National Assembly for Wales

Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

17/04/2018

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

David J Rowlands AM Cadeirydd
Chair
Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Mike Hedges AM
Neil McEvoy AM
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Graeme Francis Clerc
Clerk
Kath Thomas Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Sam Mason Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:02.

The meeting began at 09:02.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datganiadau o fuddiant
1. Introduction, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da. Good morning, and welcome to the Petitions Committee. We have no apologies this morning.

2. Deisebau newydd
2. New petitions

So, I think we shall move on to the new petitions. The first is 'We call for all premises in Wales to be awarded an Access Certificate number similar to the Food Hygiene Certificate'. The petition was submitted by Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People, having collected 2,391 signatures online. I may point out that the number of signatures may be significantly increased because of the possibility of paper petitions being added. An initial response to the petition was received from the Leader of the House and Chief Whip on 8 March. You've clearly seen the papers relating to this. Do you have any comments?

Yes, I've got a number of comments. The first one is that the food hygiene certificate has been one of the great successes, and the numbers who have gone from 0 and 1 to 4 and 5 very rapidly when they know it's being put outside have made a huge difference. We haven't made much progress on accessibility because we don't know how accessible a place is until we try and use it. We also know that Cadw do cause problems with certain buildings, by saying, 'You can't make the alterations necessary to make them accessible.'

Leaving all that aside, I'd like to do a short inquiry on this, if we could, because I'd like to bring people in. Because I don't think we're fighting the Government on this, and I don't think we're fighting the majority of people on this. I think that if we do a short inquiry and come up with a report that suggests that we should have that, then I think that would improve accessibility.

How do I know this building's highly accessible? I don't. I think it is and I've seen ramps, et cetera, but I've no idea if it meets all the requirements because I've no means of finding out. The food one's been so incredibly successful. I think it changes your attitude. We went to visit somewhere, and we looked outside. It had a 1, and we got back in the car and drove somewhere else. It has that effect. At the moment you've no idea, and I really would like us to do a short inquiry on this because I think, with a bit of push, we could actually get something very useful done.

I think it's fair to point out that the Government has said that the petition has merit, and that they're keen to look at the practical issues associated with the scheme—that that should be explored. So, they are mindful of it and—. 

09:05

We're not fighting against the Government on this. What we just need to do is give it some impetus. I think if we have a short inquiry on this, we can give it that impetus.

I'd also like to endorse some previous work that Suzy Davies has done on scores on the doors for disability access and defibrillators, because nowadays, it's so inexpensive to have a defibrillator, and if it saves one life—. I think all public buildings and old buildings need to be more accessible for our disabled—. What a way forward to champion, that we could be—. I think we really need to keep this pot on the boil—that we drive this as well.

All right. Rhun has just joined us. Welcome, Rhun. We're just looking, actually, at the first petition, which is with regard to having the same sort of signage for disability as we've had for food hygiene. I don't know if you have any comments you'd like to make on that.

It's obviously a good idea; everybody thinks it's a good idea. It's interesting for me to note that the Government want to wait to see the conclusions of the committee. Actually, I want to know what the Government's going to do.

There's a lot of goodwill behind it, so, in terms of our decisions today, we need to hear the next tranche of information from the petitioner, who has been unable to give us the information.

The actions that have been suggested: the committee could agree to await the receipt of further views from the petitioners in due course, before deciding what the other action to take on the petition, or, in addition, the committee could decide to seek further written evidence from other organisations on this petition in the interim period.

I'd like written evidence, but I'd also like us to timetable some oral evidence on this. I think it's something we can drive forward. Often we talk about things and not much happens; this is something where, if we do come forward with some suggestions, we can be pushing the Government into doing it, because they are an open door on this.

Fine. So, do you feel that we ought to invite some of the—well, the petitioner, obviously—and some other interested parties?

Yes. Let's get the written things first, but let's just timetable into the future when we can have those, and then we can invite them in after we've had the written evidence, if we still want to, which I'd be very keen on doing.

Yes, I agree, because I don't think there's a huge amount of pushing that needs to be done in Government here, but maybe a very short report from a little bit of written evidence could be just enough to say to Government, 'Listen, you're clearly not opposed to the idea. Here's a little bit of something to get you going.'

You weren't here when I said it, but I think that the scores on the doors regarding food hygiene has had a huge effect on both my behaviour and the behaviour of the food places.

I think what we could do is immediately write out to a number of organisations, maybe put out a general call for people to submit their views on this to the committee. In terms of the committee's timetable, we could then schedule some evidence after the May half term recess that would give us time to get the written evidence in, and give the petitioner an opportunity to come in first of all.

Fine. Are we content with that? Yes.

The next new petition is 'Review and change the guidance for attendance awards in Welsh schools'. The petition was submitted by Laura Charles-Price, having collected 123 signatures online. We had an initial response to the petition from the Cabinet Secretary for Education on 5 March. In it, basically, the Cabinet Secretary has said that it is for schools to determine what rules will be applied or not applied. Do you have any comments on this?

I really sympathise with this petitioner, and knowing as a school governor—we have a scheme in place at the school, and I've gone through a lot of these questions myself in my mind about what happens when somebody is ill and misses school, and therefore is eliminated from the schemes.

09:10

I would agree with everything Rhun has just said. If you look at it from the school's point of view, Estyn are judging them on percentage attendance and they take no account whatsoever of someone who is chronically ill. So, what we really need to do—. Perhaps we could write to Estyn and ask them if they could take into account chronic illness when they're doing the percentage attendance, because schools are doing this not because they particularly want to, but because they're under pressure to get over 96 or 97 per cent attendance. So, that's where the problem is. Estyn is the problem in the main, so Estyn can become the solution if they exclude from their attendance report pupils who are obviously seriously ill.

And I don't think it's even chronic illness. There are lots of good reasons why people who don't have chronic illnesses can't go to school, and in fact shouldn't go to school if they have illnesses that are infectious to other children.

Attendance is a minefield. I would agree with Rhun there. If people are ill and infectious, it's a good idea for them not to go to school. I tell my staff if they're ill to stay home; I don't want them in the office. But I think attendance is a minefield and there are—. What really frustrates me with education, speaking as a former teacher as well, is that this is such a blunt instrument and there is very little finesse in attendance. I'll give you an example in terms of the other petition we're looking at with parental alienation. Very often, some parents will find that their children are kept off school when they're due to see them on that particularly day or on that particular weekend. As a parent, looking at the way policies are, there is absolutely nothing you can do about that unless your child comes below 80 per cent. What we need is some subtlety in the whole system, really, especially with this.

I think they're suggesting, actually, that, because the schools have a certain amount of autonomy with regard to this, that's the subtleness in what can be done, but of course, we've pointed out that Estyn takes account of these things in its reports. So, I think the schools are, to a great extent, tied in their decisions on this. So, the possible actions are that the committee could agree to await the view of the petitioner on the response from the Cabinet Secretary for Education before considering further action on the petition. Are we agreed on that at this moment?

It's at which point do we wish to be more proactive in contacting Estyn or something as well, isn't it? But I suppose if we are waiting for that, then it's fair enough, as long as we come back to it.

3. Y wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am ddeisebau blaenorol
3. Updates to previous petitions

We move on to updates to previous petitions. The following two items are grouped for consideration. This is 'Slaughter Practices'. The petition was submitted by Royce Clifford and was first considered in June 2012 having collected 400 signatures. The second petition on a similar subject is a petition submitted by Animal Aid and was first considered in November 2012 having collected 1,066 signatures. The first of the petitions states:

'We call upon the National Assembly to urge the Welsh Government to ban the practise of slaughtering animals without pre-stunning them.'

The second petition is with regard to having it mandatory that CCTV is in all slaughterhouses. The committee considered both petitions on 4 April 2017 and agreed to forward the petitioners' most recent comments to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs. We had a response from the Cabinet Secretary on 15 March. The Cabinet Secretary had previously informed the committee that she was awaiting the views of the Wales animal health and welfare framework group. It should be noted that the Wales animal health and welfare framework group says that

'currently there is not sufficient basis upon which to make CCTV a mandatory requirement.'

I think, based on that, it seems as if the Government are actually reluctant to make it mandatory that we have CCTV in slaughterhouses, but of course it now looks as if England will be making CCTV mandatory, so I think the actions of the Welsh Government must be in some way based on that fact. Do you have any comments to make?

09:15

We do see now with social media some shocking images where people have gone in, actually, and somehow managed to film, and I know it's a huge animal welfare issue. They're talking now, aren't they, about banning live exports and things like that, so there'll be more and more animals actually going into slaughterhouses in this country, and I just think that, again, we should be very brave. If there are no inhumane practices they have nothing to fear. But CCTV—animals are not like us, are they? They can't come out of there—. We only know what we know through, sometimes, people working in slaughterhouses putting things on social media, and in this day and age, that's not acceptable. I'm fully supportive. 

I think it is fair to point out that the Welsh Government is making funding available to small and medium-sized slaughterhouses for CCTV, but they're reluctant to make it mandatory, obviously. 

But if they're providing the funding—. It's a little bit like the viewing of council meetings. One of the Cabinet Secretaries gave £40,000 to every local authority so that we could have transparency in council proceedings. They gave them the money, but they didn't follow it up with what the real purpose of the money was for. So, to me, they shouldn't be awarding that money unless they—. We're talking pennies now to put CCTV in. Anyone who wouldn't want to do it—to me, there's no excuse. All we ask is that, when animals go to slaughter, it's as humane as possible. 

I just think that we ought to go back to the Cabinet Secretary and ask, in light of what's happening in the rest of the United Kingdom, that they reconsider it, because there may well be problems. If people are having CCTV in Scotland and England, Wales will be seen as an easy place to engage in inhumane practices. 

My problem is that it's a shame that, if and when—it might be likely that this happens now—it does happen, it's because they've done it in other parts of the UK rather than because we've taken the decision here that it's the right thing to do. I think we certainly go back to the Cabinet Secretary. It's just follow-my-leader again, isn't it?

Fine. So, the action that we can consider is the committee could write to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs to ask that the Welsh Government give further consideration to this issue in light of the recent announcement by the UK Government that it intends to make CCTV in slaughterhouses a mandatory requirement in England, and the commitment of the Scottish Government to run a public consultation on the issue. Are we happy with that? 

The next petition is 'Re-open the Cwmcarn Forest Drive at Easter 2018'. The petition was submitted by Friends of Cwmcarn Forest Drive and was first considered in June 2017, having collected 1,450 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 9 January, and we agreed to request an update from NRW following the public meeting planned for spring 2018. I know that that meeting has taken place, because I attended that meeting. During that meeting it seemed as if there is a certain amount of movement being made by NRW in that they plan to establish a formal project that would including appointing a member of management to act as a project executive. I know that the petitioner—I've been in touch with the petitioner personally on this matter, and it seems that, at this moment in time, they're quite content to see that this project is put in place. There is one small proviso, and that's with regard to access being given to cyclists, and it seems to be preferential treatment for cyclists. That is being handled and I know the petitioner met with one of the executives of NRW over the past week, and it seems that they're having discussions on that matter at the moment. So, that's the situation as far as that's concerned. He's given me indications that they're quite happy for us, and he would like us, just to keep a watching brief on the matter. I think that would—

09:20

I was going to say it sounds positive enough for me for us to be able to, if we wanted, close the petition, but I think we'll probably keep it open just so that we get an update from them about what's happening and, hopefully, come September, we'll have some good news. 

Okay, so the actions: the committee could agree to taking a watching brief on developments and request an update from the petitioner and NRW in six months' time. Are we happy with that? Yes, fine. Okay.

The next petition we've already considered in the past, but it's 'Protect the Razor Clams on Llanfairfechan Beach'. The petition was submitted by Vanessa L. Dye, and was first considered in October 2017, the petition having collected 459 signatures. 

This resulted after many years, really, of the town of Llanfairfechan seeing lots of people, over 150 people, coming in on a regular—after every spring tide, decimating the beds of the razor clam. And I'm really glad and pleased, actually, that the Cabinet Secretary has listened, especially to the fact that—you know, Vanessa Dye has been very robust and determined, and speaks on behalf of a lot of people within Llanfairfechan. But, you know, she does raise some valuable points in her response to the letter from the Cabinet Secretary, and I can only reiterate those. Having the assessment is important, because it was quite fascinating to find out at this meeting from the Welsh Government fisheries department that this had been going on for years and they didn't know really know whether it was destroying it. They were going on through the spawning season. We're not really sure yet, so we really do need to know exactly. It's key, key. In terms of conservation, we're so lucky to have this bed there, so we don't want to see it decimated. But what I would like to see is that the remit for the tender for the assessment going forward actually includes the need for improved data in the academic side of this area of research. We want to know the extent, the types—because there are goodness knows how many different types of razor clam—the density, the overall health and potential environmental effects of over-fishing. So, we're really, what we're asking—. This bed is a valuable resource in itself in terms of our conservation because, of course, they feed other—you know, birds and things, the whole evolution of that area of coastline and everything, but also too—. So, I would like to see that included in any remit, so if we could write back as a committee to the Cabinet Secretary and stipulate we want that included, so that there's no denying that's what we're looking for when any assessment or surveys are undertaken.

And, furthermore, I did ask last time, and I know we have—. There's mention—the Cabinet Secretary makes mention—that there's prominent signage in five key locations. There's not, I know for a fact. The signs themselves are very, very temporary signs—you know, they disappear. We want something—. It's going to take a few months, this, by the Cabinet Secretary's own admission, so we want some fairly decent signage put there.      

So, you want substantial signage that will stand the test of time. 

Yes. There's only a couple there, and they're flapping about, they're not in prominent locations. 

Because there has been anecdotal evidence that harvesting is still going on to a large extent. Is that right?

We need a deterrent to allow the Cabinet Secretary and her team to be able to do those surveys uninterrupted, if you like, by 150 people going and gathering them. So, we really do need—. The signage is part and parcel of the overall solution to getting this problem solved. 

Right. And should we also ask what practices are in place to monitor what's actually happening on the beach—

—at this moment? Because we don't know what agencies are involved in actually making sure that this ban on it is being implemented. Should we ask for that as well?

09:25

Yes. I mean, the number of local authority and government agencies that were involved because of the constant problems we were having over about four years now, so—. We've got something very precious in Llanfairfechan and it's about us not only just preserving it for conservation purposes, it's about establishing exactly what is there, how we can protect it, and how we can actually encourage further conservation. 

Fine. Are there any other Members who want to make a comment with regard to this, or are you happy that that seems to sum up the situation? Okay. So, are you happy with that?

I'd like to thank the committee on behalf of the residents. Because, with it, this isn't just about razor clams, it's about all the other issues that came up as a result of this valuable resource that people were coming in—and still are, but I'd like to thank the committee for taking this petition seriously and actually listening. Thank you. 

Okay. Fine. Thank you, Janet.

The next petition was with regard to 'Compulsory scanning of domestic pets for microchips by councils'. The petition was submitted by the #CatsMatter Campaign and was first considered in October 2017, having collected 910 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 9 January and agreed to write to the local authorities who do not currently routinely scan pet carcasses, and, apart from one local authority, it appears that most of the other local authorities that were not doing this are now reviewing their procedures. There is just one. Yes.

I know there's just one, but there's been correspondence in The South Wales Evening Post that suggests a second one, Carmarthenshire, is not doing it. Before we do anything with this, can we clarify, of the 22 local authorities, exactly the status of each one? And then if we've got up to 19 or 20 doing it, I'd be very tempted to suggest that we write to the Cabinet Secretary and say, '20 of the 22 local authorities in Wales are doing this. Why don't you send an advice note out suggesting the others do it as well?'

I'm not opposed to that. Obviously, there's a slightly different take on it in some different authorities, but, if there's a clear pattern, we could certainly pass that information on.

And on receipt of that, the answer from the Cabinet Secretary, we could look to closing this after that matter. Is that right? Are you happy? Yes.

Right. The next petition, which has been under considerable consideration, is 'Suspend Marine Licence 12/45/ML to dump radioactive marine sediments from the Hinkley Point nuclear site into Wales coastal waters off Cardiff'. The petition was submitted by Tim Deere-Jones and was first considered in November 2017, having collected 7,033 signatures and some other additional online signatures, which brought the total signatures to 7,171. The committee last considered the petition on 6 February and agreed to await the following information before agreeing any further action on the petition: an update from NRW and the results of radiation dose analysis being conducted by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, and details of any further studies in relation to the Severn estuary and further analysis from the petitioners. A response from NRW was received on 27 March, and the petitioner provided further comments on 13 March and 9 April. The further comments by the petitioner have been handed to the Members, together with some further comments from Friends of the Earth Barry and Vale committee. 

I find it very difficult to decide what we should do next simply because of the timescales that are ahead of us. I'm really grateful for the additional information that we've been given. I think the Friends of the Earth evidence was particularly good. There's really, really detailed work gone into the additional evidence that's been gathered. I think we've been hampered somewhat in our efforts as a committee by, for example, decisions taken by Cardiff Council not to challenge as much as they could. I find it difficult to decide what is best, as I say, just given the sheer tightness of the timescale over the next couple of months.

09:30

Yes, I've got a definite view, in that we should proceed to debate this matter. I'm absolutely appalled at the lack of action from Natural Resources Wales. We've got a letter from Diane McCrea, Member of the British Empire, and there's just a complete lack of a duty of care for the people of Wales living within 10 km of the coast. Because this material will be dumped, it seems. If it's dumped, it's going all around Wales. If you've got the misfortune to breathe in a radioactive particle within 10 km of that coast, then you're going to be extremely ill, and you're going to get a very nasty cancer—if the material is dangerous. Now, what really concerns me is that, for me, there is enough evidence in front of me in this file to justify retesting the mud. All we're talking about is £100,000, and we're looking at a project worth billions. I want the public to know what I'm talking about here, because what's—. There have only been five samples tested below 5 cm, and that was in 2009, and the data no longer exists—the raw data has been disposed of. And what the campaigners are saying, what some scientists are saying—and I've got it in front of me here—is the technicality of the testing wasn't adequate, because, as it says, this is a technicality, but it says that the radionuclides cannot be identified or quantified directly by gamma spectrometry. Now, that is how they tested the—. That is how the tests were done—they were using gamma spectrometry, and what we're informed is that there's a scientific consensus that this isn't adequate in identifying some radionuclides. If we go further on, there's an issue as well with the counting times. And, again, this is a technical matter, and, unless you're informed by experts, you really wouldn't know what to look for and what to ask for. But there was a 15—. With the testing that has been done, there was only a 15-hour duration with the testing. Best practice, we're told here, is from 24 to 72 hours. So, that's another gap.

—I'm very mindful of these very important points you're making—

I think we have to bear in mind something that was alluded to by Rhun earlier on, which is the time factor that's involved with this, because dredging is supposed to be happening possibly in the summer months—maybe around August. Now, if they have the licence in place, which it seems as if that might be, I would imagine these people will commence their dredging operations at the earliest possible moment. So, we have to be careful on that basis.

Hence the need for a debate. What we should be doing is moving to debate this in the Chamber. Because what really concerns me is the evidence that they gave themselves, the developers, when they said to us that they didn't want it retested—EDF Energy didn't want it retested, because, in their words, if the wrong questions were asked, then you may get the wrong answers. For me, that's a tacit admission that there could be something quite nasty lurking beneath the surface. And it's a dereliction of duty. You've got Wales being dumped on—physically this time. And we've got the nonsense recently of the 'Prince of Wales' bridge, and we've got mud from outside a nuclear power station being dumped in our water, and only five samples have been tested, in 2009. It's outrageous, outrageous. We need to debate this, and—

I was going to make two suggestions. One is that we produce an interim report, because, if we keep on sending letters back and fore, it'll all be dumped by the time that we actually get round to it. So, we produce an interim report, and then we also seek a response from CEFAS to the concerns over the testing methodology raised by the petitioners. So, we take the twin-track approach. If we don't start doing something soon, then it'll be dumped there and we'll still be talking about it. So, I would suggest that we do those two things.

09:35

Okay, thank you, Mike. I'll come back to you now, Neil. Rhun.

I was just going to say that one thing that we certainly need to say, I think, is that we as a committee have not been satisfied. We made a request, our request for additional testing was taken on board, it was recognised, I think, that it was not a stupid request for us to make, but it's been blocked. We need to emphasise still, from our point of view, why on earth would that testing not take place?

I'd like to support Neil's request for a debate, because I think this needs to be widely discussed and debated by all Assembly Members. If I wasn't on this committee, I probably wouldn't be—. Apart from the questions that Neil's raised in Plenary, you wouldn't be too aware of the fundamentals. I think that the fact we've hit this brick wall, with asking perfectly reasonable questions—. It's too late afterwards if we find out there's something there. I take on board everything that Neil said and I would like to second Neil's proposal for this to go to Plenary for a debate so that Assembly Members and Cabinet Secretaries can be fully aware of our concerns, and there's nothing else other than a debate that will do that.

Okay, and from the point of view of the practicalities of doing that and whether we are able to do it, are you tacitly in agreement with that, Rhun, or not?

I'm not sure the Assembly debate is absolutely necessary, but we need to keep the debate going and we can do that through this committee. We can ask questions through the committee, but, you know, if that's the feeling of this committee—.

With respect, Chair, they may dump this as early as June. They've said that in this building. So, if we're not going to debate it now, then we may run out of time.

My issue is that the debate isn't going to happen now. If we ask for a debate, it's still not going to happen for some time and—

That's why we need to do it as soon as possible. If we wait—

I was going to say, I think on this one we need to bring it—. Whatever we have in our forward work plan, I think we need to bring this forward.

As a member of the Business Committee, this would not be scheduled next week or the week after.

The timetable for Assembly business is done on roughly a three-week timetable. So, if the committee wanted to request, the earliest the Business Committee would be able to consider it would be next week, if the committee went to it straight away—

Yes, and then you're looking at the end of May, probably.

I've got no problem with us requesting a debate. Whether it's allowed or not is another matter. Rhun will have more influence on that than I will. But I think that if we're going to ask for a debate, we really should be producing something akin to a report first. We've done an investigation, we've talked to all these people, and if we're going to have a debate we should actually have something in there to be debated around.

I think I must agree with you on that, Mike. I think it would be advantageous for us to have a summary report on it.

Just in relation to the process of that, Chair, the standard protocol for these things—and that's not to say that this is the only way this could be done—is that if the committee was to ask for a debate having taken this evidence, there might be some expectation that the committee produced something to be debated, something that summarised that evidence. If the committee was to produce something like that, we would lay it in the Table Office when it was finalised and all Members were happy. If that report made recommendations, there's an agreed timetable with the Government, which would mean time has to be given for them to have time to consider that report and to respond. That timetable is roughly around six weeks, typically. So, even if the committee produced a report extremely quickly and signed it off, we are looking more towards summer recess before a debate would be scheduled, on the normal timescales.

And that's my concern. Perhaps we should be thinking, as much as we'd like a debate in Plenary, whether there are things that we could be doing that are more proactive and actually seeking some answers now through this committee, rather than through Plenary. By all means, put the request in. I don't think there'd be a rejection of the call for a debate, but it's at what point it could happen.

Let's get a summary report, I would suggest, and then we can decide. If all we're doing is highlighting problems and we just produce a factual report on what different people have said, then the Government will not be responding to a recommendation. That can shorten it, and then we can have a debate around the points that have been raised rather than us recommending to do something. 

09:40

I understand that whilst this summary report—I'll come back to you, Neil, I promise—is being prepared, we could seek a response from CEFAS to the concerns over the testing methodology raised by the petitioners before taking one of the above actions. Neil, does that in any way allay your—?

No. Partly. What we should have is a triple-track approach, because, in terms of the Business Committee, we're not looking at the content of the debate until the debate takes place. What we're looking for is the space and the time. So, if we request that now, get on with the report, fast-track it—. Because, let's be honest if this material is dangerous people out there are going to die. That's a reality and I'm shocked that nobody wants to debate this in Plenary, because we should debate this in the Chamber and we need to let the people of Wales know exactly what dangers there could be. But I do stress 'could', because we don't know. I'm not happy with five samples in 2009, where they binned the data, and according to scientists they've not done it in the most thorough way possible. It's just not good enough and we need to debate this.  

Okay. Let's look at the timetabling of it. What are we suggesting is the timetabling with regard to this? Let's just have clarity on that.   

If the committee was looking for a short, factual report on the evidence that we've received that didn't reach conclusions or recommendations as a committee and simply said, 'We want this to be the basis of a debate', I can explore that procedurally and provide a note to you separately. Assuming that was possible, then we wouldn't potentially need that six-week period for a full Government response to recommendations prior to a debate. But I would need to check the  process for how that's been done in the past, for example, and that could move the debate, sure, to happen sooner. However, there is still a process of drafting that and a process whereby you as a committee need to come to an agreement on what the content is. That can sometimes take a meeting or two, or would need to be done outside committee. 

We can do that outside, but it's just a matter of how quickly we can do it, because it could only be a noting motion. So, it would have to be noting something that we have prepared. So, it would have to note a report that we prepare.  

We just produce the arguments that we've received so that it goes to the wider public. 

Do you have any other comments from the Business Committee's point of view with the timetabling of this? 

No, that would have to be—. I'm trying to think off the top of my head how quickly you can turn things round. You're talking weeks, but it depends on when our report is ready as well, doesn't it? I couldn't speak for the Business Committee. It's not that there'd be a block on a debate at all, I don't think, but we just need to know what we're debating. 

Okay. So, can we sum up by saying we'll ask for a report to be prodcued? In the meantime, we'll write to CEFAS and we will try to move forward on the debate issue ASAP. 

Rather than move forward, we need to nail it really. We need to request one and Janet seconded that, so I'd like to really put that to the vote, to be honest. Let's get it done. 

At the moment, we've got nothing to request, because we've got nothing to ask them to note. We can request detailing on likely timetable and we can discuss this at our next meeting or in between. We could have a—

We need the space. That's what you need, Rhun, is the time and the space. 

Why don't you get the Plaid group to put it then, Rhun? This is important. The people of Wales expect action on this. 

Can I try and talk us through a timetable and Rhun can tell me if I've got it wrong? If we produce a report in a fortnight's time and if we don't agree it at that meeting but we agree to agree it by the Friday of that week, then we can send a request in to the Business Committee once we've got a draft report and then hopefully they will do it three weeks after we put that request in. All we are doing is noting the information and what different people have said. If we come with a recommendation it is not done, then the Government have to respond, other people have to respond and it will be either in July or in September. 

09:45

The problem is that if it comes in September, that will still probably be too late. I think we have to do everything we can to make certain that it comes actually before the summer months, and certainly before the summer recess. 

So, we produce a report next time. If we can't agree it then, we agree it out of committee, which is not abnormal. Then, having done that, we can then put it in as a request.  

It's a summary report anyway. It's not conclusions. So, that's fine. 

Just to be clear, the report would be a summary of the evidence we've received, and nothing more, from the committee. 

And in the meantime, we ask Business Committee the detail of the likely timetable. Because, until we have something to table—the name of a report we can table—we can't really table it.

We can't lay the motion. 

We can't lay the motion. I think it's a matter of procedures, Neil. We have to follow the procedures whether we like it or not. 

Whichever way we can do it as quickly as possible, then we need to do that. 

That's fine. Okay. We're all in agreement with that. Okay. Fine. Thank you for your comments on that, committee members. 

If we can move on to the next petition, which is 'Save our Countryside—Revise TAN 1'. This was submitted by Councillor Mike Priestley and was first considered in November 2017, having collected 706 signatures online. The committee last considered the petition on 6 January and agreed to provide the detailed comment from the petitioner to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs for her consideration, and to ask for response in particular to the suggestions made by the petitioner about possible alternative approaches to calculating land supply. A response came from the Cabinet Secretary on 8 March. The petitioner has also provided further comments. Do any of the Members want to make any comments?

Well, I've raised this before. I've raised it with the First Minister. I've raised concerns about this issue previously. I know, in some of the Cabinet Secretary's response, she's making mention, you know, about obviously wanting to bring forward cohesive communities and things like that, but one part that worries me says,

'In addition, Local Planning Authorities themselves have the opportunity to take action to address housing delivery issues as part of the annual monitoring of their Local Development Plans'.

Well, of course, this is late at the moment, because we're all waiting for this to happen. 

'This could include revising their housing requirement and trajectory'.

Now, when we've had some very contentious issues that have come up in Conwy, I'm afraid the planning officers still give more weight to TAN 1 than to a lot of all the other TANs. When you have it out with them, their argument is, 'This has all been forced upon us by the Welsh Government'. So, as far as I'm concerned, there are some real—. You know, this does need to go to—. I've asked for it before. I would like to ask for it again. This doesn't just affect Aberconwy. Many people have seen their—based on the old determination of housing land supply—. We actually need to be moving forward with this. We're going to be losing a lot of our boundaries for our local communities. We certainly know controversial sites are coming forward that aren't in LDPs because they're using the model of TAN 1 as the be-all and end-all.

Now, when I spoke in plenary, the First Minister mentioned that they would be reviewing this. I've got to be honest with you, I'm not convinced. Seventy nine per cent of local authorities were against the changes to the TAN 1 methodology—a very contentious issue. I don't know if any other Members are aware of this, but it's failing to recognise the issues faced by local communities. Sites, now, are coming forward that really should never—. It just makes a mockery of all the years that we spent in Conwy doing our LDP. In some areas, we've got eight and a half years' land supply, and then we're told it's down to three and a half or four years, based on the new figures coming forward. You know, our local communities—  

I think it's true to say that there are many local authorities who are very concerned about the spontaneity of developments that can fall outside their LDPs, and the TAN regulations are certainly exacerbating that issue.

09:50

But when you've got planning officers almost saying that they feel that they have their arms tied behind their back because this is a Welsh Government diktat—. So, I think we ought to be very strong in saying, 'You need to go back to the drawing board on this one.' It isn't working for our local communities and I would like this, definitely, to be pencilled in somewhere for a debate in Plenary.

I was in a public meeting last night and there were lots of young people there in Torfaen basically priced out of the housing market and lots of the housing coming on-stream on such sites—they're not for local people. Around Cardiff, they're starting at £0.5 million in some places and the Government has got away with things on this for far too long and what really concerns me is the influence of lobbyists employed by corporate building firms influencing the Government, influencing opposition parties, and it is time that these things were out in the open.

What I was going to say is that planning policy is out for consultation at the moment, isn't it? So, whatever we do, all we're going to get thrown back at us is, 'It's out for consultation.' I'm all for forwarding the petition to the Cabinet Secretary as part of the consultation process, but all anybody's going to say to us, and somebody can tell me that they think I'm wrong, is: 'It's out for consultation at the moment, please give your views into the consultation.'

There is the possibility of us writing and expressing our concerns to the Cabinet Secretary prior to those consultations, so that she could hear those concerns, which we are reflecting now with regard to—and not the committee so much, as the petitioner has pointed out—anecdotal evidence that we have with regard to the impact of the TAN regulations at the moment. So, I think we could, as a committee, if that's right, make known to the Cabinet Secretary the concerns that we have. Rhun.

I was going to say, she's teed up the request by saying that further research is going on into some of the demands for a review of TAN 1. I would also say, for the record, that I don't think I've ever had a lobbying company try to influence me when it comes to planning policy.

[Inaudible.]—to us, Rhun, in this place, as you well know. Just look at the client list.

Well, we have seen on other business with regard to planning et cetera comments made by the planning officer with regard to that fact that he said he had ultimate power and total power over the planning process. But can we, if we can, get this down to what we'd like to happen? I think that we would like to write to the Cabinet Secretary and give her our concerns, and the petitioner's, obviously, with regard to this prior to the consultation. Are the committee content to await the outcome of the current consultation?

I think it needs to go to Plenary because this affects all communities. I don't think, unless you go and sit in a planning meeting, you realise—. We've just had a very contentious site and we had new county councillors there who were acting on behalf of the thousands who had objected, and planning officers were as good as telling them, did they not realise, that they should really accept the planning officers' recommendations. I was sat in that very committee and they are definitely worried to death that if it goes to an inquiry that the sums due for the cost of these inquiries would be then levied against our local authority. They're saying, 'This is what we recommend', and it's the emphasis they're putting on to TAN 1, and it's all wrong.

And there's only one thing that matters when it comes to planning applications and the consideration of them, and that should be local need. My big concern when it comes to some of the applications that we're talking about is that—and perhaps it is through TAN 1, largely or partly—large developments are being allowed to progress without real assessment of local need being taken into consideration, and that should always worry everyone.

09:55

Well, with this one, we have no room in the schools or health services, no consideration of the Welsh language policy or anything. TAN 1 dictates—TAN 1 dictates—and until we address that issue and give the freedom to our planning officers to say, 'Look, TAN 1 is not the be-all—'. There are about five or six other TANs and other 'Planning Policy Wales' articles that were being breached by allowing this to go through, and it took a real struggle to stop it going through. They're the ones who are having to deal with what Welsh Government—. Because that's all we get told is, 'Well, I'm sorry, it's a Welsh Government directive, it's there, it's—'. You see, we even get told it's guidance, but I'm afraid, when planning officers and planning committee members decide to be brave and say 'no' to this particular site, they do feel under a lot of pressure.

Yes, very quickly. Alexander Cordell wrote the great book Rape of the Fair Country, and I think that's quite an apt description for what is going on with local development plans in Wales. Our communities have been completely, completely let down, so the more debates we have on this the better.

What is the point of having an LDP with sites that you can build on, and then they go for the ones that are not in the LDP? And then the planning officers and, you know—. And the advice that councillors are given is, 'Oh, well, if it goes to an inquiry, the developers will get it.' And, you know, TAN 1—all the other 'Planning Policy Wales' articles, and all the things that are in an LDP to protect your community, are eroded away. It makes a mockery of us even having a local development plan.

Okay. Thank you, Janet, because you've given a good description of how this works, particularly at the level of county planning. But I think what we have to now decide is exactly where we go from here and—

—what we'd like to happen from now on. So, are you suggesting that you want this to go to debate in the Chamber? Does any other Member have a comment on that?

If I can add—we face a similar question, I guess, in relation to this petition as to the last one.

Yes. Could we write to a local authority and find out, maybe, how they're dealing with it?

I think the expectation here would be, again, that the committee would only trigger a debate having done a detailed investigation of this issue—

I think a detailed investigation of this issue to be substantive.

—but, again, another one, for Rhun to be aware of, coming up in the Business Committee, that we want this to go to Plenary debate.

I think, as has been pointed out, there's a current significant consultation the Welsh Government is running around its whole suite of planning policy. The Cabinet Secretary has referred to further research into TAN 1 specifically as part of that. The committee could look to do some further work, if that's what Members want to do in relation to this issue—bring witnesses in or get some written evidence.

Planning officers from other authorities might be a good idea to get in here.

Yes, but I think that work would need to progress prior to—

Oh, yes, yes, but I'm just flagging up, because I've asked for a debate previously and I want to ensure that we keep this, you know—.

Right, okay. Can we move on? So, what is the idea? What are you suggesting, Graeme?

I think we certainly write back to the Cabinet Secretary in the first instance, express the concern that's been expressed here today, ask for further information about the research that she's doing, and an update, following the closure of the consultation. I mean, that consultation period I think is open until about 18 May, so there are opportunities right now for people to submit their views directly to Government through that process. If the committee wanted us to start gathering evidence from other places, then we'll happily do that as well.

Is there a suggestion of people we should look for further evidence from immediately, or—?

Yes. We could even invite some elected members in, because they are the voice of—. You know, that is true local democracy as well. I'd get some planning officers in, and I would certainly get elected members who are already on planning committees who will be facing this across Wales. It's not just happening in Aberconwy.

Okay. I mean, should we start with a representative body like the Welsh Local Government Association, on that front, and maybe the petitioner as well?

We can do, but, again, the ones on the front line are the planning officers, who have to deal with the budgets of their own departments, and then when they see costly inquiries having to come ahead because of—. Because we've just managed to get this one—a very contentious one—in my constituency. It's going to planning inquiry in May, and based on the current—. It gives us a very thin case to argue. We really do need to get to grips with this issue. So, I would invite WLGA. I would invite a selection from across Wales of elected members who sit on planning—. Or planning committee chairs, or planning officers. 

10:00

I just want to say, if we invite the WLGA in, can we invite—I can't remember the proper title, but it's the town and country planners' association, whatever the planners' professional body is—? It used to be the town and country planners—I'm sure they've changed their name.

Okay, fine. Thank you, Janet. Thank you.

Right, we'll move on to the next petition, which is 'Abolition of Park Homes Sales Commission', submitted by Caerwnon Park residents' association and was first considered in December 2013. The committee last considered the petition on 30 March 2017 and agreed to await the outcome of the public consultation on this issue and the Welsh Government's decision before considering whether further action is required on the petition. An update was received from the Minister for Housing and Regeneration on 7 March.

I've got to be honest, this is a huge issue, and in a previous term, working with Peter Black—when he was an Assembly Member here, he worked extremely hard on getting this legislation through. But park home owners— it's very sad, really. I mean, I have a constituent who paid £20,000 for a park home, became unwell, decided he needed to sell it, and it was being then offered at £3,000 or £4,000—that was in terms of buying back. But in addition to that, the commission—well, it's just scary, really. The legislation was supposed to help park home owners, and that if they feel they have to move on, that they're not penalised in such—

I think we ought to point out that the Minister has updated the committee that she's appointed independent analysts to review the financial information shared by site owners. The Minister expected the report before Easter and will make an announcement as soon as practical. So, I'm just wondering: should the committee await an announcement by the Minister for Housing and Regeneration before considering whether to take any further action on the petition?

Yes. Fine, okay. We'll move on.

The next one, which has, again, been rather a long-running petition, is 'Asbestos in Schools'. The petition was submitted by Cenric Clement-Evans and was first considered in December 2013, having collected 448 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 27 February and we agreed at that time to consider comments received from the petitioner, after the papers had been published, at a future meeting and write back to the Cabinet Secretary to express their view that the results of the schools condition survey should be published. A response from the Cabinet Secretary was received on 21 March, and the petitioner had previously provided comments on 26 February, and subsequently on 2 March and 9 April.

On this one, again, you know, we do have local authorities who do not have an asbestos management plan in place, and that's quite a concern. Of course, what we did raise concerns about last time was when the Cabinet Secretary said,

'At present I have no plans for my officials to share the data; however once the information has been received, further consideration—'.

Trying to get data on what buildings have asbestos in them from a local authority is a nightmare. You can forget the freedom of information request because where they can, they try—. I suppose there's maybe the thought that it might cause panic, but I do think there needs to be full transparency from the Welsh Government. I think we all have a right, as AMs, and parents have a right, to know if their children are going to schools that have asbestos. We should have asbestos management in place. We know—I know schools in my own locality where there are concerns and, again, people have a right to know if they're accessing a building that has asbestos, and they have a right to know what plans are in place to remove it. We've got it in our hospitals as well.

Fine. Does anybody else want to make a comment on that? I think that there's—

10:05

If it was a private home owner, you'd have to then decide to—. If you've got asbestos, it has to be managed very, very carefully, or else you put your own insurance at risk and things like that, yet we can have public buildings that members of the public are able to go into and there's no actual remedy in place. There's no management. There's nobody, really, grabbing this and saying, 'Look, as a Government, we're going to investigate this.' Local authorities should be doing it, and I get fed up with people saying, 'Well, they're under a burden with all of the financial pressures.' Sorry, there is nothing that a—. You've got to bear in mind that I have first-hand experience of one of my constituents, who is no longer with us, who was a school teacher and who was in buildings where it was actually falling down, and the coroner actually said that that was the cause of death—it was exposure over many years to this. It's shocking. 

I think it's outrageous that there is information about asbestos in schools and the Minister is still refusing to share the information and publish the information. This Assembly was built with windows; if you look at the lift, you can see the workings of the lift in the Assembly to signify transparency. We're all told when we walk into the building that the duty of the Assembly is to hold the Government to account and so on and so forth, yet you've got a Minister who has the arrogance to again say that she is not minded to publish the information about asbestos. To be honest, I'm looking at this and thinking, 'Well, am I going to put another motion to the Business Committee using the Government of Wales Act?' It's about time that things like this—important things—are published. It's outrageous that a Minister thinks—. In this case, for people watching, it's Kirsty Williams, the education Cabinet Secretary, who thinks she has the right to prevent parents and the public knowing about asbestos in schools. It's absolutely outrageous.

Excuse me, Chair. I'm going to do a video of this, and I'm going to pump this all over her constituency, because it's an absolute outrage.

Right, okay. The committee could request an update from the Cabinet Secretary for Education once she has considered the responses to the school condition survey and the consultation with key stakeholders on guidance on management of asbestos in schools. The committee could also stress again its view that information about the presence of asbestos in schools and the management plans in place should be available and transparent. I think we ought to emphasise that—that the management plans should certainly be made available and be transparent.

It's the management plan that's important here, because asbestos in itself isn't a threat to health—it's when it's disturbed. Therefore, you need the management plan in order to show that where there is disturbance, or the threat of disturbance or whatever, we know where it is and there's a plan in place. That should be—

Some of our schools are, you know, due for replacement. You might not necessarily disturb it. In this instance that I'm aware of, it was just where a building had deteriorated.

That's when there's a risk, and we do have have some old school buildings—some nice new ones, but we've got some old ones too.

Actually, the very old ones are not the problem. In the nineteenth century, they didn't use asbestos. Asbestos became the wonder material from about 1930 to about 1980, so in anything built during that time, whatever it was, which was large, asbestos was used to lag everything from tanks to anything else that needed lagging, because it was a wonder material.

Yes, okay, are you happy with that? Fine.

We're going to group the following two items together, because they're very much aligned, and that's to 'Allow Children in Wales to Have a Family Holiday During Term Time'. This was submitted by Bethany Walpole-Wroe and was first considered in July 2014, having collected 1,000 signatures, and an associated e-petition collected over 10,300 signatures. Grouped with that is the petition to 'Ensure schools exercise their statutory powers under regulation 7 of The Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010 without interference or bias'. That petition was submitted by Pembrokeshire Parents Want a Say. It was first considered in December 2014, having collected 812 signatures. 

I think, in a previous petition, we did touch upon these matters when we talked about Estyn including this in their reports. There is considerable disagreement as far as parents and teachers are concerned as to how these matters are applied. So, as the petitioner points out here, this very much, as far as holidays are concerned, impacts on poorer families because the cost of holidays during term time and during holiday time are dramatically different.

10:10

Well, I've done some work on this because a constituent of mine brought it to my attention that she'd managed under a freedom of information request to get the numbers of fixed-penalty notices. In Cardiff, which is the highest, for 14 to 15-year-olds, it was 1,020; for 15 to 16-year-olds, it was 1,538; 16 to 17-year-olds it was 803. And then it goes, fines, 70,000. What isn't on here—I'm happy to let the committee have it—is the costs associated with any that have gone to court, which are phenomenal. All I know is that the differential between the cost of a holiday in term time and holiday time is horrendous, and I honestly think—. We talk about poverty levels and people managing on less than £300 a week.

I honestly think that a holiday with your family is very—well, it's equally as good in terms of the social context as the week in school, and I really do think that we ought to be looking at—. Monmouthshire have none; they haven't issued a fixed-penalty notice against anyone. That's the approach we should be taking. I don't think it should be a revenue base for local authorities. I think it's shocking. As far as I'm concerned, there will be families who, if they go and they ask permission—. I make no apology: in the early days, I used to take my children out and I used to feel that that week, because my husband and I were very busy, both working, but that week with our children was equally as important as any week in school. They used to do their homework on the plane and things like that, but it's a phenomenal expense, if you've more than one child, to be able to take children on holiday during half term. I blame the holiday companies, but we're not going to boycott those, are we? So, I think it should be done from Welsh Government and through our schools.

I think, again, it's the whole culture that we have with the Government here that there is a complete lack of respect for parents and parental choice. Parents have parental responsibility. They should be trusted to make decisions in the best interests of their children and our children. It's wrong that it is so expensive to go away and I think it's wrong to penalise parents in this way. I remember that, when I was a kid, I got hooked on languages when I was, I think, nine. I bought a phrase book in Spanish, went up to a Spanish policeman, and I remember the phrase—it was 'Dónde está la Sagrada Familia?', 'Where is the Holy Family church?' And that had me hooked on languages, and if I hadn't had that experience abroad, I wouldn't have been so interested in languages. Children get so much from travel; we all do, and it's wrong—what is happening here is wrong. Parents should be trusted to do the best for their children.

I think we ought to point out here that the Cabinet Secretary has said that there is an independent evaluation of fixed-penalty notices for regular non-attendance at school, and it's now been completed, and she will provide a copy once this is published. Do we—

Can I just say that I'm not on about regular non-attendance? I'm on about where the parents take or the parent takes a child out for a week during school time, during term time.

Chair, can I declare an interest here? I got one of these letters just after the half term. In my care, my daughter's missed three hours in four years, yet I received one of these letters. It was my judgment, as a parent, that it was in my daughter's best interests to travel with us to Venice. It was a great pleasure and we were very fortunate to be able to do that. Frankly, it's outrageous, really. Absolutely outrageous.

10:15

The Cabinet Secretary also said that there would be a wider review of attendance policy. The possible actions is that the committee could agree to await a copy of the evaluation of fixed-penalty notices for regular non-attendance at school from the Cabinet Secretary for Education, and for a further update on the wider view of attendance policy, as previously agreed. Are we content that we should do that in the first instance, before we move forward with any other recommendations? Rhun, do you have a comment to make?

Yes, it's an incredibly complex issue. I've taken my children out of school, so I understand why a parent would want to do that. I also believe that children should be in school as much as possible and that you've got to have pretty tight rules on wanting to make sure you have attendance. The same as we were talking earlier about schemes for rewarding high attendance. We all surely support the highest attendance possible, and then you'd balance children who go away with their family for a holiday, who aren't ill the rest of the year, and others who go away on holiday and happen to miss other days of school because of chronic illnesses. It's an incredibly difficult issue, which needs proper reviewing, both in terms of regular non-attendance, which is rather different to what we've just been talking about there, and the wider attendance issue. But certainly setting targets and fining people in order to reach targets is a bit blunt because there are very, very good reasons why farmers, for example, want to take their children out of school to match with harvest time. There are all sorts of reasons.

Yes, there is the aspect of the greater impact on poorer families than on those who could quite easily pay the fine, as well as the saving that they have for keeping their children out of school, whereas poorer families might find the payment of that fine quite restrictive and therefore are forced into perhaps taking their families on holiday during the other times—holiday time.

I was going to say it's complicated. It depends on the age of the child. I had somebody who missed the second paper in a GCSE examination because they'd gone away on holiday. I don't think anybody would say that that's the right thing to do. If you've got a child in nursery and you take them out during July, that's not a problem. I agree with Rhun: it's much more complicated than 'yes' and 'no'. I don't think any child should be missing school during the years when they're taking examinations. During the GCSE and A-level examination years, they shouldn't miss any time at all because they need to be there. If they're in nursery, or during key stage 1, perhaps missing time is much less important.

I just want to make one other comment on this. The fact of the matter is that the decision for whether these matters go forward for prosecution is technically for the headmaster and the school, but we've already spoken of Estyn with regard to this, where it is logged against the school if there are that number of—. So, it's effectively being taken out of the hands of the headmaster or the school itself, which could take into account, obviously, as Rhun said earlier on, factors with regard to the family. If a family is particularly bad at keeping its children away from school et cetera, then the headmaster would know that before it made a decision with regard to the holiday period. That's the concern we have with Estyn's report.

So, are we agreed that the committee could agree to await a copy of the evaluation of fixed-penalty notices for regular non-attendance of school from the Cabinet Secretary for Education, for further update on a wider review of attendance policy, as previously agreed? Are we happy with that? Yes. Fine.

The next petition is the 'Restoration of Inpatient Beds, Minor Injuries Cover and X-Ray Unit to the Ffestiniog Memorial Hospital'. It was submitted by Geraint Vaughan Jones and was first considered in June 2014, having collected 2,754 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 21 November 2017 and agreed to publish a summary report on the committee's consideration of the petition over a number of years. This report was published on 22 January and sent to the petitioner and a number of organisations that have previously provided evidence. This, obviously, has been a long, ongoing petition and we're suggesting that the possible action is, having considered the responses received, the committee could agree to close the petition in light of its conclusion that the outstanding issues are best addressed through the local scrutiny processes that are ongoing, and, in doing so, it could thank the petitioner for his time and diligence through the committee's consideration of this matter.

10:20

I have no doubt that a disservice has been done to the people of this part of Wales through decisions that have been taken in relation to the hospital—what's now a centre—in Blaenau Ffestiniog. I think the community is indebted to those campaigners who have worked so hard to bring this not only to our attention, but, through us, to Government's attention, but also, through us, to the care scrutiny committee on Gwynedd Council. I think, because of the report that we published, the care scrutiny committee on Gwynedd have made it quite clear that they are going to follow this through, and I think there's probably more that they can do now than we can, considering that we've already prepared our report. To close the petition now would be a sign of the success of the petitioners and nothing else.

I agree with that. There's only one comment I would make and the comment is that, when you create very large organisations like Betsi Cadwaladr, they tend to be very remote from the people they're serving. That's a general view on very large organisations in the public sector.

Yes. Fine, okay. 

The next petition to be considered is 'Lack of support for children with disabilities at crisis'—the crisis team does not support children with disabilities. It was submitted by Rebecca Weale and was first considered in June 2017, having collected 200 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 6 February and agreed to write to Cwm Taf Local Health Board to ask for their response to the petition and for information about the resources allocated to child and adolescent mental health services, including crisis support. The response from Cwm Taf LHB was received on 20 March. I invite any comments.

I agree with the recommendation. It seems a strange way—that people have to send us a petition in order to get the local health board to talk to an individual. This is something that should be able to be dealt with on a local level. But can we write to Cwm Taf and ask them if—ask them to meet? I think we'll ask them to meet with the petitioner. I don't know whether it will be possible, but ask them to meet the petitioner.

We want to be positive on this, and it's a ridiculous state that people have to send a petition to the National Assembly for Wales to get a health board to talk to somebody—one of the people who are meant to be receiving services from that health board.

Right. So, Cwm Taf should make arrangements to meet with the petitioner.

Did you want to close the petition in doing that, or do you want to see what happens as a result?

Well, I'd like to see. If they meet with the petitioner, no matter what comes out of it, then there's nothing further that we can do; we'll close it then. If they refuse to meet with the petitioner, then I think we may have to do something.

Okay, fine.

The next petition to be considered is 'Demand Funding from the Welsh Government to Support Autism Spectrum Connections Cymru'. The petition was submitted by Aled Thomas and considered in June 2017, having collected 148 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 6 February and agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to ask for further information about the decision-making process behind the development and roll-out of the national integrated autism service and why a tender process was not conducted, and write again to the Cardiff and Vale regional partnership board to ask for details of the process undertaken in rolling out the integrated autism service locally. A response from the Cabinet Secretary was received on 12 March and a response from Cardiff and Vale regional partnership board was received on 21 March. 

We do have the papers in front of us as to their responses. Does the committee have any comments, or any Members have any comments, on this? 

10:25

I think it may be a good idea to write to the petitioner and thank him for raising such an important matter. I think we seem to be at the end of the process here, but just congratulate him on making the effort and getting this debated. 

Yes. Are there any objections to closing this petition on that basis?

We're talking about the Welsh independent living grant, aren't we? Are we? No. Right, okay. Sorry, I thought—

Okay. Fine. So, we're happy to close that petition on those grants. Fine.

The next petition is 'Reconsider the closure of the Welsh Independent Living Grant and support disabled people to live independently'. This petition was submitted by Nathan Lee Davies and was first considered in October 2017, having collected a total of 631 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 6 February and agreed to pass the petitioner's comments to the Minister for Children and Social Care and ask for his response to the concerns raised over the ability of some local authorities to adequately provide the support that people with disabilities require to live independently, and details of the monitoring being undertaken in relation to local authorities' implementation of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. A response was received from the Minister on 20 March.

I've got to be honest: this one worries me. I'm trying not to be political, but isn't it alarming, really, that the Welsh Labour Government talk about poverty and they talk about wanting to support the most vulnerable, and the way that this is now going to be going into local authorities, it really does concern me, and I know Mark Isherwood has worked extremely hard. Nathan himself has overcome many difficulties and is a very proactive campaigner on this. I've had meetings with him. He's not my constituent. He's a constituent in Wrexham, and I have advised him to go and see his own Assembly Member, but, more importantly, when you go through the figures for the amount of care that these people need, and the money—seriously, why the Welsh Labour Government are cutting this, I've no idea. It beggars belief.

Well, can I try and explain it to Janet in simple terms? The Welsh block grant is the Welsh block grant. There is no additional money in there. If you say, 'We're going to make sure this is only used for this', leaving aside the fact that about 10 per cent of the cost is covered in administration, then what you're actually doing is reducing the amount of money available to local authorities. What has happened is it's been put into the main block. The responsibility is still there. It's just that, instead of it coming in in small sums to a local authority, they get it in their main block grant. The only time this becomes a problem—and it's something I intend to raise this afternoon—is things like the school uniform thing, where the money is not transferred across and it disappears in the movement. As long as it's gone across, which it has, then local authorities have still got their duty, they've got the money, and all it's done is taken a 10 per cent cost of administration out of it.

Is there a proper monitoring process to make sure that the local authorities are actually taking that out of their block grant—

I mean, we're talking now about people with profound difficulties. 

—at exactly the same level as it was prior to this new introduction and these new regulations? Neil.

Can I move that we do seek the views of the organisations, as per the recommendation?

Because they've been ignored, actually. The Welsh Government said that its decision was taken on stakeholder advice, and yet the majority of the representatives on those stakeholder groups were against the scrapping of it. It's been a lifeline to people with very serious difficulties, and I'm just amazed, I really am. This is—. Normally, you'd expect the Welsh Labour Government to be supporting the most vulnerable and those who face deprivation and poverty—

10:30

Yes, you would. We're dealing with a Government run by the Conservatives that are cutting the amount of money coming to Wales year on year, and we've got a Conservative group in this Assembly who spend their time wanting to reduce the amount of money going to local government year on year. 

But this is a Welsh Government decision to fund it differently. 

With all due respect, I think we have to move it away, please, from the political aspect of what's going on, and move on. Neil, did you have something else? 

Yes, just move that we consult with stakeholders as per the recommendation. 

Why can we not get the Cabinet Secretary to come and sit here and give us a fundamental, good reason why they are doing this? Because I can't think of one, I really can't. 

There is a recommendation to gather some more information and speak to more stakeholders about the actual impact. There's no question that this is going to have a deep impact on a lot of people. We need to gather that information, if we can do that. I think it might be useful. 

I think the Cabinet Secretary should be invited in as well. 

And invite someone like Nathan, who's been a hard-working campaigner, and hear him speak to you on the impact. And he's not just doing this for himself—he's actually the voice now across Wales for people and, you know, hats off to him. I think we should have him here as well. 

And they put the numbers as something like 1,500 people. Is that—

Yes, would you like us to do both of those things? We can try and schedule evidence sessions. Obviously, the petitioner, Nathan, came down to the Senedd to hand over the petition to committee at the point of time that this started. We can invite him again. The committee's timetable will mean that's probably going to be into after—

Do you know, what fundamentally sticks in my mind when I've had these discussions with Nathan is that this fund has helped him not just to survive or exist, it has helped him to be able to be a member of the community? Fighting that campaign is fantastic, and I think, when you meet Nathan, he's an inspiration, and he actually speaks up for people who haven't got, you know, the ability or the confidence maybe, or the wherewithal. And I really do believe that, if you hear it through the voices of those people, because he may be able even to tell you of more people who he would—. Because he's been working on this campaign, and I know he's got lots of support across Wales—cross-party support—but I think we need to get some more of the stakeholders in as well, because I am worried that this money is just going to go into the ether and some of our most profoundly vulnerable people and people with, you know, serious issues, who just want—. They don't just want to survive, they want to live a life, as full a life as possible, and who am I or who is any Cabinet Secretary here to deny them that? And, if this fund is doing that for them now, why take away that lifeline? 

So, in relation to the timetabling of this, just thinking about getting this done in a reasonable time period, I suggest we might want to get written information from some of the other organisations just to speed the process through, otherwise it's going to take us far into the summer, I would say, before we would have those evidence sessions. We can invite the petitioner in to give oral evidence to the committee, and, on the back of all of that information, then talk to the Government Minister.  

Fine, okay. Happy with that? Fine.

Right. The next petition refers to 'Land & Access Lane Sale at Abercwmboi'. The petition was submitted by Sue Waterson and was first considered in January 2017, having collected 65 paper signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 4 April 2017, and concluded that there was little further that the committee can do while discussions between Welsh Government and the local authority about the use of the land are ongoing. We received a response from the Cabinet Secretary on 21 March, and the petitioner has also provided further comment. The Cabinet Secretary has updated the committee that the land referred to in the petition is now being retained by the Welsh Government until discussions between the local authority and a potential developer about the redevelopment of an adjacent site have been concluded.

So, the possible actions with regard to this is that the committee could keep a watching brief and request a further update in due course. Or, in light of the information received, and the fact that there is little action the committee can usefully take in relation to the ongoing discussions, the committee could close the petition. 

10:35

I was going to suggest that we ask that the residents directly affected be consulted prior to any sale of the land and close the petition. We can't make anybody consult with them, but we could request that they are consulted with. 

I'd like to do that. Just keep a watching brief on it and then see what happens to our request, like we did earlier. 

They've succeeded in many ways, haven't they? It's on the agenda. Welsh Government is aware of sentiments. We just need to keep an eye and make sure that they keep on listening. 

Thank you. Thank you for that, Members. That concludes the discussion with regard to the current petitions in front of us. 

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

I'm going to propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of today's meeting. Are we happy with that? Yes. Thank you. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:36.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:36.

Explore the National Assembly for Wales