pay due regard to the UNCRC lead to real change.
 
So, why have we revised the children's rights scheme? It is because we felt that we needed to revisit the practical arrangements that are in place to enable appropriate consideration and weight to the UNCRC, and to ensure compliance with the extended duty from May 2014. In revisiting the scheme, the consultation process has been robust and engaging, with close to 50 responses received. A number of working groups were facilitated, with children and young people, the Children's Commissioner for Wales and other appropriate people and experts in the field of children's rights. In addition to the formal consultation process, consideration has been given in particular to: feedback on the content of the first compliance report; the Children and Young People Committee’s scrutiny of the Measure, and, in particular, the submissions by the Children's Commissioner for Wales and the UNCRC monitoring group; internal feedback from Welsh Government staff, and an internal audit, following the introduction of the Measure; and detailed discussion from a policy seminar organised by the Welsh Government in which expert stakeholders advised on how to further improve the implementation of the Measure and on the revision of the scheme. We have responded to the feedback from stakeholders, both inside and outside Welsh Government. Members will, I am sure, have noted the considerable changes and noteworthy commitments that have been made as a result of the consultative process.
 
I believe that the children's rights scheme that I am introducing today establishes robust processes to ensure that Welsh Ministers act in compliance with their duty under section 1 of the Measure, the due regard duty, and that it provides transparency about the processes that are being followed. It enables Welsh Government staff to support the Welsh Ministers to comply with the duty, and it provides information on how the Welsh Ministers may be held to account in complying with the due regard duty. It is, indeed, a much strengthened scheme, with robust structures and clear arrangements by which Assembly Members and all interested parties will be able to hold Ministers to account. Now, while I lead on the implementation of the Measure, the duty is on all Ministers. I must place on record an acknowledgement of the support that Ministers across all portfolios have expressed in agreeing the arrangements in this scheme. It sets out a clear process to assist Ministers and staff in having due regard for the UNCRC, and this is supported by a number of resources and tools that have been developed.
 
The process can range from thinking about the impact of decisions on children in the course of day-to-day work activity, through to the formal application of a children's rights impact assessment, or CRIA, accompanied by a record of the outcomes and decisions. The CRIA process has an increased emphasis on analysing the impact that decisions have on children and young people, and it provides the evidence that children's rights are being analysed and considered with appropriate rigour in the work of the Welsh Government. All Welsh Ministers have agreed to make CRIAs publicly available. All CRIAs undertaken on legislation will be published; this is also the case for subordinate legislation, which includes, for example, regulations made under primary legislation.
 
For non-legislative decisions, all completed CRIAs will be listed on the Welsh Government website and will be made available upon request. This is a significant step that affords transparency in an important element of the implementation of the Measure, and it is a direct response to the general consensus of stakeholders. So, I am sure that it will be very well received. Another significant commitment involves cutting down the compliance reporting period to two and a half years, as was suggested in opposition amendments during the passing of the first scheme, thus giving Welsh Government Plenary time to discuss the compliance report and an opportunity to reflect on the implementation and effectiveness of the arrangements, as set out in this scheme.
 
The scheme further states what will be included in the compliance report, including the training available, an overview of the developments, the number of CRIAs undertaken, the effectiveness of the CRIA process and the activities relating to promoting knowledge and understanding of the UNCRC. The investment and commitment to the training of officials through the UNCRC training strategy will assist in the effective application of the due regard duty. Over 2,000 officials across Welsh Government have already undertaken UNCRC training in a variety of formats.
 
The training has now been updated in line with the new duty and the arrangements as set out in the scheme. It is essential that we establish arrangements that strike the right balance and that the process reflects the intention of the Measure in properly identifying the impact of a decision or action by a Minister on children and young people, without creating a disproportionate administrative burden. Having said that, I also want to make it clear that these arrangements are being put in place to ensure improved decision making and better policy. It is not simply a compliance process, but a positive impact that we all want to see on children and young people’s lives.
 
15:16
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I have selected the three amendments to the motion and I call on Jocelyn Davies to move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Elin Jones.
 
Amendment 1—Elin Jones
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Notes the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s statement, included in annex 3 to the Children’s Rights Scheme 2014, that the obligation to take the child’s best interests as a primary consideration ‘extends also to the approval of budgets, the preparation and development of which require the adoption of a best-interests-of-the-child perspective for it to be child-rights sensitive’.
 
15:16
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
I move amendment 1.
 
Placing a rights-based approach at the heart of Government policy making is vital in protecting and promoting the rights of children. Incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights for the Child into the law in Wales is a commitment to making sure that our children grow up in a society that cares for and nurtures them. Of course, rights on paper without the corresponding responsibilities and actions are as good as meaningless. As the second stage of the legislation comes into effect, I want to see action taken to put it into practice; otherwise this legislation will be no more than a token, empty gesture. I was pleased to hear that the Welsh Government is now publishing the CRIAs on its website.
 
A key issue that I have been disappointed not to see the Government taking action on is the ban on the smacking of children. Those present here will know that the Committee on the Rights of the Child has recommended that corporal punishment in the family should be banned in the UK and we, in Wales, should be at the forefront of that. This is an issue that I felt undecided and uncomfortable about when I first started thinking about it. I have to admit that I smacked my son when he was small, but I would be shocked if he now smacked his children—in fact, he does not and I have to say that he is a better parent for it. Times have changed and the culture has moved on and I think that it is time for us to take a stand to say that this is no longer acceptable.
 
Anyway, I do not think that smacking is an effective punishment for children because it seems that it has to be repeated many times and it runs the risk of contributing to a culture of violence, which we should be working against. After all, it is illegal to hit a fellow adult or to beat your pets. Children have a right to the same level of protection and we do the wrong thing if we continue to teach children to hit those who do things that they do not like. It is disheartening that, despite being able to take action on this, the Government is yet to do so. I hope that as Welsh Ministers have a duty to give due regard to children’s rights, we will see them doing the right thing soon, and then children will be closer to becoming the full citizens of Wales that the Minister mentioned.
 
Additionally, as welfare cuts continue to affect some of the most vulnerable children in our society, as austerity measures chip away at vital services for children across the country, the Government must remember its commitment to children’s rights and ensure that all children are protected. Resources need to be in place to raise children out of poverty and to help the most vulnerable groups. The lack of data on vulnerable groups of children like disabled children, children from minority backgrounds and Gypsy and Traveller children cannot be used as an excuse for their increasing invisibility in policy and service provision. I am pleased to hear about the positive impacts that the Minister outlined earlier on.
 
Finally, without accountability, rights remain no more than words on a page, and the Government needs to ensure that there is transparency, and that clear procedures are in place, to scrutinise compliance with the UN convention. This also means engaging with children so that they can contribute to discussions on issues affecting them. We will be supporting the Minister’s scheme before us today, but I hope that we can do better by children in the future.
 
15:20
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on Aled Roberts to move amendments 2 and 3, tabled in his name.
 
Amendment 2—Aled Roberts
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Regrets the lack of reference to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in recent legislation, such as the School Standards & Organisation (Wales) Act 2013, as recommended by the Children and Young People Committee, and calls on the Welsh Government to underline Wales’s commitment to the UNCRC by including reference to ‘due regard’ on the face of any future legislation which would affect children.
 
Amendment 3—Aled Roberts
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Notes the 2013 Wales NGO Interim Report ‘Rights Here, Right Now: Are Children’s Rights a Reality in Wales?’ and calls on the Welsh Government to ensure effective monitoring mechanisms are in place in order to deliver ‘concerted action in reducing the implementation gap between national policy rhetoric and local delivery’.
 
15:20
Aled RobertsBiography
I move amendments 2 and 3 in my name.
 
I also support what Jocelyn Davies has said. I do not think that there are many people within this Assembly who would not welcome the fact that the Government in 2011 included children's rights as an integral part of legislating by this Senedd, but perhaps it is time for us to consider whether the steps taken have been as great as some people were expecting them to be when they passed that Measure in 2011. I think that it is clear by now that there is a need for the Government—. We, as members of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, have received evidence from witness after witness telling us that the Government should make a clear statement on the face of every Bill that the legislation that is being brought before the Senedd accepts that this convention is an integral part of that legislation, and that, as officials and other agencies implement the Act, they accept that that has to be done and that children's rights are an integral part of it.
 
I think that we need to consider whether the Government operated exactly as the Minister has suggested, because there was a report from agencies during 2013, 'Rights Here, Rights Now', that suggested that the steps taken have not been as good in terms of implementation on a grass-roots level. It also asks whether the monitoring that was being undertaken by the Welsh Government of the way in which that legislation was being implemented was sufficient. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Minister has taken steps today to review the Measure, and it may take us a step further forward, but I ask him to consider whether the way in which the Government and civil servants have been operating so far is adequate.
 
There is not one green colour within the report itself in terms of implementation by the Government. The report says that there was not one period of time during the last six years when the Government showed that it had moved forward in terms of implementation, and had moved forward in an excellent way, from the position of those agencies. I welcome the fact that the Minister has said this afternoon that he will ensure that the Government’s website shows that these assessments are being undertaken. Over the weekend, I was trying to see how many cases there are where the assessments have been undertaken by now and I have to say that it was very difficult to find that information on the Government’s website.
 
In considering the legislation that we have been discussing during this past year, there was a deficiency on the Government’s part in terms of including these assessments—the CRIAs—within the explanatory memorandum for the education (Wales) Bill and also the school standards Bill, although it included the assessment in the social services Bill. Therefore, I would like to ask the Minister, in closing, what process he will use, considering that he is mainly responsible for ensuring that other Ministers comply with the process to co-ordinate the fact that those assessments are completed before the Bill is laid before the Senedd. Also, I would like to ask him, bearing in mind that local government will be responsible in the main for many of the areas that we are discussing, whether the Welsh Government will also co-ordinate the way in which local government and other agencies will comply with the Measure, if this is passed today.
 
15:25
Julie MorganBiography
I am pleased that, in his ministerial foreword to the scheme, the Minister talks about the aim of the children’s rights Measure being cultural change as well as fostering better understanding and awareness. I think that there are wide implications for how our society operates as a result of our commitment to children’s rights, as well as the mechanical and important details about how impact assessments work, for example.
 
It was interesting to read Play Wales’s latest magazine, which I am sure that many of you have read, particularly the editorial, which refers to the fact that, when the UK last gave evidence to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, it was reported that one of the committee members asked, ‘Could you explain why it is that, in the UK, you dislike your children so much?’ I think that that is a reflection of an idea that, here in the UK, we do not nurture and welcome our children, sometimes, in the way that other European countries appear to do.
 
This was part of a discussion about youth offending and how the UK media reports it, how we portray young people in the media and how they are, generally, often seen as a problem and not seen for the huge contribution that they make to society. This perception certainly needs to change, and I think that what we are doing in Wales, with the children’s rights scheme and the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011, is to try to give children an integral part in society. So, in everything that we look at and in every action that we take, whether through laws or policy changes by the Government, children are integral to that progress, and their views, and the impact on children, are taken on board.
 
It is hard to think of any issues that do not affect children. The Minister has referred to the ways that the laws on organ donation and mental health, and the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, have taken into account the views of children and the impact of that legislation on children. There are many other policy decisions that we make that also impact on children that do not seem so immediate. I think that infrastructure projects, for example, have a huge impact on children. Where we build our roads and how accessible we make cities and towns to children to make them feel that they have a part to play in a city’s life are tremendously important.
 
I know that we have a long way to go, and some of the Members who have already spoken have raised some of those issues. I share Jocelyn Davies’s views about the smacking issue, and I know that we have a long way to go in terms of child poverty and working with disabled children. However, I think that we have the basis, with this Measure and the assessment, to make real progress. I agree that this scheme represents progress, and I think that it is an improvement on the present scheme. I also support the conclusion of the Wales UNCRC monitoring group that it is a great step forward that we are now publishing the children’s rights impact assessments—that we will be able to see them on the website and see why decisions have been made. This will encourage greater transparency and accountability, and it will make scrutiny by Assembly committees and outside bodies much more effective.
 
Of course, the Minister and other Members have referred to the CRIAs, and the fact that they will be available to be used and will be publicly available. I want the Minister to confirm that putting the six-step tool in the annex means that this could be amended in future without having to wait for the scheme itself to be revised, because I think that that is very important. This is all very new work, and we will, obviously, gain expertise and experience in promoting children’s rights and doing impact assessments as we go along. It is very important that we see all of this as not just setting up a scheme and that is it, but that we work on it as it progresses.
 
Finally, I wonder whether the Minister has had the opportunity to look at the UNICEF child rights toolkit, which is certainly worth looking at. It is done very much from an international perspective, but it emphasises that there is no such thing as a child-neutral policy. Whether intended or not, every policy, positively or negatively, affects the lives of children. I think that is what we need to bear in mind in all the work that we do in this Assembly, in all the laws that we make and in all the policy decisions that we make.
 
15:30
Suzy DaviesBiography
It has only been a few days since the scheme was laid before the Assembly and I appreciate why it was laid now, in order to predate the 1 May deadline for the full implementation of the 2011 Measure. However, it is a bit of a shame in one way that it has taken into account the views of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child as of 2008. The UK is due to submit its next compliance report on this to the UN committee this year and I was just wondering, Minister, how long it might take for the UN to publish its view on that report. It will give us an indication, if you can help us with that, as to when we might be coming back to look at yet another revised scheme.
 
It is pleasing, in the current scheme, to see the emphasis on ongoing training for Ministers and staff being placed right at the beginning of the scheme. I think that we as Assembly Members may want to be mindful that we do not fall behind in terms of developing our own knowledge and expertise either, bearing in mind our commitment as an Assembly to the rights of the child and our duty to scrutinise. On that point, I was particularly pleased to see that the Welsh Government has chosen to prepare compliance reports more frequently than originally envisaged by the Measure. That should assist us with the scrutiny, as long as those reports are of good quality, and, of course, easy to find. As the due regard commitment will shortly apply to any functions of Welsh Ministers, that means that we as Assembly Members will have to be more vigilant. The first amendment to the debate today, which we will be supporting, reminds us that the due regard test needs to be applied to budgets. I will be interested to see how next year’s budget equality impact assessments take this on board. According to this year’s assessments, the biggest impact on cuts to the heritage budget, for example, was felt by children and young people, and yet the cuts happened anyway. I wonder whether we will see the influence of the due regard principle more clearly in next year’s budget equality assessments, and whether the scheme itself is helpful in assisting Ministers to balance competing considerations.
 
By then, of course, we will have the much improved access to the children’s rights impact assessments, which other Members have referred to. I remember this subject coming up in the Children and Young People Committee, as it was then, in a scrutiny session with the children’s commissioner. None of us were particularly clear on the subject of publication, so this is a definite improvement in the scheme. I am particularly interested to see the implication of the children’s rights impact assessment changes on secondary legislation. Much of the detail of our legislation comes into existence via secondary regulations, many of which are introduced via the negative procedure. We are fortunate that the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee is made aware of those regulations, but, even then, we depend to a great extent on legal advice as to whether those negative procedure regulations raise any issues. The suggestion in the revised scheme is that the new assessments will be published for all relevant secondary legislation. So, could you confirm, Minister, that this is the case? If so, it will contribute greatly to the scrutiny of a type of legislation that does not routinely come before all Members.
 
I appreciate the argument behind the second amendment, which also deals with legislation, but I am afraid that we will not be supporting it. I think that the argument was made by the Minister for education that the very existence of the 2011 Measure meant that Ministers have to give due regard to the UNCRC rights, and to state that on every piece of legislation was therefore unnecessary. Now that the Measure is going to be fully implemented in just a few days, I think that it is a point of view that I have come to accept, particularly as the new children’s rights impact assessments will be published. Personally, I would like to see those impact assessments form a standard part of explanatory memoranda, or, where they are not included, they should be replaced by a statement saying that due regard is not relevant to that piece of legislation and why. The scheme only seems advisory on that last point, but I hope that it will be observed. Julie Morgan made the point that it is difficult to think of any legislation that at some point does not affect children.
 
Finally, I just want to mention the role of children and young people in preparing this scheme. I feel much more confident for example that children will be safer in their walking and cycling to school now that they have helped identify what they see as dangers, which has informed the preparation of new guidance on that issue. However, in this case, whatever rights a child has, and whatever help they may get, it is still a big deal for a child to challenge a Minister. I hope that the inclusion of children’s views in the preparation of this scheme will have made it easier for them to refer to that scheme, as well as it being easier for us.
 
15:35
Rebecca EvansBiography
The Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 embedded consideration of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the optional protocols, into Welsh law. It is the optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography that I want to focus my contribution on today. However, I would like to say, before I go any further, that I would really like the UN to revisit its language here, because, as far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as a child prostitute or child pornography—there is only child rape, child abuse, and child exploitation, and language is important, not only because it can affect the way in which we perceive these crimes, but also because it can affect the way in which victims see themselves, compounding the guilt and shame that many abused children and young people feel, and leading them to believe that, somehow, the abuse is their fault, and that they are somehow complicit in it, or that they are to blame. This can prevent children from reporting abuse.
 
A 2001 National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children study found that more than a third of children aged 11 to 17 who experienced contact sexual abuse by an adult did not tell anyone. More than 80% of the children of the same age who experienced contact sexual abuse from a peer did not tell anyone. So, children and young people really have to know that they are not to blame and that they can seek help without fear of getting into trouble, or without fear of disappointing the people who care about them.
 
The protocol includes 17 articles, which are designed to achieve the purposes of the UNCRC, particularly those aspects that relate to child sexual abuse and the sale of children. While many of the articles of the protocol are the responsibility of the UK Government—for example, matters relating to non-devolved matters such as criminal law, extradition, and the international co-operation in this field—article 9 presents some very clear challenges to, and puts some very clear responsibilities on, the Welsh Government. It commits the Welsh Government to adopt or strengthen, implement and disseminate laws, administrative measures, social policies and programmes to prevent the offences of what the UN calls the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. It states that particular attention should be given to protect children who are especially vulnerable to such practices. The NSPCC tells us that children from all backgrounds and communities suffer sexual abuse, but there are factors that seem to increase that risk, which include a history of previous sexual abuse, being disabled, a disruptive home life, or experiences of other forms of abuse, such as domestic violence, neglect, or physical abuse. We also know that very young children and disabled children are particularly vulnerable, because they may not have the words or the ability to communicate to someone whom they trust what is happening to them.
 
So, I really hope that the children’s rights scheme will deliver policies that actively and measurably prevent the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, in accordance with the protocol, ensuring that the voices of children, especially victims, are being heard. The development of that work must, obviously, be done in a sensitive way by people who are experienced and trained to do so.
 
The protocol also charges the Welsh Government with promoting awareness among the public at large, including children, through information by all appropriate means, education and training, about preventative measures and the harmful effects of child sexual abuse and exploitation. In terms of fulfilling the obligations under this article, the protocol encourages the participation of children and child victims.
 
In his response to my short debate on child safety online, and in my subsequent discussions with him, the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology committed to taking a strong personal interest in this subject, and he has been good to his word. I am delighted that, following my debate, and this year’s Safer Internet Day, the Welsh Government, together with the South West Grid for Learning, has launched a 15-month project that promises to develop a variety of revolutionary online safety resources. I look forward to that work progressing, and I hope that the children’s rights scheme provides a vehicle for the work to include children at every step.
 
Finally, the protocol requires that the Welsh Government take all feasible measures, with the aim of ensuring all appropriate assistance to victims of child sexual abuse offences, including their full social reintegration and their full physical and psychological recovery. I hope that the children’s rights scheme will provide a framework for delivering services, especially in health and social care, but also in education, which are person-centred and are appropriate to meet the very complex needs of some of the most vulnerable children and young people in Wales.
 
15:39
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on the Minister to reply to the debate.
 
15:39
Jeff CuthbertBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
I would like to thank Members for their comments and continued cross-party support for the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 and the children’s rights scheme 2014.
 
I will deal with the amendments. We are happy to support Elin Jones’s amendment, as moved by Jocelyn Davies. The extended duty does indeed cover allocations of resources, which is why the CRIA process has been amended to reflect this. Difficult decisions will still have to be made, as we work within a shrinking budget, but the CRIA process should assist with decision-making processes when allocating resources.
 
May I also say that I appreciate Jocelyn Davies’s and, indeed, Julie Morgan’s passion about the issue of the smoking ban? The scheme itself does not deal with individual policies, but will enable, I trust, these matters to come forward and be debated in a rigorous way. Likewise, the comments of Rebecca Evans about helping to make sure that child abuse and exploitation are greatly minimised, if not eliminated, particularly in terms of vulnerable children and young people.
 
In terms of the amendments from Aled Roberts, which he tabled, we oppose the amendment relating to referencing the UNCRC on the face of legislation. It is not usual practice to restate duties in legislation. The commitment we have made to undertaking and publishing a CIRA on all legislation affecting children does provide transparency and opportunity for scrutiny, thus leading to a more meaningful process.
 
In terms of other comments that Aled Roberts made, he acknowledged, as did Suzy Davies, the importance of further training for civil servants, and, as I am someone who believes passionately in continuous professional development, it is something that I would want to see updated on a regular basis. Indeed, I would be quite happy to look at the issues of training for Assembly Members as well.
 
I was a little concerned to hear what Aled Roberts said about the website. I will ask my officials to look at that to make sure that it is as friendly as it possibly can be.
 
In relation to the third element, the First Minister has made clear his focus on outcomes and delivery on the ground. The CRIA enables consideration of the realisation of children’s rights and seeing impact and real outcomes. Therefore, we will accept that amendment.
 
The Measure has already clearly made a difference here in Wales, with Ministers explicitly referring to the UNCRC in making their decisions. In addition, Members are now using the convention as a rights-based scrutiny tool across a host of portfolios and legislation.
 
Considering the discussion that we have had today in this Chamber, and if the political commitment in Wales is an indication of the future success of the Measure, we are building on sound foundations.
 
Julie Morgan mentioned the issue of the six-step tool. I can confirm that it is part of an annex so that it can be amended relatively simply in the light of events. Although you did not refer to it, the whole process of consulting with young people is, I believe, enshrined within the future generations Bill and the national conversations that are still under way while we are actively trying to solicit the views of young people about the future Wales that they want to see.
 
There is clear commitment within this revised scheme towards transparency and constructive engagement. The approach to CRIAs is innovative and progressive, and allows stakeholders an ongoing opportunity to hold Ministers to account and to express their observations on the progress being made. I am immensely proud of the leadership that the Welsh Government is exhibiting on this agenda, and Governments from across the globe are looking in to learn how to effectively incorporate the UNCRC into legislation and the workings of Government. I am also acutely aware that with the privilege of leading comes responsibility to get it right. The big challenge for us is to translate the commitment that we have into the day-to-day experiences of children and young people living in Wales.
 
To conclude, I believe that the revised scheme is an important tool to enable improved outcomes for children and young people in Wales and, on that basis, I hope that Members will today commend the children’s rights scheme 2014 and approve the motion.
 
15:45
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? There is no objection. Amendment 1 is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
 
Amendment 1 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
 
15:45
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
The proposal is to agree amendment 2. Does any Member object? There is objection. Therefore, I defer all further voting until voting time.
 
Voting deferred until voting time.
 
Proposals for the Wales Rural Development Programme 2014-2020
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the name of Paul Davies, amendments 5, 6, 7 and 8 in the name of Elin Jones, and amendment 9 in the name of Aled Roberts.
 
15:45
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on the Minister for Natural Resources and Food to move the motion—Alun Davies.
 
Motion NDM5490 Lesley Griffiths
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
 
Notes that the Welsh Government’s proposals for the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 will stimulate and strengthen the economy, environment and social cohesion of rural Wales.
 
15:45
Alun DaviesBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources and Food
I move the motion.
 
Members will be aware that, in February, I launched our final consultation on the next rural development programme, running to 2020. While the consultation has now concluded, I wanted to listen to the views of Members as I come to conclusions on the consequences of that consultation, and I wanted to listen to what Members have to say before taking any final decisions on the shape of the next rural development programme.
 
In terms of the amendments that have been tabled to today’s motion, I will be accepting amendments 7 and 8 in the name of Elin Jones. Members will be aware that the Welsh Government has already prioritised support for young farmers through the young entrants support scheme proposal under the new RDP, and Members will also be aware that I have commissioned Malcolm Thomas to do some independent work on this, and I expect his report to be provided to me later this term. On amendment 8, I have been clear from the outset regarding the economic focus of the new RDP, and the new programme has been designed with a sharp emphasis on promoting the competitiveness of Welsh agriculture and rural industries, and creating sustainable jobs and sustainable growth for the people who work in rural Wales.
 
I will be opposing amendment 1, which I thought was somewhat churlish. We have the largest RDP in our history ahead of us. We have the opportunity to create very real growth and to stimulate economic activity in rural Wales, and I felt that the Conservatives were somewhat churlish in proposing amendment 1. I will also be opposing amendments 2 and 5. The transfer between pillars has been somewhat misunderstood by some people, but certainly the common agricultural programme pillar 1 and pillar 2 should be, and normally are, seen as a single programme that has different elements to it. If we are to invest in the future competitiveness of Welsh agriculture, we cannot simply do that with the funds that are available to us at the beginning of pillar 2. We will ensure that there is a relationship between both pillars. Most people who understand these matters will also accept that 80% of pillar 2 funds go to recipients of pillar 1.
 
In terms of amendments 3 and 6 on farm incomes, I will also oppose both these amendments. Any economist would explain that incomes, or in this case profits, are determined by a number of different variables and factors. To simply identify one element of funding for the agricultural industry as a determinant of farm incomes is to understand neither the economics of the industry nor the economics of the sector. So, we will oppose that as well.
 
In terms of amendments 4 and 9 in relation to a dedicated scheme for less favourable areas, I will be opposing this. It is somewhat curious that we have a consultation and then we are asked to announce the results of that consultation in a debate that has been tabled in order to listen to people’s views. It is somewhat curious for people to say, ‘This is what we expect your consultation to end with’. I am listening to what people say, but it is also worth mentioning that the new system of payments, the new area-based system, will be of great benefit to people who would be in the areas of natural constraint. We do not yet understand the impact of that—and certainly, if you look at the moorland line and the nearly 300 farms in the moorland area, you will see that there will be more winners than losers in that area. So, it seems somewhat curious to create a scheme that gives more public money to people who are already benefiting from a change to the scheme. That does not seem to be a particularly good use of taxpayer resources.
 
In terms of where we are going on this, I was pleased to secure a fair distribution for Wales of the UK allocation of funding, which has resulted in us being able to deliver the biggest and most ambitious rural development plan in our history. Together with the co-financing above the level required by regulations from the Welsh Government, we now have a total projected budget for the Wales rural development programme of some £953 million over the programme period. It is critical that we do not simply, in spending this money, think about what we have done in the past and do it again. It is also critical that we invest this money in long-term sustainability and not short-term popularism. It is essential that anybody who wants to see a future for agriculture and a future for the economy of rural Wales that we invest in sustainability in the long term, and that we do not simply say, ‘We will use the funding that we have available to us—nearly £1 billion—to pay our bills this year and next year’.
 
In terms of the proposals that I have made, I have said that I want to see a much stronger emphasis on business skills, resource efficiency, strengthening supply chains, working with the grain of river catchments and ecosystems and the generation of renewable energy. There will be a focus on the effective support for our upland areas and on encouraging mobility within our land-based sectors. To achieve this, there are essentially four categories of investments: developing people; providing physical capital investment; land-based measures; and local economic interventions, including through the LEADER schemes. We will make available increased capital investment under the RDP for modernisation, improved animal health and welfare and resource efficiencies. This will only deliver the significant results I believe that it can deliver if people have the necessary skills and access to appropriate and effective training and advice.
 
In terms of knowledge transfer information advisory services offered under the RDP, we will focus on promoting greater efficiency, improving resilience and increasing diversity in developing income streams. A number of core strategic contracts will be procured to deliver an approach that includes enhanced knowledge transfer and learning, a broadened and enhanced advisory service and support access to capital investments. There will be revenue support for industry projects that encourage co-operation and that undertake knowledge transfer activities, including the targeting of improved competitiveness.
 
15:52
Leanne WoodBiography
One of your colleagues has called for the repatriation of CAP and regional funds from Brussels to London in order to save money. Do you support that call?
 
15:53
Alun DaviesBiography
No, I do not. There is a debate that takes place. We live in a free country where people are allowed to say whatever they like. That does not necessarily mean that they define Government policy, certainly not this Government’s policy. The policy of this Government is absolutely clear. We support the current structures and we want to see the place of Wales being deepened and broadened in the European Union. We have done that. I have ensured that Welsh farmers have been represented whenever decisions were being taken on Welsh agriculture, which was not necessarily always the case, as you are well aware.
 
In terms of the supply chain that we need to develop to meet the challenge of developing new products and for increasing sales at home and abroad, we will build on the existing supply chains efficiency scheme to support co-operation, activities to promote shorter supply chains and local markets, and also to ensure that we invest in supply chains for the sustainable production of energy and joint approaches to environmental projects.
 
We will continue to look at how we can make additional investments in capital investment and grant support to farming businesses by integrating capital grants of existing schemes, such as Glastir efficiency grants and the young entrants support scheme, into a single scheme. We will develop a new sustainable production grant to give capital support for farm modernisation and for resource and production efficiencies. This work will improve the economic and environmental performance of supported holdings.
 
We currently envisage four specific investment themes: production housing and handling; animal and plant welfare; crop storage and soil; and soil and crop management. Applicants will need to demonstrate how the investment will address the three cross-cutting areas of improved efficiency in their use of energy, water and nutrients.
 
We will ensure that we can build on the existing processes and marketing grant to offer expanded support for processing and marketing to the agricultural, forestry and food sectors. We will continue to provide specific support for investment by forestry businesses into the next programme, and this will enable contractors to obtain funding for equipment that will help bring woodland into productive management. Farmers will also be eligible for support for, for example, small-scale on-farm sawmilling, timber-milling, timber extraction and firewood processing. We will also continue to support renewable energy, and we will ensure that the Glastir scheme, which we have also consulted on over the past few months, is a scheme that is able to deliver the sort of support that we believe is necessary.
 
I look forward to listening to what Members have to say, and I hope that Members will share my emphasis on investment for long-term sustainability for the Welsh agricultural industry and for the rural economy throughout the whole of rural Wales.
 
15:55
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I have selected the nine amendments to the motion and I call on Russell George to move amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4, tabled in the name of Paul Davies.
 
Amendment 1—Paul Davies
 
Delete all and replace with:
 
Notes the Welsh Government’s proposals for the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.
 
Amendment 2—Paul Davies
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Regrets the Welsh Government’s decision to opt for the maximum transfer of 15% away from direct payments to farmers in Pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy to the Rural Development Programme, making Welsh farm businesses less competitive.
 
Amendment 3—Paul Davies
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Seeks assurances that measures delivered through the Rural Development Programme will have an immediate, demonstrable and measureable impact on farm incomes.
 
Amendment 4—Paul Davies
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Calls on the Welsh Government to:
 
a) develop a stand-alone scheme for Less Favourable Areas to support those farming the most challenging areas of Wales;
 
b) encourage more farmers to take advantage of the Glastir scheme by simplifying and expanding access to it.
 
15:56
Russell GeorgeBiography
I move amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4.
 
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this important debate at this stage on the common agricultural policy this afternoon. In formally moving the Welsh Conservative amendments in the name of Paul Davies, I will say from the outset that we will be supporting all the amendments as the majority are versions of the themes that we have set out. Of course, I am disappointed that the Minister is not able to support our amendments.
 
It has been an extremely busy and stressful few months for the Welsh agricultural industry. This time of year is demanding, and that is particularly so coupled with these demands. There has been a raft of consultations coming from the Welsh Government. That is not an overt criticism from me, Minister. It is a constructive comment to think about. You and your officials need to be mindful of the significant effort that you are asking individual farmers to contribute to the shaping of public policy at this time of year. You, of course, want the widest possible response—and not just from the unions and larger stakeholder organisations. You also ask at this time for input on the rural development plan as well as TB compensation, Glastir, the action plan for the food and drink industry, sheep electronic identification and the new strategy on water management among other things, so it is no wonder that they feel a little bit overwhelmed. I can hear you saying that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. However, in relation to public consultation, planning and timing are crucial. I understand the tight timescales in relation to submitting your plans to the European Commission, but there could have been a more extensive consultation last year if both parts of the CAP implementation were taken together. This would also have had the benefit of the agricultural sector being able to examine your plans in the round and not separately as you have done. I hope, Minister, that you will be receptive to those points and mindful of wider policy consultations going forward.
 
I think that we can all agree on the key outcomes we would like to see the RDP achieve. We all want a more productive, profitable and progressive agricultural sector that is not only the backbone of the rural Welsh economy but contributes to wider economic growth. The RDP can be the key enabler of that happening.
 
Many in the industry will agree with the Government’s overall objective to move away from high levels of public subsidy to a situation where farm businesses are modern and commercially efficient. However, it is going to take time and, in some areas of Wales—particularly upland areas that are already facing serious cash flow issues—this is going to be even more of a significant challenge for farmers to achieve. So, to have modulated the full 15% from pillar 1 to pillar 2 when no other member state or sub-region has gone to the maximum puts Wales at a competitive disadvantage, and I think that that is the cause of great regret. It would have been far better to have set a level around the 2013 average of 9%—even up to the 12% as has been done in England—and then reviewed it in 2016 with the intention of moving to 15% at the back end of the programme if there were no negative effects. That would have been a sensible approach that would have represented the best balance between using rural development money to deliver public goods and meeting environmental obligations, as well as helping the Welsh farming industry to become more productive and competitive.
 
Therefore, Minister, given that you are standing by your decision, what the industry wants assurance on, I believe, is that measures delivered through the RDP will have an immediate and measurable impact on Welsh farm incomes. While many farm businesses will be beneficiaries of the RDP’s protected budget, they will want to know that access to the various intervention funding streams will be transparent, simple and straightforward—key aspects, of course, underpinned by the working smarter aims of reducing the regulatory burden, reducing costs and supporting business growth. The industry will also want assurances that the RDP funding is going to be focused on delivering tangible and measurable outcomes, not frittered away on unnecessary administration or on consultancy fees. Clearly, the redesign and implementation of Glastir as the agri-environment scheme within the RDP is going to be critical in order to encourage more farmers to enter Glastir. We believe that many of the elements must be simplified.
 
16:01
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on Rhun ap Iorwerth to move amendments 5, 6, 7 and 8, tabled in the name of Elin Jones.
 
Amendment 5—Elin Jones
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Regrets the Welsh Government’s decision to modulate the full 15% from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2.
 
Amendment 6—Elin Jones
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Resolves that the Welsh Government should demonstrate annually the impact of