The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Before we start this afternoon, I’m sure Members will join me in welcoming the Speaker of the Republic of Georgia, who’s brought a delegation of parliamentarians to see how things work here. So, I’m sure they’ll have a very enjoyable afternoon.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the first item on the agenda, which is questions to the First Minister, and question 1 is from Kirsty Williams.
1. What is the Welsh Government doing to support local high streets? OAQ(4)2476(FM)
We’re supporting our high streets through a range of initiatives, including the £100 million Vibrant and Viable Places programme, through business improvement districts, through town-centre partnerships funding, and recyclable loans. A national high street campaign was held last month, showcasing events and activities the length and breadth of the nation.
Thank you, First Minister. Proposals by Powys County Council to introduce car parking charges in some towns in Brecon and Radnorshire has caused great alarm to local traders. The proposals also are to introduce car parking charges in residents’ car parks, which were provided, historically, to improve road safety, and to improve congestion in some of our market towns. Your Government’s own report says that councils should carry out independent impact assessments to be able to be sure that the introduction of charges—or the rate of charging—is not detrimental to local high streets. There is no evidence that Powys County Council has done that. Would you urge Powys County Council to think very carefully on the effects on some of our market towns, like Talgarth, before they introduce these charges?
Well, where parking charges are to be introduced, perhaps for the first time, I think it’s important that a full assessment is made, before any such charges are proposed. If the Member tells me that that has not been done, then, of course, I’d encourage Powys—as I would encourage any other council—to consult as widely as possible and to carry out an assessment of what impact there may be on a town centre before taking further action.
Will the First Minister join me in congratulating Cardiff council on the vigour with which it has been pursuing the redevelopment of the Maelfa shopping centre in Llanedeyrn, which includes the best butcher in Cardiff, but which was abandoned by the previous administration? People locally are really enthusiastic about the way in which this is happening, because they recognise it is the centre of their local community.
Well, of course, this is not a project that the Welsh Government is involved in—it’s been driven forward by the city of Cardiff. I’m sure it’ll be very much welcomed by local people, to see a shopping centre, which, perhaps, had seen better days in terms of its fabric, be transformed in order to provide a shopping centre that people can be proud of in Llanedeyrn and the surrounding area.
First Minister, it’s three and a half years since the Enterprise and Business Committee published its report on town-centre regeneration and, as you know, the committee made 21 recommendations, which were all accepted either in full or in principle by your Government. Under these circumstances, can you give us an update on what work has been done by your Government since the publication of that report, and can you also tell us which recommendations have now been implemented fully by your Government?
Well, yes, we’ve progressed with Vibrant and Viable Places, and we’ve progressed with the tackling poverty fund, and we’re also improving businesses via the town-centre partnerships and the schemes for giving loans to town-centre. On top of that, of course, we’ve also been very supportive in terms of business rates.
As the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire said, parking is an important issue when it comes to people’s consideration in using the high street. What assessment has the Government has made of the practicality of introducing a national programme that would promote the introduction of free parking for short periods in town centres in order to make it easier for people to make use of their high street?
Of course, that would have to be paid for centrally, and some local authorities already do that, with Bridgend being one of them, where it’s possible to park for some parts of the week and this has been a great boon to the town. We know that other authorities have considered the same scheme.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on economic development in south-east Wales? OAQ(4)2481(FM)
We are continuing to focus on a range of priorities to encourage economic development and we are delivering a wide range of actions that are supporting jobs, for example, through the provision of business support through Business Wales, through ICT support and transport infrastructure improvements.
The Welsh Government does indeed have a range of strategies and policies in place to develop our economy and support spend in our local economies. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the UK Tory Government is pulling in the opposite direction, and, as an example of this, some 167,000 working families in Wales will lose out as a result of the proposed changes to the tax credit system. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimate that the net loss per family of those families will be some £550 per year. Will you agree with me that there is real cause for concern and anger regarding the effect on individuals, families and communities and the amount of money that this will suck out of our local economies here in Wales? And, would you further agree that this is a crystal clear example of the double speak and hypocrisy of the UK Tories’ supposed concern for a one-nation policy and strategy?
The reality of the situation is that the economic difficulties that the world had to cope with beyond 2007 were caused by irresponsible financiers, and yet they are getting away scot-free; absolutely nothing is being attached to them—no responsibility for them at all and it is the low paid who are carrying the burden. Why do away with tax credits for those who are working? Why discourage people from working, as the Tories have done? There are some families who will lose up to £1,000 a year. The letters, we understand, will go out before Christmas, and the impact will come in April next year. It’s another example of the Tories targeting the low-paid, hard-working people of this country.
I’m really surprised to hear John Griffiths talking about poverty. What have you done in the last 17 years here in this place? You haven’t done anything to improve the economy. Access to finance is vital if businesses in south-east Wales are to grow and thrive, First Minister. Will the First Minister update the Assembly on progress towards setting up a development bank for Wales, and does he agree with me that Finance Wales is not fit for purpose and should be abolished?
As the economy Minister has said, there is an announcement due during the course of the autumn in terms of how this moves forward.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to questions from the party leaders, and, first this afternoon, we have the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Lywydd. First Minister, yesterday, Betsi Cadwaladr health board’s consultation on the future of maternity services in the north closed. What is the preferred option of the Labour Welsh Government for maternity services in the north?
For safe services, it’s a matter for the board, of course, and we wait to see what the results of the consultation are. It would be wrong to prejudge that.
First Minister, the preferred option of the health board involves a downgrade at Glan Clwyd, and we don’t know what your preferred option is. How is your aspiration to open a neonatal intensive care centre at Glan Clwyd affected by the removal of consultant-led maternity services at that hospital? You’re taking consultants away before bringing back a service that you promised would return. Isn’t this a reflection, First Minister, of the mess that is happening on your watch and of your making?
Firstly, the consultation has just closed, and no decisions have been made, as the leader of Plaid Cymru knows. The sub-regional neonatal intensive care centre will go to Glan Clwyd; it was never the intention that the SuRNICC would simply be a reflection of the current department. We all know what the problems of the current department are; they have been made very public. The SuRNICC is a wholly new operation in that regard, and the SuRNICC is moving forward. I’ve been in discussions with the health board over the course of the past week and I’m satisfied with the progress that is being made.
Let’s not forget, First Minister—and you’ve already mentioned this—that maternity services are deemed unsafe in the north, and it’s this Labour Government, under your watch, that has overseen the deterioration of those services over many years. You knew years ago that there were specific issues around recruitment at Glan Clwyd. Why is it that you prefer downgrading to upskilling? Why is it that you prefer the withdrawal of services rather than planning for their future? I’ll ask again, First Minister: what is your vision for maternity services in the north of our country, or don’t you have a vision?
The SuRNICC will go there, and we want safe services. The consultation has just closed. There would be no point having a consultation if I was to say to the leader of Plaid Cymru now, ‘Well, there is a preferred view’, because the reality is the consultation has just closed. There were some on her benches who urged me and urged us on these benches to disregard the difficult reports into the maternity department there, and say that some of it was nothing to do with the well-documented problems of interaction between the staff and the problems that have been caused as a result of that. We have taken action and the health board has taken action in order to resolve the situation. Once again, I reiterate that the SuRNICC will go to the Glan Clwyd site; that work is ongoing. I note her party supports, as well, the SuRNICC, and I note that they support the SuRNICC going to Glan Clwyd, and I’m sure that she will join me in welcoming the fact that progress is being made on delivering the SuRNICC at Glan Clwyd as a new department, as was always planned, that will serve all the people in the north of Wales.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, are you able to tell us how many local education authorities in Wales are currently in special measures?
I had hoped, First Minister, that you’d be better briefed—
The answer is ‘none’, overall.
I had hoped that you would be better briefed, First Minister, after it was very apparent that your education Minister had absolutely no idea, when he was asked at the Children, Young People and Education Committee last week. But, it’s not just education authorities that are in need of help from your Government. Estyn’s most recent annual report shows that, overall, there has been a decline in the standards in Welsh primary schools. Perhaps you might be able to tell us what plans you have to improve standards for our youngest school pupils.
Well, she didn’t ask me about education; she should have phrased the question properly. But, she asked a question about standards, and the national literacy and numeracy framework—[Interruption.] The answer is ‘four’, as it happens. But, the situation is that we have the national literacy—[Interruption.] I can’t be blamed for the way questions are asked. The national literacy and numeracy framework is in place. We’re seeing literacy levels improve and numeracy levels improve, we’re seeing new schools being built across Wales, and it isn’t happening in England, of course. It didn’t happen when the Lib Dems were in Government. We’re seeing GCSE results improve, we’re seeing Schools Challenge Cymru improving our secondary schools, and we’re seeing them improve rapidly, in most cases. Education is moving forward in Wales at a good pace, and we are grateful to all those who have been involved in seeing the improvements that we have seen.
I’m not quite sure, First Minister, which bit of Estyn’s report you didn’t understand. Their conclusion is that, last year, standards in our primary schools, overall, across Wales, declined. Surely, you cannot be happy with such a report from your own inspector. One thing that I am pleased about is that there has been a narrowing in the gap, between pupils on free school meals and those who aren’t, at key stage 4. However, another thing that your education Minister had no clue about last week is that the Government’s own report into this said that the improvements are balanced against proportionately fewer free-school-meals pupils being entered into core GCSE subjects in the first place. In fact, 70 per cent of those pupils who were not entered for science GCSEs were eligible for free school meals. Would you do what the education Minister was unable to do last week and acknowledge that that is the work of your Government—the conclusions of your own Government’s report—and demonstrate what your Government is doing to understand why fewer children on free school meals are being entered for core GCSE than their peers in their classes?
Well, first of all, historically, of course, we’ve always entered a higher proportion of our students for GCSEs than was the case in England, and much more than was the case in Northern Ireland, which affected their results of course. What they were doing was not entering pupils who they thought were marginal in terms of whether they’d be successful, and that skewed their success rates. You can see the figures for yourself, if you want, but that’s what was happening. Now, I don’t want to see that happening in Wales. I would encourage schools to enter students so that they have the opportunity to get their GCSEs. I would not encourage schools, obviously, just to say, ‘Well, sorry, you can’t even try in the first place, because that would affect the figures’, even though that’s exactly what’s happened in England and in Northern Ireland. I ask her again to consider the fact that we’ve seen many changes for the better in education in Wales, whether it is through the literacy and numeracy framework, the consortia that have overcome the weaknesses of local authorities in many, many areas, the fact that GCSE results have improved or the fact that we see schools being built all across Wales—that’s something that isn’t happening in England. We are more than proud of what we have delivered for education in Wales, particularly through schemes like Schools Challenge Cymru and the pupil deprivation grant—I give her and her party credit for that—that have helped so many to get the opportunities that they deserve.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Presiding Officer, I make a declaration of interest as I am a partner in an agricultural business that operates under the common agricultural policy rules and support payments.
First Minister, many Members went outside this building this afternoon to stand shoulder to shoulder with National Farmers Union members who were here with their campaign about the clock is running and time is running out to save our agricultural industry. You have the ability to get support payments into agricultural businesses the length and breadth of Wales. Can you confirm exactly what the Government’s timetable for delivery is on support payments in what is a critical year when commodity prices have been so low?
Yes, our aim is, of course, to make payments as early as possible. The window opens on 1 December and I know that calls have been made to pay, or at least part pay, earlier. I can tell the leader of the opposition that the EU council of farm Ministers did approve Commission proposals to relax some controls before advance payments can be made from 16 October. They don’t quite go far enough yet to allow us to utilise the provision. The rules concerning on-the-spot controls have been relaxed—that much is true—but all administrative checks and controls must be completed before any advance payments are released. But, as we have always done, we will continue to pay at the earliest possible opportunity and Welsh farmers know that that’s something they’ve been able to rely on in the past.
What is vitally important, because it’s a new scheme this year, is that the money hits bank accounts as soon as possible. There is a contradiction in what you’ve said today in that the Deputy Minister has ruled out categorically any early payment under the rules that do allow for that payment to commence from October onwards. There has been speculation, and the Deputy Minister has alluded to this, about part payments. In a written response to my colleague Paul Davies, there was an indication of a 50 per cent part payment being made by the Welsh Government. I notice that a Welsh Government spokesperson today is saying that between 70 per cent and 80 per cent now is the Welsh Government’s aim, with the balance to be paid by the end of June next year. I hope you can understand from the points that I’ve put to you why many farmers and representatives of farmers the length and breadth of Wales are somewhat confused as to the progress Welsh Government is making in implementing the new scheme. Can you clear up, once and for all, how much of a payment will be made from 1 December, assuming that the Deputy Minister’s assertion is correct that you will not exercise the early payment criteria? And, how soon will you be making the balance of payments, because the end of June is the end date when you’ll be able to do that?
Well, we will look to pay as much as we can on 1 December and to pay as much of the balance as possible—all of it actually—before June. At this stage, it’s difficult to give an exact figure. It is a new system: that’s right. We’re moving, of course, to an area-based payments system. Our understanding is that no other nation in the UK is paying in October either. So, clearly, there are issues that affect all of us that make it difficult to pay early, but the intention is, of course, to pay as much as possible as soon as possible after 1 December.
Well, I’d be grateful if a statement or some reassurance could come forward at the earliest opportunity to confirm how much that part payment will be and I’m sure many farm businesses would as well, because it is critical in their planning, given that commodity prices are so low, First Minister. But, one plank that does support farm businesses is the rural development plan. There is some confusion over its implementation, but, in particular, one of the calls that has come from the farming unions is for a small capital grants scheme to be made available so that projects can be undertaken on farms that wouldn’t involve a spend of £40,000 or above, which is the current criteria. Will you commit the Government to look into creating a small capital grants scheme that not only just benefits farms, but also benefits many rural businesses that supply the services to those farms and would be eligible under the rural development plan with the schemes that you could bring forward?
The scheme that the leader of the opposition is outlining sounds very much like Farming Connect. That’s operated for some years.
He mentions capital payments. With the rural development plan, the rural development plan has farming at its core, but it also includes other rural businesses as well. What I can say to him is, of course, we’re prepared to be flexible to see how effective any particular scheme as part of the rural development plan can be. He and I will both know that the big challenge that has always been there, certainly for the last 15 or 16 years for farming, is sustainability and being able to exist as businesses and to increase their income in the future. Sometimes that means diversification, sometimes it means looking at the way that they husband their animals, looking at particular breeds, looking at particular fat content, particularly with regard to lambs, and, of course, there are a number of issues about looking at whether we can increase the size of mountain lambs using Suffolk Texel tups—I’m going back to my rural affairs days now, as you can see. But, anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that we will look at any scheme that will be of assistance and will be effective in helping farming to become more sustainable in the future.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move back to questions on the paper, and question 3 is Keith Davies.
3. What support does the Welsh Government provide to Welsh-for-adults centres? OAQ(4)2486(FM)[W]
We fund the sector approximately £10 million each year. Work is progressing to restructure the sector, which will be led and funded by Y Ganolfan Dysgu Cymraeg Genedlaethol from August 2016. We have also invested £2.5 million capital funding in language centres to provide locations for people to learn and use Welsh.
As you know, First Minister, Y Lle centre in Llanelli offers social opportunities for young people. Would the Government be willing to look at the rules and regulations so that social enterprises such as Clwb y Bont in Pontypridd and Canolfan Soar in Merthyr can receive funding to do the same thing as Y Lle are currently doing in Llanelli?
Well, of course, we wish to ensure that more places such as Y Lle open across the whole of Wales. We want to ensure that people can go to centres where the Welsh language is used as the norm and not considered to be something that is unusual. We know that in some parts of Wales that that is the case. I’ve been to visit Y Lle in Llanelli. One of the things that people told me there was that it’s been of great assistance in supporting and assisting young people to use the Welsh language in a location where it’s totally practical and normal to use the Welsh language. We look forward to seeing more of those centres opening throughout Wales.
May I ask you, First Minister, about those areas where the Welsh language isn’t used as the majority language? How do you ensure that all the centres are located correctly to provide the most appropriate intervention in all communities, rather than being located for the convenience of the academic institutions themselves?
Llanelli is one location, of course, and we are considering other bids—Carmarthen, for instance. We want to ensure that the centres are available in parts of Wales where Welsh is the language of the street and in some other areas where Welsh is not language of the street. But, the aim is to ensure that there is a venue that people can attend, particularly young people, where they can use Welsh completely naturally at a venue and also take pride in the fact that they’re able to use the language.
I welcome activities in places such as Y Lle in Llanelli, and the official opening of Yr Atom in Carmarthen that is to take place soon. But, turning to the national entity that you have established for Welsh for adults, can you confirm that there’s been a delay of almost a year in launching and operating that entity, that the rationalisation that you had pledged hasn’t taken place, and that there have been delays in the system? What confidence do you have now that everyone will collaborate with an agreed vision for teaching Welsh to adults?
I don’t believe that any delay has taken place. On 12 May, the Minister stated that the University of Wales Trinity St David had been successful in securing the grant in order to establish the Canolfan Dysgu Cymraeg Genedlaethol—the national learning centre—and that work is continuing with them and our officials. And, we’ve also got the Welsh-for-adults centres that have been doing very good work since 2006. Also, of course, we want to ensure that the language centres receive capital grants ultimately too. So, the work is ongoing, if I could put it like that, in order to ensure that the entity is established and also to ensure that the work done by Trinity St David does proceed in an appropriate manner.
4. How does the Welsh Government maximise the effect of Welsh heritage on the economy? OAQ(4)2474(FM)
We know that the heritage that we have contributes greatly to our national brand and we know that translates into jobs and wealth.
Well, of course, you’re correct, and Welsh heritage can have a major impact on the economy of north-east Wales, provided it involves organisations, ranging from Llangollen railway to Greenfield Valley Heritage Park to Brymbo Heritage Group, in designing the visitor offer. I’ve been asked by Brymbo Heritage Group to extend an invitation to you to visit them and look at the great work they’re doing. I hope you’ll respond affirmatively, but look forward to your answer.
I will certainly try to do that, and I will look at my diary to see if I can visit in the near future.
First Minister, many countries and parts of Europe have a levy on hotel rooms, for example, in order to fund and promote the tourist economy that is so important and can be so valuable to Wales. In order for us to do that, of course, we’d have to have the devolution of fiscal powers, which goes against the judgment in the Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill, more recently. Is the issue of the devolution of fiscal powers, as recommended in a command paper in 2014, something that you’ll be raising with the Secretary of State for Wales, as part of the Wales Bill and the proposed new devolution settlement?
Well, it’s certainly right to say that there will be the ability for Welsh Government to be able to raise—to create—new taxes, but only with the agreement of the UK Government. We’re not at that stage yet; we need some progress on fair funding first. We look forward to that happening as part of the spending review. We’ve been promised it for a long time; we haven’t seen it delivered as yet. Once we understand what our financial footing is, then, of course, further consideration can be given to what further revenue-raising powers would be appropriate.
Given the Government’s decision to abolish CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries Wales and the suggestion in Dr Haydn Edwards’ report on behalf of the Government itself to create three regional bodies to support local museums, how does the Government intend to sustain and develop local museums in Wales for the future, given their important role within the tourism industry?
Well, we all understand how important local museums are because we know they can create stories or narratives for visitors, which isn’t the case with the larger museums. There is a project that we’re funding at the moment, which is the heritage tourism scheme. That will assist with the showcasing of the heritage of Wales and it means that we can also support the memorials in Wales and ensure that they are all in a good condition. So, we’ve been working closely with the museums in order to ensure that they’re in a position where they can serve the local community ultimately.
First Minister, the most recent Visit Wales surveys indicate that castles and historic attractions have overtaken beaches in terms of being the No. 1 destination here in Wales. In this context, and given the fact that there’s an update to the cultural tourism action plan 2012-15 soon to be available to us, what more can the Welsh Government do to support cultural and heritage tourism to such iconic venues as Carreg Cennen, Harlech and, indeed, Strata Florida, given that recent indications are that they are somewhat underperforming and have been under-promoted, despite their intrinsic beauty?
Well, first of all, we have the museum accreditation scheme, which helps to raise standards within museums as well. In terms of cultural tourism and cultural heritage, we have the heritage tourism project, funded by EU and Welsh Government. The idea is to improve visitor facilities and interpretation at monuments. We know, for example, that our castles are hugely important in terms of their visitor numbers: Conwy comes at the top, followed closely by Caernarfon. Carreg Cennen, a place I know very, very well, unfortunately doesn’t feature in the top 10, but is nevertheless somewhere I’d encourage people to visit.
We know that having the castle there is one thing; having the interpretation is another. When I went to Harlech castle, back in July, I was impressed by what was being done there to help visitors to understand the way the castle operated and to interpret the lives of the people within the castle. So, having those facilities, multimedia facilities, is absolutely crucial to develop people’s understanding of what the castles once did.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on Superfast Cymru? OAQ(4)2489(FM)[W]
Wales already leads the way among the devolved nations on the availability of superfast broadband, with 79 per cent of premises now able to access it across Superfast Cymru and commercial roll-outs.
The introduction of Superfast Cymru has been delayed in some rural areas, and I received correspondence from your Government that confirmed, and I quote:
‘The resources are needed to focus on higher yielding numbers of premises.’
Doesn’t that prove, under your Government, when it comes to introducing broadband, that rural communities are at the bottom of the list?
Well, if that was true, then communities such as Gwernogle, for example, wouldn’t receive broadband. We would be in a situation where rural villages wouldn’t have any broadband at all. We know full well that, if the market were to control this, there wouldn’t be any broadband outside a thin band in south Wales, and a band in north Wales. So, we have funded broadband; we see very many rural areas with superfast broadband now. Seventy-nine per cent is very high compared to other countries in Europe. The aim, of course, is to attain the target of 96 per cent under the Superfast Cymru scheme.
First Minister, there have been concerns about the value for money of Superfast Cymru. Yes, those areas that it has reached are getting the service that they need, but there are large areas, rural areas particularly, as Llyr Gruffydd mentioned, that aren’t getting the service that they would expect. Do you think there’s been an over-reliance on the fibre-to-cabinet technology, and would the Welsh Government look at ways of perhaps providing more innovative solutions to rural notspots?
There will need to be innovative solutions. There are some areas where fibre-to-cabinet won’t work. They will need solutions such as satellite connections. We know that 4 per cent will be very difficult, if not impossible, to reach via Superfast Cymru. When the Member said that he questions the value of Superfast Cymru, I don’t know whether he means that he doesn’t agree with it, but, certainly, what we have seen is a roll-out of broadband to areas of Wales that would never have had broadband if it wasn’t for the proactive work carried out by Welsh Government.
First Minister, it seems to me that one of the persisting problems in the Superfast Cymru project has been that interrelationship between the Superfast Cymru roll-out and the commercial roll-out, particularly in the behaviour of BT in a market where they are a Government-sponsored wholesaler, a commercial wholesaler and a retailer operating in the same market. The result has been that residents in places such as Penylan and Pengam Green in Cardiff have been left hanging for a decision as to whether they’ll be released from BT’s commercial programme into Superfast Cymru, suffering speeds of as little as 0.5 Mbps, in some instances, for years now, without actually having a resolution. Wouldn’t you agree, actually, that there is a conflict of interests here that is an issue? I’m just wondering if the Welsh Government have got some controls in that contract that allow them to monitor the commercial activity of BT whilst they are delivering this programme alongside their own work.
Penylan has a particular technical problem, for some reason, in Cardiff, where there’s an issue with connection to the exchange. It makes it look like a rural area when, in fact, it’s in the middle of Cardiff, and there are issues surrounding Penylan particularly, which she’s referred to, that will need to be resolved by BT. Given the fact that Penylan, in exchange terms, is almost a rural area, then, clearly, BT will need to make a decision very quickly as to whether it’s seen as part of the commercial roll-out or whether it’s part of Superfast Cymru, but we have ensured that we can get best value out of Superfast Cymru, that we are not subsidising what the market would otherwise deliver—that’s not what Superfast Cymru is designed to achieve, of course. But she is right about Penylan; there is a particular technical issue that exists there that will need to be resolved.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s input into Velothon Wales 2016? OAQ(4)2490(FM)
Yes. Following delivery of a safe and successful event, Welsh Government commissioned a full and independent review to address the issues that were raised. Taking account of that review, we are engaged in detailed discussions with the event organisers and the relevant local authorities ahead of a final decision regarding next year’s event.
I thank the First Minister for his reply. I’m grateful to him also for previous replies on this subject. What I would ask today is: would he publish, in time, a detailed timetable of engagement with those people likely to be affected on whether there is a necessity still for full road closure or whether rolling road closure would be more appropriate? It is essential that this work is carried out as soon as possible so that next year’s velothon is a real world-beating event for Wales.
Well, this is a matter primarily for the organisers, but I do take on board what he says. It is important that people are aware of what the plans are long before the event takes place. We will look to ensure that the organisers do just that.
Minister—First Minister, sorry—we’re assured that this year’s velothon in Wales generated a lot of income for south-east Wales and for charity—a little bit of controversy as well, of course. As much as I support extra income coming to south-east Wales, to be fair, what efforts will the Welsh Government make to direct the velothon to different regions of Wales to generate additional income there?
The velothon, of course, will look at where it wants to go. It’s its choice as to which part of Wales it goes to. Of course, it is right to say that, as a Government, we would then look to support that. We know there are a number of events take place all across Wales that we support as a Government, from the Llyn Peninsula down to Pembrokeshire, through Breconshire and, of course, in the south-east and north-east as well. If there is an opportunity for the velothon to go elsewhere in Wales, that’s something, of course, we’d look to explore with them.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's house building targets? OAQ(4)2475(FM)
We are seeing good progress on house building across all tenures. We delivered 6,890 affordable homes in the first three years of this administration, against our target of 10,000. We will be able to announce further progress towards this target shortly.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. On 21 September, your Minister for communities issued a statement in which she outlined the housing supply pact between the Welsh Government and the Home Builders Federation. Amongst the commitments for the Welsh Government was to identify the most important barriers to private housing supply in Wales. I met with a number of small house builders yesterday in my own region and they raised a number of issues with me, including the cost of publicly owned land, the difficulty of accessing finance, the fact that solicitors’ fees are very expensive, particularly in terms of local authority searches, the failure of statutory undertakers to work together, and the excessive charges that they impose on the small builders. Can I ask you: what aspect of those particular problems is being addressed as part of this pact?
Well, there are some issues there that can’t be addressed by Government—solicitors’ fees being one of them. With regard to statutory undertakers, of course, where we once had three in Wales, namely the Forestry Commission, the Countryside Council for Wales and, of course, the Environment Agency, we now have one, which has streamlined the process in terms of the necessary consents.
Again, in terms of the price of publicly owned land, much of it depends on who owns it, of course. Some of it might be Welsh Government land and some of it might be land owned by local authorities, but I do understand that the finances have to add up for small builders before they make that kind of investment. What I can say is that we do have a house builders’ engagement programme. It was established to—I use that dreaded word—‘engage’ with house builders and industry representatives from across the private sector and to identify issues that were a problem for them. It does include developers operating in Wales and the industry representative body. So, if there are difficulties, I would encourage more builders to raise their concerns via that forum as well.
First Minister, following the Welsh Government consultation earlier this year on the local development plan process review and publication of the new LDP regulations, will you outline the timetable for the publication of the revised LDP manual that is now overdue?
That’s something that we are working on, of course, but we expect local authorities to produce their LDPs in good time. There are some local authorities that have not done that. That adds to huge confusion for developers and the general public. It also means that it becomes very difficult for people to understand what land is going to be used for over a 10-year period.
The irony of the legislation for many years was that, when it came to development plans, there was a requirement for local authorities to produce such plans, whether it was structure plans for counties, local plans for the borough authorities—subsequently of course, unitary development plans and LDPs—but no sanction if plans were not produced. Ceredigion, if I remember, didn’t have a plan—if it ever had a plan; but, certainly, it didn’t have a plan for many, many years. The upshot was that developers didn’t know whether they’d get planning permission; the planning system was capricious, because there were no established guidelines, and we expect local authorities to follow the established guidelines as we look to see whether there is a need to review those that already exist.
International Older Person's Day
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on actions taken by the Welsh Government to note international older person's day? OAQ(4)2479(FM)
The Welsh Government provides funding for the Commissioner for Older People in Wales and older people strategy co-ordinators. A number of events were held across Wales, including the Say No to Ageism campaign, which was launched by the commissioner.
Thank you for that response, First Minister. I’m sure you share my concern that a third of older people in Wales have experienced some form of ageism. What is the Welsh Government doing to recognise the role of older people in Wales and, in particular, older carers?
As a Government, we value the contribution of older people. We know that they make up a substantial number of volunteers in the community who do a lot of good work. We know, and I am somebody who knows this personally, the help they give to young families in terms of childcare, and so we know older people are there to help younger people and to pass on their experience. What are we doing in order to help carers? We have the carers strategy, of course. We have the commitment set out in the older people strategy and, in July 2014, we issued the declaration of rights for older people in Wales—that’s very clear about what is expected of public services in Wales to ensure older people receive the support and services that they need whilst, of course, ensuring their dignity and rights are protected.
I want to also put on record my support for the older people’s commissioner’s campaign Say No to Ageism, and I think everybody in this Chamber would agree that ageism has no place in twenty-first century Wales. But, of course, the office of the older people’s commissioner is an extremely important part of holding Government and public authorities to account for their delivery against those rights for older people that we, quite rightly, enshrined in Welsh law. Given that, what assurances can you provide to the Chamber today that the older people’s commissioner’s budget will not be cut in your forthcoming budget settlement?
Let’s see what your party provides us with in the spending review, shall we? Then we can have a further discussion on this. Look, the older people’s commissioner will have a budget that’s appropriate in order for the duties of the commissioner to be discharged. We understand that. We have a very good record when it comes to supporting older people, whether it is the establishment of the commissioner, through to the strategy, through to the carers strategy. But let’s wait and see what kind of support the UK Government is willing to give to Welsh older people.
First Minister, in your draft equality objectives, published in July, you outlined wanting to tackle differences in employment between various groups and parts of society. Do you agree that a particularly hard place to be is over 50 and unemployed or recently redundant? How do you plan to put meat on the bones of your equality plan so as to ensure that older people have equal access to employment opportunities, please?
Well, through training. I mean, it’s been the case for some time that people over 50 have found it difficult to get employment, particularly when they’ve been in long-term employment in a particular job. We saw that when the mining industry was wrecked; we saw that with the mass redundancies amongst the steelworkers in the 1980s. We are moving to an era where people need to have training on a regular basis throughout their lives—we talk about lifelong learning and we’ve done that in terms of making sure that people have access to that lifelong learning and to that training. Above all, employers now, if they have older people, have people who are used to the disciplines of work, who can offer the benefit of experience and, particularly, of course, the ability to train those younger in the disciplines needed in the workforce.
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on how long public service providers should take to respond to complaints? OAQ(4)2482(FM)
Public service providers in Wales have their own individual complaints procedures, but the ombudsman recommends that providers adopt the model complaints policy, which suggests complaints are considered within 20 working days. Some complaints, of course, will take longer, because of their complexity.
Thank you for that response. I wrote to the ambulance service on behalf of a constituent in June. Her daughter had seven epileptic fits in a local park, a rapid response paramedic called a code red, but it took the ambulance an hour to arrive from Porth to Glynneath, where there is an ambulance station. When they rung my office to update me last week, some three months after my letter, we were told that a draft response had been compiled—finally. Furthermore, the service is experiencing a backlog of complaints, they tell me, and they had prioritised my complaint because I was an Assembly Member. Does the First Minister agree that this is an unacceptable amount of time for my constituent to wait for an answer over this poor service, and what is his Government doing about ensuring that people who contact public services have a response in a timely fashion?
Well, it’s very difficult to comment on an individual complaint, given the fact that she has knowledge that I don’t have access to. Nevertheless, she raises, of course, an important issue. If I could ask her to write to the health Minister, I'm sure then she will get a detailed response.
Obviously, handling a complaint in a sensitive and timely manner is of critical importance when patients find that they have an issue, and it can help mitigate some of the circumstances that led to the complaint in the first place if the answer’s dealt with in a timely manner. Abertawe Bro Morgannwg did have a pretty lamentable record in dealing with complaints, but what is your assessment, First Minister, of health boards across Wales in the way they are dealing with complaints and, more importantly, the resource that they put into dealing with those complaints, because very often they’re seen as the Cinderella part of the service that they have to deliver?
Well, they’re not, for a number of reasons. I think that part of the problem is that there’s been a tendency in the past for LHBs—indeed, all public authorities—to treat a complaint as a potential legal action. That, of course, then kicks off a very formal process. Of course, most people are not interested in legal action and are not interested in compensation; they want an explanation or an apology where things go wrong. So, we encourage LHBs to take a more informal approach to dealing with complaints where that is appropriate, particularly where people just don’t want to go down that line.
In terms of ABMU, he is right to say, for example, that at the Princess of Wales Hospital there was a time that its complaints record was not up to the required standard. That has changed. We have seen that ABMU had the largest reduction in complaints in 2014-15, partly due to the deployment of a patient advice and liaison service. They are dealing with a greater number of informal concerns at source. So, instead of standing back and thinking, ‘This is bound to end up in court’, there’s a proactive approach to make sure that people’s complaints are dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner.
10. Will the First Minister make a statement on renewable energy policy in Wales? OAQ(4)2483(FM)
Yes. Our policies are set out in ‘Energy Wales: A Low Carbon Transition’ and ‘Planning Policy Wales’. A further written statement in June and the publication in July of ‘Green Growth Wales: Local Energy’ explain our vision for future energy systems in Wales, and the key role of renewable energy.
I thank you for that response, First Minister, and I am pleased that the Welsh Government takes a much more positive attitude towards this matter than the Conservative UK Government, which increasingly seems to be turning its back on renewable energy, not content with cutting the feed-in tariff rates for small-scale solar panel installations. Only last week, we heard about how the Department of Energy and Climate Change is dragging its feet about the funding that it’s due to provide to the proposed Swansea bay tidal lagoon. First Minister, will you agree with me that, given Wales is surrounded on three sides by seawater, tidal energy is something to be explored as fully as possible? An do you agree with me that, in terms of the Irish sea, we should seek to work closely with the Irish Government and higher education institutions so that there can be a maximum sharing of ideas and expertise?
Well, the difficulty is that the UK Government seem to have no idea what their energy policy is. I hear this from developers themselves. They just want to know what’s happening and want some certainty. They know that solar panels have had their subsidies cut; they know that feed-in tariffs have been cut; they know that onshore wind is not in favour with the UK Government; there’s no strike price on the tidal lagoon; and we’ve seen the money that’s had to be made available with regard to Hinkley Point in terms of that being able to proceed. There needs to be far more certainty than this. From our point of view, you’re quite right that there’s tremendous potential for marine energy resources around Wales, and great potential not just to create energy but to create jobs as well. But at the moment, everything has been delayed because of the lack of agreement over the strike price, and that’s down to the fact that there’s a completely directionless position at the moment that’s being exhibited by the UK Government.
I declare an interest as a Powys county councillor. First Minister, last month the UK Government announced the outcome of the conjoined public inquiry on the mid Wales connection project and windfarms. In contrast to what your Government has said, it’s not a decision made in Westminster; it is a victory for local democracy as the UK Government upheld the original decision of the local representatives of Powys County Council. Now, as powers are devolved to the Welsh Government, will you ensure that decisions are made as close as possible to local people?
Well, the decision wasn’t taken by the local authority, nor can it be, given the current settlement with regard to planning and energy. It’s a hypothetical question, as he knows full well. We want to see energy devolved. It’s something, in fairness, that the UK Government has not objected to, but it does rather make the point that I made many times to him and others that this wasn’t a matter for the Welsh Government. It was a matter for the UK Government. People were protesting outside this building, and I said then, ‘It’s the UK Government that will take the final decision’. That was the reality of it. The issue of the Welsh Government and technical advice note 8 was always a red herring.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Thank you, Dame Presiding Officer. I should declare an interest as one who lives 20m above the Conwy river.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
In my view, First Minister, there is less enthusiasm these days for onshore wind energy, and also towards medium-sized hydro developments. Is the First Minister carefully monitoring what is happening to these aspects of the industry, particularly bearing in mind the impact of the fiscal policy and lack of effective planning policy of the UK Government in terms of what’s happening in this area?
The problem is this: without people knowing what the strike price is, it’s difficult to see what funding model would be best for investment. This is a problem for all schemes, whether they are large or small, and the people who want to invest in the network in Wales. We must have a vision as regards the way forward for the whole of the United Kingdom. We don’t have one at the moment. We must know what the plan is for the United Kingdom, because without that, it’s very difficult for us as a Government to consider the way forward for Wales, because of the fact that we’re in such a different position to Scotland.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister. We now move to item 2, which is the business statement and announcement. I call on the Minister, Jane Hutt.
There are two changes to report to the business statement for this week. The First Minister will make a statement on the Welsh Government’s response to the Flynn report today. The Minister for Public Services has postponed the motion for a debate on Stage 4 of the Local Government (Wales) Bill. Business for the next weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement that can be found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
I draw the Chamber’s attention to my earlier declaration in First Minister’s questions. Leader of the House, is it possible, notwithstanding the answer the First Minister gave in First Minister’s questions, to have a detailed statement from the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food in relation to the Government’s delivery of the basic payment scheme, and importantly, the percentages of delivery of support under that scheme into land-based businesses? It is vital that there’s a clear timeline for businesses to understand how this money will be delivered. As I said, notwithstanding the answers the First Minister gave, at the moment I do not believe a statement has been forthcoming over the exact timelines that the Government is working to. We are only some six or seven weeks away from the opening of the official window on 1 December. The Government could have started on 1 October and chose not to, but the industry, and businesses, need clarity on this issue.
Well, of course, the Deputy Minister has kept key interests and, indeed, spokespeople informed of developments. Of course, it’s clear that, as the First Minister said, we remain committed to making part payments as early as possible in the CAP payment window, which opens on 1 December.
Minister, Rhondda Cynon Taf and my constituency, Pontypridd, are likely to become a desert of justice under the Tory Government’s proposals to close the last magistrates’ court in that area, and indeed in many other parts of Wales. This is a matter of such importance—access to justice and equality and social justice in Wales. Will the Government make time available for a debate on this important issue?
Well, Mick Antoniw raises a very important point, and of course closures of courts are not just in your constituency, but across Wales, and will have a major impact. Of course, this is about adverse impacts on access to justice that the UK Government’s proposed court closure programme would have on Pontypridd and other constituencies. It is still at the consultation stage, but we are submitting a full response to highlight our deep concerns about the effects on citizens and communities.
I wonder if we could have a debate in Government time on any developments that have taken place at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend. I’m asking now, because over the weekend I was told by a constituent that they are putting elderly people into chairs rather than keeping them on wards, because they were trying to shift people from A&E into these wards because they didn’t want publicity surrounding the ambulances waiting outside the hospital. As I understand, this has happened because of administrators rather than nurses, and the nurses are trying to stop this from happening because they recognise that older people shouldn’t be sitting in chairs when they should be in beds. Can we have a statement from your Government on this situation so that we can fully understand what’s happening at that hospital?
Clearly, the concerns that are raised by constituents in response to the kind of situation that you say may have occurred have to be raised with the health board, and I’m sure that you will do that.
Minister, unfortunately this past weekend we saw another fatality involving a motorbike on Welsh roads following the death of a passenger at the Waterloo bridge at Betws-y-Coed. You’ll be aware that last year’s figures show that motorcycle-related deaths had reached a seven-year high, and there is hardly a weekend that goes by without the reports of either another casualty or severe injury. I wonder whether the Minister for transport would be willing to provide us with an update on what steps are being taken to address the issue of motorcycling safety, and especially the impact that has on communities that can feel very unsafe and can be greatly disturbed by the anti-social motorcycling of some people who use our roads.
Secondly, could I ask for a statement from the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty? The Minister committed £60,000 of Welsh Government money in June of this year to investigate the economics of the park home industry. I’d be grateful to hear what that work will entail and whether she has any intention of addressing the much-vexed issue of the 10 per cent commission rate within the industry. It’s of huge concern to many park home residents, and I’d be grateful if the Minister could give us an update on whether she intends to take action with regard to commission rates. Thank you.
I thank Kirsty Williams for both of those questions. Clearly, fatalities as a result of motorbike accidents are something that we all, of course, take very seriously, and the Minister has taken this up in terms of motorbike safety. She will update Members on her actions.
The economics of park homes are, clearly, something that affects many Assembly Members across the Chamber, and I will confirm the action that the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty is taking in terms of updating Members on this review.
Minister, last week, I received an e-mail notification of an official engagement that is to be undertaken by the First Minister to Control Techniques in my Montgomeryshire constituency. I should say that the visit to Montgomeryshire by the First Minister is very welcome indeed. In the e-mail, the First Minister’s private office apologises for the short notice. I was aware of this visit some weeks ago, and there’s no excuse, I don’t think, for informing local Members at such short notice. Only this morning, I received a further notification of a visit with just three days’ notice, again apologising. I have raised this with you before and I have written to the First Minister. I would be grateful if you could intervene to ensure that the process is improved.
I’m glad you did welcome the fact the First Minister was visiting your constituency. Of course, there is a protocol, which we seek to abide by, and we will look at that in terms of notifications.
Minister, can we have a Government statement on the Electoral Commission’s warning that voters risk being left off the electoral register for next year’s Assembly elections? The UK Government has brought forward a deadline to complete the move to a new voter registration system from December 2016 to December 2015. As of May, 70,000 Welsh voters had not been transferred, according to the Electoral Commission. Voters who have not been processed when the deadline passes will be taken off the electoral register and they must re-register themselves, thus putting the onus on the individual. This also coincides with the data that are going to be used to redraw the electoral boundaries by this Government, and it will, in turn, undoubtedly have a figure much lower than the figure of people who currently reside within those boundaries. There are two parts to this, of course, Minister. Not only will this disenfranchise those voters, but it has the potential to significantly affect individuals’ lives, because if they’re not on the register, they will find that they won’t get any access to credit in any form whatsoever, including a mortgage.
Yes, and I very much thank Joyce Watson for drawing this to our attention this afternoon, because the Welsh Government did fully support the Electoral Commission’s position that the carry-over of registered voters from one year to the next should be allowed to continue to the next register in December 2016, giving more time for the new system of individual registration to bed in. I’m sure that disappointment will be shared about the UK Government’s decision not to delay the final transition to individual voter registration until after the Assembly elections. Of course, as Joyce Watson says, this does mean that there’s a possibility that many eligible voters could be removed from registers, ahead of the Assembly election next year, also increasing pressure on the electoral registration officers, should people have to rush to register in time for the election. So, we’ll be doing all in our power to encourage maximum levels of registration, and obviously urge all Assembly Members, and their political organisations, to take this up.
Can I refer back to the questions from my colleague Alun Ffred Jones to the First Minister regarding museums services? Increasingly, museums and libraries are being supported in our communities by a wealth of voluntary effort—people giving of their time and effort to ensure that they remain open, and remain sources of local education, but also local pride and local culture. On Saturday, I visited Tenby Museum & Art Gallery—the oldest independent museum in Wales, I think; I have to say that—and was very impressed by what they were seeking to do there. I think the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism has visited Tenby museum pretty recently.
What was clear is that they wanted to work in a regional way, they wanted to work with other museums, in Pembrokeshire and beyond, they wanted to benefit from their own experience, which they already shared with other museums, and also perhaps have a more regional infrastructure in place, under whatever replaces CyMAL, in a way that then ensures that we have a national museums policy, but then local flexibility, and local expertise and professionalism. Because if you continue to rely on volunteers always—we’ve seen this in the libraries service—you have to have professionals there to set the standards, to set the direction, and to ensure things are delivered. So, will there be further statements from the Government around the vision for regional museum support, and how an independent museum, as well as publicly owned museums, can fit into that?
Well, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to follow up on the response by the First Minister to the earlier question this afternoon. We do estimate the annual impact of museums on the tourist economy to be approximately £128 million, and it is through specialist staff in our museums, archives and libraries division that practical advice and support to museums across Wales is given. And also we administer the museum accreditation scheme, and that is about raising standards, investing more than £1.6 million in grants to the museum sector since 2011.
Minister, when I and a group of cross-party AMs went to Westminster with the then transport Minister, Carl Sargeant, to lobby for the electrification of the Valleys lines, it was on the basis that every one of the Valleys lines would be electrified. And to quote from the Welsh Government’s own business case,
‘The South Wales Valleys are seen as a single entity both in economic and transport terms. …Therefore, the case for electrification of the Valley Lines rail network is…on the basis that all lines are included from Ebbw Vale to Maesteg and with the Vale of Glamorgan line also included.’
Well, as we know, the delivery plan is not complete. The Vale of Glamorgan line, and Barry lines, in your own constituency, are missing. The Maesteg line is missing. The Penarth line is missing. The Ebbw Vale line is missing. There is no obvious plan as to what is happening there, and no assurance has been given, when questioning the First Minister, or the Minister for transport, that those lines will be electrified, as promised, and as outlined in the Welsh Government’s own business case. Could I please request an urgent debate, in Government time, on the future of Valleys lines electrification, on the basis that we are clearly in a different situation, and clearly the metro project is contingent upon the successful completion of that in its entirety?
Not only has the case been made, but it was won by the Welsh Labour Government. What is clear is that now we need clarity, and, of course, we will get that in forthcoming statements.
Minister, two things: in First Minister’s questions earlier, William Graham asked a question about the velothon. I was less than reassured by the answer. The velothon has a lot going for it, but I am concerned that we are in danger of drifting into another event next year—in future years—where the organisation causes problems, which distract from the very real potential that an event like that has. So, could we have a statement from the Welsh Government on how you are liaising with the organisers of events like that, to ensure that those problems are ironed out?
Secondly, and more positively, on Sunday night, I attended Usk in Bloom annual awards ceremony. The First Minister was good enough to visit Usk in Bloom back during the summer—very much appreciated. They have won Wales in Bloom for the thirty-fourth year running now. So, I think it would be good if we have a statement from the Welsh Government on how you are supporting events like Wales in Bloom, which do a lot for community spirit, and harnessing the potential that communities have across Wales, for the benefit of everyone—tourists included.
The First Minister gave a very full answer as far as what will be, I’m sure, forthcoming, a very successful velothon event, with organisers listening very carefully to what Nick Ramsay has to say about this, and recognising that we have got real opportunities for this and lessons to be learnt. On the second point, of course, Wales in Bloom, and Usk in Bloom in particular—and I know you’re very proud of that, Nick Ramsay, in your constituency—is an important way in which people can engage and deliver on the beauties of their local environment.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to item 3, which is a statement by the First Minister on the Welsh Government response to the Flynn report. First Minister.
Thank you, Llywydd. At the end of the last session, I spoke in this Chamber after having published Dr Margaret Flynn’s report, ‘In Search of Accountability’. In that statement, I promised to return to the Chamber in this session to set out the response to that report.
Llywydd, this is a report that questions how we view older people in our society. Older people have great strengths: experience, resilience, skills, and often a lifetime of service and compassion. They are often the volunteers, the advisers, the carers, the funders or the teachers in our communities. They are people in charge of their own lives. Our interventions as a society, as a Government, must therefore start with the question, ‘How can we support this person to remain in control of his or her own life, and in charge of the decisions that affect him or her?’ In the past, a different approach has been taken. Things have been done to older people, believing they didn’t know best; believing decisions could be made on their behalf. That approach was understandable, but it was wrong.
Here in Wales, we have, I believe, led the world in our forward-thinking agenda for older people—our strategy for older people, Ageing Well, the cross-sector partnership of government and public and third sector agencies in Wales, the post of commissioner itself. These are not one-off interventions, but part of this Government’s vision for older people. A vision that refuses to define older people by their weaknesses, but by their strengths. But there are times when older people need support. Sometimes this will be just a bit of help, enough to get the person back on their feet, or to allow them to continue their lives in their own community and homes. But, sometimes, this intervention is more significant, and perhaps ongoing.
And let me be clear: when older people need such care and support, our approach is one of a shared endeavour, using all the resources available in whatever sector, but, importantly, delivered through public service values. That was at the heart of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. It was at the heart of establishing clear safeguarding and protection in law for adults. It was at the heart of our tough decision to protect social care budgets in this administration. It was at the heart of the intermediate care fund, placing £50 million and more to support innovative community-based models of care. But because we recognise that care and support are part of our public services, it is important that we acknowledge when things go wrong and do all we can to learn from that. And things do go wrong. Flynn may be related to events a decade or more ago, but ‘Trusted to Care’ and Tawel Fan are reminders that we must maintain our vigilance, to review our systems and continue to reiterate our fundamental principles and confirm our values. That’s why it’s important for me to report on our response to the Flynn review.
Let me start, Llywydd, with the four recommendations that are directed to the Welsh Government or the NHS. I have today published a line-by-line response to these recommendations on the Welsh Government’s website. Where these lie within our powers, we accept them without hesitation. On the first recommendation—we accept fully that recommendation. We will use our new powers in the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Bill to lead the planning and design of the sector. The Minister for Health and Social Services will establish his care homes steering group on a permanent footing to bring together the sector and those from outside, to help to shape the future of social care provision. We will ensure that all social care managers are registered, and, of course, we will establish meaningful indicators of the health and social care sectors, starting, as we have committed throughout this Government, with the outcomes achieved for individuals.
The second recommendation deals with pressure ulcers. The Welsh Government accepts this recommendation. We will introduce a new system to record and publish incidents of avoidable pressure damage in care homes and increase the support available to address failings in the system. A phased programme of work will be undertaken to introduce a new reporting system with information published transparently for all to see.
The third recommendation relates to POVA, the protection of vulnerable adult system that all public services in Wales currently employ. The Welsh Government accepts this recommendation. We are reviewing the POVA system and we will put in place revised processes.
The sixth recommendation is the final one directed to the Welsh Government or the NHS. It relates to the notification of deaths to the coroner, which is a non-devolved matter which rests with the Ministry of Justice. I have, therefore, written to the Secretary of State to bring the Flynn review report to his attention and will ask him for a response to this recommendation, which I will publish in due course alongside the others on our website.
Llywydd, as I have previously noted, eight out of the 12 recommendations made by Dr Flynn related to non-devolved bodies. Members will be aware I wrote to all those named in those recommendations asking for a response in July. I have published these responses alongside a written statement today. I’m delighted to report that most of these recommendations will be taken forward as Dr Flynn set out.
I won’t dwell, Llywydd, on those responses in detail, but I think it is important for me to say I’m aware of the very real frustration amongst families with regard to the response from the Crown Prosecution Service. I know that the families were both surprised by the speed of the response—on the same day as the report was published in the media—and the refusal to reconsider the case. I know the families continue to ask why so few have been held accountable. I know that Lorraine, her sisters and other families are here today, with us, and I hope they take can take some comfort from the reply from the coroner, who indicates he is pursuing inquests, as Dr Flynn recommended, where he has jurisdiction.
Beyond the recommendations the Minister for Health and Social Services has written to the six Welsh adult safeguarding boards that this Government established under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act to consider the report, and to facilitate a wider regional consideration. We have suggested regional events to help this process, and have made available Government money to support them. I’m also pleased to say that Dr Flynn has agreed to attend each of these events. Llywydd, I will, of course, publish the six reports on our website, but let me be very clear with the Assembly: there’s no hiding place for those who deliver substandard care to frail elderly people in Wales. They want, and deserve, the highest standards of respect at all times, and where issues arise, we deal with them robustly.
Dr Flynn has set down a powerful marker for the future, where we see older people as vital and important contributors to society’s wellbeing. That’s what we must take from this tragedy: a renewed dedication to the very best for our communities, for our older people and ultimately for all of us here in Wales.
I’m most grateful to the First Minister for his statement this afternoon, which takes us that much further forward, and I would offer support from these benches on all those recommendations that you are going to implement, and clearly we’ll keep you under scrutiny that they are implemented, and within a reasonable period.
It’s worth reiterating how this came about. The families of older people described the wrong and indifferent care home practices that harmed their relatives—this was as early as 1995—and said that the organisational practices they witnessed were inadequate in terms of attending to older people’s frailty, chronic illness, deteriorating health, mental distress and pain, and the nursing that was promised was not delivered. The families perceived inattentiveness with such basics as hydration, nutrition, physical comfort, personal hygiene, unexplained injuries and deep pressure ulcers, which their relatives suffered at the abandonment of common humanity, a reflection of the unchecked greed of those businesses and homes concerned.
First Minister, from your own background, can you give any more information on the recommendation that Dr Flynn makes that the Crown Prosecution Service’s assertion that the Operation Jasmine case would have fallen on the basis of a lack of evidence of causation should have been tested by a jury? Many of the families very strongly feel that this should have been the case and what should have actually happened. Respectfully, I would remind you that there were 63 deaths, some of which occurred during the commencement of Operation Jasmine—a fairly amazing event when they were under scrutiny at that time. We know that Care Forum Wales has said the review into this investigation highlighted abhorrent cases of neglect that must never be allowed to happen again. There are still questions to answer, First Minister, and I know you’ll join with me in saying that this is not an attack on private homes, who do a wonderful job through our national health service in placements throughout Wales. But, there are questions to answer. You’ve made a very definite start and we hope to keep this under review, and we look to you and your Ministers to give further reports in due course.
Well, I’m grateful to the Member for his comments. The response of the CPS is deeply unsatisfactory to my mind. To respond within a matter of hours via the media, it seems, is not a way that I or any of us in this Chamber would wish our relatives to be treated. It has echoes, I’m afraid, of situations that have existed in the past, and the CPS’s response was not adequate. We’ve had, in fairness, responses from both the police and the coroner’s office, both of which are not devolved, but their responses have been timely and they have responded in good time. That is not the case with the CPS.
It does raise a wider problem for us and that is that it’s very difficult to hold a public inquiry, not that this was a public inquiry, or to have an investigation at times in Wales because non-devolved bodies are not required to co-operate. It does not exist in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland and it is a particular problem for us in Wales. It was a problem in the case of poor young Robbie Powell. It’s a problem again, and, in the report, Members will see what Dr Flynn has to say about that. This is not a day for politics particularly, but this is why there is a problem that some of these agencies are not devolved. At the very least, Welsh Government should be empowered to require non-devolved agencies to co-operate with an inquiry or into an investigation. That is not the case. There was a point-blank refusal with young Robbie Powell on the part of non-devolved bodies to co-operate. The report speaks for itself in that regard. I make no further point, but it is an issue that will need to be resolved in order to make sure that we can have full confidence in the future in reviews. I have confidence in this review, but we must avoid any suggestion of that happening in the future.
With regard to what happens to strengthen the process, well, of course, the Member will be aware of the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Bill. It does set out new standards and how they will be enforced. In particular, there will be measures taken to make sure that we don’t end up in a situation where there are repetitive notices issued to care homes. We’d rather that action is taken sooner, and that Bill will provide the opportunity to ensure that some of the weaknesses identified by Dr Flynn over many years can then be addressed.
Presiding Officer, I ought to put on the record that my great uncle was a resident in one of the homes in question in 2002 and 2003, but he does not feature in any investigation or, in fact, in this report. When Dr Flynn’s report was first published in July this year, the reaction from all parties here, of course, was shock at the severity of the mistreatment and the neglect suffered by the older people living in the care homes in question, and shame, I think, that the safeguards that should’ve been in place had failed over and over again. At the time, I thanked the First Minister for commissioning the report to provide some sense of justice for the families, something which our criminal justice system has failed to do. Now, his statement today highlights that complex and slow-moving legal procedures are continuing to block families’ access to information, and I can understand why in a way, but I want to extend my great sympathy to the families and thank them again for their tenacity and determination in seeking answers. It was particularly disappointing, I think, to hear the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision not to refer the case to the special crime division again, but I am sure that the First Minister would agree that, despite that refusal, we should do what we can to respond to the report’s findings.
Now, concerns about other care homes run by Dr Das go back decades. His position as a doctor and his near monopoly over services in the area made the local authority almost powerless to act. In fact, what we find here is that their interventions have prolonged the problem. So, First Minister, how can we ensure that the intelligence that exists about concerns around specific organisations are acted upon effectively? One of the key messages from the report was the inadequacy of measures to address the dangers of conflicts of interest when doctors are company directors of residential and nursing homes. So, can I ask the First Minister to keep the Assembly updated on any outcomes of any meetings with the General Medical Council and NHS Wales to identify ways in which these conflicts of interest can be dealt with? I would also be interested in hearing the outcome of the Welsh Government’s discussion with the Law Commission and would ask you to keep us updated on that.
Would the First Minister support measures to have those external organisations who are subject to the recommendations in the report perhaps appear before the appropriate Assembly committee to give us greater detail on how they are going to implement the changes that need to be made, so that we can effectively monitor the recommendations to those other than the Assembly Government?
I was interested to hear the First Minister’s statement mention that the Minister for Health and Social Services is currently researching how issues around pay and conditions impact on the quality of services, so I don’t think you’ll be too surprised when I ask where we are on the banning of zero-hours contract for care workers, which I’m sure has an impact here. And you’ll recall that I’m keen to see the development of a simple checklist for families, so that they can judge if residential settings have the ethos that we want to see for vulnerable people, and whether you’ve been able to give that any more thought so that families can feel that they’re aware of signals that could act as warning signs for them.
And, just lastly, Presiding Officer, one of the lessons Dr Flynn highlights in her report is that scandals fix nothing permanently, and I think that certainly is true. So, I would urge the Welsh Government to take every action to ensure that the impetus isn’t lost after the initial shock and shame from this report diminish, and you will certainly have our full support for your actions.
Could I thank the Member for her observations? With regard to the Law Commission, there is a recommendation that is particularly for them, as the Member will know, and we will continue to work with the Law Commission to see how the law can change in this regard.
She mentions particularly the issue of GPs and conflicts of interest. This is something that we have considered long and hard. As part of our discussions, I can say to the Member that we have considered whether the Assembly would have the power to prevent GPs having an inappropriate financial interest, as we would see it, in care homes and the obvious conflict of interest that that represents. As with so many things, this falls in an area we think is potentially devolved. Whether it will be in a few years is a different matter, but we think it’s an area where there is a potential for legislation, and she is absolutely right to point out the monopolistic position that this particular GP has been in, and, of course, the position of the GP and ownership of a home.
We will need to work with the GMC first of all to identify ways to see whether any conflicts of interest can be managed, and whether it is sufficient—and I’m not convinced that it is—simply to declare a conflict of interest. That’s a start for us; I suspect we need to go further than that. What this sad series of cases has shown is that an obvious conflict of interest, to my mind, is not picked up and not recognised. Often, families are not aware of it and what it might mean, and we must make sure that that conflict of interest never arises in the future with regard to any further GPs. So, it is something that we are certainly aware of.
In terms of pay, this is something that we want to move towards, particularly with regard to zero-hours contracts. We look forward to being in a position to look to do that, with hopefully clarification of the devolution settlement to the benefit of the people of Wales.
In terms of training, we know that training is critical. We will invest £8 million in social care training for staff in all sectors, and we’ll reflect on how that money can be best deployed as part of the consideration of this report.
There is an issue, I believe, that needs to be identified, and I suspect it is by the UK Government, with regard to directors’ liability. Too often, to my mind, it is the staff on the ground and sometimes the managers who are held responsible where the directors seem to escape. And I don’t believe the law is right in terms of the responsibilities of directors, particularly with regard to their need to be more proactive in a way that a home is run. That, I suspect, sadly, is not devolved as company law, but nevertheless there is an issue for the UK Government as well.
On the issue that she’s raised in terms of how we can be sure this doesn’t happen again, well, again, I point to the regulation and inspection Bill. It does contain proposals in order to make sure that enforcement action is taken more quickly, and, of course, it looks to prevent manipulation of the rules, if I can put it this way, as well. It does set out a number of ways accountability can be reformed. It does talk about the statutory role of a responsible individual—member of the board, of course—of the providers who have certain duties, such as visiting, appointing a manager and reporting on performance, and it’s a matter, then, for the inspectorate to agree whether or not that person is a suitable person. Whether that goes far enough in terms of the responsibilities and liabilities of directors is a matter for the UK Government, but that is as far as we can take it.
Dr Flynn’s report has fed into the Bill itself. Logically, there was no point in having a Bill and then taking no notice of what a serious review, then, revealed, and the Bill itself will look to address many of these issues in the future. But, the common theme here is the failure by a number of agencies to take action quickly and to deal with a situation that was becoming ever-clearer over time. And, ultimately, of course, justice has been prevented, because nobody has been held responsible in the criminal courts for what has happened. Once again, I say to the CPS, and indeed to the DPP, you must look at this again. It is simply not sufficient after a few hours to dismiss this report, and the CPS must take a long, hard look at themselves and ask the question as to whether they have truly served the community with the way they’ve dealt with their response.
Could I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon and for fulfilling his promise to this Chamber that he would come back with a full Government response to the shocking findings of the Flynn report? The passage of time, First Minister, I’m sure you would agree with me, makes those findings no less shocking and sobering. First Minister, I hear very clearly what you have said about the role of the CPS and the DPP. We’ve seen, in recent weeks, the DPP make different decisions about high-profile cases, where, initially, they had first said they would not take action. Would you agree with me that the lives of these vulnerable, elderly, Welsh Valleys citizens are equally as valuable as the suffering of other people, perhaps in more high-profile cases that have seen the DPP change its mind and take action, and that these individuals and their families deserve the same respect and the same action?
If I could turn to the Government’s response, could I firstly say I welcome very much the decision by the Government to establish, on a permanent footing, the care home steering group? I think it’s very important that there continues to be a strong dialogue between Welsh Government and those who are involved in delivering care on the ground. You will be aware that, in recommendation 1 of the Flynn report, it talked about
‘directly addressing issues such as pay and working conditions’.
Now, you will be aware of the Westminster Government’s announcement on the so-called—so-called—living wage. Now, that impacts hugely on many sectors, including the care sector. Now, whilst everyone would want people working in the care sector to be paid appropriately, could I ask you, given the fact that many people living in residential care are state funded—are not self-funders but are state funded by local authorities—what discussions has the Welsh Government had with providers of residential care about how they will meet their new obligations with regard to pay, and what that will translate to in terms of fees charged to local authorities? And, have you had any discussions with the Westminster Government that would lead you to believe that, having made this announcement—i.e. passing the cost because of political sleight of hand, absolving themselves of responsibility in terms of working tax credit, passing that cost on to business—we would be likely to see any additional resources coming from Westminster, to be able to ensure that fee levels can keep pace and can reflect the new, higher wages that people quite rightly, quite rightly, will earn in the sector? But, obviously, that has a massive impact on social care budgets here in Wales, and I’m sure any right-thinking Government in Westminster would have thought about this before making that announcement.
Could I also ask you, then, about the issues around zero-hours contracts? You said—and I listened very carefully—to Jocelyn Davies that you can’t do anything about zero-hours contracts until, potentially, there is some devolution of these matters down from Westminster. Could I help you out? You don’t have to wait for devolution from Westminster; you could actually take action in this regard, if you were to implement recommendation 1, bullet point 4, which says:
‘develops credible quality indicators to inform strategic planning for health and social care’.
One of your quality indicators could indeed be the use of zero-hours contracts. Therefore, we don’t need any further devolution from Westminster to act in this regard, and would you consider that?
That recommendation also leads me to the issue of the fact that we have to take greater notice and cognisance of local government commissioning policy. The Minister for Health and Social Services will be well aware that I have amendments down to the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Bill going through that will make it absolutely crystal clear that local authorities should be inspected on the quality of their commissioning arrangements in this field, and I do so out of bitter experience with Powys County Council with regard to domiciliary care services. Would you agree with me that we do need to pay closer attention to how local authorities and the NHS commission care of this kind and that they should be inspected on the way in which they do so?
Can I move to recommendation 2? You said that you will phase in a new reporting system for deep ulcers. Could I ask you what the timescales are for the phasing in of that system? The Welsh Government obviously recognises the importance of this, but could I have some further details on what the phasing in actually means and when we will be in a system where all deep pressure ulcers will be reported? Could you clarify—? Again, the Flynn report says quite clearly that public health should be required to report those incidences of deep pressure ulcers to the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales. Will that be the case in the new system that you are developing? I’d be grateful to have clarity on that.
Finally, if I could turn to recommendation 3, which is the protection of vulnerable adults, Flynn, again, says very clearly that a POVA investigation has to result in action—a review of the care plan or a care assessment. Your statement says that there will be action recorded in care plans. Could you clarify that, in accepting recommendation 3, any POVA investigation will result in a comprehensive review of either a care assessment or a care plan before that action is simply recorded? Thank you.
A number of detailed questions there. I hope I’ve caught them all. First of all, the passage of time doesn’t help, clearly, as far as the relatives are concerned, as she has said. It’s particularly unhelpful in that there is still a sense that justice has not fully been done as yet. Yes, we have had this investigation, but we know of the well-documented problem with regard to a potential prosecution. What troubles me is that I would expect the Crown Prosecution Service to give a full reconsideration of this case, not dismiss it—
[Continues.]—they did—not dismiss it within a few hours. That is not showing respect, in my view, towards the families, nor indeed to this institution, if I’m honest about it. I think they should have been far more detailed in the investigation that they carried out. I would urge them once again to reconsider their hasty decision, apparently not based on a full consideration of the facts over an appropriate period of time.
In terms of pay and in terms of the living wage, the difficult scenario is this: nobody would disagree with the concept of the living wage—of course not—but the tax credits system is paid for by the taxpayer through the UK Government. If that’s no longer in place and the shift then is towards the payment of a living wage, then the cost then is on the employer, and it has been raised with me by people who are running care homes. They have to shoulder the cost. The danger then is, well, not the danger, but the natural reaction would then be to look for further public funding from Welsh Government. It’s a direct transfer of responsibility to employers and the Welsh Government where, previously, the UK Government paid. So, yes, the principle is agreed, but the effect might be to see fees go up; it might be to see greater pressure on the budget of the Welsh Government whereas the UK Government’s budget is diminished. She’s quite right to point that out.
She raised an interesting suggestion in terms of the quality indicators. We had looked at non-legislative routes for this. It’s fair to say that to get a Bill through the Assembly between now and May, even taking into account challenges from the UK Government, would be exceptionally difficult, but there may well be, as she’s pointed out, other ways to ensure that we see zero-hours contracts removed, certainly in time, from this sector. She certainly makes a valid point in terms of commissioning arrangements with regard to local government that we will need to investigate further in order to provide a level of reassurance.
In terms of pressure ulcers, yes, it is a recommendation that pressure ulcers should be part of a new monitoring and reporting system. We do accept that, as I said. A phased programme of work will now be undertaken to ensure a new reporting system, so that monthly incidences can be reported. That information will be published on a public-facing website. Public Health Wales would be involved in that development to ensure both the observatory function and the service improvement function are utilised in the new arrangements. In undertaking that work, the European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel definitions will be used. So, we want to make sure that the system is at the cutting edge in terms of ensuring that people can have confidence in the way that pressure ulcers are reported, at least. I will provide more information in writing to the Member in terms of the timescale for delivery of that, but it goes without saying that we want this delivered as quickly as possible.
In terms of the response she raised about POVA, again, part of this is dealt with through the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. It does provide a stronger framework to protect vulnerable adults; it will improve safeguarding practice and it does, of course, direct health boards and other relevant organisations to report where adults are suspected of experiencing or being at risk of abuse or neglect. That is a positive requirement that is upon them. The conclusion of the safeguarding inquiry must then be recorded in an individual’s care and support plan, including what safeguarding and associated action will be taken and by whom to deliver improved outcomes for that individual. We look then, of course, to develop and refine guidance over time in order for that to happen.
So, there’s no question that with regard to an individual’s care, any POVA investigation will form an integral part of any care plan an individual may have and people can be assured that, where such an investigation takes place, the public body involved needs to be proactive in ensuring the problem is identified and then, of course, an investigation to take place.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to item 4, which is a statement by the Minister for Finance and Government Business on the outcome of the land transactions tax and landfill disposals tax consultations—Jane Hutt.
My statement today provides me with the opportunity to update Members on the progress that we have made along the path towards the devolution of tax powers for Wales, and to highlight the key issues for the future.
In November 2013, the UK Government announced that they agreed the majority of the recommendations made by the Silk commission in its first report, in particular the devolution of stamp duty land tax and landfill tax to Wales.
Two years on, and almost halfway to the April 2018 target date when the new devolved taxes will take effect, we have made excellent progress. We have undertaken three consultations on tax collection and management, land transaction tax, and landfill disposals tax. In total, we received over 350 responses to these consultations. We’ve developed a strong network of stakeholders, including my tax advisory group, which includes representation from the Bevan Foundation, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, the Welsh Local Government Association, business groups, social partners and tax and law professionals. We’re making good progress developing capability within the Welsh treasury on tax analysis, forecasting, tax policy and operational policy, and building key relationships with other bodies in these areas of tax, including in particular Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Natural Resources Wales and the Land Registry.
I have also introduced the first Welsh tax legislation, the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Bill, into the Assembly, which is currently in Stage 1 scrutiny led by the Finance Committee. The committee, and the Assembly more widely, have an important contribution to make to the process of devolving taxes to Wales, and I value the constructive approach being taken.
It will be for the next Government to introduce the legislation on the land transaction tax and landfill disposals tax. On 15 September, I published summaries of the responses to the LTT and LDT consultations. I have been clear throughout this process that I am committed to developing taxes that are fair to businesses and individuals; provide stability and certainty for taxpayers; are simple, with clear rules that seek to minimise compliance and administration costs; and support growth and jobs and, in turn, help to tackle poverty. There will be no change for change’s sake. I am pleased that this approach met with strong support throughout the consultations.
For land transaction tax, I have proposed that the current UK approach to partnerships, trusts and companies, and reliefs and exemptions, would be broadly retained. These are familiar to businesses and tax professionals, and I recognise the benefits of consistency for businesses in Wales. However, there are some areas where land transaction tax could be more suited to Welsh circumstances. For example, there may be opportunities to adjust the treatment of leases on non-residential as well as residential transactions. This could be an important simplification of the tax. Welsh Government officials will be exploring the case for making these changes with stakeholders over the coming months, with a view to the matter being considered by the next Government.
The next Government will wish to consider and decide on the taxes and bands for land transaction tax. I anticipate these will be agreed much closer to April 2018, to take into account the prevailing economic conditions at that time. The next Government will equally make a decision on landfill disposals tax rates. I recognise the consultation responses highlighting the benefits of consistency with England on LDT rates.
Welsh tax revenue will contribute to the public finances that fund Welsh public services. We must meet our social commitments and pay taxes responsibly. Irresponsible tax avoidance undermines our social fabric and should not be tolerated. It is absolutely critical that the Welsh revenue authority has appropriate powers to address tax avoidance. There was wide support for this in responses to both the land transaction tax and landfill disposals tax consultations. It will be for the next Government to legislate on a Welsh tax-avoidance rule, but Welsh Government officials will gather further views in the coming months to help inform the detail of this rule, including on any role for a disclosure regime.
There are some, equally, who illegally evade paying the correct amount of tax. The evasion of UK landfill tax in particular is a real and significant issue and is something that we must address as we develop landfill disposals tax. First, the Welsh revenue authority should have the most appropriate tools to deal robustly with tax evasion. I can confirm my expectation that, subject to the passage of the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Bill, the next Government will need to undertake appropriate consultation on the scope and scale of any criminal powers before deciding whether to make regulations.
Secondly, I have confirmed that I will explore options to extend the definition of a landfill site to include illegal deposits of waste within the scope of the tax. This approach was widely supported in our consultation, and would provide an additional financial deterrent to illegal waste activity. This is a key feature of the new Scottish landfill tax, and the Welsh Government will be observing developments in Scotland closely on this.
Finally, I took a wide range of views on the future of the landfill communities fund when landfill tax is devolved to Wales. I would support establishing an LDT communities scheme in Wales when landfill tax is devolved, though it will be for the next Government to take this forward. It would be possible to allocate a proportion of LDT revenue to support community wellbeing initiatives that have an environmental focus and will include biodiversity and waste-minimisation projects. It would be important to align this with the wellbeing goals established in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which seek to secure a prosperous, healthier and resilient Wales. This will further support jobs growth and tackling poverty, which are at the heart of my tax principles.
I’m pleased with the level of interest and commitment that there has been in an LDT communities scheme, and I’m keen to explore how to maximise the amount of funding that reaches communities affected by LDT. I will, therefore, be looking very carefully at developing a simple and effective administrative model that retains a link to the landfill operator. The Welsh Government will be engaging widely with a range of interested stakeholders on a future LDT communities scheme over the coming months, including issues such as the 10-mile rule, as well as understanding impact and success of the scheme.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 15.15.
I will keep the Assembly and the Finance Committee fully informed of progress, in particular through the Welsh Government’s first annual report on the implementation and operation of Part 2 of the Wales Act 2014, which is due at the end of 2015. I hope to be able to provide more information on our work to set in train the new Welsh revenue authority. As a first step towards the new WRA, I intend to publish a consultation early in 2016 to take people’s views on taxpayer culture and engagement, to help set the context for the development of a taxpayers’ charter in due course. I look forward to hearing your views on these matters.
Can I thank the Minister for her statement, or update, today? I don’t think anyone could accuse you of not keeping the Assembly in the loop in terms of updates on the devolution of the different taxes.
The devolution of tax powers is probably the biggest change in the devolution settlement since the establishment of the Assembly. As you pointed out, we are now half way to the devolution tax deadline of 2018, since Silk reported back in 2013. In your statement, you mentioned the Welsh treasury function and the development of that. Could you give us some more details on how that is going? I think you’re right; tax analysis and forecasting are going to be absolutely crucial to all of this. The consequences of it not being right don’t bear thinking about. The relationship between the Welsh Government on the one hand, the Welsh revenue authority and HMRC on the other—they’re all going to be critical as well. I appreciate that, at the moment, the legislation to establish a WRA is still being scrutinised by the Finance Committee, but it is critical that the scrutiny of the WRA is got right.
I think it would be useful if the Welsh revenue authority was scrutinised in some way by the Assembly as a whole—I’d be interested in your thoughts on this—rather than just working through your department. I think that if the Assembly—the Plenary—had a role, that would be helpful, however that could be structured.
I think that you are doing things the right way round by introducing legislation for the Welsh revenue authority first before you finalise details of the taxes. They didn’t do it that way round in Scotland, and they got into all sorts of problems. So, I think, in that approach, you’re doing that right.
I welcome the re-confirmation that you will not support change for change’s sake. Will you please stick to that mantra, Minister? The Finance Committee held a stakeholder group a couple of weeks ago, and it was clear to me and other members of the committee that there was a fair deal of concern about the potential for confusion, particularly along the border. So, I think that businesses will appreciate it if, where possible, the tax regimes on each side of the border are the same. I know that you’ve said that that is your intention, but I would urge you to stick to it.
In terms of the individual taxes that you’ve mentioned—the land transaction tax and the landfill tax—again, will you take into account—. Well, in terms of the stamp duty replacement, will you take into account properties near the border? We don’t want a situation where the higher band of LTT is significantly higher than across the border in England and could discourage the purchase of houses on one side of the border vis-à-vis the other. I know that that’s all development that’s in the future, but that is one concern that’s been mentioned to me.
On landfill disposals tax—I’m sure Mike Hedges will be talking about this later if he’s taking part in the statement—we don’t want waste tourism. Again, the border is a critical issue. We need to make sure that the landfill disposals tax that we have here doesn’t lead to people trying to get rid of their landfill elsewhere. It’s an interesting tax, as you know, because it is, of course, trying to abolish itself in the long term. Have you spoken with the UK Government about this? We don’t want a situation where there is a disincentive on a future Welsh Government not to eliminate landfill tax because it would lose revenue.
Finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, can you focus on tax evasion, not tax avoidance? That was a point that was made to us during the stakeholder group on the Finance Committee. There is a world of difference between evasion and avoidance, and sometimes I think they are confused. I know the legislation setting up the Welsh revenue authority is hoping to clarify this. Buying a smaller house to avoid a higher rate of stamp duty or its replacement could be seen as avoidance, but, clearly, that’s not what you’re talking about when you’re talking about criminality in terms of tax evasion. So, please will you make sure that that is clear? We’ll do our best on the Finance Committee to scrutinise that element of the legislation.
Thank you for your statement today. This is a very important development for the Assembly, and I don’t need to tell you that we need to get it right.
Thank you very much, Nick Ramsay. Of course we are very involved, or you’re very involved at the moment, in the scrutiny of Stage 1 of the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Bill, and I think it’s important, of course, that I do respond more fully at the end of Stage 1, alongside reports of the committees, as far as the Bill is concerned. I think, on your point about developing the capability of the Welsh Treasury, it’s clear that that is a priority, and, as I said in my opening statement, this is about capability for forecasting tax policy and operational policy and tax analysis, but it’s very much about building those key relationships that we will have, not just with HMRC, but Land Registry, Natural Resources Wales, and, indeed, also ensuring that those are robust in terms of future partnership engagement in terms of delivery.
Of course, as you know through the scrutiny of the Bill, the Welsh revenue authority is progressing in terms of the opportunities we have to set this up, and, ahead of the Stage 1 debate on the general principles of the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Bill, I will provide the Assembly with an update, for example, on work to establish collection and management arrangements. That, of course, follows on from the fact that I’ve indicated my preferred approach in terms of partnership arrangements with HMRC and Natural Resources Wales, but I will be able to report to the Assembly, as I said, ahead of the Stage 1 debate, which will be important in terms of looking at initial estimates of set-up and operating costs.
It’s also very important in terms of consistency and border issues, as you say, that we continue our discussions. Indeed, our tax advisory group is meeting next week. We’re continuing to work closely with businesses, tax experts and other interested stakeholders, and, of course, have also met with groups and organisations like the north Wales committee of the Confederation of British Industry, for example—north-east Wales particularly—in terms of those border issues. But officials are also working very closely with other Government departments, and, of course, in terms of the UK Government, that is crucial, and, of course, following on from and learning from the Scottish experience.
You raise the important issue of tax avoidance and tax evasion, and I think, if you look again at the development of my Welsh tax avoidance rule, the fact is that tax avoidance is unacceptable at all times. I’ve asked officials to prepare the groundwork for the next Government, so that measures can be introduced to counter any unacceptable tax avoidance activity in the devolved taxes, and we have to make sure, for example, in terms of landfill disposals tax, that we don’t end up with tax avoidance by inappropriate use of exemptions and reliefs, so we’re exploring this issue further with tax experts to determine our approach, and also making sure in terms of the opportunities that we have that we look at issues around investigative powers. I think, in terms of LDT, we will, of course, as I’ve said, take a robust stance against tax evasion and avoidance, but we also have to look very carefully at the powers that we will have, and I think it is important perhaps to reflect on the point that we need to look carefully at the implications the next Wales Bill will have for the competence of the Assembly to legislate in the future about a sensible enforcement system for the collection and management of Welsh taxes. We’ve yet to see, of course, a full version of the draft Wales Bill, but, when it’s published, we will be studying it very closely to ensure that the proposed reservation model wouldn’t prevent the Assembly from legislating on these matters, or create unnecessary ambiguity.
Thank you for this latest update on devolved taxes. They don’t raise significant income, but it’s important that we do this in an orderly manner, in preparation for more significant developments at a later date. In terms of landfill disposals tax, the proposals for this tax are quite simple, and Plaid Cymru wouldn’t do anything significantly different to England in the short term. We’ve heard from stakeholders, of course, about some of the problems that could arise if that were to be the case.
In principle, we support the proposal to vire some revenue to community schemes, and we note that this is popular in the responses to the consultation, but, of course, this, in a way, is some kind of spending commitment, bearing in mind the financial climate in which you are working as a Government. Can we hear from the Government, therefore, what kind of revenue she anticipates will be vired to a community fund of this kind?
In terms of a land transaction tax, clearly the development of a land transaction tax is very attractive as a replacement for stamp duty, and this will provide significant policy opportunities in future, although the scope is perhaps a little limited as a result of changes that have occurred in England following the proposals made in Scotland. It appears that most of the respondents seem to support the devolution of this tax, but, as I was saying, they are concerned about short-term variations. The next Welsh Government will have to look again at the English rates in 2018 in order to see whether there is scope for altering the bands and the rates.
In terms of my questions, does the Minister have any concerns about the future of land registration, which is still done on an England-and-Wales basis, and will she be working to ensure that an official map will note the residential and non-residential properties in Wales? Secondly, the Minister has worked on these proposals only from the point of view of public funding; we haven’t heard much from the rest of Government on housing policy or specifically on what the Government intends to do in relation to home ownership. Is the Minister working with her fellow Ministers on modelling the impact of stamp duty on first-time buyers, and would mitigating some of that cost be a good use of public funds? Finally, land transaction tax will vary a great deal in terms of performance, in line with fluctuations in the housing market, and stamp duty, of course—. Because of those variations, that could create some difficulties in the future. So, what do you anticipate that the contribution of this particular tax will be when it comes into force in Wales? Thank you.
I thank Alun Ffred Jones for his comments and questions, indicating their views, the views of Plaid Cymru, in terms of the direction of travel in terms of policy development. I think it’s very helpful to have the views about the landfill communities fund, which, actually, received a huge amount of response in terms of the consultation—widespread support for how we might use some of the LDT revenue to enhance community wellbeing. This, as I said, would be through a community scheme, and we’re looking at how we could develop that. The introduction, of course, of such a scheme would be for the next Welsh Government.
We do need a simple and effective administrative model, and, looking at some of the responses to the consultation, there are decisions to be made about the percentage of revenue allocated to the scheme, as you say. Of course, there are issues that are raised about, for example, the 10-mile rule, match funding, and other administrative costs, which, of course, is why we’re looking for a simple administrative model.
I think also, just in terms of your point about land transaction tax and the changes that have taken place, which, of course, have removed the slab model—indeed, of course, Scotland had already made that change, so have had to adjust those—it is for the next Government to consider rates and bands, as I’ve said, and also look at reliefs, any new reliefs for land transaction tax. This, of course, then engages us with discussions, as we have already undertaken, not just with house builders but with housing policy issues arising. Of course, this is, again, for a future Government. But I think the consultation responses are very clear in the desire for consistency, with SDLT, to ensure a smooth transition to the new land transaction tax. So, at this point, I have retained the existing SDLT reliefs and exemptions. And I think, in terms of the introduction of new reliefs, we have to, again, be aware of the fact that this could have impacts, which could have the impact of actually being unpredictable as a result, in terms of costs and benefits, to the revenue.
It’s interesting that we’ve just had recent information on stamp duty land tax receipts in Wales for 2014-15 totalling £170 million, up £25 million, or 17 per cent, on the previous year. And, of course, this does reflect activity in the housing market and business confidence. But it is very volatile, the tax, in terms of having fallen by more than half over the recession. So, in terms of a future source of funding, this will need further careful management. But we do have to look at the issues around land registration, as you say, ongoing discussions with the Land Registry, but also to look at our powers, roles and responsibilities in relation to land registration. And, certainly, I’ll be able to report back on that as we progress in the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Bill.
I echo your views, Minister, that the Welsh revenue authority needs appropriate powers to address tax avoidance. We all have stories in our constituencies about fly-tipping being a major problem, and, as we tighten up the disposal of residual waste, as opposed to that which is separated for recycling, and having been involved last week in the Finance Committee’s scrutiny of the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Bill, I wondered what consideration has been given to strengthening the powers of Natural Resources Wales to deal robustly with tax evasion of landfill disposals tax. If so, should it be included in the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Bill, or might it be included in the Environment (Wales) Bill, which is about to start its second Stage? I wondered what discussions you’d had with the Minister for Natural Resources on this.
May I thank Jenny Rathbone for those questions? I have already announced, as I’m sure she is aware, that Natural Resources Wales is my preferred partner for the delegation of the Welsh revenue authority’s compliance and enforcement role for landfill disposals tax, and, obviously, discussions with the Minister for Natural Resources—. The point of that is the fact that Natural Resources Wales has a very clear knowledge and understanding of Welsh landfill sites, and I believe it will be of significant benefit, in the administration of the new landfill disposals tax, for them to have this role, in terms of compliance and enforcement, and, indeed, to consider working with them, to ensure that—and, I would say, not just NRW, but local authorities as well—to make sure they’re properly supported and incentivised, in relation to LDT compliance and enforcement.
Minister, can I first of all thank you for the statement? These are very important measures, on which we need to take a very cautious and sensible approach, and I think that we are on the right track, in terms of making sure that we’re fully prepared to take on these duties. You have, nevertheless, already highlighted the volatility of the land transaction tax, and also, of course, there are dangers around landfill tax as well, given that the objective is to reduce the amount of tax we take, and that we have to, therefore, negotiate a very sensible buy-out, if you like, from the Welsh Government, in terms of our block grant. So, I don’t envy you in terms of those particular tasks, but we’ll obviously be scrutinising you on this over the next few months.
I just wanted to raise a few issues that have arisen as a result of the scrutiny of the Bill currently going through the Finance Committee. I think Nick Ramsay has already mentioned the issue around the scrutiny of the Welsh revenue authority, and I think it’s important that a committee of this Assembly is responsible for that scrutiny process. I think that gives an appropriate check and balance in terms of how that is managed, and I hope that you’ll take that on board as you develop your proposals. I think, equally, when we took evidence on the Wales Audit Office, we believed, at that time, as a Finance Committee, that there was a need for a non-executive quorum on their board, to help to get an oversight and proper scrutiny within their processes. I think a similar provision would be advantageous in terms of the Welsh revenue authority as well, to make sure that there is proper oversight within that board by making sure that any meetings need to have a certain number of non-executive members there to carry out that scrutiny.
The big issue though, which concerned me, in terms of the evidence we took, was around HMRC, who I thought, when they gave evidence to committee, were very unprepared in terms of what they’re taking on in relation to Wales. It was quite obvious that they haven’t thought through what a tailored service will be for Wales in terms of collecting the taxes. In particular, they hadn’t thought through Welsh-language provision and how they would deal with enquiries in the Welsh language, and there were issues in terms of them thinking they could rely on their office in Birmingham to deal with stamp duty and other matters—and, presumably, with landfill disposals tax as well—when, clearly, a number of people accessing their service will want to have a local enquiry office, and also, access those enquiries through the Welsh language. So, that’s a matter which I just wanted to highlight, and I’m sure that when the committee comes to publish its report, it will also highlight those issues for you. I hope that you can bear that in mind when you come to respond to that report.
Thank you very much, Peter Black. One of the things that we need to do is for me to share with you openly and transparently the work that we have to do before the next Government takes some fairly critical decisions. We can’t wait for that; we have to make sure that we’re ready for the target date and that the amount of preparation that we’ve undertaken means that we can meet that target date in an orderly manner. I think you said ‘cautious’ and ‘sensible’; I think maybe other Members have said ‘measured’. It has to be orderly in terms of preparation. So, really, for me, a lot of this is about confirming a direction of travel on some key policy issues. They will be considered again by the next Government, but the approach taken now does enable the next Government to introduce some legislation on a land transaction tax and a landfill disposals tax early on in the next term to meet the deadline of 2018 for the new Welsh taxes to go live. But, it does give an opportunity, I hope, for Assembly Members to provide views on the policy directions that I’m indicating. And, of course, this really does apply particularly to rates and bands for the land transaction tax and landfill disposals tax, but very much informed by feedback from consultation.
There are a number of matters that you raise, which I believe are for me to respond to at the end of Stage 1, when I receive reports from committees in terms of the development of the Welsh revenue authority. I’m interested—as you are taking evidence, for example, from HMRC—to hear those points that you have raised today, and I’ve already said that I do want to update the Assembly on work, which I would particularly relate to the partnership arrangements that I’ve indicated with HMRC, for example, and Natural Resources Wales. But, I will, as I’ve said, be providing an update on that before the Stage 1 debate.
It’s nice to see consensus breaking out in here. I welcome the statement by the Minister. Putting the two taxes in context, landfill tax provides about £50 million a year, but if recycling and reuse rates increase, which I think most of us would like to see happen, the amount will drop—perhaps the only tax where the aim is to receive nothing. Stamp duty land tax is one of the most volatile of all taxes. It peaked at £235 million; it dropped to £100 million, and now it’s roughly halfway between at £175 million—not caused by any action of the Welsh Government. If landfill disposals tax is substantially different to England, it could lead to substantial cross-border movement of waste, and I don’t think anybody would like to see that happening. So, we are very much constrained, whatever we set the tax at, to be very close to what is set in England.
I have two questions for the Minister. What is the process that needs to be followed to extend the definition of landfill tax to include illegal deposits? I think that most of us know of areas that have been dumped on by people, and sometimes with the landowner’s connivance. If some action could be taken against that, I think it would perhaps solve some of our illegal dumping problems.
The second question is: the community scheme was brought in initially to provide some financial support to local communities when they suffered the disadvantage of having a landfill site in their area. They had a problem, sometimes with flies, but always with lots of traffic movement as the refuse lorries came in to dump the refuse. I looked at a site in my own constituency, and 10 miles from that takes you well past Briton Ferry and Baglan, two areas that are totally unaffected by the landfill site in St Thomas. So, would it be possible to consider reducing the distance from 10 miles? I’d like it to be three, but would be happy with five. Really, when you go that far away, quite often, they are totally unaffected by it. For the site in Pontardawe, for example, pleased as I am, places in Morriston can actually claim because they’re within the 10-mile limit. I’m very pleased that some of the organisations I belong to have had money from it—I’m not sure whether I need to declare an interest in that, or not—but the reality is that they haven’t actually had any of the problems of lorries, because it’s been collecting Neath Port Talbot’s refuse.
I thank Mike Hedges for his points and for his questions. Of course, the volatility is very clear of these taxes, and Peter Black made that point as well. I think, on your issues around illegal waste, you know that we’re looking carefully at the Scottish approach to include illegal deposits of waste within the scope of the tax. This does, potentially, offer an increased financial deterrent against illegal waste activity. We’re exploring that option further to see how it could be applied in Wales. Of course, that has come back from stakeholders as well, saying that including illegal deposits of waste within the scope of the tax demonstrates that that behaviour isn’t acceptable and will need to be addressed. But, it’s clear that we have to, again, look further at this in terms of the implications of including that—for the next Government, of course—in a Bill.
On your second point, I’ve already mentioned the fact that we have to look very carefully about the current provisions in terms of a landfill tax. In the suggestions of our moving forward with the landfill communities fund, we have consulted widely on these issues. I think the issue of whether we need to use the 10-mile rule is one of those question marks, because, of course, if we want to be more strategic about the way we allocate that funding, that is not always appropriate or, indeed, actually addressing the adverse impact of living by a landfill site, which I hope, as we progress with waste management, will be less of an issue in terms of living by a landfill site, in any case.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister. Can I say to Members that, for the next two statements, I’ve got lots of speakers, and they’re very topical and important issues, as the previous statements have been? I would be helped if we can quicken the pace, because I do want to involve as many Members as possible.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 5 is a statement by the Minister for Natural Resources on benefits delivered through the flood and coastal erosion-risk management programme. I call the Minister, Carl Sargeant.
With winter approaching, now is a good time to update the Assembly on the significant benefits that are being delivered to the people of Wales through the flood and coastal erosion-risk management programme. A fundamental aim of the programme is to protect the people of Wales from the risks associated with flooding. So, I am pleased to share that 3,800 properties will see their flood risk significantly reduced through schemes being completed this autumn and winter. Communities all across Wales are benefitting, with schemes being completed at Rhyl, Dolgellau, Risca, Cardiff, Borth, Beaumaris and along the Severn estuary. I’ve visited a number of these communities recently and have seen first-hand the work involved in progressing these schemes. However, they are only a small selection of the overall flood and coast programme that will be delivered by the end of this Government.
We are investing over £240 million to protect people from the risks of flooding and coastal erosion. This has been complemented by £47 million from the European regional development fund. This major investment is directly contributing towards achieving our wellbeing goals under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, through building a more resilient and prosperous Wales of cohesive communities. Not only have more than 12,000 properties, including 10,700 homes, benefited from increased protection from the risks of flooding, this investment has led to an estimated 930 jobs having been supported or created across Wales through the programme to date. I have mentioned the important contribution we have received from the ERDF and it’s important to highlight the success that has been achieved through this funding. We’ve almost doubled our predicted target on the number of flood-risk management schemes being supported. In turn, these schemes have tripled the predicted number of properties at reduced flood risk. In total, over 8,960 properties, as well as infrastructure and major transport links, have benefited from increased protection from flooding thanks to the effective use of European funding.
The flood-risk management programme provides a vital contribution to Wales’s ability to deal with extreme weather. The winter of 2013-14 saw some of the worst storm conditions the Welsh coastline has experienced in over 20 years. Following these storms, I asked Natural Resources Wales to undertake a coastal review to ensure that we learned lessons and maximised the future resilience of our communities to such extreme weather. This review produced a delivery plan earlier this year containing 47 recommendations, which ranged from improving our flood forecasting, to increasing our community resilience and adapting our coastal communities to better withstand the impacts of climate change. Work has progressed well through the year and by the end of the month we will have 21 of the 47 recommendations complete, with at least 40 to be completed by the end of this financial year.
Defences remain vital in managing the risks from flooding and coastal erosion, but as the coastal review and our national strategy outline, they are not the entire story. We must manage our natural resources effectively and use our improving knowledge of flooding to make better decisions in managing the land and directing new development. Our new flood maps, launched by NRW in July will help us to do this, as well as making it easier for the public to understand the risks they face. We will continue to build community resilience, both through raising awareness of flooding and preparing flood plans to reduce the impact on lives and property. NRW, local authorities and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water are also encouraging volunteers in our communities to become flood wardens. I recently visited Beaumaris, and saw for myself the crucial role that flood wardens play in the community.
So, as we look to the future, although the level of public sector budgets are, of course, uncertain, we can point to a significant amount of work that is already under way. Climate change will mean that some of our coastal communities, such as Fairbourne in Gwynedd, will need our long-term support in facing significant adaptation as the sea levels rise and the associated risks to life and property become untenable. To this end, we are aiming to appoint a researcher this month to work alongside the local authority and the community to ensure that the current good practice at Fairbourne is collected and used across Wales wherever possible. Also, key to the future of coastal communities is the £150 million coastal risk management programme, which I announced with the finance Minister in December of last year. Like the core flood programme, we are framing this work in the context of the future generations Act—thinking long term, working strategically, with a transformative vision and actively seeking wider social, economic and cultural benefits in what we deliver. Thank you.
I rise to respond, on behalf of the opposition in the Assembly, just to your statement, Minister. I’m very grateful to you for you bringing this statement in advance of the winter. We know that the winter very often in Wales brings extremely wet weather and that, combined with high tides and onshore winds in particular, our coastal communities and, indeed, many of our inland communities can be at increased risk of flooding.
I want to welcome in particular the investment that’s gone into my own constituency in recent years, along parts of the coast in places like Kinmel Bay, which suffered in the storms that you referenced in your statement. That community has now been afforded a much greater degree of protection, which, of course, has been welcomed by businesses and local residents in that area. I know that you commented on a list of other communities that have been afforded additional protections as well. But as is always the case, much more can be done and it’s much better for communities if action can be taken in advance to protect them from flooding rather than the reaction that we see very often in the wake of flooding and the confusion that can be so often caused.
There are a few things that I just wanted to touch on, if I may, Minister. You didn’t say a great deal about the importance of protecting our key infrastructure in Wales. And you’ll be aware that some of the coastal flood defences protect important assets, such as the north Wales railway line that goes through Old Colwyn in my constituency, and, indeed, the A55 network is perilously close to the flood defences in that same area. And those flood defences, particularly in Old Colwyn, have been undermined in recent years as a result of storms and high tides. I wonder if you can say specifically what action you are taking as a Minister to help to co-ordinate a response to that, so that those defences in that particular area can have the investment that they need, which is so important to the north Wales area in particular.
If you could also, Minister, perhaps just comment on our proposals that we’ve put forward over a number of years now for a blue belt policy to be applied to pieces of land around our coast and other important waterways that are at risk of flooding. I’m obviously aware of the work that Natural Resources Wales does in producing maps that are regularly updated in accordance with changing flood risk, but I do think this policy has some merit and I’m sure that you do as well. And perhaps there is some way of achieving some improvements in the planning system to ensure that there’s greater recognition for flood risk through the introduction of that sort of planning policy statement. I think it is time to refresh our planning policies in relation to flood-risk management, and that might give an opportunity to do just that.
I’m very concerned as well, Minister, about opportunities for affordable insurance for some people in Wales. There are people in my own constituency who find it difficult to get affordable insurance because of flood risk in their areas, and whilst I’m aware that there have been historic agreements between the Association of British Insurers and the UK Government in return for the investment that’s been made in flood defences, some of these have now expired. New arrangements are in place from 2015 with the Flood Re scheme, but there are some limitations to that scheme. Newer homes, for example, which have been developed post 2009 are not covered by the scheme. Buy-to-let properties, which may well be important in terms of the supply of affordable homes across Wales, are not included in that scheme, and nor indeed are businesses included in that affordable insurance scheme. And I wonder what discussions you might have had with the Association of British Insurers and others to help to overcome that particular challenge, because I do think that we can perhaps lead the way with the insurance industry by brokering our own agreements with them.
Just finally, Minister, you talked about the need to consider the potential for wider economic benefits from some of the investment that’s going into flood defences and our flood-risk management network. Clearly, there have been some significant benefits in my own constituency, in places like Colwyn Bay, from the investment that’s already taken place. But I wonder also what other potential benefits might be derived from some combined investment with those private enterprises that are trying to develop tidal lagoons around Wales. We know that there’s going to be a significant flood protection benefit from the tidal lagoon in Swansea, and there are proposals also to have a tidal lagoon off the coast of north Wales, which will afford a large part of the coast with enormous levels of protection that they might not otherwise be able to achieve. I wonder, Minister, whether a little bit of priming the pump from the Welsh Government in terms of some financial support to those projects might go a long way to delivering some improvements for our communities. Thank you.
I thank the Member for his questions and contribution this afternoon. As the Member is aware, £240 million over the lifetime of this Government has been invested in flood defences, and I’m aware also of his constituents; I remember it well in north Wales when I was working with the emergency services around Tywyn, and the incidents that were devastating for communities and the impact they can have, both for coastal and urban flooding. If you have had an experience of that, it lasts a lifetime in terms of that process.
Some of the issues that the Member raised were around risk management—both the shoreline management plans and the flood and coastal erosion-risk management plans, which look specifically around the coastal areas of Wales, about where infrastructure sometimes plays a part in terms of those flood defences. I know, working with Edwina Hart on some of the programmes around Network Rail and some of the activities around some of our significant, major infrastructures, they do play, sometimes, a part in that flood and coastal defence. So, it is something that we are very aware of.
The Member raised an interesting prospect of a blueprint, which I think he made reference to, in terms of flooding intelligence and flood planning. I think we’re pretty much covered in terms of technical advice note 15. There is an irony in this process, because I often get letters from many constituents objecting to developments on flood issues; I also get letters from constituents and Members saying that they should allow them to be developed in a flood plain as well. But we are very robust in TAN 15, and I will stand by that document very clearly, because I do think, as the Member’s witnessed, where planning decisions have been made badly or poorly informed, we have, sometimes, catastrophic events in terms of flood risk, so I won’t relax that process. But I’m interested in his views, in terms of developing a further added element to TAN 15, possibly—if the Member has any views on that.
Flood insurance: the Member’s right to raise this issue. This is a UK Government-led scheme. I have had discussions with the UK on this flood scheme because I also share the concerns about the businesses or buildings that aren’t covered by this scheme, and I think there is some more that could potentially be done. In fact, Elin Jones wrote to me recently on an issue regarding businesses in her constituency, about how we could develop that programme, and I have raised it with them. I will try to seek further clarity from the Minister and will, of course, let the Chamber know, in respect of that.
The final point the Member raised was about other additional benefits from developments around this. I absolutely agree with the Member. Things like the Swansea tidal lagoon may offer added value, such as walks and fitness opportunities for constituents, or visitors’ attractions. So, it’s not just a flood defence or an energy scheme; actually there’s more to be developed there. I think ensuring through the planning system that we have early intervention, so we can talk about these issues and consider the wellbeing of future generations Act and the principle of development of new schemes, is something that I’m keen for my department to pursue.
In actual fact, I agree with, very much, what my colleague Darren Millar has just said. My constituency isn’t far along the coast. In fact, I was driving through your constituency, and those areas you mentioned, very recently, and envying some of the work that’s been carried out there.
I make no bones about it, I’m going to ask two questions about my constituency. The first is on coastal flooding, which I raised with you soon after it happened. You know that there are parts of my constituency—Point of Ayr, Talacre, Mostyn, Bagillt and Flint—that only escaped serious flooding because of a change in the wind direction; it was by the skin of their teeth. They were identified as near-miss locations. You know we can’t rely on luck to play a part in the future, and though they’re quite small, compared with some areas, it’s just as devastating, and as risky if people are flooding. So, firstly, I would like to have your assurances, now, that you will continue to look at these areas. Darren actually mentioned the fact that by improving the infrastructure, like the railway lines, you can help these areas as well. So, can I ask that they are contained in the risk management programme?
Now I’m moving inland, and I make no apology for that either. The Mold flood alleviation plan has been going on, I think, longer than I’ve been an Assembly Member. Flooding always happens there, it obviously affects certain houses, and we know why it happens. But, again, I’d like to know that there is some resilient plan to stop this happening, because it is devastating for the people who live there. You also know that there are some people who can’t occupy parts of the homes they live in. So, can I ask you: will you say now what you know about this, and can you write to me and tell me what is happening?
Thank you for your questions. Of course, the Member continues to pressurise me in terms of investment into her constituency—and she’s right to do so—as well as many others too. I think the issues around the coastal flooding that the Member experienced and witnessed—. There was an element of luck there—I do recognise that—but we base our activity on a risk basis, and, of course, that does feature highly in terms of future investments. But we have ensured that the budgets we do have of £240 million—we’ve maintained that through this Government; it’s a priority for this Government in terms of managing flood risk and it is something that, again, I will look at to see what more can be done in terms of her particular constituency. I did expect from Members today the wish list of activities around flooding schemes; I haven’t been disappointed in that.
The Member is also right to raise that the issue is not just about coastal flooding. Urban flooding is significant and, again, Mold, in her constituency, is somewhere I, again, have been personally witness to. This is currently with the local authority in terms of being dealt with in a partnership agreement with Welsh Government. I will write to the Member in detail in terms of where they are in that programme. I do believe it is quite a costly scheme, but, nevertheless, it should be based on risk and priorities, and it’s something I will follow up with the Member directly in the near future.
May I thank you, Minister, for your statement? It’s a useful update on commitments already in place and the work that is ongoing. I particularly welcome that almost 9,000 properties are facing a reduced risk of flooding thanks to the use of the European funding, which is another example of the benefits that we enjoy in Wales of being members of the European Union, and it’s important that we bear that in mind.
The UK climate projections for Wales suggest that, by 2050, temperatures are projected to increase by 2.3 degrees centigrade, which takes us over the threshold for catastrophic consequences. We know that rainfall is projected to increase in Wales, storm intensity will increase and, of course, larger waves will be hitting our shores, but the report, ‘Future flooding in Wales’, also estimates that, simply to maintain current levels of risk over the next 25 years—with one in six properties at risk of flooding in 2035—Wales might actually need to treble investment levels and, to reduce levels of risk even slightly, more funding would be required again. But, of course, we can’t just throw money at this and we can’t just keep mixing concrete, so tackling climate change has to be central to the long-term prospects of tackling flood and coastal erosion risk in Wales. Many of us, of course, have welcomed the prospect of statutory climate change targets in the Environment (Wales) Bill, but I would ask you, Minister, to consider inserting into the environment Bill the principle of keeping global warming under 2 degrees centigrade in the criteria that Ministers must consider when setting carbon targets and budgets. It would certainly focus minds and ensure that no Government in future takes its eye off that particular ball.
Earlier this year, the Welsh Government consulted on proposals to establish a flood and coastal investment programme, involving creating a national flood-risk index to compare risk in different places. Concern was expressed as part of that consultation that an index combining sea, river and surface water flooding might skew investment towards areas where there is a potential risk from all three sources and inadvertently, maybe, disadvantage other areas that might face just as serious a risk of flooding but maybe only from one of those particular sources. So, I’d like to ask how you’re addressing those concerns going forward. Also, respondents felt that the index should be able to take account of local knowledge because local knowledge, very often, can be just as valuable as any computer-generated scenario or any other sources of information. So, I’d ask you to explain to us how you will ensure that local knowledge is fed into that particular index.
Natural Resources Wales, of course, has a central role to play in relation to the flood and coastal erosion-risk management programme here in Wales, but we also know that NRW is facing increased demands in terms of new duties and responsibilities being placed upon it by the Welsh Government and, at the same time, of course, it’s facing a reduction in head count in terms of staff and decreasing resources, particularly financial resources. So, can you assure us this afternoon, Minister, that Natural Resources Wales will be given the resources it needs to fulfil this particular function effectively next year and, as much as you can, in years to come?
Finally, will you join me in criticising the makers of the computer game ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops III’, who, apparently, have used images of flood-hit Rhyl in a promotional video? The images were taken from the consequences of the storm surge in late 2013. It is regrettable that they’ve put the misery of, what was it, 400 people who were forced to leave their homes into a computer game.
I thank the Member for his questions. I also share his view that it is important to be part of the EU. Forty-seven million pounds invested in our communities across Wales is something of a contribution towards the £240 million that we just wouldn’t have had if we weren’t part of that membership. It’s something that I will be campaigning for strongly, along with the Member, I hope.
The Member is right, actually; this isn’t just about throwing money at this programme. Funding is not just the answer to this. Clever engineering schemes: I’ve met, on several occasions, with the Institution of Civil Engineering to think about how we do development and what that means in terms of managing risk for new developments if we are to create them.
I also share the Member’s view around climate change and the environment and, of course, that’s the result of the Bill. I’m hopeful, with the inclusion of the targets in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, that we can have some support as the process of the environment Bill moves forward. He will be aware of the under 2 degrees memorandum of understanding that was signed by Wales and a number of countries, including a country in Germany—I think the Member visited there—and California. Again, we’re trying to push, so that, in England, actually, they will also sign up to it, but I’ve not been assured of that just yet. But, you never know.
With regard to local knowledge and the index, I think the Member raises an important point here. I would like to think—and I will look at this in more detail—that we listen very carefully to people’s knowledge about what happens in the demography of their constituencies. But, I raise that with caution, because I am aware, and the Member will also be aware, of people who raise, sometimes, unfounded evidence of issues that should be taken into consideration during planning terms, and I think we’ve got to be very clear about how we balance that in terms of feeding that in, but I think it’s an important point that the Member raises.
The final point that the Member raised was regarding Natural Resources Wales. I’m very keen that Natural Resources Wales develops that new programme of operation, although, the Member raised the issues of new burdens on this authority. These are burdens—if the Member wishes to use that term—that the NRW were well aware of—[Interruption.] Sorry; ‘duties’—I will correct my comments. They are duties that the organisation were well aware of. Indeed, the business model was about a long-term programme, a long-term business finance model that was reducing year on year; that should be no surprise to them or the Member. It’s something that, when I do speak to NRW, we have regular conversations on finance and their capability of delivering on these issues, but of course we are, and will continue to be, under pressure from the UK Government as long as they keep reducing the central budget that is a consequence of that. But, I am committed, as I said earlier, to maintaining, as long as possible, our—. Managing around flood and coastal risk management is one of the priorities of this Government.
I thank you for your statement today, Minister. The programme is also known as the flood and coast investment programme, and investment is, indeed, paramount. Planning ahead; fixing the roof while the rain holds off, if you like. The Welsh Government has done that and you’ve mentioned the £245 million invested over the life of this Assembly and a further £150 million in key schemes from 2018. That is hugely important, because communities up and down the country, on the coast and inland have, indeed, benefited from that.
It is the case that more than 300 homes were flooded in the storms on the new year before last; however, NRW estimates that less than 1 per cent of properties at risk of flooding actually did so. Our resilience was down to years of investment in and maintenance of flood defences. But, of course, that’s cold comfort to people and places that were affected by flooding. Some have already, early this autumn, been affected in my region. So, I do welcome the development of a national flood-risk index and I hope that it will ensure future investment reaches the places that need it most.
But there is one point that I want to make and that is that water is a natural resource and one that we shouldn’t waste. In May, we did discuss in this Chamber the water strategy for Wales and there is, in my opinion, scope to dovetail our policies to reserve water with those to prevent flooding. Instead of funnelling storm water away, for example, we could, perhaps, be creative and devise ways of using it where we can. Perhaps there is a way to build that sort of thinking into the new index, Minister.
Talking about building, I could hardly leave this debate, Minister, without asking you to look at surface water mitigation. You would only expect it of me, and I want to deliver what you do expect of me, because I do believe that, in this case, prevention is better than bailing out a property.
I thank the Member for her question. Again, I thank the Member for bringing a delegation to visit me from Fairbourne, and, again, a useful meeting to understand exactly what happens in the constituency and how they feel about those implications. It was a really useful meeting. I hope that they got as much out of that meeting as I did.
The Member raises the issue of surface water. Again, that was no surprise either. Of course, the Member continues to do that. It is something that I am conscious of and it links into her previous comments around water preservation. I think we have to be much more clever in the way we use our natural resources and not just expose it to the sea, but, actually ask: are there any clever solutions? There are many examples across the world, in fact, of how we could do things better, sometimes in housing and development design. I’ve seen underground storage facilities, et cetera, that could be used, so it’s something that’s not wasted on me in terms of your comments. It’s something, I think, we should think very carefully about for some of our developments for the future. Again, there is a flood scheme in the constituency of Keith Davies where Welsh Water have been involved in some water capture—a very innovative programme—and I think it’s something that we should think about replicating elsewhere across our communities in Wales.
But, of course, this is all couched in the issue around the finances we have available at the time. We have to take that risk-based approach to where we make our investments so that they have the best value. I also recognise it’s little comfort to the people who are involved or protected in that arena. One person flooded is too many, but we are trying our best to encourage clever solutions to the small investment that we make, with nearly 9,000 properties being protected in Wales.
Thank you, Minister, for the statement today.
I join others in welcoming the clear benefits that have been delivered through the flood and coastal erosion-risk management programme and, indeed, in joining others also in acknowledging the critical role of European Union funding in safeguarding communities the length and breadth of Wales from flood risk. It is important to emphasise just how wide-ranging the impacts of flooding and coastal erosion can be—too wide-ranging to be covered in any single statement. I’d like to highlight just a couple that have not been fully acknowledged so far today.
One is the benefit that the coastal risk management programme can have in reducing both road traffic and rail disruption. I’d be interested to know from the Minister the extent to which the programme has served to reduce the disruption that localised flooding can cause on our roads and railways. I would also like to know whether any assessment has been made of how it has impacted on the level of spending by Welsh Government, by local authorities, NRW and emergency services in such extreme instances.
Coastal erosion is, effectively, permanent and irreversible, generally meaning that future uses of that land or property are lost. Decisions, therefore, about investment versus no investment must stem from a realistic evaluation of the option as to whether or not to pursue active intervention. In this context, does the Minister feel that the correct balance is currently being struck between deciding to intervene or to do nothing, which, effectively, involves a strategic withdrawal from individual locations and small settlements that are at risk?
I know that there were issues last year relating to the local flood-risk management strategies and the fact that some lead local flood authorities had not been able to meet the deadline for setting those local strategies. To what extent have these difficulties now been overcome and how well, Minister, do you feel that they are now working?
Given the level of clear felling of infected trees that has occurred over recent months, due to the Phytophthora outbreak across Wales, has the flood and coastal erosion-risk management programme looked at prioritising expanding forestry cover as a means of protecting against flooding? This particularly has been advocated by Coed Cadw.
Minister, shelter belts are also used for not only improving flood protection but also for enhancing biodiversity and, at the same time, affording shelter for livestock in inclement weather. With these multiple benefits in mind, is there scope for incentivising further farmers and landowners to develop such shelter belts?
Finally, I welcome the policy intention of the Environment (Wales) Bill in establishing a flood and coastal erosion committee. Given the concerns raised about the dual accountability of Natural Resources Wales and the existing committee, and the overlap in their respective remits, I believe that it is important to have a single body providing an independent voice for flood-risk management for Wales. In this context, can the Minister reassure this Chamber that the committee will be constituted in such a way as to advise Welsh Ministers on the wider risks and benefits in a truly independent fashion, focusing not just on the work of NRW but on the full range of flood management bodies in Wales, including taking full account of local knowledge?
I thank the Member for his key points. The issue around coastal and rail disruption or significant infrastructure is something that we’ve had a discussion with the Minister for enterprise on with regard to planning considerations and future investments and risks already involved in that process. It’s something that—. Many years ago we didn’t consider that some of our rail infrastructure now runs through the heart of some floodplains—the main route for disruption in terms of flood management. But, if the rail line were struck by flooding—as we’ve seen, actually, in some areas where there are long-term devastating effects to the integrated transport programme. It is something that we are very mindful of.
It is with regret, though, that I cannot say that—. No matter how much money we have to invest in the programme, in some areas we just will not be able to hold back the sea or coastal erosion. That’s why we are looking very carefully to the areas that do need managed retreat. That’s an awful thing to suggest but, actually, some people will lose their homes, on the basis that we cannot stop the flood water coming in or coming underneath the property. It is something on which we are working sensitively with local authorities to try to mitigate these issues in the longer term. I think that the longer that you have this programme, the easier it could be for communities to reconsider what their boundaries should or shouldn’t be for the future.
The Member raises a really important programme around forestry and shelter belts. I share his views around the opportunities that we have for making our investments—clever investments—about planting trees for the future. I think we’ve been chasing targets about investment, where we’re just planting trees, and we should be using much more intelligent views on what we plant and where we plant for the reasons that the Member alluded to in terms of their multiple benefits.
I’m grateful for the Member’s views on the flood and coastal Wales committee. It is something that is going through scrutiny at the moment. I listened to his points very carefully, and we’ll consider that as we go through the scrutiny process.
Minister, we visited Ilan in Rhydyfelin, in my constituency, earlier this week. You received a very, very warm welcome from residents there. I’m not sure it’s a welcome that you get everywhere you go, but certainly the residents were very, very pleased to see you, and also to congratulate Welsh Government and thank Welsh Government for transforming the lives of their community. You heard from residents who actually said that they could now sleep peacefully. When it rained, the flooding in Ilan was periodic; it occurred every couple of years. It absolutely devastated that particular community. The particular type of flood alleviation programme, by means of creating pools, with a £3.5 million pot of money from European money, local council money from Rhondda Cynon Taf, and from Welsh Government, has transformed that particular community. Are there lessons to be learned about the way in which that was done, not only the model that is being used, but the actual partnership that was formed between Welsh Government, the council, local representatives and the local residents that has actually enabled that programme to go forward? Despite even heavier rain than we’ve had in the past that resulted in flooding, there’s been no flooding in the Ilan area of Rhydyfelin since the Welsh Government completed that programme.
I thank the Member for his questions, but also thank him for being present at the visit. He’s a very popular Member, may I say, with the community of Ilan, and it wasn’t set up, either—for Members who weren’t able to attend. They were real people from his constituency that were now able to sleep at night, saying that, when the rain came of an evening, they’d be up and looking out the windows, wondering whether they were going to be evacuated, and that’s a terrible situation for anybody to have to live with. But I’m very grateful that we were able to help, with partnership—and that was the key there, making sure all the agencies came together to look at what the proposals were. And the outcome has delivered a very positive programme for that community—actually, a relatively small investment with significant benefits for that flash flooding. We have learned some lessons around that, and I am looking at how we can spread that, through NRW and ourselves, with other communities, to make sure we get some positive benefits, as seen in the Member’s constituency.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
As another who was very eager for the review of our coastal areas to happen swiftly after the very serious floods of 2013-14, may I congratulate NRW and the Welsh Government on their success in ensuring European funding and implementing so many of the recommendations made in that report? May I also give thanks to them for the effective collaboration that there’s been with Network Rail, and urge the Minister to ensure that that continues not only on the coast of the Cambrian line but also, of course, in north Wales, where the main line between north and south is crucially important?
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
May I also thank him for appointing a researcher in Fairbourne and for working so closely with the local authority? Gwynedd Council has shown great sensitivity in areas detrimentally affected by the risk of coastal flooding, not only in Fairbourne, but in Pwllheli and elsewhere, and I hope that that work can continue. It wouldn’t be right for me to forget fluvial flooding. I have admired the work ongoing in Dolgellau, as one who has suffered in the past as a result of flooding from the River Wnion occasionally, and I’m very pleased that this work is successful.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
But I do want to ask one further question to him, to ensure that the work that appears to have been successful not only on this river, but also the River Conwy—that the lessons are learned for the future in terms of what is possible, even in difficult flood situations, where the work of designing the plan is effective and can have real outcomes.
I thank the Member for his contribution also. He’s right regarding the issue. I think Mick Antoniw’s question was to the point, about the partnership deal with Network Rail, local authorities, Welsh Government and NRW all coming together to recognise the issue and how important the network is. Actually, with the power of natural resources, those forces upon us, we have to work collectively to ensure that we can get a common aim.
I must pay tribute to Gwynedd Council in the way they have acted with regard to Fairbourne. They’re always seen to take forward a very difficult discussion with residents. Working in partnership, we’re grateful for the opportunity to fund a programme to help that community moving forward.
Dolgellau: the Member is right to raise the positive impact it’s had, protecting around 300 properties; £5.6 million of investment welcomed by that community. Things that the Member raises about, for the future, we’re doing things differently in Wales—that’s a good thing. We are the only place in the UK where we have flood wardens—very popular with communities and very trusted elements of the community—whereby people can raise issues and share the information that’s much needed by communities in their time of need.
In terms of finances, our investment in flood and coastal erosion has increased by over 27 per cent in real terms between 2011-12 and 2013-14, and between 2011-12 and 2014-15 we’ve maintained our NRW flood revenue budget at nearly £20 million. In contrast, over the same period, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England has cut the Environment Agency budget by nearly 23 per cent. We are committed to maintaining that. Flooding is a priority for this Government, and will continue so as we move forward.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
And, finally, Jenny Rathbone.
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. Weinidog, three questions: one is that one of the main electricity substations serving Cardiff is on a floodplain, on Newport Road, on the corner of Colchester Avenue, and I just wondered if the money you were spending in Cardiff in any way addressed the risks to that major electricity substation, as it would cost an absolute fortune to move it, I’m sure—beyond any of the resources we currently have.
Secondly, what role does the planting of trees play in your strategy for increasing community resilience, particularly fruit trees—that’s my preference? As we know that, as climate becomes more extreme, we’re going to have more winter rain, more flooding possibilities, and drier summers, there’s a certain urgency to actually plant trees now while the climate is less extreme.
Thirdly, what powers do you have to direct planners to insist that new housing developments include the sort of resilience measures that have been adopted by Grangetown in Cardiff and Llanelli to ensure that grey water is recycled and that the streetscape is made of absorbent materials?
I thank the Member for her questions. The first question I don’t know the answer to, but I will write to the Member with regard to the substation on Newport Road. The Member, as have others, has raised the issue of tree planting. I said earlier on that I think that for far too long we’ve been chasing the programme of just planting trees. We have to be much more intelligent in the way we do this now, and we have to look at targeted areas and specific species particularly. We’ve had some success in St Asaph, where we’ve planted certain species on the banks there, which I know help with the resilience of the flood banks but also in terms of the water uptake from these particular species.
TAN 15, we believe, is the appropriate vehicle for the planning process, but I think the Member raised it specifically about design and build. It is something that I’ve asked my team to look at in more detail, about what we would expect developers to consider when they’re building new communities. Flood alleviation and the use of environmentally friendly aspects of development are one thing, but there are many other aspects, too. It’s something that I will keep abreast of, but I will also, perhaps, write to the Member in terms of details of where we’re up to at the current position.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 6 is a statement by the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty on the refugee crisis; I call Lesley Griffiths.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
The Syrian refugee crisis has dominated the news in the past few months, and, on 17 September, the First Minister chaired a summit. I also addressed the summit, as the relocation of refugees to Wales falls within my ministerial portfolio. Immigration policy is not, of course, devolved to the Welsh Government. However, as a Government and a nation, we stand ready to welcome and support the refugees we are asked to resettle in our communities.
We all remember the haunting image of young Aylan Kurdi lying motionless on a Turkish beach. That single photograph has connected so many more people in Wales to the human tragedy of the Syrian conflict and its consequences. I’ve been humbled by the outpouring of compassion and generosity, epitomised by local donation-collection points, offers of spare rooms and the Refugees Welcome campaign.
I’m pleased to say that this spirit of unity and empathy also characterised the summit. Representatives from key public services and the third sector attended and signalled a clear willingness to work together to provide a positive welcome and a safe haven to Syrian refugees relocating to their new homes in Wales. A joint communiqué was published shortly after the summit, with a commitment to establish a new Welsh Government-led Syrian refugee taskforce to co-ordinate efforts to ensure Wales is ready to play its full part in the resettlement programme.
The UK Government has committed to accepting 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years, though a specific number for resettlement to Wales has yet to be agreed. I am not going to set an arbitrary number today as to how many refugees I believe we should be welcoming. Instead, I want to give the taskforce the time to properly assess the capacity we have, and we will then urge the UK Government to relocate the most appropriate number as swiftly as possible. It is for the UK Government to explain how they will help to support those who’ve already arrived in Europe.
I will chair the first meeting of the taskforce next month, which will bring together senior officials from local government, health and social care, education and housing, along with representatives from the third sector and others who were involved in the summit. The taskforce itself will be supported by an operations board, which comprises leaders and decision-makers across public services and the third sector. This board is chaired by Sarah McGill, director for communities, housing and customer services at the City of Cardiff Council, and it met for the first time yesterday. It has been tasked with mapping the capacity, expertise and availability of required services to ensure the resettlement of refugees can be achieved sustainably. To accomplish this, it will call on the expertise of its members, who will provide feedback from their existing organisations and identify any issues that may need resolution at the national level.
This structure of a taskforce supported by an operations board will allow us to assess our capability as a nation to respond as quickly as possible to support the most vulnerable Syrians living in UN camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. It is important to recognise many of those who will be relocated to Wales under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme are likely to be severely disabled or suffering significant and ongoing trauma, and they will be provided with five years of humanitarian protection to allow them to start to rebuild their lives. Unfortunately, the long-term and substantial needs of these individuals will make it difficult for them to be accommodated in the spare rooms of the generous households who have already come forward offering their support. Nevertheless, I do want to recognise the goodwill shown by the public as this tragedy has unfolded. Therefore, I asked the operations board to consider, as one of its first items of business yesterday, how members of the public can support our response. The board has decided communication is one of its priorities and will be working to ensure clear messages are given to the public so there is a full understanding of how the vulnerable persons relocation scheme will be implemented.
It is essential we build upon the co-operation we have already seen amongst public authorities and the third sector in Wales. To achieve this, we will endeavour to ensure as many organisations as possible with expertise in working with refugees are included in our efforts, going forward. Inevitably, local authorities, health boards and social care providers will be involved, but we will not overlook the vital role which organisations such as the Welsh Refugee Council, the British Red Cross and faith groups can play in supporting the effective implementation of this scheme. I intend to discuss the nature of this involvement further with faith groups at the next faith communities forum, chaired by the First Minister, on 2 November as I am aware of the positive statements that have been made by many faith groups and third sector groups in Wales. I look forward to exploring this in more detail with them as matters develop.
I have also spoken with the UK Government’s new Minister for Syrian refugees, Richard Harrington MP. I plan to remain in regular contact to ensure Welsh Government receive the clarification we need from the Home Office and other agencies. As has already been stated by the Welsh Local Government Association and others, we are still awaiting further details of the UK Government’s new relocation scheme. Organisations need this clarity to adequately assess how many, and how quickly, refugees can be resettled within particular areas. I will continue to push for certainty on the issues to prevent obstacles to the full uptake of this scheme, as quickly as possible. I will provide Members with another update on the refugee crisis in November, after the first meeting of the taskforce.
Minister, I welcome this timely report. All the world at the moment is going through a serious crisis and the people of Syria are between the fire and the frying pan. So, there is an international obligation to help these refugees, and I admire the Minister for making this timely statement at this time and also I admire the way she is dealing with the vulnerable people in this report. But, five years’ rehabilitation needs to be explored. How in five years people can readjust to this system; it must be much quicker, Minister, rather than taking much longer. Five years is a very long time for some people to adjust, especially the vulnerable people. They need quick adjustment to this country.
Minister, you’ve mentioned two points that also need clarification—the taskforce and operations board. It’s just another tier of bureaucracy, or whatever it is, but Minister these people need quick settlement, quick comfort, and a quick easy life, wherever they come from. When things get better, I hope one day these people will go back, too, and there are some serious questions, which I will put forward one by one. How many Syrians do you think will be relocated in Wales? I know the UK Government is spending £1 billion—the biggest donor in this crisis in the world, and we should be proud of it. We also, as a Welsh community, like the Scottish and other nations—they’re doing their share and we should not be leaving ourselves behind.
What period are we looking at in terms of these refugees being relocated in Wales? What period and timescale are you proposing? What proportion of these refugees will be settled in Newport, Swansea, Cardiff or Wrexham? Have you made any money available on that sort of—how are people going to be relocated in these areas? What action will the Government take to try to encourage other local authorities to share the burdens? What funding will be received from Westminster on this subject? I think the figure hasn’t been mentioned, yet. I’m sure that you’re meeting next month, Minister, but I’m sure some sort of number must be in the mind or at least in the pipeline for you to work out how much money will be given for that resettlement. Will the Minister issue guidance to help those local authorities, education authorities and housing services on how best to meet the needs of refugees? I know the third sector and the public sector are also involved in it. Charities are doing a great job and I am sure, Minister, we should not be behind on this.
I’m slightly bemused by Mohammad Asghar’s contribution. He clearly doesn’t understand the scheme that’s been put forward by the UK Government. This is a matter for the UK Government. The five years is what the UK Government has stated. They have said they’re extending the vulnerable persons relocation scheme and, over the next five years, they are going to take 20,000. What we’ve done as a Government, which I think we should be praised for, and I think you did start by saying that, is say that we stand ready to take our share of those 20,000. I have to say there’s not a great deal of information coming from the UK Government, unfortunately. My officials are in daily contact. I myself have spoken to the Minister several times. I spoke to Richard Harrington this morning. He was just about to fly off to Jordan for a couple of days and I will catch up again with him on Thursday. So, the five years is what the UK Government are saying. What we have said—and the First Minister has written to the Prime Minister—is they really need to get their act together a lot quicker and they need to be getting these people over to this country. So, I absolutely agree with you that we need to do it as quickly as possible. But, it is not an issue for us. We’ve said we stand ready to help as quickly as we can. It’s a matter for the UK Government.
You asked me how many will be relocated to Wales and I said in my statement I can’t pluck out a figure. What we’re doing, what the summit did, what the operations board is doing and the taskforce, and I’ll explain a bit more about that later, is now working with the local authorities to see what capacity we have. You asked about Newport, Swansea, Cardiff and Wrexham. Those are the four dispersal centres for asylum seekers in Wales. This is not about asylum seekers. The people coming from Syria will be given refugee status on humanitarian grounds. I’m very pleased to say that each of the 22 local authorities is happy to take Syrian refugees—all 22. When we had the summit last month, it was 17. It’s now all 22. So, everybody right across Wales is happy to take some of the Syrian refugees under this extended scheme.
Again, you ask about the funding. That’s up to the UK Government. Those are the figures that we’re currently working out and, as I say, not much information is, unfortunately, coming forward at the moment.
Thank you very much, Minister, for the statement. I wondered if she had any information about whether any of the refugees who will be coming to the UK and to Wales would be unaccompanied young refugees, because there have been a number of unaccompanied young refugees who have come here in the past and it has been, sometimes, difficult to get the appropriate placements and the appropriate treatment for them. So, I wondered if she had any information she could give us about that. She mentions how the people in Wales are generous and are ready to welcome refugees from Syria and other places, and I’d just like to draw her attention to and commend the efforts of one of my constituents: Sally Osborne who has, with friends, taken it upon herself to collect donations for refugees in Calais. She’s even hired a driver and a van to take supplies of clothing and food to the camp, which I’m sure she will agree is vitally important now that the winter is coming. Although the refugees that will be coming to Wales will not be from Europe, I think we’ve still got that issue to deal with. So, I’d like to commend Sally Osborne’s great efforts in this respect. And though, obviously, volunteers can only do so much, I appreciate the efforts that the Welsh Government is making with its taskforce.
I thank Julie Morgan. Absolutely; it’s great to hear of these individual cases such as your constituent, Sally Osborne. As I say, right across Wales we’ve seen local collection points, for instance. And at the summit, we had the British Red Cross present and they were completely blown away by the amount of voluntary work and charity work that people were undertaking. So, I think it is fantastic to see right across Wales.
Julie Morgan asked about unaccompanied refugee children and, clearly, we believe that there will be a significant number coming forward. And I know the UK Government have stated there’ll be a separate scheme put in place for provision for Syrian refugee children but, again, we haven’t got any specific details about it at the moment. So, that’s another aspect that I will be pushing the Syrian refugee Minister on.
Thank you, Minister, for the statement today. Plaid Cymru is pleased to see that the progress that has been led by the Welsh Government over the last few weeks has led the response of local authorities and public bodies to this crisis.
You mentioned the taskforce that you’ve set up, and the fact that you chair it. Could you confirm that you intend to continue to chair that taskforce? I think it is important that the leadership that has been shown already by the Government continues as something very prominent, and I think that that helps with the task that you’ve acknowledged in the statement of communicating to the public what the Government is doing, and the reasons why we are doing that.
Talking of communication, in the statement you mentioned communication with communities, but what steps are you intending to take to communicate with the refugees themselves? For example, will there be any kind of welcome pack for refugees that come specifically to Wales that can mention the nature of Wales, education in Wales, and the health service—which is different to England—but also talks about their rights and responsibilities, and what we expect of them as well? Because we want that process to lead to a society that’s more united, and a society where there’s as little as possible of an effort by some people to destroy that society and to set people against each other. If everyone understands their role in that, then that can help. I also think that it could ensure that the advantages of settling in Wales and being part of the community in Wales can be communicated to those refugees themselves.
In that context, what kind of support can you give as a Government, not necessarily financial support, but support and guidance for other bodies outside the public sector such as housing associations, credit unions and so forth, even universities? Because we greatly hope that the refugees will settle in Wales and will become citizens of Wales, and become part of all aspects of our society.
Very appropriately, you say that you can’t talk about the money that’s available, because that’s an issue for Westminster. However, are you in discussions at all with local authorities or within government around what system could be in place if there is any delay in terms of transferring the appropriate money to local authorities? Is the Welsh Government willing to bridge any gaps or delays in that system, once we know what the support from Westminster will be, or provide money beforehand, as the money flows later on? That might mitigate some of the concerns that some authorities have at the moment in terms of dealing with this issue. In that context, have you already seen any good practice in Wales in terms of welcoming and providing for the refugees that can be used in the future, even though this is a larger number of people than we’ve seen in one cohort coming before?
And a final point, Minister, if I can, is something about the tone of the debate that we can have on these things within Wales. It’s quite something when the Institute of Directors today has condemned the Tory Minister for irresponsible rhetoric around the way that Theresa May has described asylum and migration. I have to say that her nasty and mendacious speech is so different to the tone of hundreds of constituents who have contacted me, seeking to offer help and support to Syrian refugees. One of those groups of constituents were some 130 people in the Hay, Talgarth and Brecon area, who have been talking about the concept of a city of sanctuary, and this voluntary sector-led concept is trying to bring people together to create policies and programmes to welcome refugees, and to turn away from that rhetoric that sets groups against other groups, and which seeks to divide society rather than bring us together. Is the city of sanctuary concept something that you are actively working with, within Welsh Government? Is it some way to deliver some of the communication problems and issues that you’ve already outlined? And two specific questions did emerge from Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative conference today, because the old practice of not announcing Government policy in party conferences seems to have long passed. One was that we would have a register for accommodation. If that is going to be done in England, is there a way that we can co-operate? I appreciate this is only today, but it’s something to flag up, I think. Is there going to be a register for accommodation that we can use in Wales, which, again, feeds into the city of sanctuary concept? And the final part of that, which again is part of the city of sanctuary—‘dinas lloches’—concept, is how we can involve people in community sponsorship schemes directly for refugees. That’s particularly, perhaps, valuable for those who Julie Morgan mentioned, under the age of 18. Diolch yn fawr.
Diolch, Simon Thomas. I think the point that Simon makes around the tone of the debate is really important, and we have seen such an outpouring of support, right across Wales, that I think I’m very confident that we’ll be able to carry that on. But communication is very important; that’s why I asked the operations board, which met for the first time yesterday, to focus on how we can use the offers of support that have come in. You know, we’ve had so many people who are offering a spare room, but as I said in my statement, because we don’t know the vulnerability of the refugees, and we don’t know their health, although they will be assessed in the camps before they come here, we don’t know how we can place people. So, I think it’s very important that those two things are looked at urgently. I will be chairing the taskforce; that will meet for the first time next month. As I mentioned, the operations board met yesterday. That’s very important—that we have all the officials working together right across Welsh Government and with the local authorities.
You asked about the funding: I don’t think there will be a delay once the UK Government have decided how the refugees will be placed and where they will be placed—as, you know, all the UK countries are on board with this. But it’s something that we will need to look at, because if there is, obviously the local authorities will need funding to assist. But I really don’t think there will be a delay once the numbers are decided. We just, really, need more information to come out much quicker from the UK Government. As I said, the First Minister has written to the Prime Minister to say, ‘We really need to be looking at pace about this now’.
In relation to support packages, the day before the summit, the Minister for Public Services and I met with five Syrian refugees, one of whom had been in the country, in Wales, for many, many years, and four who’d been here for less than a year. We asked them what they needed, and what they felt that we could have done more to help them settle. I specifically asked about, you know, rights et cetera; they didn’t seem to think that was a problem. There were two things they raised with us, and that was additional English lessons. So, that was something that was raised at the summit, and I’m very pleased the universities have come forward, as well as the third sector—I think the Red Cross do English lessons, and they are very happy to roll out more. But the universities also came forward and said they will help us, so, again, that’s something the operations board looked at and the taskforce will take forward. The second was housing, and certainly, at the summit, the Welsh Local Government Association believed that we can manage the housing within what we have now.
Your suggestion about the city of sanctuary and the register for accommodation is certainly something we can look at, and I’m afraid—I think I’m afraid, anyway—that I haven’t caught up with Theresa May’s speech yet, but certainly I will be doing that later.
I thank the Minister for her statement today. We all know that the refugee crisis has dominated the news headlines over the summer months, and it continues unabated and remains at the very top of the political agenda, as we see from both sides. However, I do agree with you it’s important that Wales does its bit, however small a country we may be. Can I also add my commendation of the Welsh public’s response to the immediate needs of the refugees? It’s been magnificent by any standards. Individuals and voluntary groups have certainly gone that extra mile, largely through spontaneous action. I know of—although she’s not my constituent—the work of Sally Osborne, who Julie Morgan referred to. I certainly encourage others to follow that type of example.
I know, Minister, that the Welsh Government will do all that it can to provide essential services, as refugees arrive here safely in Wales, following their difficult journey. Will the Minister tell us what level of partnerships exists across Wales between statutory services and the third sector as well as more informal groups, such as faith groups? You have made it quite clear that you have not received the necessary information yet from the UK Government to enable you to plan proper provision of public services, which is essential. I know, from my time as the Minister, it was very difficult to get information from the UK Government; we could wait a long time. Do you have any indication whatsoever from the UK Government about when they are likely to give you sufficient information to enable the plans to be properly prepared?
I thank Jeff Cuthbert for those comments. I think you’re absolutely right, it has been magnificent and it has been spontaneous. I think that photograph that I referred to—. As I say, it opened up so many more people about the crisis in Syria. I mentioned that I’d spoken very briefly this morning to Richard Harrington, and I’m going to speak to him again on Thursday afternoon. I’m hoping we will then have some more information. He did say that things have moved a bit quicker this week. So, I think it is important that we know what funding we’ve got, so local authorities know what provision they have. What we’re doing now is preparing the ground to welcome the refugees and, certainly, the fact that all 22 local authorities are happy to participate in the scheme is very good and it means that we are now working with all public services to ensure that we have the provision in place.
I think the faith groups have a really important role to play. Again, they were represented at the summit, they’re on the operations board, and they will be on the taskforce too. Certainly, the very positive statements they’ve come out with have helped create the tone with the general public. I remember when I worked in the NHS back in the 1980s that we had some Syrian refugees who were relocated to Wrexham, three of whom were doctors and were then working in the Maelor hospital. I think that’s another aspect that we need to really look at—perhaps do some sort of skills audit to see what skills the refugees will bring with them also, because, certainly, the five refugees the Minister for Public Services and I met with the day before the summit—. Four of them were educated to Master’s level and were very keen to work in Wales and ensure that they integrated into the community.
Can I also commend the many volunteers and individuals throughout Wales who have worked so hard to try, not just to make the refugees welcome, but also to try to assist those who are in France and elsewhere in terms of the materials they’ve collected? Swansea, of course, is a city of sanctuary, and I’m very proud of that and I’m also very proud of the reaction and the strength of feeling in that city in terms of gathering together materials, which are effectively overflowing in the YMCA because of the amount collected. Of course, there have been similar reactions in Bridgend as well and in Neath Port Talbot. I think it is to be commended that such generosity of spirit has been evident in terms of the response to this crisis amongst the people of Wales and particularly in the region I represent. I think that is a contrast to some of the things that were said today in the Welsh Conservative conference.
Many of the questions I wanted to ask, Minister, have been asked, so I’m just going to concentrate on a couple, therefore. I think, in terms of health boards and local councils, very clearly, you’ve got those on board and they’re part of your taskforce. I’m just interested in a bit more detail on the state of preparedness of those bodies in terms of the conditions they may be facing as the refugees arrive. You referred yourself to the fact that a number of those refugees may well be unwell or have injuries or other problems that need to be addressed. Clearly, that’s going to be an issue for the health service and for social services in particular, but also housing and other services. So, what sort of state of preparedness are we in in terms of that, given that we have so little information about how many refugees are going to be coming here, and also what condition they will be in when they arrive?
Just to pick up on an issue that Simon Thomas mentioned, Theresa May did, of course, refer to the register of people and organisations able to accommodate refugees, which she said she’s setting up for the whole of the UK. I notice in your statement you effectively contradicted that, because you said:
‘the long-term and substantial needs of these individuals will make it difficult for them to be accommodated in the spare rooms of the generous households who have already come forward offering their support.’
So, I think, already, there is a contrast in terms of your assessment of the situation and that of the Home Secretary. So, I’m just interested in what communication is going on between the Welsh Government and the UK Government about this particular issue and the understanding of what can be done to accommodate these refugees when they arrive.
Thank you. I think you’re quite right to say we’ve certainly seen donations coming in and many of these storage spaces that we’ve seen have been overflowing. Certainly, the British Red Cross was saying at the summit—and this was probably three weeks ago—that, perhaps, people could help more by donating money, now. That would be something that would be needed, going forward, when the refugees arrive.
You’re quite right: the health boards are looking at what provision they can provide and this is part of the operations board prior to the taskforce next week, and that’s officers looking at provision with the health boards, with the local authorities, with housing, and with education as well, because we’re going to have young children. Again, we’re very well used to it, so it’s about making sure we’ve got that provision there.
I mentioned that the health needs of the refugees will be assessed before they leave the refugee camps, so we will have that information, and then the healthcare that they receive will be based on their clinical needs, just as it would be with any Welsh resident.
It’s up to local authorities to volunteer how many refugees they will take. We can’t dictate to them, the UK Government can’t dictate to them, but certainly the WLGA and the conversations I’ve had—. On Friday, in north Wales, I met with the housing members of the WLGA from all local authorities across Wales, and, again, they were very keen to tell me that they are very happy to participate. Clearly, they are doing some background work prior to getting the information that we need from the UK Government.
I mentioned that my officials are speaking daily—this afternoon, there’s another telephone conference—and that is something that we can look at. I do want to—. Where people have come forward offering accommodation, if it can be used—. Until we know the health needs and the vulnerability of the refugees, it’s very hard to say whether those people can be placed. It’s something that I asked the operations board, as one of their first items of business yesterday, to look at: how we can really build on the fantastic support given by so many individuals right across Wales.
Minister, I welcome today’s statement, which, once again, demonstrates and takes pride in the various attitudes on the crisis throughout the United Kingdom. Our devolution settlement is always complex, but I am sure that there are many aspects of policy levers that we have here in the Assembly—housing, education, health, and so on.
I welcome the fact that we in Wales have proceeded with the policy aspect, namely establishing the taskforce and renewing the work programme. In the constituency in Llanelli, the attitude reflects this. Jointly with the ‘Llanelli Star’ newspaper, we have launched a gift appeal for the people facing hardship. More than 200 boxes have come in from the local community already, including money, washing materials, clothes and one tent. As you know, during your visit yesterday you saw the warm response of the people of the constituency.
On the same day, Theresa May, as people have already mentioned, has stated to the Tory conference:
High levels of immigration make it impossible to build a cohesive society.
A terrible thing. Do you agree, Minister, that there are totally different attitudes between us and them? What’s your view in taking the taskforce forward to ensure that an inclusive approach is at the forefront?
Yes, it’s very important that we take an inclusive approach and I think it’s very important the language that we use. It’s disappointing. As I said, I’ve not caught up with her speech, but I will certainly have a look at it, and it’s very disappointing to hear that.
It was very clear in Llanelli yesterday that the people of Llanelli are very keen to do their bit. I think it was very important that the First Minister set out straight away, when this crisis really started to unfold, that Wales would play its full part. Immigration policy isn’t devolved, as I said, it is reserved, but I think it’s really important that, as the UK Government announced the extension of the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, Wales stands ready, as are Scotland and Northern Ireland, to play its part. You know, it’s really been heartwarming to see the support offered by so many people. I mean, I’ve had some fantastic e-mails—literally, people offering their spare bedroom. It’s absolutely amazing.
Thanks for your statement. The UK and, obviously, very much, Wales have long been a sanctuary, a safe haven, for victims of war, persecution and ethnic cleansing from overseas. I think it is encouraging the UK Government has been the second biggest global donor to the Syrian refugee camps, recognising that the 20,000 or whatever number Wales takes are only a drop in the ocean compared to the actual numbers of refugees from conflict in Syria and, of course, other parts of the world. The UK has already given protection to some 5,000 Syrian refugees, the first arriving on 25 March 2014. In fact, the first of the 20,000 who are going to be accepted in the UK over the term of this UK Parliament from Syria—Syrian refugees—arrived in the UK about a fortnight ago. Has Wales, therefore, already received any Syrian refugees from that first 5,000 and from the first arrivals under the 20,000 a fortnight ago?
What action is the Welsh Government taking to better help public understanding of the difference between refugees or asylum seekers and ‘immigrants’ or ‘economic migrants’, where, clearly, although they come from overseas, they represent different categories of need and motivation?
You talk about the arbitrary numbers and that you’re not going to set arbitrary numbers as to how many Wales will be welcoming; we need to properly assess capacity with the Welsh Government-led Syrian refugee taskforce. The Welsh Refugee Council estimated Wales could give sanctuary to about 1,600 civilians. The First Minister has previously said that Wales could accept 500 to 600 Syrians. Do you agree that that suggests a ballpark figure probably somewhere in the middle, and approximately equating to Wales’s share of the UK population?
Finally, do you agree with the UK Government that by not taking part in the EU’s relocation scheme and instead taking refugees directly from camps in the region, we can ensure we’re helping the most vulnerable, dissuading others from making this dangerous journey and helping to crack down on the criminal gangs of people smugglers, and that we need, urgently, to set up registration centres in Europe so that people can be properly registered when they arrive?
Thank you. Mark Isherwood is quite right; Wales has provided sanctuary to many people fleeing war-torn countries in the past. I just clarify again: the UK Government are extending the scheme, and it’s 20,000 people over five years, not 20,000 people to Wales, which I think is what you said. So, it’s 20,000. I’m not going to set an arbitrary figure, and that goes for ballpark figures as well. I’m not going to pluck a figure out of thin air. But what we’ve said is we stand ready to accept refugees and we are just awaiting more information from the UK Government.
I think you make a point about asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers, and I think that that work has been undertaken over many years. We have very good community cohesion in Wales, and the difference between asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers is very well known amongst the public. That’s the thing about refugees: we don’t know how many refugees we have in Wales, because, by their very nature, they can work and they can move around, so refugees are not the same as asylum seekers.
We’ve got the four dispersal areas for asylum seekers. Those four local authorities, along with the other 18 local authorities, have all said that they will take some of the Syrian refugees over the coming months.
I thank the Minister for her update, and I am pleased, as everybody else is here today, to be able to say that there is a welcome for refugees in Wales and that we are a nation known, actually, to welcome those people in need, having suffered plenty of need over the years and throughout history ourselves. It is the case, quite clearly, that those coming here will not only need help now, but they will need continued help into their futures so that they actually might have a future, because not all of those people will be able to return.
So, they will need some dedicated support. That support will have to be continual. I’m really, really pleased to hear that there is an operations board that has been set up, where all those agencies will be inputting into solutions to help those individuals. But I have to express concerns—and it was somewhat alluded to—about unaccompanied minors. Not all unaccompanied minors will have come through this process in the way that they ought to. Many of them will already be victims of trafficking. There is no doubt that in any case where you have mass movement of people, traffickers move in. It happens every single time.
There are already—and I’m reiterating what I said last week—instances that the BBC have highlighted in Italy where young males, mostly, are being used as prostitutes and are being used to run drugs for very evil predators. They will be here in Wales if we don’t watch what we’re doing, if we don’t protect those most vulnerable young people and ensure that, when we place them, they are guarded and protected, and that their voices are heard. On this very point, I want to ask you if you will consider rolling out in Wales some of the trials where we will provide specialist advocates for those children, which have already happened as a consequence of the modern slavery Bill in England. I would like also to ask if we can at least dovetail some of those advocates with the Gwent missing persons Breaking the Cycle project, as an example. It cannot be, and none of us want to be here, and we will be if we’re not careful, in a very short time, listening to the stories about those young people who have fallen foul and become the victims of slavery. They will already be in Europe. They are here; there is no question about it. Once they’ve reached the borders, the movement and transportation—everything that we know—will happen.
Thank you. Joyce Watson raises some very important points, particularly around slavery. You referred to their vulnerability, and I think that you’re quite right: this is going to be a very long-term situation. The initial announcement from the UK Government was that they would fund this for the first year. They’re now saying that it will probably be two years. I know that my officials are pushing very much to have that funding extended for the whole five years in the first instance. But we’re talking beyond five years, obviously. So, those discussions are ongoing.
Just to say a bit about the process. The refugees in this extended scheme will be selected from camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Vulnerable children and orphans will be prioritised. This will be done by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He’ll be the one responsible for identifying those most in need. Everyone considered for resettlement will be subject to security checks, but they will travel in a different way. But you’re quite right: we need to be aware of trafficking issues.
I think the point that you make about advocates is really important and that’s something that certainly the operations board and the taskforce can look at, going forward.
I mentioned that the UK Government had stated that there’d be a separate scheme put in place for provision for Syrian refugee children, but no details have been released to date. This comes on the back—. The Home Office provided funding for a dedicated children’s panel in England, but not in Wales, to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. It has taken months to get a response. I wrote, I think, for the first time in March to the immigration Minister. I didn’t have a reply and chased it up. I think the last letter that I sent was in August, and I did have a response on 21 September. He has now agreed that the children’s panel in England will provide support to UASC in Wales on a sessional basis. But, I’ve gone back to James Brokenshire to seek some more clarification around that, because I do think you have raised a very important point.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 7 is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on organ donation—implementing the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013. I call the Minister, Mark Drakeford.
Two years and three months ago, after great consideration and debate, this Chamber passed what would become the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013. In 56 days, that Act will fully come into force and reform the system of organ donation in Wales. The new system of deemed consent introduced by the Act will, we anticipate, help create what the NHS Blood and Transplant Service has called a revolution in consent. This Act offers hope to over 200 people across Wales whose lives are on hold whilst they await a new organ.
Dirprwy Lywydd, during the passage of the Bill, it was agreed that two years would be set aside to inform the public about the new system and make all the necessary arrangements to implement the Act. Today, I will outline what has taken place over that period to ensure that Wales is prepared to become the first country in the UK to introduce deemed consent for organ donation, and to set in context the regulations that the National Assembly will be asked to vote upon later this afternoon.
Since the Act was passed a great deal of work has gone on to prepare for this fundamental change. People in Wales have been informed about the new system through a multi-faceted campaign that has progressively born fruit as awareness levels have risen. Working with NHS Blood and Transplant and the other UK countries, the new organ donor register has been developed and implemented. The Human Tissue Authority has drawn up, consulted upon and finalised a code of practice that will ensure deemed consent is operated in the way this Chamber intended. We have also drafted and consulted on the regulations that are to be considered by Members later today, and attended to the training needs of clinical staff in the NHS. A robust evaluation plan for the performance of the new system has been established and will run alongside its implementation.
Dirprwy Lywydd, from that long list, ensuring that the public know about the forthcoming change has been the first priority. As a result, we have undertaken the largest and most diverse public health campaign in the history of devolution. I wrote to Members last week with a more detailed update of the communications work undertaken. I hope you will agree that it has included some very high-quality creative advertising, as well as events, face-to-face engagement, and direct communication by post with every household in Wales. Advertisements have appeared on television, radio, online, in the press and outdoors in discrete phases, each aimed at building up awareness. An active social media presence has made contact with that increasing number of Welsh citizens who receive and absorb information in that way. All of this has been supplemented by organising and attending a wide range and variety of face-to-face events, exhibitions in busy public areas, and other direct engagement work. Well over 100 separate such events have engaged thousands of members of the public on the topic of organ donation and the new law. These events range from a large-scale events, such as the gala concert held in Rhyl to launch the Lap of Wales Challenge, to talks given to individual groups and organisations in all parts of Wales.
The two-year effort has also included a wide range of actions to reach those who need additional support to understand the law and how it relates to them. Literature has been published in a variety of formats, including Braille, large print, easy read and those languages that are spoken widely in Wales in addition to Welsh and English. Specific work has also been undertaken to target those whom the law affects slightly differently because of their residence: for instance, students and members of the armed forces.
Members will recall that, during the passage of the Bill, faith communities raised concerns about the operation of deemed consent and how the new system would work in practice. A specialist agency was appointed, which has built strong relationships with faith leaders across Wales and worked with them to raise awareness about the new law in particular communities. In the summer, I was especially pleased to spend time myself on the organ donation stand at the Riverside festival here in Cardiff, at the heart of the largest Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities in Wales, and to see there the very rich engagement on this issue that took place throughout that afternoon.
More generally, the support received over the two years from communities and civil society organisations across Wales has been wide and varied. We have been given enormous support from medical and voluntary organisations, such as Kidney Wales, the British Heart Foundation and the cystic fibrosis society, but also wider bodies, too, including women’s institutes and major employers here in Wales.
Alongside that public-facing activity, much effort has also gone into updating and preparing systems and procedures to support the new legislation. In June, the new organ donor register was launched. It had been designed and delivered alongside the other UK countries and NHS Blood and Transplant, and we took the opportunity of that launch to deliver a leaflet about the new law to all households in Wales. The new organ donor register is more resilient, it’s more user friendly and, importantly, for the very first time, it can be used to record people’s decisions not to become a donor. As a result, for the first time, anyone in Wales—anyone in the UK—who does not want to be a donor can securely record that decision. Staff who work directly within organ donation have already been trained on, and are confidently operating, the new register.
NHSBT, as the responsible body, is currently rolling out specific training on the Welsh legislation for specialist nurses in organ donation. Those specialist nurses will then communicate the information onwards to clinical staff in intensive care and emergency units across Wales. Wider staff groups have been informed by using a dedicated fact sheet and raising awareness via medical directors, and that whole process of preparing staff for the new law will be completed by 1 December.
Dirprwy Lywydd, at the beginning of September, a package of subordinate legislation was laid before the Assembly, and that legislation will be debated and voted on later this afternoon. It contains three sets of regulations drafted by the Welsh Government and a code of practice developed by the Human Tissue Authority, the UK regulator for the use of human tissues and organs.
Over the last two years, a great deal of research has been undertaken into public attitudes and the operation of the current system and awareness of how the new system will operate, but work on organ donation and deemed consent will not simply stop on 1 December. Independent researchers, led by Professor Roy Carr-Hill of York university, have been commissioned to undertake a detailed analysis of the new system and to report on its operation. The Welsh Government will also continue in our commitment to ensure that the Welsh public understand organ donation and the opt-out system. We will run annual campaigns, we will write to all Welsh teenagers as they approach their eighteenth birthday, and we will continue the active engagement work we have undertaken with students and other groups where questions about residence can arise.
Deputy Presiding Officer, I hope Members will be assured that we have made full use of the past two years in raising awareness and in preparing for the practical aspects of the new legislation. I look forward very much to 1 December, when it will be implemented. Thank you very much.
It’s a pleasure to be able to respond to this statement. Many Members in this Chamber will recall that, during the debate on this particular issue, there was an issue of conscience that I had on this particular matter and, because of that, of course, and the varying views amongst the public, the Welsh Conservatives will have a free vote on the regulations that will be discussed later on this afternoon.
Can I thank you, Minister, for your statement? I think it is important that the Assembly receives these important updates, particularly given the pending date of 1 December, when the new system of organ donation will begin to operate in Wales. That’s just, of course, eight weeks away, and that time will fly by, as any shopper will know as they prepare for Christmas. I acknowledge the efforts—the great efforts—that have been made by the Welsh Government, the national health service, and its partners in Wales, to communicate about the change in the system to members of the public. The Minister will recall that we were both together at St David’s hospice in Cardiff earlier this year at a promotional event and, like the Minister, I commend all of those organisations, like the Lap of Wales Challenge, the British Heart Foundation, Kidney Wales, and others, who’ve been involved in promoting the changes so that people can be aware of what is taking place.
I think also that it’s been good to see the variety of communication methods that have been used—direct mail, tv and radio advertising. All of these, of course, are useful tools, but, you know, Minister, there’s a great deal of difference between promoting awareness of change and actually understanding the changes that are going to take place. What concerns me is that, whilst many people are aware that something is changing, not everybody is aware of the specifics of the change and what it will mean for them and their families, and how important it is to get people to register their decision and to have these discussions with their loved ones about their intentions and about their decision in terms of organ donation.
I think, just in general terms, across the UK, it’s been very welcome indeed to see the significant rise in the number of people donating their organs over the past few years. I was looking at some research earlier today. It suggested that there were 809 organ donors in 2007 in the UK, and that had increased, by 2013, by 63 per cent to more than 1,300. These are phenomenal increases, and these are in spite of no change elsewhere in the United Kingdom. So, I think there is a lot of work going on elsewhere in the UK to promote organ donation, which has been successful, and no doubt we can also piggyback on that work here in Wales and see those numbers of people registering actively to give their express consent being increased.
Can I just ask some specific questions in relation to the communication activity? You referred, obviously, to the need to have an annual refreshing of the campaign so that those who perhaps have moved into Wales, and those who might be here for temporary periods, also are aware of the changes to the law. I wonder, Minister, whether you can tell us at what time of the year you intend to conduct those campaigns? Are we looking at a communications strategy that is for one week of the year, or is this a drip-feed campaign that will take place across a rolling 12-month period? What concerns me is that, obviously, there are times, particularly for people like students, for example, when they’re not always going to be present in Wales, and I think it is important to reach those communities when they are here with the message about the change in the law and what it means for them.
You made specific reference, and I welcomed it, to faith groups and the engagement that you’ve had with faith groups and those other hard-to-reach ethnic groups as well in Wales who perhaps haven’t been as receptive to the proposed changes as others. I’m a member of a faith group, and many other Members of this Chamber are too; I have to say this engagement has completely passed me by. I’d be very grateful to know precisely who are the individual members of the diversity agency that are doing this outreach work, and which faith groups they have engaged with, because I have to say they certainly have not engaged with those faith groups with which I have had contact. I know that that, having discussed it with some other members of my group who are members of faith groups, is certainly the case for them too.
Can you also tell us, Minister—? I know that some work has been done on awareness, trying to establish what the awareness levels are; as I said earlier, awareness doesn’t equal understanding, and I think it’s important to distinguish between the two. What work has been done to test people’s understanding of the new arrangements—not their awareness, but their understanding of the new arrangements, so that they can be fully aware of what they are doing by not registering a decision either way in terms of organ donation before their death? Because I’m not convinced that everybody in Wales truly appreciates the implications of not actually registering a decision. I think it is important that that happens. And, finally, perhaps you can give us the most recent information that you have on levels of awareness as opposed to understanding across Wales. I know that recent research by ITV Wales, for example, that was done suggested that there was quite a high level of awareness that things were changing, but it would be helpful to know whether that has increased, whether it continues to nudge upwards or whether that is in direct response to particular campaigns. Thank you.
I thank Darren Millar for both the things that he said earlier about the effort that’s been made to try and raise awareness and understanding. I entirely agree with what he said about the importance of discussion. If there’s been a message going through the whole campaign it is to try to persuade people to let others, and, particularly, people who are close to them, know what their views would be, and, through discussion, to develop their views and to sometimes change their minds about what they think would be right for them.
In relation to the specific questions that he raised, in terms of the work that we will do beyond the implementation of the Act, I see that as happening throughout the year in different ways. It won’t be just a one-off event. There will be very specific things we will do in addition to that—continue to do. In relation, for example, to students, we’ve had some fantastic cooperation with the higher education sector in Wales in making sure that anybody who’s coming into Wales as a student for the first time gets, as part of the information that they would receive about everything else they need to know, information about the fact that the law in Wales will be different in relation to organ donation. We’ll want to continue to make sure that that happens.
In relation to faith groups, the work has focused on engaging with the Muslim community because there is both a higher need for receiving organs among people of a Muslim heritage and the lowest levels of being on the organ donor register. So, a lot of work has gone on with that community. But we have also worked closely with the Hindu community, the Sikh community and with the Evangelical church alliance. So, it’s been a broader spread of activity than simply the Muslim faith.
In relation to the point that Darren Millar makes about the difference between awareness and understanding, the ITV opinion poll that he referred to showed an awareness level of the fact that the law was changing in Wales of 89 per cent. I think that it is a pretty remarkable figure for anything that is new and in the public domain. Does that mean that people know exactly what is going to happen and how exactly that will affect them in their lives? Well, I’m sure he’s right to say that there’s a gap between understanding that something is happening and knowing the detail of it. The Beaufort research that the Welsh Government has commissioned provides a lot more detail of the extent to which people’s general understanding translates into some more specific grasp of the detail of the law. We will publish in September, hopefully on 1 September—sorry, in December—the latest iteration of that survey. It has shown, as Darren Millar suggested, an incremental rise, quarter on quarter, in both the number of people who are aware of the change in the law and the depth of public understanding of what that law will mean.
I thank the Minister for his statement and update. It’s incredible to think that two years have passed since we approved the human transplantation Act, and the scrutiny of the legislation was interesting and very valuable, I think, as we completed the legislative process. I highly commend what you’ve already noted and what’s already been achieved in terms of informing the people of Wales of the change that is to take place on 1 December in terms of the system of presumed consent. I think that has been most successful—the figures that you have mentioned from an opinion poll are a reflection of that—and it is crucially important that as many people as possible are aware of this change. There’s only so much that any Government or any advertisement campaign can do in terms of people’s understanding, but that initial information is so important. In that regard, I do think that the campaign on social media has been particularly vibrant and has engaged well with people who use social media.
One other thing that I should note—you did so to a certain extent in your statement—that’s the important role that people, through misfortune or through the loss of friends or family, who have been involved over the past two years in promoting this issue in their own communities in terms of the need for organ donation, but also in terms of the change to the regime here in Wales. I’m thinking particularly here about Teresa and Alan Wilkin in Penparcau and the memorial garden for their daughter, Claire, who donated her organs. The establishment of that memorial garden has been part of their contribution to promoting this change of legislation in Wales, and it is also a memorial to the contribution of their daughter. And there are many people who are superb ambassadors for this change the length and breadth of Wales.
The regulations before us this afternoon—I won’t speak to those regulations now, but I did want to note for the record that we will be supporting them this afternoon. I am particularly pleased to read the specific legislation on the exemptions. It developed into a very interesting debate during the scrutiny process on the continuous changes in the science surrounding transplantation. It’s not just the usual life-saving organs that should be taken into account when we talk about transplantation. We needed two separate systems for presumed consent in these areas, and therefore it’s very important for people to be aware of the exclusions listed in the regulations, and the consultation process has highlighted that most effectively.
Just two specific questions, as most of the issues have already been addressed. First of all, as a point of interest, do you have any figures as of yet on how many people have registered that they do not want to be included on the organ donation register? In your discussions with health Ministers from England and Scotland, I’m sure they are taking some interest in this particular area. Do you believe that they at some point will move towards introducing a similar system, an innovative system, as we are doing in Wales, and that we see that developing further afield in England and Scotland in due course?
Thank you to Elin Jones for her comments. Just to make one general point before coming to the specific questions.
Can I just say how much I agree with what Elin Jones about the way in which, during this two-year period, the families of people who have been organ donors have done so much to publicise their support for this change in the law? I’ve been lucky enough to go to quite a number of different events where their contribution has been marked, and they never cease to be anything other than deeply moving occasions. And what people tell you without fail, I think, are two key things. One is that when they knew what their loved one wanted, the decision they made was an easy one for them to make, even in those most incredibly difficult circumstances. And, that discussion that we’ve talked about, and that people have had, turns out to be really, really important to them. The second thing that they say, in my experience, without fail, is that having made that incredibly difficult decision, they are confirmed in the rightness of that decision every single year, and as every year goes on, they become more and more sure that they did the right thing. That feeling that out of something awful, something good might still have come from somebody else, becomes an increasing comfort to them—it’s not a diminishing feeling, it’s an increasing feeling—and their ability to communicate that to others makes them ambassadors in exactly the way that Elin Jones described.
In terms of her two specific questions: yes, 1.5 per cent of the Welsh population have registered as not wanting to be organ donors. That’s about 50,000 people; that’s about 1 million fewer than the people who have positively registered their wish to be organ donors. I’ll just say, again, as I said during the passage of the Bill: to know that organ donation is not right for you—to have come to that decision and to have recorded it—is not a failure of this piece of legislation. It is a success of the legislation that people have had that discussion, and if it’s right for them, then that’s not a decision to be critical of or to regret; it’s the right decision for them, and this Act allows them to record that decision for the very first time.
In relation to interest elsewhere, I have myself given evidence to a Scottish Parliament committee in relation to our legislation, and I’ve spoken at the Northern Ireland Parliament about it as well. I meet regularly with the Northern Irish and Scottish health Ministers, and they ask at each of those meetings for an update on how the law is going, and I think they look, in a very positive way, to see what can be learnt from Wales. I always make it clear when I speak that all I am doing is sharing our experience with them, for them to make the right decision for them to make. I don’t go as a missionary, trying to persuade other people of what we have done, but I do think we have something very valuable to contribute to any other legislature that is thinking about going down the same route that we have successfully concluded.
Could I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon? Like Elin Jones said, it seems hard to believe that those two years have passed; they seem to have gone incredibly quickly. But, in those two years, I certainly have been aware of the huge amounts of effort that have gone into publicising the forthcoming change in the law, and like you, Minister, I do think that it has prompted many families to have discussions about a subject that, perhaps they would have avoided talking about previously. That in itself, I think, is a success of the legislation.
Could I commend the new website that goes with the organ donor register? I think it’s an exemplar in terms of easy-to-understand information and ease of ability for people to make a choice, whatever that choice may be. I think it is important, like you said, Minister, not to castigate people if, at the end of consideration, they have decided, for whatever reason—the whole host of reasons—why donation is not right for them, and we shouldn’t castigate or cast aspersions. But, the website does make it very easy for people to make a decision not to donate if they feel that that is most appropriate for them. I think the myth-busting section of the website is particularly helpful in explaining to people, in very simple language, some of the issues that they may have.
You will be aware, Minister, throughout the consideration of this legislation, of my preoccupation with the issue of consent, and at what stage it is possible for the state to be able to deem consent on behalf of individual members of that country. At the time, we were given quite extensive and detailed legal advice on what steps the Government would need to take to establish the principle of deemed consent on behalf of a population. I take it as read, but are you satisfied that those legal hurdles and those legal barriers have been achieved by the information that the Government has put out to date?
The other issue, which has not been touched on today at all, Minister, is the very practical constraints on organ donation that we have within the country. They haven’t been mentioned today, but I think it’s only right to say that you will be aware that, in receiving evidence, we were told that potential organs were being lost to donation because of an issue of critical care beds and intensive care beds within Wales. My concern at the time was that, having gone through this legal process, we will not be able to reap the benefits of the changes in the law unless we have both the staffing capacity and the bed capacity to be able to facilitate organ donation in Wales. Perhaps you will be able to give us an update on whether critical care and intensive care bed numbers have increased or whether the capacity of the beds that we already have has been increased by better utilisation of those beds, i.e. being able to move people in and out of those beds, if we haven’t increased the numbers. Also, to ensure that we have adequate staff, especially the specialist nurses, who we know are absolutely critical in the conversations that need to be had with family at what is a very, very difficult time for them. So, I would appreciate it if the Minister could give an update on some of the practical constraints within the NHS itself so that we can reap the benefits of this legislation.
I thank Kirsty Williams for those important questions, and I thank her as well for what she said about the new register and its website. Thinking about Elin Jones’s question, that new register was only possible because all four UK nations contributed to it and contributed financially to it as well. So, it’s been a genuine co-operative effort, and it has allowed that opportunity, not simply to have a new register but to have a better register with an up-to-date set of arrangements all around it. Am I satisfied that we have done everything that we need to do to allow those people in Wales who wish to be aware of the change in the law to be made aware? I think we have. I echo what Elin Jones said earlier. Governments are in a position to make sure that all that information is available. Governments can never be responsible for guaranteeing that individuals will develop a depth of understanding of a sort that we in this Chamber, who have gone through the whole process, might have, but that figure of nine out of 10 people in Wales being aware of the change in the law and everything that has been done to contact every single household in Wales, I think, puts us in a position where we can say that the change in the law has been adequately communicated to people.
I understand entirely the points that are made about the practical constraints, and work to make sure that our critical care capacity is sufficient in order to take advantage of—. And let’s not forget what this law is hoping to achieve: fifteen extra donors in any 12 months here in Wales. I think that takes us back to an important point that Darren Millar made that the change in the law is just one strand in a much wider set of things that are going on in other parts of the United Kingdom and that we want to do too. NHSBT said that what we need is an evolution in practice and a revolution in consent. I think we are ahead of other places in the revolution in consent arrangements, but we have to work with everybody else on the evolution of practice, which means we can do more in other ways too.
Some things have been well achieved in critical care capacity in Wales during these two years. Readmissions to critical care are now very low; less than 1 per cent of people who are discharged from critical care are back there within 24 hours because we’ve been able to strengthen the capacity at ward-based care level to look after people with a higher level of need. Survival rates are improving in critical care as well, with 83 per cent of patients discharged from critical care to another ward in the last financial year. There is more to do in making sure that we make the very best use of the critical care capacity that we have. The £1 million that’s been made available to all delivery plans in Wales—. The critical care delivery plan board are using part of their money to introduce a new electronic information management system, which they say will drive out new efficiencies in the way that the system is currently working and therefore make us better able to make sure we are geared up for those fifteen new donors that we hope this law, by itself, will achieve.
Specialist nurses are absolutely critical, to come to Kirsty’s final point. Right across the United Kingdom, the figures continue to show that if a family is approached by a specialist nurse in organ donation, with all the training that they will have had, with all the familiarisation they will have had for those very difficult conversations, then people’s willingness to give consent to organ donation is of a very different order. Even a consultant who is involved in the same business, but doesn’t have those conversations, doesn’t have the ability to approach them in the same way. So, we are very lucky in Wales; we have both a solid complement of specialist nurses, but some very longstanding, experienced and committed staff, and we’re very determined to hang on to them.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 8 is the Human Transplantation (Excluded Relevant Material) (Wales) Regulations 2015, and these are to be made under section 7 of the Act. I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to move the motion—Mark Drakeford.
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
Approves that the draft The Human Transplantation (Excluded Relevant Material) (Wales) Regulations 2015 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 11 September 2015.
Deputy Presiding Officer, thank you very much. I’m pleased to lay before the Assembly the framework that will help to implement the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013. This is notable legislation that was passed by Members in 2013 and that will introduce a new system of opting out for consent to donate organs in Wales.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I’m very pleased to be able to lay before the Assembly this framework. It supports that landmark piece of legislation that we have just been discussing and that will come into place in Wales from 1 December.
There are three sets of regulations and a code, which, if approved by the Assembly this afternoon, will ensure the deemed consent system is carried out in the manner intended and directly reflects those issues raised by Members during the scrutiny of the Bill. All three sets of regulations and the draft code of practice were subject to public consultation, and the codes in front of you today are not the codes that were originally drafted, because amendments have been made to them and, indeed, to the regulations—both have been amended to reflect the feedback given.
If I may speak, first of all, Dirprwy Lywydd, on the first of the regulations—the excluded relevant material regulations. The power to regulate on this was included in the Bill as a result of the scrutiny undertaken of it, and this particular issue was very much led by Elin Jones during that scrutiny process. This set of regulations creates a list of organs and tissues that will be exempt from deemed consent. Anyone wishing to donate organs on the excluded list will still be able to do so, but they will have to provide express consent either themselves, through the register, or by communicating that to their families. The draft regulations ensure that deemed consent will only apply to those organs and tissues that one might ordinarily be expected to donate. That list includes heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas, corneas, small bowel and tissue such as skin, bone and tendon. Beyond that, the regulations specifically prevent the deeming of consent for recognisable composite tissues such as limbs and face, as well as reproductive organs.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I’m not certain whether you want me to proceed, or whether you want to give Members an opportunity to comment on each regulation in turn.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
We are going to debate each set of regulations separately, so I would’ve thought it better just to pause there. Can I say these are very important regulations, so I shan’t strictly enforce the five-minute rule? It is there as an indicator, but I know Members will not abuse it and they will stick to relevant facts. Similarly, Minister, if you need to take a little more than two minutes to reply, that’s fine. We need a full debate on these regulations, as is appropriate. Darren Millar.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’ll keep my comments very brief on this issue, but I would like them to be on the record. I’m going to support these particular regulations on excluded material. I think it’s important that there is express consent given for the items on the list, and that all novel transplantations in the future are also subject to express consent, rather than deemed consent. But I am a little perplexed at why some items are included on the list and why others are specifically excluded. So, I note the comments around face transplants, which, of course, are becoming more frequent these days, but are still regarded as novel. Whilst I can see that a nose and a mouth are excluded specifically on the list, ears, for example, are not, and I would be grateful, Minister, if, in responding to this debate, you could just clarify why ears were not deemed to be suitable for inclusion on this list of excepted organs.
I also note that it says that legs are excluded, but then specific reference is made to the lower leg and the upper leg. Does that mean that the middle part of the leg is included? I mean, I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem sensible to me; likewise with the arm as well.
I note the exclusion of spinal cord tissue, but the inclusion of nervous tissue, of which, of course, the spinal cord is part. So, just a little bit of clarity on why some specific items are included and excluded would be really helpful to me, and, I’m sure, lots of people listening to this debate. But I will be supporting these particular regulations. I think it’s important, though, to get on the record precisely why certain parts of the body have been listed and others haven’t.
Minister, could you give an explanation as to how this legislation will be reviewed and kept up to date? It seems to me that the lists that have been included are based on what is currently regarded as novel transplantation and transplantation procedures that perhaps would be regarded as commonplace. But, as you’re aware, technology and medicine are improving all the time, and one would hope that there are some novel transplants, as currently stated, that actually would move into the category where they would become more routine and, therefore, people would benefit from that. I’m wondering what the Welsh Government will do to review the suitability of the lists as they are currently stated and whether there will be a procedure coming back to this Assembly if, at a later stage, because of medical innovation and changes in technology, some of those tissues that are excluded at present would come on the included list.
Minister, before I start, may I put on record my grateful thanks to you for our multiple conversations and letters between us on this subject? As you are very well aware, the Welsh Conservatives have a free vote and I feel that, for my part, I have, hopefully, challenged you, and you have responded robustly to my questions, which I’ve put forward to you on behalf of not only myself, but people who have approached me—not just constituents, but just people throughout Wales who’ve written, I’m sure, to most Assembly Members on this.
On the excluded items list, I simply wanted a little bit of clarity about the issue over embryos and gametes. Now, I did take note of your letter to me of 20 December. I am really pleased to see that embryos, for example, are on the excluded material list, and I think that that will very much please the people who’ve raised this issue with me. I would like to clarify whether or not fallopian tubes are part of the uterus/embryo element of exclusion. I’m afraid my biology’s not too hot on which bits get classified as belonging to which other bits.
But, I think, probably more importantly, in your letter of the twentieth, you said that embryos and gametes were dealt with under the Act. Could you clarify whether you mean the Act here that they’re going to be dealt with or the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, which is obviously UK-wide? Could you clarify for me, simply, why, although you’ve put embryos in here, you haven’t done the gametes, when my understanding of the human embryology Act is it includes embryos and gametes as well? So, in other words, if you feel it worth repeating in our Act, I wonder if you might feel it worth repeating the gametes element, because I think a lot of people do have quite strong views on that. Thank you.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The Minister to reply.
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. There may be one or two very specific points that I would need to make sure I was writing to people on to give them the entirely correct answer, but I can reply to most of the points that have been raised, I hope.
Kirsty Williams expressed the principle that lies behind these regulations. The consultation was all about trying to arrive at an agreed list on those things that were novel and contentious, and those things that were already part of the mainstream system of transplantation. That’s the dividing principle that lies behind the lists that you will have seen in the regulations. Kirsty asks how we will keep it up to date. Well, that is why we decided to use regulations rather than the face of a Bill in order to develop these lists. The lists will undoubtedly need to be updated as things that are novel today become mainstream tomorrow, and things that have never been thought of today become part of the way that transplantation will be organised in the future. Those will require new regulations to be put in front of the Assembly, and just as these regulations were subject to the affirmative procedure, any new regulations would have to go through the same process of being prepared in draft, consulted upon, brought back here for Assembly Members to debate and, if they are convinced by them, to approve of them.
Will the Minister give way?
I understand the process. What I was trying to get at—and I obviously failed miserably to do so—is actually what procedures the Government will undertake to keep that list up to date. I understand that they’ll come back here, but what is the Government going to do to keep abreast of those developments and actively review the legislation? Governments will have lots of legislation to look at. How is this one going to be kept under review?
Thank you. Sorry; that is, of course, a very fair question. We will rely on the advisory mechanisms that we have in this field. We have some very distinguished clinicians in Wales, who are part of UK-wide arrangements too. There’s been an example just in the last couple of weeks where, in England, there are now to be 10 procedures of womb transplantation. Those will clearly fall within the novel and contentious. There are only 10 of them that will have been funded. Our advisory mechanisms will keep us up to date and let us know whether we need to come back in front of the Assembly to move fresh regulations as those new developments come into being.
Darren Millar asked me the question about why nerves were not being excluded. This was raised in the consultation and thrashed out during it. The difficulty is that almost every other standard form of transplantation also involves some nerves being transplanted as part of the kidney, the liver or whatever it might be. So, to put nerves on the excluded list would, in effect and inadvertently, have the effect of ruling out all sorts of other things that are relatively mainstream.
Can I thank Angela Burns? We had a series of conversations during the passage of the Bill at its various stages, but we’ve continued to have correspondence and discussions during the two years that have followed. My understanding is that fallopian tubes are part of excluded material, but I will confirm that with you directly. The legislation that I referred to in my correspondence with you was UK legislation, not this Act. I’ll pick up the specific point about embryos and gametes as well in the reply that I provide.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 9 is the Human Transplantation (Appointed Representatives) (Wales) Regulations 2015. These are to be made under section 8 of the Act. I call on the Minister to move the motion.
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
Approves that the draft The Human Transplantation (Appointed Representatives) (Wales) Regulations 2015 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 11 September 2015.
Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. So, this is the second set of regulations, and these regulations set out the persons who may not act as an appointed representative for the purposes of giving consent to organ donation.
The requirement is only that the person should themselves be competent to understand the role being asked of them. The consultation rehearsed the issue of when that test of competence would be applied, and I think the results were quite decisive in advising us that competence should be tested not at the time that the appointment is made, but is something that would be evaluated should the time ever come for that person to be asked to exercise the appointment that they have been made.
I was asked by Elin Jones earlier this afternoon how many people had exercised the new right to have their opt-out decision registered. We know now the number of people who are appointing representatives and, so far, five individuals have used the new facility that the Act provides to make such an appointment.
Again, just a brief contribution. I’ll be supporting these particular regulations. I think it’s important that people have mental capacity when they’re making decisions, either on behalf of themselves or other people, and, frankly, it is entirely appropriate that they can understand the decision that they’re making, the implications of it, and retain that knowledge, and it’s appropriate also to test it at the time of the transplantation activity being imminent, rather than just at the time that an appointment is made.
I think there is something quite unusual in this appointment, though. It does allow children to appoint a nominated representative, and that of course is not the case in other parts of the UK. I think it is important, when a child makes an appointment, that the child’s competency to make that appointment might also need to be tested. I wonder, Minister, whether, in responding to this debate, although I will be supporting the regulations, you can just give us some assurances around testing the competency of children who are making an appointment to give us some assurance that they’re doing so in the full knowledge of the implications of that appointment.
I’m grateful to Darren Millar for those comments. He’s absolutely right that the point at which someone’s competence to be a representative should be tested should be the point where that role is being exercised. Competence comes and goes, and people can go through different points in their life where they are more or less able to discharge that, so a decision at any other point really would make no sense. Under our legislation, children are deemed to be competent to make those decisions. There is no further test required of them.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 10 is the Human Transplantation (Persons who Lack Capacity to Consent) (Wales) Regulations. These to be made under section 9 of the Act. I call the Minister to move the motion.
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
Approves that the draft The Human Transplantation (Persons who Lack Capacity to Consent) (Wales) Regulations 2015 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 11 September 2015.
Diolch yn fawr, Ddirprwy Lywydd. This issue was one of the most contentious during the passage of the Bill, and I’m very glad to be able to bring the specific regulations in front of the Assembly this afternoon. These are the regulations that describe the process for deeming the consent for living donation from people who lack the capacity to consent for themselves. The key point for me to make is that these regulations are all about ensuring that that person who lacks the capacity—that their best interests are safeguarded. Without these regulations, those people would be far more open to exploitation, which was the issue, absolutely rightly, that preoccupied Assembly Members during the passage of the Bill. So, just to remind Members, the situation only applies to living donors. For deceased donation, people who lack the capacity to understand organ donation or the notion of deemed consent are treated as accepted adults and are therefore exempted from deemed consent altogether.
These regulations replicate the effect of the current regulations. We’ve not moved away from them at all, and those current regulations are made under the Human Tissue Act 2004, and that sets out the system for deeming the consent of living adults who lack capacity to consent. They are, as I said, a vital component of safeguarding for those living adults who lack that capacity. They provide protection to vulnerable adults by ensuring that no donation could take place unless it can be demonstrated that it was in their best interests.
Once again, I reassure Members that the best-interests test involves a rigorous process. If someone was ever in that position, then the first thing that happens is that an application to deem the consent of a living adult who lacks capacity has got to be made to a court of law. The court then has to be persuaded that it is, indeed, in that person’s interest that their consent could be deemed. Even when the court approves that application, the case has then got to be put in front of a panel of independent advisers, overseen by the Human Tissue Authority, and that panel provides a further check in the system to decide whether or not it is in that individual’s best interests to donate or not. It’s only when all those checks and balances have been exhausted that donation could go ahead in these circumstances, and our code of practice under these regulations provides those essential safeguards for those vulnerable individuals.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, Minister, as well, for the clarification that these regulations relate just to consent for living individuals rather than those who may have already passed away.
I can see the sense behind the best-interests test. I can understand and appreciate that there will be times when consent cannot be deemed from an individual because of their mental capacity, but it may be in their interests, for example, for them to be in receipt of a donor organ for their own health, or, for example, when it may be appropriate for them to be an organ donor to a primary carer—a kidney, for example.
So, I can see situations where these regulations may apply and which may meet the best-interests test, but I don’t think that there’s sufficient clarity, either in the guidance—in the code of practice—or in the regulations in respect of those individuals who may lose capacity and have had capacity before, have lost mental capacity and whose consent is then being deemed, particularly if they have a history whereby it can be easily assumed that they would not consent to an organ being donated. In those peculiar circumstances, which may well be rare, I think it’s important for some safeguards to be put into the system in order to protect against transplantation activity commencing. So, for those reasons, I can’t support the regulations that are before the Assembly, but I do agree with the principle of a best-interests test.
Minister, this is the one that I really have a sticky problem with, as you well know. I was very disappointed that the last Parliament in Westminster did not have the time to review the Human Tissue Act 2004, because I know a lot of this stems from the current Human Tissue Act 2004 rules. My problem is this: if you have capacity, there is nowhere—nothing—that can force any single one of us to donate a bit of our body—none of us here; there are 60 of us here, plus staff. But, it seems that this allows—I appreciate that it’s not just you, but it’s the Westminster Parliament as well—this extraordinary second-class citizenship where, if you do not have capacity, you can have a bit of your body removed from you. I’m perfectly accepting of the best-interests tests, in terms of giving something—giving somebody who has mental incapacity a new kidney, or more of this or more of that, to prolong their life.
The example that I used in the Stage 2 or 3 debate—forgive me, I can’t remember quickly which one—was the issue of where you would have, I think, a woman who was cared for by her sister, her sister needed a new kidney, and there is a precedent being set where, actually, the judges and those who make the decisions can say it is in the best interests of that disabled person to sacrifice their kidney for their primary carer because they would find life without their primary carer extremely upsetting. But I cannot in all conscience support this because, if you’re that severely incapacitated, then I would suggest to you that you would find the whole process of being operated on and not understanding what on earth was happening to you, of being drugged and taken into hospital—that would all be so alien to you that it would actually give you an enormous amount of stress.
And it is just this one area where, you know, it’s okay for all of us because, hey, you know, we’re all right, we can think; we’ve got what it takes so we can make these decisions. And that’s my problem with this one area. For me, it is a point of absolute principle because I think—and it’s what I was lobbying you for and what I was lobbying, as you know, the Westminster Government for and I know that I’m probably a very lone voice on this, but I want to be absolutely clear to everyone and on the record that I cannot support this particular regulation and for no other reason than that one negative effect. I do accept that there are probably very few instances in the United Kingdom, even fewer instances in Wales, where it will ever be used, but it is the absolute principle to me that, somehow, we define the people who have this capacity issue as being able to be harvested without their understanding or knowledge, and there are the concomitant effects that that will have on them. Saving their lives is one thing; taking them and using their organs for somebody, no matter what the best interests or intentions are, I think, is a step that I, personally, cannot support.
Yes, Members, it was my concerns about section 9 of the Act that made me vote against a Bill that I think I would otherwise have supported. It seemed to me then that deceased people who had lacked capacity in their lifetime had more protection from the Bill on the issue of deemed consent than putative living donors who lacked capacity. At the time, the Minister sought to reassure me by saying that the interests of living donors were protected by the UK Human Tissue Act 2004 and the related regulations of 2006, under which consent to certain activities can be deemed, if, amongst other considerations, they are, as we’ve heard, in the best interests of the living person who lacks capacity. I thought it was a defect in our Bill that it did not reiterate those protections in the UK Act in our Bill, in the Bill itself. The Bill itself was not clear as to the position of deemed consent for living donors without capacity. Today’s regulations, in my view, go no further in clarifying the position. Section 9 of the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013, our Act, states that consent for storage or use of relevant material may be deemed for a living donor without capacity
‘in circumstances of a kind specified by regulations’.
Those circumstances and now specified in these regulations. Those circumstances are merely where storage or use of material is done by a person who is acting in what they reasonably believe to be the best interests of the individual without capacity. What person? The explanatory memorandum is no help. Does this mean a surgeon, a Court of Protection receiver, or the Public Guardian? Does it mean a carer? Does it mean a carer who’s likely also to be a Court of Protection receiver or guardian, and what might be the best interests of a living donor without capacity? I appreciate, Minister, in your opening remarks that you mentioned the test that’s in the UK legislation, but that test is not set out in the Welsh legislation, and there is no link or reference between the two Acts to say that the best-interests test under the UK legislation is the same as in the Welsh legislation.
The example that has illustrated my own dilemma, of course, is that of the carer who needs a transplant and the person for whom they are caring is the perfect match. Is it a clear choice because the survival of the carer is in the best interests of the cared-for or is it the most colossal conflict of interest? I don’t think these regulations offer any clarity on what does and does not constitute best interests. Nor do they offer clarity on who should be making those decisions. There are no amendments or additions to the UK legislation referencing our Act, as far as I know, and I’m more than happy, Minister, for you to correct me on that. But, more importantly, the rigorous test, as I mentioned, and to which you referred earlier, is not mentioned in our legislation or in our regulations.
Now, we’re often told by Ministers in the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee that they omit information from the face of a Bill as subordinate legislation is the better place to set out that detail. It may add meat, for example, to the statement of principle in a piece of primary legislation. But I think neither the principle nor the detail is apparent from these regulations; and as drafted, these regulations will be sending those relying on them to the lawyers and the courts at a time when transplantation, of necessity, is likely to need a quick decision. Thank you.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The Minister to reply.
Diolch yn fawr, Ddirprwy Lywydd. Well, I think that we’ve heard in the contributions this afternoon some of the complexity that lies behind these regulations and the debates that were important to Assembly Members during the passage of the Bill.
Angela Burns’s position is one, straightforwardly, of principle. It’s a perfectly proper principle, which you can sign up to or not. Angela’s position, as I’ve always understood it, is that she simply does not believe that it is right and proper that the consent of someone without capacity should ever be deemed. You can come to that conclusion. I have every respect for the position that Angela outlined and it will explain why she will vote the way that she will vote this afternoon.
Darren Millar and Suzy Davies, I think, are in slightly different positions. Darren explained that the principle is one that he can understand, but that he believes that the safeguards set out in these regulations don’t go far enough for him to be able to support them. Again, I understand why he’s come to that conclusion. I hope that I can reassure him on just one narrow point. I’m sure that it won’t be enough to move the position that he’s come to, but just on the one narrow point that he raised: if somebody had capacity, and during the period that they had capacity they were able to make clear their wishes not to be a donor, those views would continue to prevail at the point where they didn’t have capacity. So, if it was clear, when someone was able to make their own mind up, that they wouldn’t want this to have happened, their consent could not be deemed at a point where they no longer had capacity. So on that point I think I can reassure him. I know that he would have wanted to see the code strengthened in other ways.
As far as Suzy Davies’s question is concerned, I think I gave an answer. I know that it’s not an answer that will satisfy her. The answer to her question, ‘Who is the person?’, is this: our regulations set out every safeguard that has been there in this system up until this point in time. Everything that has been in the law before is now in the law here in Wales. The answer to the question, ‘Who is the person?’, is not to try and list a set of categories of who that person may be. That person has to be someone who will have satisfied a court of law that deeming consent in the circumstances is in the best interests of the person and should go ahead. Then, that person has to be a person who, having taken that agreement from the court of law, is able to go to an independent panel of advisers of the Human Tissue Authority and persuade them as well over and above the agreement that they have already secured from a court of law that this is genuinely in the best interests of that person. That is the system that lies behind these regulations. It would have been very good had that system been able to be reviewed in the last Parliament before it was unable to do so. I think it would have gone some way to answering some of Angela Burns’s concerns when the views of that very small number of people who have had this happen in their lives could have been explored and the impact on them could have been set out for the rest of us to understand.
Sorry, Suzy. Of course.
I’m very grateful to you. Bearing in mind what you said about your disappointment about what’s happening at the UK end of the thought on this, would this not have been an opportunity to actually improve the law on which you’re relying upon by introducing it into Welsh legislation?
Well, my disappointment was simply that time ran out. I’m not making a critical point about the UK Government. It was their clear intention to carry out such a review. We were, to a certain extent, expecting to benefit from that review in these regulations. The UK Government, as I understand it, intends to return to that issue; and because these are regulations, we will be able to return to them again if that work throws up any issues that would lead us to the conclusion that our regulations could be further strengthened in this area. But, with those arguments in place, and with, I believe, the safeguards that this set of regulations puts into law, I hope that the Assembly as a whole will feel able to support them this afternoon.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I’ll defer voting on item 10 until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 11 is the Human Tissue Authority’s code of practice, and I call the Minister to move the motion.
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
Approves that the draft The Human Tissue Authority Code of Practice 2015 on the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 11 September 2015.
This is the final part of this package of issues in front of the Assembly this afternoon. It’s a matter that we discussed in a great deal of detail during the passage of the Bill. The Human Tissue Authority’s code of practice is a very important companion piece to our regulations and to the Act itself, because this is where clinicians receive practical guidance on the operation of the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013, and particularly the circumstances in which consent can be deemed under section 4 of the Act.
I’m very grateful indeed to the Human Tissue Authority for the seriousness with which they have gone about the development of the code, the extent to which they involved clinicians in it and the process of consultation with the public that they embarked upon once the first draft of that code was available. So, they consulted from 1 October 2013 to 23 December 2013. They hosted a series of events in Wales and beyond which were attended by a range of stakeholders, both individuals and organisations. They held meetings here in Cardiff, in mid Wales and in north Wales. And whereas the number of individual responses to the regulations was relatively modest, 85 different responses from individuals and organisations were received to the code. The overall response to it was positive, but there were also several useful suggestions which were made for improvements to it, which the Human Tissue Authority has acted upon. The code which the Assembly is asked to approve this afternoon is therefore different and better than the one which was originally embarked upon.
I know, speaking to clinicians, that the additional case studies which the code now contains to assist practitioners in applying the law to different sets of clinical circumstances have been particularly useful to them. I believe the code now has the confidence of the clinical community, and I hope it will have the support of the Assembly this afternoon.
I’m afraid that I won’t be able to endorse the code this afternoon. There are a number of concerns which I have in relation to the contents of the code. Whilst there’s lots of excellent material in here in terms of supporting decisions, particularly by clinicians, when wanting to proceed with a transplant activity, I think that there are some issues which still require some further work in order to afford some protections to those individuals who may not want their consent to be deemed.
If I can just touch on a few areas, if I may. The first is in relation to residency. The qualification criteria in terms of being able to deem someone’s consent, of course, express the need for somebody to be ordinarily resident in Wales for 12 months or more. We know that there are some people who, through their work circumstances, may work in Wales for a number of days each week before returning to another place for the weekend, or may indeed work weekends in Wales and return to other places midweek. There may be situations where students, as well, may spend long periods of time in Wales, and yet do not regard it as their home. And yet, the information in the code seems to allow a judgment to be taken on whether somebody meets the residency criteria simply by virtue of a specialist nurse taking a judgment call. I cannot see how that can give any confidence to the system, and I think that it needs to be much more robust and much more prescriptive in the way that it approaches the residency criteria, particularly for those who may work for periods of the week in Wales and go elsewhere, and those individual students. I know there are a couple of examples in the code in relation to this, but unfortunately those examples are insufficiently exhaustive to be able to deliver consistent, I believe, decisions by specialist nurses in organ donation when they are touching on these issues. Secondly, in relation to mental capacity, of course, the Act requires that someone must have lost capacity for a significant period prior to their consent having to be given by another person or to be deemed. But, again, the judgment on this is being left to the specialist nurses, in terms of what constitutes—and whether that significant period has been met. I would have thought it better, Minister, for more clarity to be in the code to define a very specific period over which capacity must have been lost in order for that criteria to be met.
My third concern relates to jointly appointed representatives, where there is a disagreement. So, for example, there may be someone who, before they pass away, appoint their parents to act on their behalf in making decisions about organ donation, and yet, the code is very explicit, in that, even though they will have been appointed equally to make a decision, because they’re not jointly able to make that decision, sometimes, if there’s a disagreement, it will always be the person who approves whose decision is taken to proceed with a transplantation activity. I think that that is inappropriate, and that where joint appointments have been made by individuals to make these decisions on somebody else’s behalf, then we ought to be more cautious if one of those appointed representatives says no to a procedure, rather than giving a green light because one of them may say yes. And, of course, some people may appoint more than two. They may appoint more than their parents; three, four or five people to make a decision in the event of their death. I just think we need to be very careful about having this presumption always in favour of moving forward with an organ donation activity.
I raise this issue again in terms of the competency of a child to be able to make a decision. We’ve talked about mental capacity issues for adults. We have to ask a question as to when a child can be deemed competent to be making these decisions about whether to donate their organs or not, and how we can test their understanding of the organ donation system and test whether they’re properly informed and equipped to be able to make that decision. There’s no guidance whatsoever in the code on how to judge that. In fact, it seems to me as though a child is always competent, regardless of their age, regardless of their level of understanding, and to me, that just seems to be very, very wrong indeed.
Fourthly, I’m concerned about the list and the hierarchy that we have in terms of families and friends when they are being spoken to or consulted by someone who wants to proceed with an organ donation activity. There is a clearly ranked system in the code; I think that a rank system is something which is a useful tool, and I know that there was lots of decision on this during the Bill’s progression through the Assembly. But, I notice that partners are right at the top of that list, and it simply says that someone must have an enduring family relationship before they can be considered to be a partner who has a say in this process. Again, there’s absolutely no definition of what an enduring family relationship is. How long a period of time is that? Is it a week? Is it a month? Is it six months? Two years? Three years? There’s no guidance whatsoever; there’s no information for people to be able to interpret what an enduring family relationship actually is, and it concerns me again that this is thrown back on to the specialist nurses to make a judgment call on whether they regard the partnership between the two individuals as being one which was enduring. I think, again, that the code is insufficiently prescriptive about what that actually means.
I know that there is this reasonable person test; in the view of a reasonable person, would they conclude that consent had been deemed or not? Frankly, where are we going to find out what a reasonable person would conclude if those matters go to court? It concerns me that we may end up in court unnecessarily as a result of the lack of detail in the code on how to address some of these complex issues. Just in relation to families, as well, Minister, we were told very clearly as an Assembly—I think the public were also told—that whilst there was no veto in law for family members to prevent a transplantation activity from going ahead against their will, there would be a veto in practice. Now, there’s no reference to a veto in practice here. I see no way that any of the provisions in the code provide for a veto in practice for family members, or loved ones to be able to prevent a transplantation activity from going ahead. In fact, quite the opposite is the case—it all rests on the SNOD. At the end of the day, the specialist nurse in organ donation will be the person making these decisions, and I think that that is absolutely fundamentally wrong, and I have a big issue with that.
And, finally, if I can also say this: I think it would be useful if express consent, where it’s given by someone who has passed away, for their organs to be donated—. I don’t think, frankly, that family members, or loved ones, should stand in the way of those organs being donated, if it’s suitable for a transplantation activity to go ahead. And, again, the code is absolutely silent on that matter, and I can see that cropping up fairly frequently, actually, in the future. We know it happens fairly regularly now, where somebody is signed up to the organ donation register, but their families don’t want those organs to be donated. It’s very rare that organ donation activity takes place as a result, in those sorts of circumstances, but, again, the code is silent on it. These are things that I think are important to clarify in the code. They’re not clarified, and therefore I cannot support the approval of this particular code. I would welcome further work on it before the Assembly approves it, and I would urge all Members to think carefully about those particular issues.
I’m basically seeking some assurances, Minister, and making a final plea on one particular point. I understand the code of practice seeks to walk a delicate line, at a difficult time. However, when talking of organ transplant, I am concerned that we are not emotionally engaging with the fact that we are talking about death and bereavement, and I would like assurances that specialist nurses in organ donations bear in mind that we must have balance.
This Bill cannot just be about the harvesting of organs, but also about the care and compassion, and ongoing support required for the living, particularly for people who have lost a loved one, who may have challenged and lost in the decision-making process with a specialist nurse, because their grief will be so much harder to bear. And I do want to make the comment that, earlier this year, I almost died, and if my family unit had had to make these kinds of choices, at the point when they were talking about putting me into the high dependency unit, I suspect they would have fallen apart, and would have found it very difficult to take it forward.
Now, I’ve not mention anything that’s happened to me, and I reluctantly raise it now, because what I’m trying to do is make us remember this is about people. It’s very easy to talk about Acts and Bills and regulations, and forget that what we need to ensure is that the people who are going to deal with this on the front line—those specialist nurses—really do understand that, and understand that not everybody goes into hospital and has, you know, a card in their back pocket, it’s not all going to be prepped, and that there will be instances where people are either just overwhelmed with the situation, and simply mentally cannot catch up with it, let alone make a rational, clear-sighted argument for or against whatever they want to do with their loved one’s organs. The same would apply, perhaps, to somebody who’d been involved in a road traffic accident. You simply don’t expect to leave here and have that happen to you.
So, we do need to make sure that we understand that it’s not just about trying to get organs to help people who desperately need them, but it’s also about managing the situation with the people who are being asked to donate those organs. I would like assurances about the training and support, and I’d like you to consider, perhaps, what ongoing support might be given to the families where they said ‘no’, but, for whatever reason, the decision has gone against their wishes, because they will really, I think, struggle for this. Because I think that we do want to increase the number of organ donors, and we mustn’t be seen as authoritarian about it, but, rather, compassionate.
I’m also a bit concerned over how long the entire process could take, because the code talks about what we might have to do if we have to involved legal professional people for determination. It can take 12 hours plus to make some of these decisions. And I would like to make sure that these specialist organ donation nurses do not put people under undue pressure and people are not made to feel demonised if they were to say ‘no’, and that they are given a chance to get to that decision on their own.
I can't find where in the code of practice you've dealt with the matter of organ donation from a child where the local authority has either parental responsibility or shared responsibilities for the parenting of that child. We did talk about it, you did say you would be looking at it and you would be talking to the staff who are putting this together, and I am perfectly prepared to accept that I've missed it, but I would be grateful for your clarity on that.
Finally, I think my final plea is: I did ask you, Minister, in Stages 2 and 3, to consider a full review of the system within five years. I'm asking you again—and, again, I don't see that anywhere in regulations or intent—because I don't think anyone can put their hand on their heart and say that the NHS does not make mistakes. There is evidence aplenty, and we're talking about individual people. You only need one person who hasn't perhaps understood their role very well and they are a little bit brusque or abrupt, and I would like to ask you, Minister, to perhaps update us on what your views are on how you’re going to measure how this is working, how you're going to measure the application of the process, not just whether we've got more organ donors on board, whether we’ve had more success in attracting people. Because I will be supporting this, the regulations, I do want this to go forward, I do think it's vitally important that we have more organ donors, but I also do not want this just to be a ‘job done, and we'll leave it now to carry on’ without somebody really monitoring and evaluating, not just the quantity, but actually the qualitative experience that people go through when they're going through this very difficult situation. Because the more we can reassure people that they can have trust in this particular element, then, hopefully, the more people will come forward willingly to donate their organs. Thank you.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
And the Minister to reply.
Can I thank those Members who have spoken for the care with which they've looked at the code, for the thought they've given to the very serious issues that they’ve raised? I just need to be clear with Members here that the Act comes into force on 1 December. It comes into force whether there is a code or not. So, the choice in front of us is not whether or not to stop the Act or not, it's whether the Act comes into being with the support of the code we have, capable of being improved, as it certainly may be, or whether we have no code at all. And I think it's certainly better that we have this code and that we listen carefully to what people have said about it and, where we can improve it, we work to improve it, because the code—
Will you take an intervention, Minister?
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I'm sorry for interrupting your flow there, but what you seem to be suggesting is, even though it may be bad as a code in the view of some people, certainly from my perspective and the perspective of some others, I'm sure, we should proceed with it because it's all we've got. That appears to be your defence in seeking to have this code approved right now. Surely, you should accept some responsibility for bringing it to the Assembly so late in the day, so soon to this deadline, which is now just eight weeks away. If you're giving a clear commitment, perhaps, to review the code, I may well review my position, but I think we need some clarity on where you stand and whether you acknowledge that perhaps it's taken too long to bring this code before the Assembly for discussion.
Well, I don't accept both of the main points I think were being made there. That was not the point I was making; I'm simply saying to Members that I believe that this is a good code. I think it has the support of the clinical community. That does not mean that I think that it could not be improved, and I think the discussion we've had this afternoon will be very useful in pointing to some places where it could still be improved. I see the code as something that is always under review, where we are always learning from this new experience and looking to see where it can be strengthened. But if you're asking me whether I think it is better that this Act proceeds with this code or without a code at all, then I'm very clear in my proposal to you that this code is one worth supporting, and I hope you will support it this afternoon.
In Darren’s contribution, I felt he was making two rather different points. There are some aspects of the code where I think he doesn’t agree with the position that the code sets out, and, of course, that’s fine; there will be things in the code that people will take a different view of—so, jointly appointed representatives, the way that children are conceptualised in the code. I think he just has a different view to the people who have drawn up the code, and there’s a proper discussion to be had about that. But his larger number of points, I think, take us to the heart of a discussion that we, as people who make the law, need to think about. Because it is the extent to which we think we, as legislators, ought to be standing in the room where these decisions are being made, making those decisions ourselves through the way that we make the law, and how far we think that, actually, that isn’t a job that the law can set out in such detail, and where we come to a point where we have to say the law stands back and we rely on the judgment that has to be made. In these circumstances, there will always be really difficult judgments to be made as to whether or not somebody has been ‘ordinarily resident’. ‘Ordinarily resident’ is defined in case law; we changed this part of the Bill as it went through the Assembly to make someone have to be ordinarily resident for 12 months rather than six months, as part of the law. But how do you make that judgment? Is that something a legislature can so define that it removes the possibility that someone, on the spot, will have to work through the dilemmas that Darren mentioned?
In terms of capacity and a ‘significant period’, can we define, here, what a ‘significant period’ would mean in every possible eventuality, or do we rely on the judgment of those people who do this job all the time? An ‘enduring family relationship’—can we define ‘enduring’ here, sufficiently, to remove all the room for doubt that Darren raised? I don’t think we can, and so I’m in just a slightly different place than he is—
[Continues.]—from where I think the legislature ends and the professional judgment of the person on the spot has to begin.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I don’t disagree that there are contexts to every situation that need to be considered on an individual, case-by-case basis. I’m simply saying that, because the code is silent on some of these issues, further guidance, I’m sure, would be welcomed on what would typically, for example, constitute ordinary residence, or someone being ordinarily resident, or typically would describe an enduring relationship, or typically describe a ‘significant period’. I think those sorts of things would be very useful for specialist nurses when they are seeking to implement this new law, when they’re seeking to determine whether somebody has deemed their consent or not.
Well, put like that, I think the point is very well made. I’m very happy to take those ideas to the people responsible for the code, see if there are ways in which further guidance could be usefully drawn up. Wherever guidance ends, there will come a point where the professional judgment of the person on the spot—and we’ve spoken very warmly about our specialist nurses in this field, this afternoon, for very good reason—we will have to rely on and their ability to sum up all those competing pressures in the unique set of circumstances that they find themselves in.
Now, in fact, I find myself, I think, closer to Angela Burns’s position on some of these things, probably, than Darren Millar’s, because what Angela Burns was asking for was assurance that those people who will be making those judgments and who will be discharging those responsibilities, will do it in a way that is sensitive, that they will do it in a way that has been properly trained and supported, and that they will do it in a way that is compassionate to all those people who are involved in that room. Darren’s position, as he outlined it again today, as he did during the passage of the Bill, actually would not be like that in the case of people who have opted to be organ donors, because his position would be, if you did have a card in your pocket, no matter how distressed your family might be, and no matter how long they may have to wait, and no matter how much it might interfere with their grieving process, the law would be the law, and organ donation would go ahead. The system that we have introduced, in this Chamber, is not that system. We have said that there will always be a balance of interests that the clinician has to attend to. If a person is known to be in favour of organ donation, a family cannot simply say, ‘Well, we don’t like it, so you mustn’t go ahead’; it’s the wish of the person that comes first. But if that family were to be so distressed—. I remember very well hearing an account during the passage of the Bill of a family who have been in that hospital room for four days by now, on that rollercoaster of thinking that that person might have recovered, and finally finding that they can’t. They’ve not been home, they haven’t had a wash, they haven’t eaten, they are in a very distressed condition themselves, and now they are told that, although it is all over for their loved one, they may have to wait another 12 hours while an organ donation process goes ahead. And they say to the clinician, even though that person wanted to be an organ donor, ‘We can’t survive that experience’. And, in our law, the clinician has a duty of care to those people as well as to the potential donor, and that’s the point at which, even though the donor themselves had a view, the clinician can still decide that donation should not go ahead in those circumstances. I think that we have framed the legislation very carefully around the things that Angela Burns has raised, and I am confident that it does strike that compassionate balance.
Let me finally just assure her, if I can, that, in terms of the review of this legislation, we have an agreement with Professor Roy Carr-Hill of the Carr-Hill formula, so a person who is very eminent indeed in the field of medical ethics and the way that clinicians operate. He and his team will carry out a full review, an independent evaluation, of this law. They will report at the end of two years; they will report beyond that as well. Whatever conclusions they come to will be published, and their review is not simply one of numbers; it is qualitative as well as quantitative. It will look at the experience of all those people who now have new responsibilities and new possibilities within this law. Just as we will learn things for the code of practice, we will learn things for the law itself, and the law is framed in a way that is sufficiently flexible for a future legislature to return to these issues, make fresh regulations, amend the code, and attend to the issues that, inevitably, doing something for the first time in this way, will throw up for us all.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I defer voting until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 12 has been withdrawn.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
We now move to voting time. Before I conduct the votes, are there three Members who wish for the bell to be rung? There are not. So, we’ll now vote on the Human Transplantation (Persons who Lack Capacity to Consent) (Wales) Regulations 2015. I call for a vote on the motion tabled in the name of Jane Hutt. Open the vote. Close the vote. There voted in favour 38. There were 10 votes against. There was one abstention. Therefore, the regulations are approved.
Motion agreed: For 38, Against 10, Abstain 1.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5835
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
We now vote on the Human Tissue Authority’s code of practice, and I call for a vote on the motion tabled in the name of Jane Hutt. Open the vote. Close the vote. There voted in favour 39. There were nine votes against. There was one abstention. Therefore the motion is agreed.
Motion agreed: For 39, Against 9, Abstain 1.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5836
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
That concludes today’s proceedings.
The meeting ended at 18:49.