100 speeches by……and 14 more speakers
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Mohammad Asghar.
1. What is the Welsh Government doing to improve access to work experience placements for secondary school pupils in Wales? OAQ(5)0647(FM)
We continue to work with secondary schools and employers to help prepare young people for the world of work. This includes funding the Business Class project, delivered by Careers Wales in partnership with Business in the Community, which has established 81 school-business partnerships across Wales.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister, but, in previous years, when secondary school pupils were sent on placements to experience the world of work, it was the duty of Careers Wales to check that the employers and their workplaces were suitable, safe environments, and that legal requirements on insurance and risk assessment were met. However, your Government has forced Careers Wales to phase out this service due to budget cuts, thereby removing the opportunity for people to enjoy the benefit of work experience placements. Can the First Minister explain how stopping these safety checks due to budget cuts will promote and expand access to work experience placements in Wales?
As I understand it, Gwynedd and Anglesey have taken the decision to withdraw from offering work experience placements for pupils. In other parts of Wales, schools and local authorities have worked together to find new solutions in response to the change of services provided by Careers Wales in 2015.
First Minister, work experience is critical for young people, and those with learning difficulties and perhaps other neurological conditions, such as autism, which we’ll be discussing tomorrow, often find difficulty in getting out to the workplace. Now, there are some schools that put on assimilated work placements, and, for those, it’s wonderful because they are in a safe and familiar environment. But others need to go out and get that experience, because it helps them in their transition to adulthood. What more can the Welsh Government do to encourage employers to take on people with those conditions and learning difficulties, so that they can get that experience, so that they can get the transition into adulthood and be confident that they’re able to go out to the workplace?
We encourage schools to look to create those links with employers. I think it is important for some youngsters to get that experience first in a more controlled environment that makes them more comfortable, and then, of course, look at getting work placements in the future. But there will be examples—the Member for Aberavon has already mentioned some—where schools are working proactively in order to provide placements for youngsters with particular learning needs.
Thank you, Llywydd. It has been a great disappointment in my constituency as year 10 and 12 pupils hear that they won’t be going on work experience placements this year. I declare an interest as a father to one daughter in year 10, and another in year 12. Will the First Minister agree with this statement that Anglesey council officials certainly say is true, that what’s at the heart of this decision, beyond any doubt, is the decision taken by the Welsh Government to withdraw funding and therefore capacity from Careers Wales to check placements as they’ve done in the past?
Ddim o gwbl. Y cynghorwyr, yn fy marn i, sydd i fod i redeg awdurdod lleol, nid swyddogion, ta beth. Ond dim ond Gwynedd ac Ynys Môn sydd wedi cymryd y penderfyniad hyn. Rwy’n gwybod bod awdurdodau eraill yn edrych ar ffyrdd newydd i sicrhau bod yna lefydd ar gael.
First Minister, the best way to improve access to work experience placements for Welsh pupils is to improve links between our schools and industry. While there are many good examples across the country, is it not enough. What plans does your Government have to ensure that every school in Wales maintains close links with local businesses?
Most schools will want to do that anyway. As I said, most local authorities in Wales are working—and they’ve had plenty of notice—to see those links strengthened. They knew the changes were coming in 2015, but, despite that, of course, local authorities have been working proactively to maintain those links.
First Minister, the Welsh Government has a groundbreaking Fusion programme that contributes to many of the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The Fusion programme seeks to encourage and empower young people to take an active part in arts, culture and heritage, and equally includes innovative work experience placements. Additionally, the Fusion programme in 2017 includes the priorities of employment and skills. First Minister, isn’t this further evidence that the Welsh Government encourages a dynamic taste of the world of work from all quarters of Welsh life for Welsh schoolchildren, and how then can the Welsh Government build on this excellent best practice?
We always look at good practice to see whether that practice can be extended across the whole of Wales. It’s right, of course, that young people have the opportunity not just to gain qualifications, but also to understand what the world of work requires and have a broad outlook on life. That’s what the Welsh baccalaureate is intended to deliver as well. But we always look at examples of good practice to see whether they can be extended.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the development of an active travel network in Montgomeryshire? OAQ(5)0653(FM)
Well, the first stage of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 has been completed, and a number of active travel routes have been identified in Montgomeryshire.
Thank you, First Minister. I’m sure you will agree that the Newtown bypass will provide an opportunity to develop a meaningful active travel network for Newtown. Regrettably, Powys County Council were recently unsuccessful in securing funding from the local transport fund, which would have gone some way to securing the town’s aspirations to be an active travel town. Now, I understand the bid was supported as a project, but not funded. So, could I ask you, First Minister, to ask officials to take a fresh look at this bid, with a view to funding the scheme if additional funding can be made available?
Well, I understand Powys will be launching the new Llanfyllin Safe Routes in Communities facility on Friday. That was made possible through allocated funding from the Welsh Government—an example of that funding being made available to Powys. The two Powys local transport fund schemes are at the top of our reserve list for 2017-18, as part of our wider work associated with the Newtown bypass, and we are looking at options to see how we could allocate some in-year funds to the Powys active travel bid for Newtown.
Isn’t part of the problem, First Minister, that some Members seem to think that bypasses are part of active travel networks? Sixty per cent of all car journeys are for journeys of less than five miles, and an emphasis on everyday journeys is one of the key ways of making the active travel Act achieve its potential. In Carmarthenshire, the council’s draft strategy has an emphasis on sports cycling and on leisure cycling—
I’m sorry, I’m going to have to intervene. This question is about Montgomeryshire.
I did preface my remarks, Llywydd, to talk about the Newtown bypass, which has just been referenced.
It’s stretching it slightly to talk about Carmarthenshire.
Indeed. I’m talking about the way local authorities are implementing and interpreting this Act, and whether the First Minister, and the Welsh Government, will issue strong guidance to local authorities, to make sure the emphasis is on short journeys, practical journeys, and not bypasses.
The Member should not get the idea that there is a plan to merge Montgomeryshire with Carmarthenshire—at this stage. The point that the Member makes is important, and he has been consistent in his view that it’s absolutely crucial to promote cycling as more than just recreation—that it is seen as an integral part of the transport system, if I can put it that way. That’s what the active travel Act was designed to do, and that’s why it’s so important that, where funding is available, then cycle routes, for example, are provided, when road schemes are in place. The Church Village bypass is an example of that. And it is something, of course, that we seek to promote through funding, and also through the legislation itself.
I now call for questions from the party leaders. The leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. It’s clear now that the failure of the Prime Minister’s cynical, opportunist snap election gamble has thrown the whole Brexit negotiating process into confusion, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that she’s appointed 16 Remainers to her Cabinet of 23. And, in particular, this throws perhaps more into question than previously the nature of our border controls post Brexit. I’m wondering where the Labour Party now stands in this process, because I’m sure the First Minister will have seen that both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have said that the Labour Party is formally committed to taking Britain out of the single market and the customs union, whereas Keir Starmer has said he wants to negotiate a new form of single market agreement, and Barry Gardiner, the shadow international trade Secretary, has criticised Mrs May for taking single market membership off the table right from the very beginning. So, can the First Minister tell me whether he is now a Corbynite or whether he is a Starmerite?
Well, what we do know from the election is the hard Brexit that is espoused and promoted by UKIP is dead. People were asked to vote on a particular version of Brexit—specifically asked to vote on that—by Theresa May, and she did not get that mandate. So, what happens next? We have put forward, together with Plaid Cymru, a White Paper that suggests a way forward as far as Brexit is concerned. I have today written to the Prime Minister, reminding her that it takes more than words when it comes to seeking engagement with the devolved Governments. I welcome the words of Guto Bebb, for example, where he recognises the reality of the situation—that a sustainable Brexit can only happen if the devolved Governments are fully part of that process, and I hope that the small group in Whitehall that have been trying to control this take note.
I read, of course, the Government’s White Paper on Brexit, which, effectively, isn’t in favour of border controls at all in any meaningful sense. My interest in this is on the impact of unskilled and semi-skilled labour being imported in uncontrollable numbers and the effect that that has upon working class wages. Now, the Bank of England has published a substantial report on ‘The impact of immigration on occupational wages: vidence from Britain’, the conclusion of which was that a 10 per cent rise in the proportion of immigrants is associated with a 2 per cent reduction in pay in the semi- and unskilled services sector. I struggle to understand why the Labour Party, of all parties, is prepared to countenance a situation where working class wages are driven down so that, for many people, the minimum wage is the maximum wage.
The greatest threat to people’s wages is continued austerity—that is the greatest threat. I wonder if he would make it clear what his position was on the minimum wage, for example—whether he supported its introduction by a Labour Government, and whether he supports the need for greater focus on policing the minimum wage, and whether he would see an increase in the minimum wage to the level of a living wage. Those are the ways to protect people. Yes, it is important to protect people, and not just our own people, but people from other countries, from exploitation, and that needs more resources to be put into the policing of that. But there’s no doubt that the greatest threat to wages is a Tory Government that is bent on austerity.
I notice that the First Minister neatly sidesteps the question. UKIP did actually support the introduction of the minimum wage, and, certainly, we support policing it effectively, because the law of the land should be obeyed. And it’s no answer to the problem of wage compression to say that we will take strong action against employers who are breaking the law. What is of more concern is that the average wage rate at the bottom of the income scale is being driven down for more and more people. And there are hundreds of thousands of people who are on the breadline who are forced into even more precarious situations as a result of uncontrolled immigration. Surely, firm control of unskilled and semi-skilled migration from the European Union, which can be controlled from the rest of the world under existing law, is a vital necessity for ordinary working-class people.
First of all, again, he misses the point about border control. If you want to have border control, you have a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. There is no other way of doing it, unless you want to put British border agency officials in the Republic’s airports and ports, and that is a strategy fraught with problems, if I can put it diplomatically. That situation has still not been properly resolved. But, for me, the issue of low wages is driven by the austerity we’ve see for the past seven years, the fact we haven’t seen real increases in pay, the fact that we’ve seen people who are in work lose in-work benefits. We used to say—and the Secretary of State got himself into trouble on this—to people, ‘If you get a job, your income will increase’. That is no longer the case because of the fact that those at the top of the income scale have received more money through tax cuts and those at the bottom have received less money through the reduction and loss of in-work benefits. That’s what the focus should be on—making sure that those people who are working hard, working long hours, get the support they deserve, and they haven’t had it over the last seven years.
The leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
First Minister, the NHS is our most cherished public service. All of us rely on it and it’s the single largest spending commitment in the Welsh budget, which reflects its importance to our people. Are you satisfied with the financial governance of the NHS?
Yes, I am. There are issue that arise every year from the boards, but they’ve been given a three-year timescale within which to operate when it comes to producing their budget. But, of course, we would always want to see more funds made available to the Welsh budget through the ending of austerity in Westminster.
On Friday, it was announced that four of the 10 NHS organisations have failed to break even over the three-year financial period. Now, we know that three health boards have been placed under targeted intervention, and a fourth is being monitored. You mentioned that you introduced three-year budgeting in order to try to solve those problems, but we are still seeing these deficits emerge over that three-year period. First Minister, under your watch, are NHS finances sound?
Yes, they are. Four organisations out of 10 were unable to meet their three-year duty. We’ve been open about the particular challenges those organisations are facing, and it’s why they’ve all been escalated under our NHS intervention arrangements.
A situation where four out of seven health boards aren’t meeting your targets isn’t one that can be described as financially sound. This is about how the NHS is being managed, it’s about supporting the staff and the patients of the NHS by ensuring that the service is in good financial health. It’s about health boards meeting the statutory duties that you have set out. Now, in March, your health Secretary said that the four health boards in question would not be bailed out. He also said that he was, quote, ‘pretty certain that NHS services wouldn’t be cut as a result of these deficits’. Now, being pretty certain doesn’t fill me with confidence, First Minister. What we need today is a cast-iron guarantee. So, can you tell us: when will the NHS finances improve? Is it still the case that you won’t bail out struggling NHS health boards? And as the Government responsible for the Welsh NHS, will you guarantee that deficit repayment plans for these health boards won’t result in cuts to our health services?
No services have suffered as a result of these deficits. We have ensured that these organisations have sufficient cash to meet their normal commitments, and we manage their deficits within the overall health budget, subject to audit confirmation. The overall health budget was balanced in 2016-17. Now, through the intervention arrangements, we are working closely with those organisations to address the governance, management and service issues that underpin their deficits and we will not shy away from taking firm action with these organisations if that is what is necessary.
Leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, one of the stories that came through at the general election and, because of the campaigning, didn’t get the coverage it deserved was the lack of this Government’s ability to meet its commitment from 2010 that all cancer patients in Wales would have a keyworker. Can you explain why, seven years on, so many cancer patients are not getting that key worker identified when they get the diagnosis in Wales?
One of the messages of the general election was that people didn’t want the Welsh Conservatives. I mean, I’m fairly surprised he actually raises it. I do wonder how much more he can take of being replaced as a leader on programmes, but he asked a question about cancer key workers. That is something that we’re still working towards to make sure that everyone has that key worker. He will see that the amount of money that’s gone into cancer treatment has increased over the years.
You can have the pot shot, First Minister, but people would’ve listened and heard that you didn’t give an answer why people don’t get a key worker. So, you can carry on with the pot shots, but people who get a cancer diagnosis deserve all the assistance they can get, and as someone who’s lost family members, along with other Members in this Chamber, we welcomed that commitment that the Government made at that time in 2010. But as Macmillan has identified, at least a third of patients do not get that key worker when they get the diagnosis. It’s a simple question, First Minister, and instead of being flippant, can you give a serious answer as to when that target will be met?
I believe I did give a serious answer, and like him, I’ve lost people close to me, and indeed, I’ve seen my wife deal with cancer. It affects so many of us, but the cancer implementation group, which is responsible for the delivery of the cancer delivery plan, has identified the key worker role as a priority. As such, work is being undertaken currently to develop a set of standards and associated measures to review the progress that health boards and trusts are making in the provision of key workers, as well as other priority issues. It’s also important to note that the cancer patient experience survey provides a good picture of the situation in Wales. No other major health condition has such a large-scale survey assessing patient experience, and we do know that the response has been good in terms of people’s experience of the treatment they have received. The 2016 survey results will be published later this year.
Again, on the second time of asking, I still have not got a date when cancer patients and people connected with cancer services will know when this commitment is going to be met. It is a fact that Public Health Wales have said it’s not mandatory for them to collect the data to identify where the shortfalls are in the system. So, you can read all you want from your script, First Minister—you made the commitment in 2010. Public Health Wales just say one basic point: it’s not mandatory to collect the data. How can you genuinely say that you know you’re progressing in meeting this target? I do put the question again to you: when will you hit that target here in Wales and will you now make it mandatory for Public Health Wales to gain those data so that we can see progress on meeting that goal? We support you in this measure—we want to see it met.
Well, I can’t go beyond the answer I’ve already given to him, namely that that work is ongoing. He asks the question, ‘When will that work be complete?’—I will write to him with a date on that—he’s asked me that specific question—but this is something that we want to see implemented in the future.
3. What progress has been made towards Wales becoming a no cold calling nation? OAQ(5)0655(FM)
Well, the zones have been set up in the majority of Welsh local authorities. We are committed to making our communities safer and I would encourage local authorities to continue to introduce ways to stop cold calling to protect the most vulnerable people in society.
I thank the First Minister for that reply. I don’t know whether he is aware of a poll that is being conducted by the debt charity called StepChange. This has discovered that 59 per cent of people report having received one cold call a week, and 8 per cent have had more than one call per day. And one of the principle concerns about this is these calls offering high-cost credit. About a third, apparently, received one of these calls every week, and one in eight has actually taken out high-cost credit with an average of £1,052 of extra borrowing taken out. This poses significant dangers for vulnerable people on low incomes, and I wonder if the First Minister can tell me what further progress the Government intends to make in the next 12 months towards ending this curse?
Well, we did provide funding in 2013 to increase the number of cold-calling zones in Wales. That’s helped to protect vulnerable people from scams. I know that some local authorities have also carried out that work. My own local authority in Bridgend, for example, ran a very successful campaign a few years ago informing people of what scams looked like—not just postal scams but online scams as well. They can be hugely believable, given the fact they will often use e-mails that look like e-mails from established companies, even though they are not. We will, of course, continue to work with the police and police and crime commissioners on issues including fraud crime.
I’m a strong and long-term supporter of no-cold-calling zones, and I’ve raised this several times in this Chamber as far too many of them target the very vulnerable, and far too many of the very vulnerable are taken advantage of. I have some very popular no-cold-calling zones in Swansea East. I’ve also noticed a growth, and I’m sure everyone else in this room has as they’ve been going around during election time, in the number of houses that say, ‘Cold callers not welcome’. I’m sure people have seen that on their travels. What I’m asking is: what can the Welsh Government do to help increase the number and size of no-cold-calling zones? Because a lot of the no-cold-calling zones, which are very popular, tend to cover a couple of hundred houses, whereas I’d really like the whole of Swansea to be covered by it—I’m not sure if my two colleagues representing the rest of Swansea do, but certainly the whole of Swansea East covered by it, because it is a nuisance. And yet, you can’t do anything about the people coming in by e-mail, but we ought to be able to stop people banging on doors, telling someone they’ve got a loose slate and then charging them tens of thousands of pounds.
For all of us in this Chamber it’s always difficult to know whether ‘No cold calling’ means political canvassers as well. Although, I have noticed people putting on their doors ‘No canvassers’ as well as ‘No cold calling’. But it’s an important point. We will know of people who have been scammed in this way, particularly older people who feel particularly vulnerable. We do know that no-cold-calling zones have been set up in the majority of Welsh local authorities to reduce the number of cold callers, and we continue to work with local authorities to encourage them to set up more zones in the future.
Since 2005, my local authority has indeed been very proactive in ensuring the introduction of no-cold-calling zones. In fact, I was the cabinet member introducing them at the time. A joint initiative with North Wales Police and Conwy trading standards has now established over 1,300 zones, including the entire community of Trefriw. Your Government, as you say, has made several thousands of pounds available for this initiative, however 10 local authorities just haven’t bothered taking up the funding. Ninety-three per cent of people in a survey are not wanting doorstep sellers; 60 per cent have received uninvited visits from contractors, with 25 per cent experiencing repeat calls. So, what steps—I’ll repeat—is your Government taking to ensure no-cold-calling zones are robustly implemented across the whole of Wales in order to protect our most vulnerable and those living alone from what are often bogus callers and cowboy contractors?
The first difficulty is we don’t have executive powers as a Government to enforce the zones. The Assembly does have some legislative competence, but it’s quite limited and limited to consumer protection. That means, of course, the local authorities have a particularly important role. She’s mentioned, of course, her own local authority, and we welcome the work that they have done. For those 10 local authorities that haven’t taken up the funding, it’s a matter for them, of course, to explain, and a matter to be taken up with them as to why it is that they feel that no-cold-calling zones are not appropriate for their area.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of seaside tourism in north Wales? OAQ(5)0644(FM)
Our coastal environment is a major attraction for many visitors who are drawn by the quality of our coastal landscape, wildlife and sea, and, of course, many of those seaside attractions are along the northern coast.
There are many of those seaside towns in my own constituency that benefit from tourism, including Towyn, Kimmel Bay, Llanddulas and, indeed, Colwyn Bay. But one of the things that puts that tourism industry at risk is the risk of coastal flooding, and I notice the publication of a report by the Public Accounts Committee today that criticised this distinct lack of leadership on the part of the Welsh Government in securing improvements in coastal flood defences. The First Minister will know, because I’ve raised it with him on many occasions, that I’m very concerned about the Old Colwyn promenade in my own constituency, which has been pummelled by storms year after year, which has severely damaged the integrity of that promenade, which protects, of course, the A55 trunk road and the north Wales railway line. I’d be grateful, First Minister, if you could step up to the plate and take a lead on this issue to ensure that that work is done as a matter of priority within this Assembly term.
Well, first of all, in terms of the committee’s report, it’s not quite what it says, to my mind. It does make the quite valid point that there are many different organisations who all have a responsibility for flooding—some seven. The point that the report was trying to say was, ‘Well, if things go wrong, who then is responsible?’, and that’s a valid question that we will consider as part of the response to the committee’s report. It may need legislation to make sure that the situation is clear. For example, Members will know I was, a year and a half ago now, on the A55, where flooding had occurred. Ultimately it was a matter for Gwynedd Council, but it needed funding from Welsh Government, so we worked together to deliver that. But, clearly, there is an issue here that will need to be resolved in terms of: is the situation robust enough if we have that many organisations—and individuals, quite often—who are responsible for controlling flooding? And we’ll consider our response to that as part of our response to the committee’s report.
Rules and regulations emerging from the European Union have, of course, been mostly responsible for the transformation that we’ve seen in the quality of sea water and the cleanliness of our beaches and the fact that so many of our beaches in north Wales now have blue flags, which has been a very important factor in attracting tourism. As we are leaving the European Union, of course, and Brexit is on the way, what can we do to ensure that we safeguard those environmental standards? What will you, as the Welsh Government, do to ensure that we never go back to a situation, as it was in the past, where our seas and beaches were amongst the dirtiest in the whole of Europe?
That’s quite right. There is no reason why we cannot retain the regulations that already exist and that’s something for Welsh Government and this Assembly to decide. But, no, we would not be in favour of reducing the standards there are at present. I can remember a time when the river going through the town where I was raised, Bridgend, flowed in different colours, depending on what had been chucked into the river—whether it be coal or lipstick—everything went into the river, and because of that, the river was red and green. Nobody wants to go back to that, but, of course, what’s important is that, although we may be leaving the European Union, it doesn’t mean to say that we have to change the rules here in Wales.
5. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of compulsory voting? OAQ(5)0643(FM)
We are not in favour of compulsory voting. As a Government, of course, we’ve taken a position that in Assembly elections we want to see 16 to 18-year-olds voting, but we’re not in favour of compulsory voting.
I thank the First Minister for that answer. And on the subject of voting, I thank him for his leadership of the Welsh Labour election campaign, which, in contrast to that of the party opposite, was both strong and stable. [Interruption.] Another feature of the campaign was an increase in turnout, and yet one in three people did not vote. Compulsory voting is no substitute for political engagement or political education, but as well as being a right that people have fought for and died for, it can also be seen as a civic obligation that we owe one to another. As the Welsh Government and the National Assembly consider voting arrangements in the future, notwithstanding the Welsh Government’s position, will he ensure that the experience of Australia and Belgium is taken into full account, and that of other countries where that civic obligation has been enshrined in law?
We will consider that. I have to say I sometimes consider compulsory voting to be a form of cop-out for politicians. It’s all our responsibility, collectively, to increase turnout. We’ll never get—. They don’t even get to 100 per cent in the countries where there’s compulsory voting. What I saw on Thursday was a huge increase in the numbers of young people voting. At 10 o’clock on the Thursday morning, I could see that something unusual was happening in terms of the turnout. So, from my perspective, it was marvellous to see young people coming out to vote in the numbers that they did. I hope that continues in the future, because it was never good for society for a view to take hold that older people vote and younger people don’t. I’m glad that younger people have found their voice.
First Minister, can I say that, like you, I’m glad that the voter turnout last Thursday was much closer to the historic trend that we’ve had in the United Kingdom, and that is something that we should all be very grateful for? One thing that’s always struck me as very peculiar is why we vote on a Thursday. There have been a couple of occasions in the twentieth century where general elections were held on Tuesdays, but why don’t we vote, like most countries around the world, over the weekend? That, surely, would be a great way of ensuring that as many citizens as possible have every opportunity to get to the voting booth.
There’s no reason why it should be a Thursday. In fact, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t look at weekend voting. Sunday is still problematic. I don’t think the DUP will be pressing for that in the discussions that they have with the Conservative Government, as sabbatarians. [Laughter.] Indeed, the western isles of Scotland—people there will have a view on that. I think Sunday voting, therefore, is still difficult in some parts of the UK, but there’s no reason why people shouldn’t vote on a Saturday, for example, when most people are not in work and when voting might be easier. That’s something to consider as an institution in the years to come.
We have no figures, of course—although some figures have been quoted, there are no figures on how many young people voted last week. But like you, I did feel that more young people were turning out to vote in west Wales, and I’m particularly pleased that the youngest Member of Parliament, Ben Lake, is a Member for Plaid Cymru in Ceredigion. Certainly, Ben Lake got a lot of young farmers helping him out during his campaign. But, in looking at how we keep this young vote, and short of compulsory voting, what else can we do? Yes, voting on different days, perhaps, but isn’t it also time to break this link that you have to cast your ballot in one place? In an electronic age, shouldn’t it be possible for anyone to vote wherever they are in Wales for the candidate that they prefer?
Well, there is no reason, in principle, why digital voting shouldn’t take place. There are some practical security issues, I understand, which would make it very difficult at the moment, but there’s no reason why, ultimately, it shouldn’t happen. At one time, everybody in this Chamber saw the voting day as the day on which you had to get everybody out to vote, but that’s not the case any longer, as so many people vote through the post. So, in principle, there’s no reason why the system should remain the same, because one of the things I did notice last week was the fact that young people are being inspired to vote because of social media. That’s where they get their news, and groups of them decided to vote. So, it’s all important that we consider, when the time is right, digital voting.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's use of psyllids in tackling Japanese knotweed? OAQ(5)0641(FM)
Progress has been made on the biocontrol of Japanese knotweed, including psyllid stocks from Japan. There are now better survival rates for the psyllids, as well, and that’s a key development in tackling knotweed. There are further releases of psyllids that are planned for the course of this year.
Can I thank the First Minister for his answer? As people are well aware both here, and definitely in Swansea, Swansea is very much the capital of knotweed. It’s not a title we particularly like. But it’s a huge problem within my constituency and the neighbouring constituency. I’m very pleased as to the success of the initial trial, but I wouldn’t be fulfilling my duty as a Swansea Member without saying: can I ask that, if further sites are being considered, sites in Swansea, which is one of the worst affected areas in Wales, are considered for these new sites?
As the Member knows, the trial site in Swansea is located in his constituency at Llansamlet, along a 450m section of the Nant Bran stream. Care has to be taken, of course, when releasing another non-native species to control an existing non-native species, as the Australians will tell you, given the plagues of frogs that they quite often—biblical, almost, plagues of frogs that they experience there. So, this has been done in a controlled way. We hope, of course, that this will be a successful way of controlling knotweed by a natural predator without, of course, that creating imbalance elsewhere in terms of biodiversity.
As we know, Japanese knotweed is a plant that has a negative impact not just on other plants, but on buildings, and, as a result, it can prevent people from getting a mortgage or insurance on their property. Given the damage caused by this plant, what is the Welsh Government’s overarching strategy when it comes to tackling this problem? Do you also agree with me that Natural Resources Wales should be responsible for tackling this issue? Because I understand that NRW has no statutory powers at all in order to tackle this particular plant.
Well, first of all, there is a group—a project board—that has been established to deal with knotweed. We are working with partners across the United Kingdom on that. The Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, which is a non-profit-making institute, is carrying out scientific and research work on behalf of the project board at the moment. So, work is ongoing and Natural Resources Wales is part of that work.
First Minister, it’s estimated that around £200 million has been spent in the UK alone trying to tackle Japanese knotweed, which causes around £170 million-worth of damage to property each year. The psyllid trials are very promising, but, if the insect can successfully establish itself in the UK, it will only tame knotweed, not eradicate it. What more can the Welsh Government do to support Swansea University in their search to find ways to ensure that knotweed is eradicated and no longer threatens the property of our constituents?
We have supported a two-year trial at Swansea, examining the chemical and mechanical control of Japanese knotweed. Discussions are taking place at the moment with the university to improve our control advice in line with those findings.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on mental health services for young people? OAQ(5)0656(FM)W
By now, we have seen the impact of the programme of improvements that we are taking forward as part of the delivery of ‘Together for Mental Health’, supported by an additional £8 million per annum for children and young people’s mental health services.
I was particularly pleased some weeks ago to have a conversation with Laura Burton, a young woman from Anglesey who volunteers her time for Time to Change and is doing excellent work in pressing for improvements in mental health services. I agreed with her that we certainly need to do more to change the attitudes of young people towards mental health, but also that an increase in awareness has to go hand in hand with investment in resources and adequate funding. Now, in terms of resources, does the First Minister agree with me that it’s unacceptable that Anglesey has been left without a consultant psychiatrist at all for adults between the ages of 18 and 65—something that affects Laura, like many other people? And does the First Minister also agree that, in terms of awareness, we need to do far more to invest in mental health education for young people in order to raise awareness among that group?
There is a counsellor in every secondary school in order to assist, of course, but some young people could do with more support. That is why we’ve invested £8 million per annum into CAMHS. So, if we look at the Betsi Cadwaladr area, including Ynys Môn, of course, we know that the number awaiting an assessment has gone down from 669 to 90 in a year, a reduction of 86 per cent, and that is what the investment has given us.
First Minister, the ‘Making Sense’ report was published in tandem with the Making Sense initiative, which is supported by the High Needs Collaborative and the Wales Observatory on Human Rights of Children and Young People. This report highlighted that, for many young people, support for the transition into adult services is non-existent. In fact, young people say that they are ill-prepared for the way that adult services operate, which is quite different to the way that CAMHS operates. It’s a scenario borne out by many cases that have come to me in my own constituency of Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. First Minister, can you clarify what the Welsh Government intends to do to ensure that that transition, which is a tricky time for children becoming young people and young people becoming adults in all sorts of different areas, from education through to health services, is particularly looked at and reviewed to help those who need the support of professionals, such as adult services and children and adolescent mental health?
Yes, that transition is important, but we have ensured that the funding has been made available for third sector partners to ensure that young people with the most severe mental illnesses are supported into social, education, and employment opportunities. But, of course, with regard to the extra CAMHS funding, what that is designed to do, of course, is make sure that young people get the help that they need at the time they need it, so they don’t have to rely—some will of course, but they don’t have to rely on adult mental health services in the future.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the delivery of health services in Pembrokeshire? OAQ(5)0640(FM)
My priority is to provide the people of Pembrokeshire with health services that deliver the best possible outcomes for patients.
I’m sure you’d agree with me, First Minister, that it’s important that emergency health services are located as close as possible to the population. A retired consultant from Withybush hospital has reviewed the number of mortalities among babies in Pembrokeshire, and the review shows that the situation has deteriorated since the maternity services were centralised in Glangwili hospital in Carmarthen. Given this review, is your Government willing to reconsider this issue and situation and consider reintroducing the special neonatal centre and ensure that paediatric services are available full time in Withybush?
Well, it would be very good if that consultant could give us those data so that we could study those data for accuracy. He hasn’t done so. That would be a great help. But we know that the royal college has said that the services in the Hywel Dda area are safe.
But the situation with overnight paediatric care is supposed to be temporary, where it’s been removed from Withybush. That’s not supposed to be the permanent position, so when will we see that overnight paediatric service put back in place?
We know that the health board will be going out to consultation before long with specialists in the area in order to secure sustainable services. But it’s true to say that this is temporary, and not permanent.
9. What action is the Welsh Government taking to promote equality for older women in the Cynon Valley? OAQ(5)0652(FM)
We are strongly committed both to supporting older people and to promoting equality between genders. That is reflected, of course, in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the strategy for older people, which supports action to address issues facing both women and men in later life.
Thank you, First Minister. I know you have written previously to the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, calling for a review of the miners’ pension scheme. I recently met with campaigners from the UK miners pension scheme association, who highlighted to me how the current workings of the scheme badly affect miners’ widows, in particular, with some, for example, receiving just £10 a week. Would you write to the UK Government again, highlighting the way that reform of the scheme could not only benefit miners, but also promote economic equality for miners’ widows in my constituency of Cynon Valley and elsewhere in Wales?
I met with representatives from the south Wales National Union of Mineworkers a few weeks ago, and they outlined, again, strongly, the case for a review. We will be writing to the newly elected UK Government, requesting it to consider a review of the scheme. As a Government, we have indicated our support for a review of the current arrangements for the surpluses of the mineworkers pension scheme, as Members will know—that’s already been said in Plenary. I wrote to the trade unions this February to reiterate our support for a review.
First Minister, many older women have a problem with mobility—they are quite frail—and we need to shape certain public policies with that mind. For instance, with transport, the improvement in bus services, free bus travel, et cetera, is a help, but really we need to focus on things like community transport schemes as well, which allow people who would otherwise be excluded from at least easy transportation the right to access a whole range of services.
That’s correct, and that’s why we work with local authorities and with bus and train operators to make sure that services are accessible. For example, as part of the work for the south Wales metro, accessibility of trains and stations will be an important part of the development of that project.
10. What assessment has the First Minister made of the impact that last week's UK General Election will have on the Welsh Government's education policy? OAQ(5)0657(FM)
Education is devolved, and our priorities are set out in ‘Taking Wales Forward’.
Okay. Thank you for that, First Minister. Labour’s education policies included the abolition of tuition fees and the reintroduction of maintenance grants—something that we would actually support in UKIP in respect of STEM students. Do you have any intention of implementing this in Wales?
Well, that was on the basis of a Labour Government being elected and providing us with the money to enable us to look at doing that. That has not happened, yet, and when that happens, we will of course want to see how we can ensure that students in Wales are no worse off than those in England, as we’ve done for the past number of years under successive Governments.
Will the First Minister reconsider the future curriculum for Wales and the extent to which it will be based on changes that we’ve already seen in Scotland in light of both the declining trend in Scottish PISA results and the decline in support for the SNP, who have overseen that curriculum?
We haven’t just taken the Scottish model and implemented it in Wales; the model will be implemented to ensure it is appropriate to Wales. It’s right that we should look at changing the curriculum in order to make sure that it provides young people with the best education possible.
Thank you, First Minister.