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The Assembly met at 13:00 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
 
1. Questions to the Minister for Natural Resources
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Natural Resources, and question 1 is Altaf Hussain.
 
Forestry Policy
 
13:00
Altaf HussainBiography
1. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s forestry policy? OAQ(4)0427(NR)
 
13:00
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources
I thank the Member for his question. The Welsh Government’s woodland strategy provides details of our forestry policy and long-term vision for the sustainable management of forests in Wales. Over 250,000 native broad-leaf trees have been planted across 12 sites across Wales for every child born or adopted since Plant was launched in 2008.
 
13:00
Altaf HussainBiography
Minister, can you assure us that all future flood reports prepared by Natural Resources Wales will include the pattern of tree planting and any investigations of the drainage system in our upland forestry?
 
13:01
Carl SargeantBiography
Our flood management programmes are very comprehensive and Natural Resources Wales have a very clear strategy on developing them. I would certainly hope that the issues that the Member raises with me today are part of that focus to strengthen the plans in the future.
 
13:01
David ReesBiography
Minister, representatives of Glyncorrwg ponds and mountain bike centre have actually been in contact with my office expressing deep concern over the damage being done to the mountain bike trails by motocross bikes across the whole forestry sector in the Afan Valley. In fact, even this morning I’ve had a communication indicating that, as cyclists were riding on the trails, they were being, basically, faced head-on by cyclists coming up and turning around and coming back. In that sense, will you ask NRW to actually meet with the police to look at the ways in which this abuse can be policed properly to ensure that damage is not done that would close trails? Those trails are vital to the tourism economy of the upper Afan Valley, and their closure would have a major impact upon that area.
 
13:02
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question, again raising very important issues for his constituents and his constituency. It is, of course, very difficult to manage these issues, and it is about making sure that there is an integrated approach to tackling the issue with NRW and the police. I would encourage further action to take place, and I will make sure NRW are aware of your concerns.
 
13:02
Jeff CuthbertBiography
Minister, Wales is renowned for its ancient and historic woodlands and they are a critical part of our natural environment. Can you tell us today, Minister, what role our woodlands can play in achieving the wellbeing goals included in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015?
 
13:02
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. He continues to be a champion of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, as he was when he started the legislation on its pathway through this Assembly. I thank the Member for that.
 
Our woodland strategy for Wales action plan sets out our short-term actions and activities to deliver the long-term ambitions of our strategy, which in turn contributes to the wider wellbeing goals in the Act. Our vision is that trees and woodlands will provide a real social and community benefit, both locally and nationally, supporting thriving woodland-based industries and contribute to a better quality environment throughout Wales.
 
Agriculture and Rural Affairs
 
13:03
Russell GeorgeBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the ways in which the Welsh Government makes information available to farmers on agriculture and rural affairs? OAQ(4)0416(NR)
 
13:03
Rebecca EvansBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
We make information available to farmers in a range of ways, including via websites, written correspondence, e-mail, e-newsletters, text messaging, direct messaging, social media, and telephone. We also meet regularly with stakeholders to update them on developments.
 
13:03
Russell GeorgeBiography
Minister, the ‘Gwlad’ publication has been in existence for some years now and is well-received by farmers in Montgomeryshire. It will only be available online from next month, and not available as a hard publication. Now, the availability of broadband in areas of Montgomeryshire is still an issue, as I’m sure you understand, so can you please inform me what alternatives will be made available for farmers who are unable to read the online version of ‘Gwlad’?
 
13:04
Rebecca EvansBiography
You’ll be aware that Superfast Cymru is rolling out at pace across the whole of Wales and, since the beginning of the project, a total of 37,582 residential and business properties in Powys alone have received superfast broadband speeds under that project, and over £10.5 million has been invested in rolling out that project across the region. It will continue to roll out over the next year.
 
You’re right that ‘Gwlad’ is moving to online, and that will help us offer a more topical, more frequent and less expensive means of getting information to farmers. I think we have to remember that being IT literate is very much part and parcel of being business minded and business focused in the twenty-first century.
 
13:05
Joyce WatsonBiography
Deputy Minister, you’ve already said that ICT is playing a greater role in the Welsh Government’s engagement work with farmers, but the other side of that is the ability, of course, to use that technology that is coming out, in terms of, particularly, farmers wanting and needing to develop their computer skills. Is that something, Deputy Minister, that you are working with to help the industry to meet those challenges?
 
13:05
Rebecca EvansBiography
Yes, I thank you for the question. Farming Connect is providing practical sessions for farmers to develop and strengthen their computer literacy, particularly on a range of topics of interest to them, such as understanding EIDCymru, using spreadsheets and so on. We’re also offering one-to-one sessions, as well, in order to access Farming Connect services. We have some digital assistance programmes available at the moment for those farmers who need to complete their single application form 2016 forms online, and I’m really pleased that, already, 251 customers have booked a digital assistance appointment. Of those farmers who have already submitted their SAF forms for 2016, either in full or in part, a large number of those are farmers who hadn’t previously gone online. So, I think that we are offering farmers a very good offer in terms of the support that we can offer to become more IT literate and embrace all the benefits to business of being online.
 
13:06
Simon ThomasBiography
Deputy Minister, the information I’d really like to see us get out to farmers and our rural communities is the benefits of remaining in the European Union and the costs of leaving. The rural development plan alone has delivered to date £78 million in Carmarthenshire and £48 million to our rural communities in Pembrokeshire. Our single farm payment, of course, supports farmers in the traditional way that they look after our landscape, our environment and produce food for us. If we were to leave the EU, as the leader of the Welsh Conservatives wants us to do, there will be a 15 per cent tariff on the 35 per cent of Welsh sheep meat that’s exported to the EU. These are the facts we have to get out. What is the Welsh Government doing to produce those facts, particularly at a constituency level, so we can all take them to our rural communities and expose the hot air over there and fight hot air with fire.
 
13:07
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you. I couldn’t agree more with every word that you’ve just said, particularly your disappointment with the leader of the Conservatives’ position on remaining in Europe and the impact that would have on our farming communities. The Minister for Natural Resources and I have provided a paper that demonstrates the benefits that our department has had, and that people have had via that, from being members of the European Union, and I’m sure we’d be happy to share it with all Members.
 
13:07
Aled RobertsBiography
Deputy Minister, a number of farmers have been in touch with me about the issue of the 2016 SAF payments. Many of them haven’t received their 2015 payments, and others are appealing for 2015. Now, they have to present the 2016 SAF by May, so how exactly are you dealing with these situations, where their unions are saying that they shouldn’t be applying for the 2016 SAF until the result of 2015 has been concluded? And when do you hope to have dealt with all of the confusion and delays surrounding last year’s payments?
 
13:08
Rebecca EvansBiography
Just to remind you, of course, there are no delays in payments. The payment window closes on 31 June of this year. But, to date, we have had around 12,000 appeals and, as you’ll be aware, I introduced a simplified appeals process in order to move those very quickly through the system. We aim to complete the majority of those appeals and will write to customers by the end of March, and all customers before the SAF 2016 closing date, and that will allow them time to incorporate any changes that they need to make to their 2016 form. So, if any customers should actually fail to update their 2016 form, I’ve asked officials to use a new power that has been given to us by the European Commission from this year to give claimants the opportunity to update their claim form without penalties within 35 days of being informed of the mismatch of information.
 
13:09
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Deputy Minister, I wonder whether you will use the various mechanisms you have to communicate with farmers the future of the Government’s Glastir policy. My understanding is that there will be no new applications for entry strand next year. Many people are concerned about that. Also, when their contracts come to an end, if they’re unable to get into a whole-farm scheme, that’ll be devastating to their income levels and also devastating to the environment, as many will have to intensify their farming practice once again. Could you clarify what the Government’s policy is with regard to Glastir?
 
13:10
Rebecca EvansBiography
Yes, you’re right to say that there is no Glastir entry application round this year, and that is because an independent evaluation of the scheme, as well as feedback from stakeholders, suggested that there are greater environmental benefits and there would be better value for money, and that could be delivered by adopting a more targeted and capital-based approach to agri-environment support. So, we’re offering support now through our pioneering Glastir Advanced scheme as well as Glastir Woodland Creation and the new Glastir small grants scheme, all of which are available to farmers to apply for. Information about all those schemes and the opening times for windows, and so on, are available on the Welsh Government’s website.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:10
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party spokespeople. First this afternoon is the Conservative spokesperson, Russell George.
 
13:10
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Deputy Minister, at the end of the fourth Assembly, what score out of 10 would you give your Government for the support that it has provided to the farming industry?
 
13:10
Rebecca EvansBiography
Ten.
 
13:11
Russell GeorgeBiography
Well, Deputy Minister, I have a different view on that. In reality, Deputy Minister, your Government’s record has left Welsh farms at a severe disadvantage compared to their international competitors. The move to take 15 per cent from direct farm payments was a move that hit farmers hard—and was not seen anywhere else across the UK or Europe—and you also presided over a record-breaking cut to the agriculture and food budget, the biggest cut of any Government department, at a time when the dairy industry in particular is at a dangerous crisis point. Your recently published forecast on farm incomes has found that the average year-on-year business income across all farm types is forecast to decrease by nearly 16 per cent to £24,500, and for dairy farms there will be an average decrease of 40 per cent. Given this, what measures are the Welsh Government taking to stem the financial decline across the farming industry?
 
13:11
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, you referred to the 15 per cent pillar transfer from pillar 1 to pillar 2, and the purpose of that, as we’ve explained many times over the years, was to enable us to make strategic investments in farm businesses to achieve transformational change in the agricultural industry in Wales, and we’re doing that. During just the first seven months of operational time, we’ve already made £213 million of investment available for the benefit— [Interruption.]
 
13:12
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The Minister doesn’t need any assistance from the Plaid Cymru benches. Minister. [Interruption.] Or any other benches, come to that. Minister.
 
13:12
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you. So, during just the first seven months of operational time, we’ve already made £213 million of investment available for the benefit of communities, farmers, foresters and food businesses in Wales, and the majority of that was for farmers and foresters, with £110 million of grants being made available to them. Of course, you’ll know that, for farmers, foresters and landowners, 70 per cent is only available to those people, and they’re able to access almost the entire remainder of the rural development programme as well. We’ve already introduced, or opened, a number of schemes, as you know. Farming Connect is a great offer for farmers, and I’d certainly encourage them to engage with it. Glastir Advanced, commons, organic, woodland restoration and woodland creation have all been opened. Sustainable production grants have been opened, and a second window for expressions of interest for that is being opened, with the budget tripled. The food business investment grant and the rural community development fund are open, the co-operation and supply chain development schemes are open, with the chance to make transformational change right across the supply chain; and the timber business investment scheme and Glastir small grants scheme have all been opened, and I would encourage farmers to avail themselves of the opportunities provided by those.
 
13:13
Russell GeorgeBiography
International sales of Welsh lamb and beef are worth more than £225 million to the economy of Wales. It is vital that we protect this crucial industry for the prosperity of the whole of Wales. [Interruption.]
 
13:14
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. Order. I’m sorry, will you let him ask the question in fairly quiet conditions—and can you make it as concise as you can? I know you can be concise, so just show us concise you can be.
 
13:14
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Therefore, will you lend your support to the Welsh Conservative plans to introduce a red meat charter to secure the sustainability of the red meat industry in Wales? Will you also provide details of any discussions you have had with regard to the importation of New Zealand lamb and offer any assessment on how this has impacted on the procurement and sale of Welsh lamb? [Interruption.]
 
13:14
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Sorry, before—. Deputy Minister.
 
13:14
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, I do share the Member’s concern about the amount of New Zealand lamb being imported into the EU, especially when we have such great quality produce available right here in Wales. So, I certainly do share that concern. I’ll be making representation on Monday at the European council of agriculture Ministers meeting regarding quotas particularly, and explore whether we can have reduced quotas during our peak time for lamb, because I know that’s done for other produce, such as garlic, elsewhere in the EU. So, we’ll be looking at that particularly.
 
You’ll be aware that the Welsh Government, through Hybu Cig Cymru, are members of the EU sheep meat reflection group, which met for the first time in November. I was pleased to be able to secure Wales a place on that group after discussing it with Commissioner Hogan at the Royal Welsh Show, and I think that that will provide another opportunity and another forum to really try and take this issue forward within Europe.
 
13:15
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you. We now move to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
 
13:15
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Minister, I understand the Welsh Government are about to carry out a consultation around the introduction of a nitrate vulnerable zone in Pembrokeshire. I’ve received representations from farmers who are particularly concerned that this will happen, of course, during dissolution. Could you confirm whether that is the case, and if it is, do you think that’s appropriate?
 
13:15
Carl SargeantBiography
Yes, it is the case, and it will continue. We will obviously not be making any decisions with this Government; it will be for the next Government to be well-informed about the consultation that will take place.
 
13:16
Llyr GruffyddBiography
But I’m sure you would understand the concerns that people have that they will not have Assembly Members to turn to for advice and support during that consultation, or for a large part of that consultation process. So, I would ask you maybe to reflect on that intention and the possibility maybe of delaying it somewhat. Moving on to the substantive issue of the consultation itself, it will, if proposals are introduced, have far-reaching implications for many farms—I think up to potentially 2,000 farms that border on the Cleddau tributaries and the Cleddau estuary area. Clearly, many farmers at the moment have maybe up to about three weeks of slurry stores available to them. One of the requirements possibly will be to have up to five months of slurry stores, and that will require huge investment and huge capital cost at a time, of course, when many of these businesses are producing at a loss. So, could you tell us whether the Government would consider providing support for these farmers who would be affected by these requirements, to meet those without jeopardising their businesses?
 
13:17
Carl SargeantBiography
Two points. First of all, I will consider the issue you raised around the consultation, if that is of concern. However, what we must do is address this issue and it has to be sorted one way or another. We have far too many cases of diffuse pollution across our water courses and it’s something that we must tackle together. The issue around the consultation will be around whether that’s a localised NVZ or whether it’s a national scheme, and that will be something the consultation will have to consider.
 
With regard to support for farm and farm bases that need to make adjustments, I’d be happy to have further discussions. I think the next Government, of course, will have to have further discussions with the industry to see how they can manage this better, but ultimately this is a matter for the sector to deal with and I think Government does need to look carefully at how we can move them and transfer them into a better space.
 
13:18
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Thank you, Minister. You will know, of course, that Natural Resources Wales are responsible for ensuring that we meet our duties in terms of the water framework directive here in Wales, and you’ll also know that NRW face quite a considerable cut to their budget for the coming financial year. As an environment committee, we’ve now been informed that they will have to deliver cuts to certain aspects of their services, including monitoring of evidence, although people tell us there’s a lack of data already; flood and coastal risk management, which clearly is something that is of increasing concern to many communities across Wales; education services and partnership funding, which is something I thought the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 was supposed to encourage; as well as further reductions in the workforce. The Wales Audit Office recently published a report on NRW’s governance arrangements, and it stated that
 
‘NRW considers that the expected level of budget cuts will require fundamental changes to the purpose and structure of NRW.’
 
Do you agree, and if you do, what aspects of its services would you drop?
 
13:19
Carl SargeantBiography
I think this is a matter for the board and for NRW to deliberate as they move forward. The fact of the matter is if there is less money to deliver services, there will be fewer services. I cannot defend that issue. The fact that we’ve had £1.4 billion less from the UK Government has an effect on public services here across Wales. You never hear Russell George bleating about the fact that they give us less money to deliver services; he just wants more for his party, and his leader wants to come out of Europe, which is also baffling. The fact of the matter is NRW will deliver on their services; I expect them to do that, and I work with them on a monthly basis, meeting them to discuss how they will implement the reduced budget.
 
13:19
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson, William Powell.
 
13:19
William PowellBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Minister, many communities across Wales have been affected over recent years, as we all know, by flooding, causing injury and death, colossal damage to people’s homes and also a severely detrimental effect on the wider Welsh economy. Will you outline the support currently available, via the Welsh Government, for flood-affected communities in Wales?
 
13:20
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, thank you for your question. We’ve got a very good investment programme for flood defences indeed. The colleague sitting next to you, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas—. I was in Dolgellau only last week opening a scheme, which we know from the Christmas flooding, the occurrence on Boxing Day, saved around 300 homes and 54 businesses from flooding, because of the investment made by Welsh Government and European structural funds. Therefore, it is very important that we continue to be part of Europe to make clever investments that protect our communities right across the length and breadth of Wales.
 
13:20
William PowellBiography
Thank you, Minister, for that response. I certainly agree 100 per cent in terms of your most recent comments on the importance of that infrastructure spending. However, research that has recently been undertaken on behalf of the National Assembly Petitions Committee shows that there is actually a significantly more generous package of funding that’s available in England, not so much on the infrastructure side, but in terms of responding to those who are recovering from flood risk.
 
Households and businesses just across the border are provided with—. Local authorities are provided with £500 for each household affected, grants of up to £5,000 to assist households to protect their individual properties from flooding, and also £2,500 for affected businesses. In addition, the UK Government currently match funds the funds that are raised by registered charities that are involved in actively supporting flood relief.
 
With flood risk certain to increase in the time to come, what consideration needs to be given by the next Welsh Government as to the creation of specific flood-resilience grants, available direct to those affected for communities across Wales?
 
13:22
Carl SargeantBiography
Okay. I thank the Member again for his very concise question. The issue for us here in Wales; let’s put this into context. We had around 150 properties flooded during the Christmas period out of a total—on a Welsh basis. If we looked at the news footage over the Christmas period and looked at what happened in England, that was because of their lack of investment in flood defences.
 
We’re about investing in prevention rather than reaction after the event, because people who are flooded, it’s a terrible event that they go through, and they find the small amount of money from the UK Government to these individuals will have little effect on managing their properties in the long term.
 
We invested in a £3 million programme straight after the Christmas flooding in order to have some repair work in communities across Wales, and there was a bidding process from local authorities. But, again, I suggest that we have to look at the clever investments that we’ve made—places like in Delyn, in the Vale of Glamorgan and in St. Asaph with Ann Jones—looking at these, making sure that we have the resilience for their communities for the long term, not by just making small investments after the event has happened.
 
13:23
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
[Inaudible.]
 
13:23
William PowellBiography
Thank you, Llywydd, for that timely reminder. I appreciate, Minister, what you said with regard to the value of preventative spend, although there are a couple of specific focused initiatives that I would ask the Minister’s view on. Firstly, with regard to the council tax and business rate relief that is available in England, has the Welsh Government looked at bringing that forward? And finally, the farming recovery fund that has made specific grants available to those farming businesses most directly affected in Cumbria, Northumberland and the rest of the north of England. What consideration will you be prepared to give in a future time to adopting some of these practical and well-received schemes to add to the suite of funding that is available from Welsh Government for those affected by these devastating events?
 
13:24
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, I listened to the Member very carefully, his comments, but as I said earlier on, we have to put this into context. The issue is that, here, we’re dealing with it very differently to what’s happening in England. We maintain and continue to have a very high investment in our flood-defence schemes. Therefore, I’m open to ideas on issues that are related across the board, potentially, and how we can implement them, but actually we’re doing a very good job with the limited resources we’re receiving from the UK Government.
 
13:24
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper and question 3 is Lynne Neagle.
 
Opencast Mining
 
13:24
Lynne NeagleBiography
3. Will the Minister make a statement on how guidance on opencast mining planning applications considers the needs of local communities? OAQ(4)0421(NR)
 
13:25
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for Torfaen for her question. ‘Minerals Technical Advice Note 2: Coal’ sets out comprehensive guidance on how the needs of local communities should be considered. This includes setting out how the community can participate throughout the duration of the project, from planning application through to site restoration and closure.
 
13:25
Lynne NeagleBiography
Minister, I have recently written to you to express my concern that some residents of Varteg tell me that they’ve received payment offers of £1,000 per household for the duration of the proposed opencast scheme. Worryingly, when Torfaen council approach the developer, they were unable to obtain confirmation of any offers to residents. I believe that if such payments are within the law, then they should be made in an open and transparent manner and in discussion with all residents affected. Would you agree with me that making such offers to some residents and not others risks dividing a community and obscuring the transparent planning process? Will you look at issuing further guidance to protect residents in this situation?
 
13:26
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her question. Obviously, Presiding Officer, I’m unable to comment on a specific planning application when it’s a live application, but I do pay tribute to the Member who never ceases to seize the opportunity to raise this issue with me. With regard to the more general point of the application about payments to communities, I would hope that it would be considered to be done in an open and transparent way, and if the Member wishes to write to me with more details, irrespective of the application, I will ask my team to look at it in detail.
 
13:26
William GrahamBiography
The First Minister stated publicly that the guidance in MTAN is there to be obeyed, yet there are still planning applications that are being submitted and considered and not immediately dismissed even though they do not reflect that guidance. Would the Minister be minded to issue stronger guidance, emphasising a requirement to reflect the determinations of this Assembly and to reinforce the specified 500m buffer zone?
 
13:27
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, as the Member will be aware, we have a review of MTAN 2. That’s under way, and obviously my team are working on the finer detail of that. It would be wrong of any Minister to prejudge any application. It has to come through the appropriate channels. We believe that MTAN 2 in its current state is an appropriate document, but we are updating it and we continue to do that with all technical advice notes too.
 
13:27
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, I have recently read the catchily titled, ‘Best Practice Guide on Restoration Liability Assessments for Surface Coal Mines’, by the Coal Authority, which was requested by your Government. While I welcome that report, there are two paragraphs only at the end of a 13-page document about how the restoration processes actually affect those living in the area. I have attended summits alongside other Assembly Members in this room, and considering the strength of feeling of residents about how opencast mining affects their health and affects their way of life, why is it that only two paragraphs have been afforded to them and most of it then leans towards the developer?
 
13:28
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, I think it’s the content of the paragraphs that is important and making sure that we’re able to demonstrate that the restoration programme is a very integral part of the application, and I think we have to be able to demonstrate that. I met recently with the UK Government on the basis that I do believe that many of the coal opencast provisions that there are in Wales are, ultimately, the responsibility of the UK Government in terms of the restoration programme.
 
13:28
David ReesBiography
To follow on from that, Minister, clearly, financial resources for a full restoration programme are essential to an application being approved. Therefore, will you include in your guidelines stronger emphasis on ensuring that the financial resources are there so that communities like those around Parc Slip don’t have to face a hole and a void for a very long time because the companies are saying that they haven’t got the money?
 
13:29
Carl SargeantBiography
The Member is right to raise this issue. MTAN 2 already states that operators should demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Mineral Products Association that they are covered by a bond or an established and properly funded industry guarantee scheme that would fund adequately the finance programme of the restoration and aftercare in case of default by the operator. As I said to Bethan Jenkins earlier, and as I’ve said to the Member when he’s raised it with me, the situation at Margam is directly as a result of privatisation by the UK Government and the current policy is robust in requesting restoration provisions from the UK Government.
 
Environment (Wales) Bill
 
13:29
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the duty of non-devolved bodies to comply with the Environment (Wales) Bill? OAQ(4)0426(NR)[W]
 
13:29
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. Section 6 of the Environment (Wales) Bill will place a new, enhanced biodiversity and resilience of ecosystems duty on public authorities that will also apply to the majority of UK public authorities carrying out functions in non-devolved areas in relation to Wales.
 
13:30
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Thank you very much. My interest is specifically in the plans of National Grid to erect new pylons across Ynys Môn, which is very unpopular with the people of the island, who are concerned about the environmental impact, the impact on the value of property, and the impact on the economy and so on. The people of Ynys Môn favour undergrounding or putting the cables under the sea. Now, I wrote to the Minister and, in that letter, he confirmed what we’ve just heard, namely that there is a duty on bodies such as the UK Government and the National Grid that are involved in projects in Wales to comply with the biodiversity and resilience duty in section 6 of the Environment (Wales) Bill. Now, on that basis, what discussions have the Welsh Government had with the National Grid to ensure that they are aware of their duties before the Bill is given Royal Assent? And does the Minister agree with me that very detailed consideration should be given to the impact on our natural resources in any plans in terms of the transmission of electricity?
 
13:31
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. There’s been lots of debate with the UK Government on this very issue, as the Member will be aware. At one point, the UK Government wouldn’t allow Crown consent around this part of the Bill in the passage through this Assembly, but that was recovered at a very late stage. In regard to infrastructure in particular, I will discuss that further with Edwina Hart, and I will write a letter to the Member in regard to the particular issue the Member raises regarding pylons and the island of Anglesey.
 
13:31
Janet HaworthBiography
Minister, I recently visited a waste water plant in north Wales, and public water supply plant. During the visit, the need to ensure that there is more proactive, preventative maintenance and upgrading of our sewerage system was raised. They also stressed the importance of being fully consulted when it comes to new building projects. Can I urge you one final time during this Assembly to retrospectively include Welsh Water as a statutory consultee on new planning decisions? I was assured that there are service teams willing and able to discharge this duty in the interests of maintaining the integrity of these vital public services.
 
13:32
Carl SargeantBiography
I am grateful the Member raised that very issue with us, because I’m sure the Member voted for that as a statutory consultee, which is actually in the Bill.
 
Housing Developments
 
13:32
John GriffithsBiography
5. How are environmental issues taken into account when considering large-scale planning applications for housing developments? OAQ(4)0418(NR)
 
13:32
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank John Griffiths for his question. Local planning authorities must balance the environmental issues related to a development alongside the social and economic issues when considering planning applications, including those for large-scale housing developments.
 
13:33
John GriffithsBiography
Minister, greening our urban environment creates more pleasant local areas. It also improves commitment and awareness of the environment, and, indeed, encourages more physical activity, and so better health and wellbeing. Given those benefits—and, indeed, there are further benefits also—how will Welsh Government ensure that large-scale housing developments create top-quality environments?
 
13:33
Carl SargeantBiography
There are many ways in which we encourage this action, and the planning process is just one. But I also welcome areas such as Newport City Homes, which I know operates in the Member’s constituency. I’m grateful for them establishing an environmental improvement fund, which provides seed-corn funding of up to £5,000 for local people to improve their neighbourhoods and communities. I do believe that Governments can legislate on many things, but, actually, community involvement in changing the way that their community acts is certainly a sensible way to move forward.
 
13:34
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Minister, Wales has just experienced one of the warmest winters on record, with considerable flooding as a result. Too often, local authorities allow developers permission to build on areas known to be at risk of flooding, in a bid to meet targets set in the Wales spatial plan. What consideration has the Minister given to designating areas at risk of flooding as blue-belt land, and of banning housing development in such areas in Wales?
 
13:34
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, again, I welcome the questions today from the opposition benches; they are quite amusing, most of the questions I’ve received today. This is the party that voted against the environment Bill, not so long back. These are the people who doubted the issues around climate change. This is the party that wants to enhance, produce, fracking across the rest of Wales—a pro-fracking party opposite, and you ask me about warmer winters. You have to really consider the issues of your party and what you’re considering when you ask these questions, on a serious basis.
 
13:35
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, in Cardiff, you’ve recently authorised the construction of 1,200 new homes in Lisvane—the Churchlands development. I’m sure that the Minister was inundated by constituents objecting to this on the grounds of the lack of transport infrastructure, as indeed I was. But, with a total lack of transport infrastructure, the impact on the local environment will be hugely negative, if this isn’t planned in from the very start. Will the Minister work with local authorities to ensure that, when new sites are developed, there is more rigorous consideration of the impact of supporting infrastructure on the local environment?
 
13:35
Carl SargeantBiography
Again, Presiding Officer, I can’t comment on the application, as it has been decided and that is an action of my department. In regard to the more general question of transport infrastructure, it is an important policy objective when applications are coming through any programme and local development plans are fundamental to making sure that that is a rigorous part of the process for future developments.
 
13:36
Jeff CuthbertBiography
Caerphilly County Borough Council has recently published its draft LDP and, of course, we all understand that there is an acute need for more affordable housing across Wales. However, a number of my constituents are concerned that attractive green spaces, such as Gwern-y-Domen near Rudry, could be lost because too many house builders are looking to concentrate new residential estates in the more lucrative areas of my constituency in close proximity to Cardiff and the M4. Minister, would you agree with me that this shows the need for a more balanced approach to residential development across local authorities, ensuring good transport links in order to make it more attractive for developers to build in areas such as further north in the Rhymney valley?
 
13:37
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. Having an up-to-date adopted LDP is essential in order to secure the jobs, homes and infrastructure that communities need. The location and scale of growth in an LDP is a matter for the local authority to determine. However, I do believe that, where there are issues between neighbouring local authorities, these should be considered in the development of the LDP too.
 
People in Fuel Poverty
 
13:37
Mark IsherwoodBiography
6. How is the Welsh Government helping people in fuel poverty? OAQ(4)0415(NR)
 
13:37
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. Welsh Government Warm Homes is funding the installation of energy efficiency measures to domestic properties occupied by low-income households and those living in deprived communities. The Nest scheme also provides householders living in Wales with access to free advice and support to help them reduce their energy bills.
 
13:37
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Of course, we need the whole-person approach as well as the whole-house approach, which is why it’s a social justice issue. However, the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into the energy market noted that households in Wales are particularly unlikely to shop around. How, therefore, do you respond to the call in the Fuel Poverty Coalition Cymru manifesto for the next Welsh Government to support independent advice services to help and support people in fuel poverty—emphasis on ‘independent’?
 
13:38
Carl SargeantBiography
I’m very proud of the energy efficiency scheme that we have here in Wales. It’s making a tremendous impact on communities across the length and breadth of Wales. Let’s take, for instance, what is happening with his party over the border. There is no national energy efficiency programme in England. The energy company obligation is a UK Government scheme to obligate larger suppliers to deliver energy efficiency measures to domestic premises in Britain. The ECO budget from 2017 is valued at £640 million per annum and I meet on a regular basis with the big six energy companies to make sure that we can develop and enhance our programmes alongside of theirs to make sure we have our more than fair share here in Wales to develop energy efficiency.
 
13:39
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, the purpose of the Arbed and Nest energy efficiency schemes were to seriously reduce fuel poverty in Wales. You’re probably correct in suggesting that it is successful in those homes that have benefited. But since the latest figures suggest that 330,000 households live in fuel poverty, do you believe that these schemes have been adequate?
 
13:39
Carl SargeantBiography
We can always do more. All Governments can do more, I think, but what we shouldn’t do is not recognise the immense amount of work that has been done on both the schemes. The Nest programme: from April 2011 to March 2015, over 68,000 householders received advice and support to help them heat their homes more effectively, with over 70,000 who met the eligibility criteria receiving free home energy improvements.
 
The schemes are very effective in making sure that homes across Wales are much more resilient moving into the future.
 
But, of course, this Government and any other Government in future could do more, and I would encourage the next Government to invest heavily, as we currently do, in these energy efficiency programmes.
 
Flooding in North Wales
 
13:40
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
7. Will the Minister make a statement on flooding issues in north Wales? OAQ(4)0428(NR)
 
13:40
Carl SargeantBiography
Flood risk issues and potential schemes across all of Wales are raised with Welsh Government through the risk management authorities. Over this Government term, we will invest over £285 million in flood and coastal risk management, including over £77 million in north Wales.
 
13:40
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you, Minister. I obviously welcome the £5 million extra that you announced yesterday. But, in Aberconwy, we see many repairs that are still required, and, of course, I’m including the grade I listed Gwydir castle, including its very rare and magnificent graded gardens, severely flooded over this winter on 12 separate occasions.
 
Now, Minister, this is a fundamental part of our historical heritage in north Wales, and the owners have actually lovingly restored this castle back with all of its original features. Minister, you know I’ve raised this with you outside this Chamber and I’ve not been too impressed with the lack of interest, shall we say, that you’ve afforded to this building. Minister, will you work with the owners, will you work with Natural Resources Wales, and will you work to ensure that we actually avoid flooding issues and the problem for this particular building, but, more importantly, help them to actually make some vital repairs that are now needed?
 
13:41
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her question. Again, another gift from the opposition parties. My priority is protecting people, not castles, in this. The fact of the matter is, in Dafydd Elis-Thomas’s constituency, 300 people—300 properties—we protected in the Christmas period, and the Member opposite wants to protect gardens in a castle. Let’s get our priorities right. This is about making sure we look after people across Wales, not castles, like that Member wishes to do.
 
13:42
Ann JonesBiography
Minister, carrying on the theme of protection of people, could I ask you to place on the record how much the Welsh Government has invested in protecting my constituents in the Vale of Clwyd from potential flood risks, both coastal and river?
 
13:42
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her question, and I’m sure I should thank the Member for actually inviting me to St Asaph during the Christmas period. Celebrating Christmas with Ann Jones on the banks of St Asaph was something I didn’t think about this year, but it was certainly very welcoming.
 
Since the start of this Government, we’ve invested over £19 million into flood and coastal erosion risk management across Denbighshire County Council. This includes £6.6 million from European funding. The Member continues to write to me to ensure that this scheme is delivered effectively and efficiently by Natural Resources Wales, and I’m confident that they can do that. NRW have allocated £3 million, through the Wales infrastructure investment plan, to progress work at St Asaph in the next financial year.
 
13:43
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Minister, I’ve highlighted a number of times the damage that flooding caused in the village of Talybont, a village that you haven’t yet visited, I know. But, as the Talybont and the A55 flood protection scheme has now been agreed with Gwynedd Council, can you confirm that the Government will fund the cost of that scheme in full? Thank you.
 
13:43
Carl SargeantBiography
I just have to correct the Member: I have visited Talybont. I was there only the other day with the fantastic candidate, Sion Jones, for that particular area. Can I just also say the Member received additional funding for Gwynedd of £0.5 million—£551,100 to the Gwynedd authority? [Interruption.] The Member doesn’t like my response, Presiding Officer. I’m not quite sure what I’ve said.
 
13:44
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Well, we’re listening to you. Just carry on.
 
13:44
Carl SargeantBiography
Oh, thank you. I’m not sure if the Member would like me to repeat the fact that I was in Talybont only last week—
 
13:44
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
No, I don’t think we need you to repeat anything.
 
13:44
Carl SargeantBiography
[Continues.]—with the member, Sion Jones, the Labour candidate for the area.
 
The issue for Gwynedd: they did receive additional funding last month of £551,100 for the development and to reassess the issues that were concerning the Member, which occurred on the flooding of Boxing Day and the days after that period.
 
13:44
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Well, it’s very interesting, but there was a bit too much information about who was with you at that point. Question 8, Alun Ffred Jones. [Interruption.] Order. Question 8, Alun Ffred Jones. Did you want to ask it?
 
13:44
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Yes. Question 8, yes?
 
Community Energy Projects
 
13:44
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the role of community energy projects as part of the Welsh Government’s climate change strategy? OAQ(4)0419(NR)[W]
 
13:45
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for Arfon for his question. I recognise that community energy has a key role in tackling climate change by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, as well as providing the opportunity for communities to reduce their carbon footprint. That is why I launched the Welsh Government’s local energy service, which provides support to our communities and SMEs to develop their own renewable energy projects.
 
13:45
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
A week ago, I was celebrating the launch of two community hydro scheme in Arfon, Ynni Padarn and Ynni Ogwen, as they offered an opportunity for the public to buy shares in those projects. Would you join with me in congratulating these two groups, as well as Ynni Anafon in Aber, on their innovation in establishing projects that will bring great benefits to those areas in years to come?
 
13:45
Carl SargeantBiography
Indeed, the Member is right to raise this very important issue about renewable energy in the Chamber today. I welcome and support many groups across Wales and it’s something that I would encourage, again, the future Government to make investment in to support resilient communities, moving forward.
 
13:46
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
2. Questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:46
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 2, which is questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty. Question 1 is from William Graham.
 
Supervised Play Services
 
13:46
William GrahamBiography
1. Will the Minister outline how the Welsh Government will ensure that supervised play services provided by local authorities are not adversely affected by childcare regulations? OAQ(4)0433(CTP)
 
13:46
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Thank you. Local authority play services are subject to childcare registration under the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010. The revised national minimum standards for regulated childcare set out how the regulations must be met and take account of the differing types of settings, including play provision.
 
13:46
William GrahamBiography
I’m grateful to the Minister for her answer, but, obviously, disappointed by her confirmation of that. Isn’t there a possibility of some deregulation of parts of that? Because summer play schemes organised by councils, particularly the Cwmbran Community Council and by other councils right across Wales, are provided to allow children to integrate and develop through supervised play activities. Though they seem to be caught by this regulation, could you liaise with colleagues to separate supervised play activities from the regulations that safeguard our children in care services?
 
13:47
Lesley GriffithsBiography
The short answer is ‘no’—that we won’t be looking at any deregulation. I am aware of the issue that you have just mentioned. It’s obviously up to local authorities and community councils how they provide those schemes. For instance, in relation to Torfaen, I was made aware of the proposed changes that they’re bringing forward for their provision prior to the summer of last year, so, before any decision was taken to extend the registration of childcare.
 
Flying Start
 
13:47
Jenny RathboneBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on how the achievements of Flying Start can be mainstreamed? OAQ(4)0437(CTP)
 
13:47
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. A programme for government commitment was to double the number of children benefitting from Flying Start. We exceeded the target of 36,000 a year early, and recent statistics show we are well on track to reach more children again this year. We remain committed to improving outcomes for children and their families.
 
13:48
Jenny RathboneBiography
Minister, during your visit to the Pentwyn Flying Start with me recently, we saw how well health visitors were working with family support workers and that this was really joining up the support that families got. Parenting doesn’t come with instructions, and so it can be very difficult. I just wondered how well we are learning from the successes of Flying Start in enabling that to be the way in which all early years services work across the piece.
 
13:48
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, that was a very good visit we had, and I certainly found it very beneficial, you know, speaking with the health visitors. The Flying Start programme and generic health visiting services, I think, work very well together. I’ve also been very pleased to see the number of midwives—that has increased in Flying Start settings right across Wales. We’ve now got Healthy Child Wales in the portfolio of my colleague the Minister for Health and Social Services, and I think, together, Flying Start and Healthy Child Wales will offer a much more consistent, a very prudent and a very evidence-based approach. I think that will identify and respond to families’ strengths and needs. You’re quite right, parenting is probably one of the most difficult jobs we’ll ever do and it doesn’t come with a textbook, so I think it is really important that we do support families, going forward.
 
13:49
Angela BurnsBiography
Minister, previous analyses of Flying Start performance have indicated or have referred to a lack of parental awareness of the schemes and also the difficulty of retaining and training health workers within the schemes—a fact I know that you’ve recognised yourself. I just wondered if you could update us on how that’s proceeding. Are we able to engage more parents? Are we able to keep more of the medical professionals that we need in that scheme to help promote it?
 
13:50
Lesley GriffithsBiography
During the visit I did that Jenny Rathbone just referred to, it was very interesting to talk to the health visitors there about what we could do to make it attractive. Actually, I think every health visitor—and we met about six on this visit—wanted to stay in the Flying Start setting. They felt that they had more of an input with families than perhaps some of the generic health visitors did for the longer term, obviously. It is an issue. I’m having discussions with the Minister for Health and Social Services. It’s very important that we have the correct number of health visitors. I also mentioned midwives because that’s a similar issue. Some are seconded from health boards, but we do want to keep that sort of experience in the Flying Start settings.
 
13:50
Aled RobertsBiography
Minister, I’m sure you will have read a report published last month, which stated that a small number of parents weren’t able to access Welsh-medium services within Flying Start because there weren’t enough Welsh-speaking staff available. What’s your response to that situation, given all the debates that we’ve had here on the issue, and what steps would you urge local authorities to take to improve the situation?
 
13:51
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, it’s very important that, if a family want to have their service delivered through the medium of the Welsh language, they are able to access that. I haven’t had any issues with people complaining that they haven’t. It’s an issue that I will discuss with local authorities, if it’s raised with them, but I haven’t had any specific enquiries about it at all.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:51
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from party spokespeople. First this afternoon is Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhodri Glyn Thomas.
 
13:51
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, you have made a commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020—the same commitment that each one of your predecessors have made since 1999. What makes you confident that it’s possible to achieve that commitment?
 
13:52
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, we certainly have re-affirmed our ambition to eradicate child poverty by 2020, unlike the UK Government which, as you’ll be aware, has stepped away from that target. We revised our child poverty strategy last year and, in our consultation, it was very clear to me that stakeholders wanted to keep that target there. It is being made even more difficult by the welfare reform changes that we are seeing from the UK Government, but we do remain committed to that ambition.
 
13:52
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
I understand that you have an ambition to do that, Minister, and that you’ve set it as a target. What I cannot understand from your reply is how exactly you are going to make good on your pledge. The Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee did publish a very critical report of Welsh Government’s attempts to eradicate child poverty last summer. What changes have you introduced in the wake of the recommendations of that report?
 
13:53
Lesley GriffithsBiography
You’ll be aware—because obviously you sit on that committee, and I’ve given evidence to that committee—that we have taken a refreshed approach to the way we tackle poverty, not just child poverty but the way we tackle poverty. Because, obviously, if a child lives in poverty, it’s because their parents are in poverty. So, we have refreshed our approach right across Government. We’ve got much more of a focus on employability, on upskilling and early years to try and ensure that we do reach that target of our ambition to eradicate child poverty by 2020.
 
13:53
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Well, the question I asked, Minister, was: what changes have you introduced in the way in which your department addresses this problem? It’s one thing to say that you have taken a new, refreshed approach to it, but what exactly have you done to change a situation that has been a failure for the Welsh Government since 1999? If you haven’t introduced any changes, how can you tell us that you are committed to the eradication of child poverty by 2020?
 
13:54
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, the changes are part of the refreshed approach we have to tackling poverty. So, for instance, in Communities First we’ve got much more of a focus on employability, and you’ll be aware of schemes such as Lift and PaCE, which are all working alongside the Communities First infrastructure to ensure that parents do have the opportunities to gain employment and skills.
 
13:54
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.
 
13:54
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thank you. Under your measures, we have a paradox where child poverty can appear to reduce when an economy is getting poorer. Of course, one of the contributing factors is family breakdown. In Scotland, it’s Year of the Dad, organised in partnership with the Scottish Government and Fathers Network Scotland to highlight the positive contribution fathers make to children, families and society. How would you work, if in Welsh Government or opposition after the next election, if you were here, to support the greater inclusion of fathers in a positive role in the lives of their children with emulation of and learning from the Scottish experience by having a year of the dad in Wales?
 
13:55
Lesley GriffithsBiography
One of our main difficulties is what I said before and is in relation to the welfare reform changes that are coming from the UK Government. We work with promoting engagement with fathers. Local authorities are absolutely expected to actively promote services to fathers and support their engagement. And, again, with Flying Start, that’s another area where we work very closely to ensure that fathers are engaged.
 
13:55
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Well, I hope that means you would draw on the Scottish experience, but perhaps you’ll clarify in your next response. Charities in Wales, such as FNF Both Parents Matter, have worked with 4Children, the UK charity all about children and families, to facilitate dads’ focus groups to inform their inquiry into families, and their resulting 4Children report, ‘Britain’s Families: Thriving or Surviving?’, says that fathers can struggle to be as hands-on in their parenting. How, therefore, do you respond to their recommendations that all family services should be welcoming to fathers, when the evidence from Wales suggested otherwise, and that we need a wider public campaign to emphasise the important role of fathers in modern family life?
 
13:56
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, I do think, as a Government, we recognise it is vital that fathers are part of that hands-on parenting that you referred to. I mentioned Flying Start, and we had a worker from Swansea Flying Start who is actually called a ‘dads worker’ who received an award recently, and it’s because our dads workers do go out and engage with fathers, making sure that they build relationships with the fathers, and they, in turn, can build relationships with their children.
 
13:57
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Well, as one Welsh parents said in the report:
 
‘Everything is focused on the mothers, dads are left in the background. From the midwives, health visitors, dads get left in the dark. Everything concentrates on the mother.’
 
Mother, of course, is crucial, but so is dad. Given that the proportion of children being taken into care in Wales has been rising and is significantly higher than the numbers going into care in England, how do you respond to the statement by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales that contributing factors could be less-effective family support services, more risk-averse professionals and legal teams, and higher child poverty levels, and that the Welsh Government’s emphasis on reducing looked-after children numbers must be accompanied by effective support for children and their families, which, of course, means both parents?
 
13:57
Lesley GriffithsBiography
We have a wide range of schemes that support families, and they do support both parents. You mentioned that one person said everything is about the mother. Well, I’m not going to make comment on one person, but I absolutely agree that all our schemes are there to support both parents, both mothers and fathers.
 
13:58
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
And finally, the Welsh Liberal Democrats spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
13:58
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, thank you for your letter, which I received today, with regard to the disclosure and barring service that is run by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action on behalf the Welsh Government. You say in your letter that you’ve been engaged in talks on the changes to this service since 2013, and yet, when I’ve met with the sports council for Wales and other sports bodies, I’m told that they have never been engaged in this process, despite the fact that 50 per cent of the DBS checks actually relate to sports activities. Can you explain why it is that your consultation process has omitted dealing with the sports council for Wales, the WRU and other sports bodies that have a vested interest in the continuation of this service?
 
13:59
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, as I said in my letter to you, my officials have been engaged in this work with the WCVA, back since 2013, and it’s the WCVA that has been running this scheme. My understanding is that they had engaged with Sport Wales. You’re quite right; you point out that about 50 per centre of the checks that are done are for the variety of sporting bodies across Wales. I think circumstances have changed greatly since the scheme was introduced 12 years ago and that is why that work started back in 2013, before I came into portfolio.
 
13:59
Peter BlackBiography
I understand, Minister, you have been engaged with WCVA, and that is not in doubt, and I accept that you understand also that 50 per cent of these checks are with sports bodies. So, it is puzzling as to why you assumed automatically that sports bodies would be consulted with when you hadn’t actually actively engaged with them. It does seem to me that that assumption has left many bodies in a very difficult situation indeed, and there is a danger of some activities ceasing altogether because these checks could not be pursued. Minister, when you took this decision, you will of course have had to complete a children’s challenge rights impact assessment, and also a risk assessment. Could you give an indication of when these will be published, please?
 
14:00
Lesley GriffithsBiography
They’ll be published before the end of term.
 
14:00
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that again, Minister. I think that’s very helpful. In your letter, you say that you are hoping to put very quickly an alternative arrangement in place, in which, presumably, you’ll be looking to put other umbrella organisations that are able to carry out these checks. Are you aware that the Disclosure and Barring Service are no longer accepting any new umbrella bodies to deal with these checks online, and that they can only now take on, at the moment, new umbrella bodies dealing with paper checks, which could take up to 18 weeks as opposed to the few days that online checks are taking? If you are aware of that, could you explain what arrangements are being put in place that will ensure that an umbrella body is able to take on this role in the future, and that the deadline that you’ve set through your extension of funding, of September, will be met, and there will be alternative arrangements in place?
 
14:01
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Officials are taking this forward now with the WCVA. You mentioned that I had some under-utilised funding, which I’ve now provided to them to extend the scheme until the end of September, so those discussions around not taking on new registered umbrella bodies will be something that officials will talk about. You mentioned the difficulties that organisations are facing. Wales is the only country in the UK that has this scheme, so, for instance I spoke to somebody from Hockey Wales—England Hockey had their own scheme; they don’t look to any other scheme. So, I think we have to recognise that we are the only country that provided this scheme in the UK. We’re the only country in the UK that provided that help for the third sector. We can’t just keep doing the same things, particularly when evidence shows that there are much more cost-effective ways of achieving the same outcome.
 
14:02
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper, and question 3 is Mark Isherwood.
 
Housing in Rural Areas
 
14:02
Mark IsherwoodBiography
3. How is the Welsh Government meeting housing demand in rural areas? OAQ(4)0428(CTP)
 
14:02
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Increasing the supply of homes in communities across Wales forms part of my wider housing supply priorities. I recognise rural Wales has particular housing challenges and I have approved funding of rural housing enabler projects to support the continued delivery of affordable homes in rural areas.
 
14:02
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thank you. Of course, the omission of a budget line for housing enablers caused huge concern, and your u-turn announcement at the rural regeneration conference of Community Housing Cymru last week on this was very well received. In taking this forward, however, what action have you actually taken—? That was the case. We did ask you about this in committee, and you failed to address the question then. However, what action have you taken since the Welsh Government’s 2014 evaluation of rural housing enablers in Wales to address the concern raised in that that there had been a change in activity away from raising community awareness of rural housing needs and measuring it when the enablers, in fact, need to be supported to identify that need in order to work with the community to deliver more housing?
 
14:03
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I absolutely recognise that rural housing enablers really make a real difference in delivering rural housing. I made the announcement of the extension of the funding way back last year at their conference, so they’ve always been assured that that funding was there so that they could continue to work with communities across rural Wales to ensure that projects were delivered.
 
14:04
Simon ThomasBiography
Minister, I’ve been contacted by several constituents in Newport—Newport, Pembrokeshire, that is—who have faced severe housing pressures around commercial development for housing in rural areas. Last week I visited Brynhir in Tenby where similar development is threatening sustainable communities. It seems that in rural areas we’re faced either with very expensive developments, which have little in the way of affordable homes and maximise the views and attractions for second homes and so forth, or the alternative, which are the very, if you like, alternative developments under the One Planet policy, which is certainly something that doesn’t appeal to everyone. So, what are you doing as a Government to look at alternatives in rural areas—things like low-impact living affordable communities, where people own through mutual home ownership schemes, and there is a collective living co-operative, which is low carbon, but it’s also low cost for those who live there. This is truly affordable housing. Shouldn’t we be doing more to promote this as an alternative to the commercial development of many of our rural areas?
 
14:05
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, certainly, we are looking at what alternatives we have going forward. I’m a big fan of co-operative housing. We’ve now supported at least three co-operative developments across Wales; I’ve been fortunate to visit two of them. But I think we do have to look at alternative ways, particularly in rural areas. We obviously invest a huge amount of money, over £400 million, through the social housing grant, and, again, I think we need to look at how that is spent, particularly in rural areas.
 
14:05
William PowellBiography
Minister, picking up the theme that’s been taken up by Simon Thomas, this morning in the Enterprise and Business Committee, Ross Murray, President of the Country Land and Business Association, spoke of the potential that technical advice note 6 had to help to address some of these issues. As one of the co-authors of that policy, he said it had many merits. However, in the delivery, it has been more than a little disappointing, particularly in the take-up level with local authorities. So, given the contribution that it has to build greater affordable housing in rural areas, what commitment can you make for a future Assembly that this work will be prioritised, particularly working with those Ministers responsible for local government and planning to enjoy greater support for this valuable initiative?
 
14:06
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I obviously work very closely with my colleague the Minister for Natural Resources, and I know, obviously, he’s carrying out reforms to the planning system through the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 and through his ‘Positive Planning’ proposals, but I’m sure a new Government would be very interested to look at that.
 
Human Rights
 
14:06
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
4. What progress has been made to promote equality and human rights in the fourth Assembly? OAQ(4)0438(CTP)[W]
 
14:06
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Diolch. The principles of human rights and equality underpin our programme for government. We have made good progress on our equality objectives, as highlighted in our annual reports on equality. I am concerned about the timing of the British Bill of Rights consultation, and have written to Michael Gove this week.
 
14:07
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
But isn’t one of the greatest challenges the one we heard of yesterday, when the ‘Talented Women for a Successful Wales’ report was published, with the serious deficiencies in engineering, physics and computer science that is emphasised in this report, that we are down by 600 STEM academics in Wales? Isn’t there an opportunity, therefore, for this Government to give a message to the next Government, whoever that Government may be, that this is a priority in terms of the Welsh economy, and that this, indeed, will be another of the great contributions of the Minister responsible for higher education, as well as the economy and transport, namely enabling far more women to take advantage of the higher education that they should be able to get in order to become successful researchers for the Welsh economy?
 
14:08
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, absolutely. I haven’t had a chance to read that report, but I’m certainly aware of the headline figures. Across Government, with several of my ministerial colleagues, we are doing really good work to try and encourage women to have a look at what may be viewed as alternative careers that they, perhaps, hadn’t thought of in the first place. I spoke at an event last month in Wrexham, actually, regarding women being encouraged to come into the construction and engineering industry in relation to the new prison that’s being built in north Wales. So, I think it’s not just for, as you said, the higher education Minister or the Minister for science—it is for all Ministers to look at what we can do to ensure that women are aware of these careers.
 
14:08
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
Could the Minister outline how the Welsh Government is working to promote rights and opportunities for people with disabilities?
 
14:09
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. The Welsh Government’s framework for action on independent living sets out the actions we’re taking to promote the rights of disabled people in Wales to live independently and ensure they have the same rights as any other citizen. We’ve had extensive involvement of disabled people in developing the framework, and I think that will provide them and us, as a Government, with an assurance that we’re addressing the issues that are most important to them. We also have a disability equality forum, and I engage directly with disabled people and I hear from them how our legislation and our policies impact on their lives.
 
14:09
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Minister, following International Women’s Day yesterday, it does remain an absolute scandal that here we are in Wales in 2016 with women still doing the same job as men and still being paid less. Even today, despite the Equal Pay Act 1970, my own local authority still has a number of outstanding equal pay claims. How is your Government working with local government to ensure that such inequality for our working women stops, and it stops right now?
 
14:10
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, I’d be very happy to write to local authorities to remind them of those duties before the end of this term.
 
Communities First
 
14:10
John GriffithsBiography
5. Will the Minister set out progress across Welsh Government portfolios in achieving the objectives of Communities First? OAQ(4)0434(CTP)
 
14:10
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Communities First works across portfolio interests and continues to deliver against a range of economic, health and learning objectives. Performance data for 2015-16 are being finalised, and will be published before the Easter recess. The latest published data, for 2014-15, demonstrate good progress being made in a number of areas.
 
14:10
John GriffithsBiography
Minister, increasing physical activity in our most deprived communities will benefit their health and, indeed, general quality of life. This Friday, I’m holding a meeting locally in Newport, bringing together key partners to try and achieve further progress around those objectives. Will you ensure that the necessary links are made across Welsh Government portfolios to drive greater physical activity in our more deprived communities, given these benefits?
 
Yes, absolutely. It’s very good to hear that you’re having such a meeting on Friday. I’ll be very interested to hear the outcome. Communities First explicitly seeks to improve health outcomes for people living in some of Wales’s most deprived communities. The programme runs a number of successful projects, many of which you’ll be aware of—StreetGames, for instance—to have that very strong emphasis on physical activity and also on healthy living and healthy eating. We do work across Government departments, my officials and other Ministers’ officials, to ensure that we continue to drive up physical activity and healthy lifestyle choices.
 
14:12
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Minister, figures provided by your Government reveal that, in the three years from 2012 to 2015, Newport City Council returned over £780,000 of Communities First grant funding to the Welsh Government. Will the Minister advise what systems are in place to ensure lead delivery bodies in Wales, such as Newport City Council, are making full and effective use of Communities First funding for the benefit of the communities they serve?
 
14:12
Lesley GriffithsBiography
It’s very important that any lead delivery body uses the funding for the right intentions and in the correct way. If there is any underspend, I made it very clear that it would be returned to Government and then the funding could be utilised to ensure that the money went to other priorities.
 
14:13
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, just 12 months ago, an evaluation report on the successes of the Communities First programme stated that real community involvement in the schemes was not always being achieved. What action will you be proposing to ensure that members of the local community will have a much greater say in the content and organisation of the Communities First programmes, please?
 
14:13
Lesley GriffithsBiography
The Communities First clusters absolutely have to identify and demonstrate how they are engaging with vulnerable people in the communities. All the activities have to contribute to the overall aim of tackling poverty, which is what the programme is designed for, with community involvement. My officials very closely monitor that.
 
14:13
Christine ChapmanBiography
Minister, I was recently invited to speak at an Oxfam Cymru event celebrating their Building Livelihoods and Strengthening Communities in Wales project. Now the project, which ran in communities across Wales, including in Glyncoch in my constituency, adopted an individual-centred approach, boasted impressive outcomes and complemented the aims and objectives of Communities First. The project has drawn to a close, but I would be keen for the lessons not to be forgotten. So, has the Minister considered what Welsh Government could learn from this, and how its success could be embedded into Communities First and other anti-poverty strategies?
 
14:14
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes; I am, obviously, aware of this scheme and I know there are about 1,000 beneficiaries of the scheme. Of the people who participated in the project, many had worked alongside Communities First, including in Glyncoch. My officials have already met with Oxfam Cymru to see how they can ensure that the lessons learned from it and the benefits from it can be embedded into Communities First.
 
Supporting Families
 
14:14
Mark IsherwoodBiography
6. How is the Welsh Government supporting families in Wales? OAQ(4)429(CTP)
 
14:14
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. We provide a range of support to families and our commitment is backed up by investment in our support programmes such as Families First and Supporting People. We also provide support and information to parents through our campaign ‘Parenting. Give it time’.
 
14:15
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Child contact centres are places where non-resident parents may have supervised or supported contact with their child or children. As you will be aware, funding for them is disappearing. The National Association of Child Contact Centres has responded to the Welsh Government’s offer of a one-off transitional sum of £2,000 by saying that this misses the fundamental point of the need for the centres to be funded for the work they do and will continue to do, and Relate state that the rate of family breakdown in general has not reduced and that the associated problems remain. Given that your ministerial responsibilities include family support and children and young people’s rights and entitlements, how do you respond to concern that cutting this funding for specialist intervention, supporting families through relationship breakdown, will impact on other services, generating far higher costs further down the road for health, education and social services and, of course, a far, far higher cost for the children concerned themselves?
 
14:16
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Supporting families and supporting relationships are a key feature of our programme for government commitments, as I’ve previously outlined in a previous question to you. However, mediation to families is not a devolved issue. It is a reserved matter led by the Ministry of Justice, and I know that Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru have reduced the funding, but I have to say that the referrals to them have reduced significantly also.
 
14:16
Ann JonesBiography
Minister, I hope you’ll agree with me that employment is a route out of poverty for many families, and certainly for families within my own constituency. So, therefore, what plans do you have so that childcare and lifelong training opportunities will be available to those hardest to reach families in constituencies, including mine, where we still see very high unemployment benefit claimant numbers?
 
14:17
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I absolutely agree that employment and investment in early years provide a route out of poverty, and that’s why we’ve had this refreshed approach to tackling poverty by increasing employability, improving skills and supporting people to enter and then progress into employment, because we know workless households are particularly at risk of living in poverty, and that’s why we’ve got programmes such as LIFT and Communities for Work. I don’t think getting people into employment is just about increasing skills; I think it’s about looking at the needs of the individual and the barriers that may face them in terms of gaining employment. So, again, Flying Start and Families First provide support to children and families to bring about positive long-term outcomes.
 
14:17
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
I’m eager to ensure that more educational care is provided for children from the age of three in order to free up parents to go out to work for their own benefit and for the benefit of the Welsh economy. Certainly, the Plaid Cymru manifesto for the election will pledge to provide 30 hours a week of childcare for three-year-olds. Does the Minister agree that that is an effective way forward?
 
14:18
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, the Welsh Labour commitment is for 30 hours childcare for working parents of three and four year olds for 48 weeks. So, I think we’re probably slightly similar, but we’re probably a bit better.
 
Communities First (North Wales)
 
14:18
Janet HaworthBiography
7. Will the Minister make a statement on Communities First funding in North Wales? OAQ(4)0432(CTP)
 
14:18
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. I’ve protected next year’s Communities First funding. Current funding available across north Wales’s eight clusters is over £4.4 million. Indicative figures have been provided to lead delivery bodies for 2016-17. Delivery plans for next year are being assessed and final-offer letters will issue at the conclusion of the exercise.
 
14:18
Janet HaworthBiography
Thank you, Minister, for that data; it is quite reassuring. But the data for the last financial year shows that four councils in north Wales returned over 10 per cent of their Communities First grant during their last full financial year, with north Wales councils making up four of the top five repayers in percentage terms. Minister, your Government does make great play of the importance of Communities First money, so can you explain why so much is returned to your Government each year, and what actions are you putting in place to ensure that the funds allocated to this project are fully used?
 
14:19
Lesley GriffithsBiography
One of the highest costs of Communities First funding is obviously the staff and, when delivery plans are put forward, there will be staff costings within that plan. If all the funding is not spent—if there is a time when all posts aren’t filled, for instance, or if somebody leaves and they’re not able to fill that post—that money then has to be returned, and I think that’s absolutely right and proper.
 
14:19
Sandy MewiesBiography
Minister, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the success of the Communities First programme is its focus on providing new opportunities, skills and supporting employment as a way out of poverty. Minister, will you comment on the work of the business entrepreneurship network project in Flintshire?
 
14:20
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, I very much welcome the work of the network. They were quite a prominent feature, actually, in the recent Communities First conference, which was held in Newport, I think just last month. That conference really helped to share learning and best practice, and I know the network’s presentation went down very well. What the network does is really support Welsh Government’s priorities in relation to partnership working, to volunteer support in the community and a strong focus on employment as a way out of poverty.
 
14:20
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Further to the figures raised by my colleague Janet Haworth, and according to your response to my recent WAQ, since 2013, £14.6 million of Communities First funding has been returned by lead delivery bodies across Wales. Now, recently, on my Communities, Equalities and Local Government Committee, we led a poverty inquiry, where resources were identified as a much needed priority. Would you look into why this Communities First returned money has just simply gone back into Welsh Government coffers and hasn’t been used for its intended aim, and that is to reduce the poverty levels here in Wales?
 
14:21
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I think I just gave the answer to that question in a previous question to Janet Haworth.
 
14:21
Llyr GruffyddBiography
A number of Communities First areas have seen significant benefit from European regeneration funds. So, can I ask you, therefore, what assessment the Welsh Government has made of the impact of leaving the EU on anti-poverty policies in Wales and, also, what alternative arrangements would be needed in the face of such a decision?
 
14:21
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, we very much hope that the people of the UK will not vote to leave Europe, but you’re quite right—so many of our programmes would miss out if they didn’t have that European funding and that is a piece of work that officials are currently working on.
 
14:22
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Question 8, Dafydd Elis-Thomas.
 
14:22
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
Thank you, Dame Presiding Officer, I’ll try to read it correctly this time.
 
The Rights of Children and Young People
 
14:22
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
8. What progress has been made to promote the rights of children and young people during the fourth Assembly? OAQ(4)0439(CTP)[W]
 
14:22
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Diolch. Our programme for children and young people highlights the many pieces of legislation and policies we have delivered to promote children’s rights across the programme for government. We are considered world leaders as a result of the children’s rights Measure passed in 2011, the children’s rights scheme, children’s rights impact assessments and compliance reports.
 
14:22
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
Would you agree that one of the most important rights of pupils and young people in Wales is the opportunity to serve and be elected to school councils? Every time I meet young people from the constituency who visit the Assembly, I compare myself to them as elected representatives. But wouldn’t the greatest gift that the Welsh Government and this Senedd could give to the young people of Wales be the right to vote at the age of 16? That won’t be possible in the next Assembly election, but should it not be possible in the one following that?
 
14:23
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, it is an issue that’s often raised with me. Just last week, I met with some 15 and 16-year-olds. I’m always very surprised that there is quite a difference—sometimes you go and you get a majority of young people who don’t think 16 is the right age to vote and then, at other times—and this time—the majority of young people did believe they should vote at 16. I happen to believe that that would be the right age. You know, they work at 16, they can get married at 16 with parental permission, so I think it’s a shame that they won’t be able to vote in the Assembly elections.
 
14:23
Nick RamsayBiography
Minister, I’m pleased that Dafydd Elis-Thomas has raised this issue in the same week as International Women’s Day and, indeed, the day of our debate. Issues such as domestic violence also affect children and young people in the families of women who are affected by it. Welsh Women’s Aid have been doing a great job across Wales and in my constituency in helping tackle this issue and, indeed, they’ve been supporting a safe house in Abergavenny that has provided sanctuary over the years for many women and children. How are you supporting these safe environments for children and young people?
 
14:24
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, you’ll be aware of the legislation that was taken through this Assembly by my colleague, the Minister for Public Services. I think, you know, that piece of legislation just shows how we do support children who, unfortunately, are living in homes where domestic abuse is prevalent.
 
Child Poverty in Torfaen
 
14:24
Lynne NeagleBiography
9. Will the Minister make a stateme