|David J Rowlands AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AM|
|Mike Hedges AM|
|Neil McEvoy AM|
|Rhun ap Iorwerth AM|
|Nathan Lee Davies||Deisebydd|
|Kath Thomas||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Kayleigh Imperato||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Lisa Salkeld||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datganiadau o fuddiant||1. Introduction, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Deisebau newydd||2. New petitions|
|3. Y wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am ddeisebau blaenorol||3. Updates to previous petitions|
|4. Papurau i’w nodi||4. Papers to note|
|8. Sesiwn dystiolaeth - P-05-771 Ailystyried y penderfyniad i roi’r gorau i Grant Byw'n Annibynnol Cymru a’r angen i gefnogi pobl anabl i fyw'n annibynnol||8. Evidence Session - P-05-771 Reconsider the closure of the Welsh Independent Living Grant and support disabled people to live independently|
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.
Welcome—and good morning, bore da, everybody—to this meeting of the Petitions Committee. There are no apologies or substitutions. I believe that Janet and Rhun will be here with us in the next few minutes, but we do have a quorum so we will carry on with the first of the petitions.
This is a new petition: 'Control Rapidly Expanding Intensive Poultry Industry in Wales'. The petition was submitted by the Brecon and Radnor branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, having collected a total of 4,567 signatures.
The petitioners make a number of points, which I think have been made clear to the committee. Do you have any comments? We had an initial response to the petition from the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs on 4 May. There are some points that they are pointing out: large units with 40,000-plus birds are regulated by Natural Resources Wales, but they point out that they can have multiple units that could amount to a greater number of chickens kept within a confined area. Does the committee have any comments on this? We are talking, Janet, about the intensive poultry farming.
I was going to say, shall we get the views of Natural Resources Wales as well, as they're meant to be controlling it? Once we've got those, then we can decide whether we want to take oral evidence or whether the petitioner and we are satisfied with the responses.
The only thing with NRW is that they don't tend to get involved unless the units are larger than 40,000 chickens, but the petitioner is making a point—and I think we ought to make note of this—that you could cluster a number of farms in the same area with less than 40,000 and the regulations with regard to that are far less restrictive.
Yes. The concern that has been raised with me is that most of the applications that are coming forward at the moment are being granted on the basis that there is a regulatory process in place. I think that if you look across all the departments of local authorities that enforce it and NRW, it is fair to say that they are super stretched at the moment. I know concerns have been raised with me on this issue, and I think that, really, we ought to perhaps look into it more in terms of the numbers who've signed the petition.
Yes. I think the way forward at this point is to write to Natural Resources Wales and seek their views on the issues raised by the petition. Are we all in agreement with that?
One thing, following on from what you've said, can we also write to the Cabinet Secretary, asking if there are groupings that Natural Resources Wales can be empowered to investigate when the grouping itself takes it over?
Yes. Would the groupings be done—are you talking about on a geographical—?
Geographical areas. So, if it was within a certain distance of 1 or 2 square miles and there are four of five of them, and they actually make it substantially over the amount, but because they're unrelated or they're separate entities, even if they are related, then they don't have to be investigated, so we ask the Cabinet Secretary to look at—
Yes, I agree with you, Mike. Are you in agreement with that? Yes. Fine. Okay.
The next new petition before us is 'Say "NO" to pheasant shooting on Welsh public land'. The petition was submitted by Animal Aid, having collected 12,706 signatures on an alternative petition's website. We are not certain how many of those 12,706 actually came from Wales, and we may like to investigate that a little further to find out what sorts of numbers actually came directly from Wales itself.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but when we set up the 5,000 we came to the conclusion that we wouldn't worry where they came from because it was related to a matter in Wales, as long as it went over the 5,000.
I think the committee had given some indications that, where it was unsure on the scale of this type of petition, it might want to look at how many were signed from within Wales. But it hasn't happened so far, so it would be in the committee's gift to decide what view it took of a large petition that collected from elsewhere.
My personal view is that it's over 5,000 and we ask for a Plenary debate.
That's always been the norm, really, hasn't it? That's our procedure.
We've never checked them before. And there are dangers in checking them. Even if you just use a postcode checker, some people don't put their postcodes in; you've got Newport postcodes in England; you've got Chester postcodes in Wales; and you've got Shrewsbury postcodes in mid Wales. It becomes very complicated. If somebody's made well in excess of the 5,000—. If you don't want 5,500, it might be worth it, but they made substantially over.
The only thing is, Mike, there is one caution that I take there: some of these sites are worldwide sites and you could be having comments from people in the Philippines et cetera, or whatever. Are they appropriate signatories? That's what I think.
If we want to get control of that, then we have to only accept it from certain sites, and people need to be told that. But if we are accepting them from sites, then it becomes very difficult to say 'no'. When people come up to me and say, 'You accepted a petition for debate on Womanby Street with about 10,000 signatures, but you're rejecting this on 11,500. Why?', can I give a sensible answer?
I think we should look at where they're from. I don't think it's too onerous, maybe, with postcodes that border Wales, to take those into account. I don't think it's appropriate for this committee, really, to take signatures from all over the world and to debate things that maybe haven't got the signatures in Wales in the first place. That's my view on it.
But my view is that if that's going to be our policy, that has to be the policy for every petition that comes in. It can't be a policy for one petition.
I think, really, the only way we could probably take that into account is to have designated sites for petitions.
One thing I could suggest is: it's been a year and a bit since the committee introduced the 5,000 signature threshold, if you'd like us to bring an analysis back to a meeting, you could discuss these issues as to how that's worked in the first year and where we go going forward. We'll do that for a future meeting.
That's excellent. A little more work for Kayleigh and co.
So, with regard to this particular petition, a response was received from the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs on 26 April. Perhaps one of the points for discussion is the expectation or condition associated with the original grant of the lease that the shooting rights would continue. So, we are largely talking about a small number of sites in Wales that are managed by NRW, and NRW are leasing these sites for the purpose of shooting.
There seems to be small amounts of money involved; I think the figure that I looked at is something around £6,000 for the total of those sites. But there is a presumption with some of the sites, as we just looked at, that the shooting rights would continue on those sites when they were handed to NRW. Do we have any points on that?
I'll go back to my first suggestion: they are well over 5,000, we request a Plenary debate.
I would like to check—. I think the suggestion earlier was a good one—to look at the analysis of it.
The analysis of the year of 5,000. So, we'll do that. Do you want us to analyse the signatures of this petition in particular or to take it as it is?
I think take this one as it is, but come back with a report to a future committee on what would happen if we started only accepting signatures from Wales.
Should we, in the meantime, write to NRW and to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs? If we take it to a debate, we need as much information as we can. Are you happy with that?
Fine. Okay. We'll write to both NRW and the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs.
In that case, if I could suggest we would write those letters, get the responses, because they will inform any further debate that the committee wants to ask for, but given the timings, that would mean we could then consider a debate later in the term again because it wouldn't be until the autumn anyway.
Okay. Fine. We now move on to updates on previous petitions, and in the first instance, the following two items are grouped for consideration. They are 'Slaughter Practices'—that petition was submitted by Royce Clifford and first considered in June 2012, having collected 400 signatures—and the next one is 'CCTV in Slaughterhouses'. That petition was submitted by Animal Aid and was first considered again in November 2012, having collected 1,066 signatures.
Both of these are to do with the conditions of slaughter, obviously, within slaughterhouses—types of slaughter and the conditions under which the slaughter takes place. For some reason, the Welsh Government has refused to make the installation of closed-circuit television systems mandatory in slaughterhouses, but they are saying that they are providing the funds necessary should the individual slaughterhouses desire to put them in themselves. It seems rather—. The situation therefore is for them to take up. I can't understand why it is that the Welsh Government are not making it mandatory.
I agree, absolutely, and I think that we as a Petitions Committee ought to be pushing for this. We know from past experience that sometimes when grants are given out for a specific purpose, that money isn't spent that way. And I know the feeling of many people in Wales—and certainly, when we've discussed this in the Chamber—is that we should be leading in this regard and moving towards CCTV. If there's nothing to hide, why would anyone worry, running a slaughterhouse or an abattoir, about having CCTV there?
It would seem to me that, on a voluntary basis, those slaughterhouses that are adhering to most of the principles of how animals should be slaughtered would be quite willing to have the CCTV, and those who may be not quite as vigorous in adopting those techniques may not want to put the CCTV in for that reason. So, it seems a very strange stance to take. Mike, do you have a question?
Yes. Can we write to the Cabinet Secretary saying that—as people have said here—as a committee, we believe that having CCTV in slaughterhouses would be beneficial?
Well, I think we need to go stronger than that and I think we—. It's about strong leadership, isn't it, from both the Cabinet Secretary and the Government, and if we're supporting this petition, going forward—
I'll just make the point that Rhun has just joined the committee. He's been on a previous committee—the Business Committee. Good morning.
So, I don't know whether you'd be prepared to strengthen that recommendation.
I think what we've got to do, really, is say that we'd like it to be reconsidered, because we as a committee are in favour of it.
Again, we could take evidence. It would be interesting to see and learn more about some of the practices. But I know that concerns have been raised, and Wales is a fantastic country, really, to be standing up for animal welfare processes.
What worries me about this is the length of these petitions, both in 2012—. I think we ought to be trying to move this matter forward ASAP. We could take the possible action that—. The committee could await the launch of the food business investment funding programme before the summer recess, and the details in relation to CCTV in slaughterhouses, before considering both petitions further. But there's a mood amongst us that something more positive ought to be done with regard to this at this moment.
If we can try and influence that policy statement, that would be beneficial.
This is even one for a debate, really, because it's very straightforward.
Yes. We made the point before you came in, Rhun, that it's very strange that the Government hasn't decided to make CCTV mandatory. They're saying that they'll provide funding for it, but that would leave it down to individual slaughterhouses to decide whether they were going to install it or not.
It's actually quite an inexpensive form of technology, now, CCTV. And if money's going to be provided, I think that has to come with more than guidance. I think there has to be some sort of statutory purpose to it.
I don't see the real barrier to it. I note that the petitioner welcomes the direction of travel. It's just a matter of whether we can help them influence things to get to that destination a bit quicker, really.
Yes, to try to expedite it a little faster. They've both gone on, Rhun, since 2012.
We move on to a matter that I know is close to Janet's heart, and that's 'Protect the Razor Clams on Llanfairfechan Beach'. The petition was submitted by Vanessa L Dye and was first considered by the committee in December 2017, having collected 459 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 17 April and agreed to write back to the Cabinet Secretary to ask that when the stock assessment contract is put out to tender, the remit should include the types, density, and overall health of razor clams as well as an assessment of the potential environmental effects of overfishing the clam beds, and several other points were raised.
We had a response from the Cabinet Secretary on 17 May, and you now have a copy of the report that is referred to by the Cabinet Secretary. Do you have any comments that you'd like to make on that?
Yes, just to keep going on this one, because I've had to write to the Cabinet Secretary again, because I know there's mention of signage, but laminated signs. I know she has agreed, to be fair, to all the beds being closed until the end of December. I think it needs to be longer than that. I think there does need to be—. The recommendations are quite clear. I think they need to be followed up. I'd like to see some better signage than laminate, because the nature of the business of coming in and harvesting them—those signs are disappearing as quite a regular occurrence, and people themselves, members of my community, are feeling that it's all well and good having the ban, but you've got to have the enforcement in place to stop the harvesting.
So, what sort of enforcement do you think is in place at this moment? Is it—
Well, it's random. They are coming now and again, but when people descend upon Llanfairfechan to take them, we're talking large numbers. There is evidence, isn't there, within the report that—
—we're looking to sustain these beds, and the ban on them has helped tremendously, and I'm really grateful to the committee, but it's not over yet. We're not done yet with it.
Okay. Is there still evidence that gangs are collecting these clams?
With social media now, it becomes quite apparent when they're there, because it just hits me, and on quite a regular basis.
So, the possible actions are: the committee could agree to await the Government’s consideration of the research recommendations and subsequent decisions related to a full stock assessment, and request a further update from the Cabinet Secretary in due course. Are we happy to do that? I think we've got to allow the Government to look at this report and make their recommendations.
Yes, but there has been some new information that we're still waiting to clarify at the moment from Bangor that suggests the stock may be at risk of collapse as a result of the current levels of harvesting, and in order for the commissioning, completion and review of another appropriate survey—could the committee request this information from Bangor University? The studies published on this that we have been privy to so far have just been—. Because, so far, we've only seen this one.
Well, could we write to the Cabinet Secretary, saying that because of the delicate situation that's there at this moment—that it looks as if damage is, at this moment, being done to the stocks—could she expedite whatever plan she has ASAP?
Yes, and just make sure that we've got some really good enforcement in place.
Okay. So, we can write back to the Cabinet Secretary to ask for reassurance that the statements made by Bangor University are being taken into account.
Could we not take some evidence from the Cabinet Secretary? Could we not invite her to a meeting so that we can actually—? Otherwise, we're just going to keep writing back to her, maybe, because it's quite a substantial report, this, and the recommendations—. We haven't got a clue, really, how she intends to take the recommendations of this forward. So, it would be quite nice just to be able to ask her a few questions on it.
It's not perhaps so clear from the latest letter the committee is considering, but the Cabinet Secretary, I think, had been clear the past that this research report that the committee has now got sight of was going to inform a full stock assessment that would take place. I think that's, as I say, not quite so clear in the latest letter, but we could ask that question—
Yes, but if you look at the recommendations—she says, looking for them here—this report's only as good as how much attention or notice the Welsh Government or the Cabinet Secretary take of it, so I would like to invite her to this committee, to invite her in and go through those recommendations and just see how far she's going to work on this.
Okay. That would be a committee decision.
Yes, but I think if we're going to invite the Cabinet Secretary in, there are a couple of other items as well, and perhaps we ought to give some thought, rather than asking her in solely on that one item, to ask her in to cover—
To cover the whole range of items that we've got, rather than inviting her for 10 minutes almost on a fortnightly basis.
Yes, and we could even raise—. Because the next item is another one that as AMs we're all very concerned about, and that's TAN 1. So, I think coming to this committee will be quite useful.
Yes, and perhaps the secretariat could bring a list of the things we want further information on to the next meeting—obviously the clams, but also probably on TAN 1, and, without prejudging it, possibly on circus animals. We're prejudging decisions we're going to make in a few minutes' time. But if we could ask her in to answer questions on petitions relating to environmental matters.
If I could suggest a way forward, the committee later on in this meeting will be considering its forward work programme. You will have sight of the schedule of meetings that we've got coming forward, and witnesses we've already agreed sessions with. So, we could review that conversation there and see what you'd like to do.
Without prejudging it, perhaps we could have a meeting without any of these reports, but having the opportunity to ask the Cabinet Secretary about the environmental reports we've got here, which may mean we can either get a resolution or decide to ask for a Plenary debate, or close the petitions. I don't know what that's going to be until we hear what the Cabinet Secretary has said. Because otherwise we're just going to meet on a fortnightly basis and send letters back and forth until one side gets bored.
No. It's just that we've got a number of environmental matters, we've produced a list of them, and—
We've enough in this agenda alone with the issues in her portfolio. I think it would be useful to invite her in.
I think we'll have to indicate to her exactly what it is we're going to—
Just indicate the list of petitions: 'We've got these petitions on environmental matters, most of them have been going for some time, we'd like to invite you in to discuss.'
I think that's right. So we can expedite matters all in one go. That's what we're talking about, isn't it?
We'd have to be careful, because we have a Cabinet Secretary and a Minister that we'd have to—
We can get them both in. That's what we do in the climate change committee. We have both of them in—and we do it in Plenary—and they answer questions under whose responsibility it is.
So, if I suggest we discuss when the committee is discussing its forward work programme in private exactly what those issues would be. There might be a limitation on the number of petitions the Cabinet Secretary is willing to discuss in one evidence session. So, we can prioritise in that.
So, on this one, we'll decide that we would like to speak with the Cabinet Secretary.
Fine. Okay. We'll move on.
The next petition to be considered, which has been considered before, is 'Save our Countryside—Revise TAN 1'. The petition was submitted by councillor Mike Priestley, and was first considered by the committee in November 2017 having collected 706 signatures. I think the concerns are that local government development plans are being overridden by developments that are coming about because of the TAN 1 legislation. The committee last considered the petition on 17 April and agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs. We intended in that letter to share the petitioner’s concerns about the impact of the application of TAN 1 on local development plans.
Again, on this one, it is such a big issue for all communities. I've been working with Conwy councillors on this and the planning officers, because we've seen them literally with their hands tied behind their back when applications have come forward for land that was not designated to go into the LDP. And I believe—. I think we've agreed prior to this, too, that we need to get some planning officers in, we need to get some elected lead members in, because whilst it was temporarily agreed to—. You know, any applications in the pipeline at the moment are not protected, and she's just used her delegated authority recently in Flintshire to grant against all the local democracy and all the community objectors, so I believe that this is something that's—it's not a pause. I actually think we need to prove—. Whilst they're doing their consultation, the trouble is that, for us, we know of them, but for many people out in the community it will just go right over their heads. So, I'm suggesting that we garner the evidence here to prove that TAN 1 has been the worst thing that the Welsh Government have brought forward. And the aspect about the residual housing supply is damaging our greenbelt, our communities, our heritage, our Welsh language—the whole thing; it's all the fundamental principles.
It is a massive subject, there’s no doubt about that. I’ll just say for the record that the response from the Cabinet Secretary was received on 10 May. In that, she informs the committee that she will be undertaking a call for evidence and wide-ranging review of the delivery of housing through the planning system during the summer months.
I think this committee needs to actually do a piece of work on this. It’s too important not to be able to—. Being as the petition came here and this triggered this committee getting involved at all—. I do feel that some pressure from this committee has helped, and I do feel that we should be continuing and not just sitting back now because the Government have decided to, you know, sort of—
Well, she has pointed out that, during the considerations—the key aspect of TAN 1 will be disapplied during that period.
Yes, there’s a little play on words there because any that are in—. We’ve got an appeal hearing coming up in September that should have been in May. It’s postponed now until September and, from what understand, this disapplication will not help us in any way at all. Local authorities—I think Conwy spent over £1 million depositing its local development plan after a lot of argy-bargy, with household projection numbers imposed on us and we were told, ‘This is what you will build.’ And then we had to fight tooth and nail to get it to a more sensible figure. Designated sites—. And then applications are coming in thick and fast now for non-designated sites, and planners have no ability—. Planning officers are basically very concerned because they are having to follow TAN 1 and the residual building method numbers. We’ve got about an eight-year supply, technically, but in some areas it’s come down to three and a half years.
And of course the infrastructure that surrounds these developments just isn’t there, and they can’t take them into account. Rhun, do you have anything you’d like to say?
There are very good reasons to press forward with the review because of very real public fears about what’s happening in their areas, and I for the life of me can’t see why we shouldn’t have a full review of the kind that’s being asked for here. People need confidence in the planning system. I have an issue with the whole LDP process personally, and I would have liked to go back to basics.
Yes, I know, and this is not about us not wanting development. We want development, and if the sites that have been allocated get developed then fair enough, but what we’re finding in Conwy is that people are receiving planning permission and then there’s no building coming forward but then they’re coming forward for another site and another site. In some modern day terms it’s called land banking, so we’ve got to be really careful if we want to protect our boundaries, our natural historical boundaries, our communities per se.
Yes, I’m quite happy with what people are saying, but let’s remember that councils have powers. They’ve got environmental impact assessments, traffic impact assessments, over-intensification of development, green wedges—white wedges, green belts. They’ve got a whole series, but whether the councils want to use them or whether the council planning officers want to use them is another matter, but it’s not as Janet is laying out that they just put the planning application in. That’s the pre-1948 situation.
But when the inspector comes along and rubberstamps it, that completely takes away the local democracy of it.
—but if people want to appeal they can go and take judicial review. That’s a process by which you can appeal against any other decision taken by a council—judicial review. With planning, you have independent planning inspectors coming into an area of which they know little, make decisions that they're not accountable for, and go away again and leave the people left behind to live with it.
But people can't afford judicial reviews. So, these developers—
The judicial review will be by the big companies who want to develop, but they'd have to get a court to agree it rather than get in a planning inspector.
I've got a few points to make. I think, first of all, this shows what a farce the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the so-called commissioner is, because there's absolute deafening silence on these matters. For me, what we're talking about here is a multibillion pound industry in Wales on ravaging our green fields. I think what this illustrates as well is how governments in Wales operate in the shadows. What we're seeing here is the power of lobbyists employed by building firms, and then we see councils and governments behaving almost—well, not almost, but certainly in an illogical way. So, it begs the question why. I would like to see the Minister in here. I'd like to see her answering questions, I'd like to know if she's met with lobbying firms, I would like to know if she's met with building firms, with meetings organised by such lobbying companies. The whole thrust of this is billions of pounds being taken out of Wales. Local communities are not having their needs taken care of, and the whole thing is a scandal, really. The more light we can shed on it the better.
Well, I think we can have the Minister in for one issue and add this to the—[Inaudible.]—talk to the Minister on.
Yes, fine. Okay. We'll move on. I thank you for your contributions on that, all of you.
The next petition is 'Calling on the Welsh Government to Ban The Use of Wild Animals in Circuses in Wales'. This was submitted by Linda Joyce Jones and was first considered in January 2018, having collected a total of 6,398 signatures.
We've had the debate. I think it was very fair to say that there is a public desire to see this happen. I just cannot understand why we're not, again, leading the way and, you know—.
Yes, it seems very strange. Just for the record, we had a Plenary debate on the petition, which was held on 7 March. The response to the debate and an update on recent development was received from the petitioner on 25 May.
It was a very lively debate, and there were a lot of speakers from all groups. I just think—you've seen the numbers of petitioners, you've seen the feeling. If you read social media, you can see it. It's not going away. We have travelling circuses at the moment now that are just carrying on regardless. Really, again, it just baffles me why. We're talking about strong leadership here.
Okay. The possible actions are that the committee could write to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs to ask for an update on the consideration the Welsh Government is giving to the options for progressing the ban on the use of wild animals in circuses and the potential timescales involved, which is very important, I think, following her response to the debate on the petition. Are we happy to take that action? Yes. Okay.
The next petition to be considered 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 17 April and agreed to request an update from the Cabinet Secretary. A response from the Cabinet Secretary was received on 16 May, and the petitioner has also provided a further update.
Again, I'm sorry—I tell you: I knew I had quite a bit on today's agenda. Whilst she's made mention of what local authorities have come back with, we still have the situation that I know that, when we write to ask which buildings and we ask for the raw data, it's very difficult to obtain the evidence from local authorities as to where the management is in place. I know we've raised concerns about it before, about why you wouldn't—. There needs to be more transparency in the system on this one, and I think we need to press the—
I think we ought to point out the petitioner has welcomed the recent meeting over the guidance and the positive discussion around it. He's drawn the committee's attention to the fact that the stakeholder consultation closes imminently and that guidance will be issued shortly.
It just strikes me that the petitioner seems happy that—not as quickly as he'd like—he's getting to where he wants to go, so, our job is done, in a way, in terms of influencing policy change.
That's all we can do. We can't write the policy in here, although some of us might like to. So, all we can do is, really, bring the petitioner's views forward to the Minister, get the discussion taking place and hopefully get a resolution with which the petitioner's happy.
That's right. Okay. Well, the possible actions, as suggested, are that we could agree to await a further update on the Cabinet Secretary for Education's decisions in regard to publishing information for the school conditions' survey and the publication of updated asbestos management in school guidance before considering further action on the petition. This seems as if it's imminent, the petitioner suggests, so are we happy to—?
The petitioner seems happy, so it would be strange if we weren't.
Okay, right. We'll move on to the next petition, which is 'Fair Deal for Supply Teachers'. The petition was submitted by Sheila Jones, having collected 1,425 signatures.
The committee last considered the petition on 1 May and agreed to ask the petitioners whether there are any specific solutions to the issues raised that they would like the committee to explore in taking the consideration of the petition forward. We had a response from the petitioner on 21 May. The petitioner has suggested several solutions to that, which are in the papers for study. Do we have any comments?
Yes. This is very much a live political issue. I know a number of national events are being organised in the coming weeks to draw attention to what I believe to be the unacceptable situation regarding the employment of supply teachers currently. I think, as a committee, certainly as an individual member, I sympathise very much with the petitioners here. They are doing things other than following the petitions route. What we can do is that we can certainly press for comment from the Cabinet Secretary on some of the specific suggestions that have been made here. So, we're getting the ball rolling.
I think the next move must be that the committee could write back to the Cabinet Secretary for Education to ask for her response to the proposals made by the petitioners and to ask for an update on the work of the supply working group and the review of the current contract for a preferred agency provider of supply teachers. Are we happy? Is there anything else that you'd like to add to that?
I'd like to know why there is a favoured agency. I'd like to hear from them as well, to be honest, because the agency that is the favoured agency is one of the most expensive, and there are millions of pounds draining out of the Welsh education system, going to a company based in London, and it's crazy. In the meantime, teachers are virtually living on poverty pay, when you see how much they're paid day in, day out. The whole thing stinks.
Okay. Could we add that to the questions with regard to the efficacy of the preferred agency at the moment?
Yes, we certainly can. The Government has said that there is a review of the contract with the agency. I think that's a standard timescale thing—that they are looking at that. Yes, we can say that the committee is aware of concerns.
What we're hearing today on this committee, with a whole host of issues, is that this Government is completely inert. There are actions to take and they're doing nothing. With the software available nowadays, there's no need for these agencies.
There's a need for somebody to organise the provision of supply teachers to keep a relative match of supply against demand. I would like to see the regional consortium actually taking that responsibility on a regional basis. Let's get the answers back and then we can take it further.
Okay, with the possibility of us having some sort of report on this.
There's always a danger that, you know—. I would love the committee that looks at education to do a review of supply teaching. I've no idea if that's in their forward work programme. I would imagine that they have had discussions on that, but they're the ones that can do justice to an inquiry of this sort, not us.
Okay, we'll move on to the next petition, which is 'Review and change the guidance for attendance awards in Welsh schools'. This was submitted by Laura Charles-Price and was first considered by the committee in April 2018, having collected 123 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 17 April and agreed to await the views of the petitioner on the response from the Cabinet Secretary for Education, and consider further action, including writing to Estyn, once the petitioner’s views had been received. A response from the petitioner was received on 21 May and is included in the papers. Do we have any comments with regard to this petition?
Yes. Are we all agreed on that? Fine, okay.
The next petition is 'School Buses for School Children'. This was submitted by Lynne Chick and was first considered by the committee in April 2017, having collected 1,239 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 27 February and we agreed to write to the UK Government Department for Transport because it appears that this comes under their remit, but the Department for Transport responded on 26 April stating that, basically, it was for the Welsh Government to respond.
Chairman, since this petition came in—. I spoke quite strongly at the time that, as a parent, you have to have confidence that, if your children are using transport to go to school, that transport is safe and that all the structures are in place. Since this petition came in, we've had an issue with a constituent of mine. The child was quite seriously hurt, shall we say, as a result of a similar thing. It wasn't seen, and there's been quite a bad accident. And I just think that we need to be mindful that these incidents are happening and of how we can toughen up, really, the safety around school transport.
I think that there are a number of things that the petitioner has called for, some of which are probably adoptable, but I do think, with regard to all buses having seat belts fitted, on the occasion that one or two children are using public transport, it's probably not in the remit of—.
We've achieved what the petitioner wanted in terms of what the Welsh Government can do. And I think that if you look at it and you look at transport, if the child is travelling to school on a Friday or travelling into a city centre on a Saturday, the same rules need to apply. I agree we should have disclosure and barring service checks for all bus drivers and a whole range of other public sector workers—but all bus drivers—and that seat belts should be available on buses. But that has to be on all buses, because you're no less hurt if you don't have a seat belt on on a Saturday going into the city centre than you are if you don't have a seat belt on on your way into school. So, I think that we've gone as far as we can with the Welsh Government, who have accepted it. Do we continue our discussion with the Department for Transport? Do we try and get a friendly Member of Parliament to raise it at Westminster?
There are answers that we haven't had from UK Government Department for Transport, presumably because they're trying to just bat us off. Well, we can be cleverer in the way that we ask the question, whether that's through an MP or, actually, probably just directly ask again and point out to them that they didn't quite get the question that we were asking.
I think we should certainly take it up with them again, but I'm thinking of the next stage if they keep on batting it back to us and saying, 'We're not responsible to you'. So, if we get a friendly MP to start raising some questions on it, then that might concentrate their minds slightly more.
Okay. So, we will take the second option, which is that the committee wishes to keep the petition open and write again to the Department for Transport.
The next petition is 'Unacceptable waiting times for NHS patients in A&E Wrecsam/Wrexham Maelor Hospital'. The petition was submitted by Charles Dodman and was first considered by the committee in January 2017, having collected 14 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 19 September 2017 and agreed to ask the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to update the committee when the outcome of the current six-month targeted intervention and the impact it has on emergency waiting times are known. A response from the Cabinet Secretary was received on 17 May. A new improvement framework, covering the next 18 months, has been published, and monitoring oversight will continue at a heightened level. That is one of the points for discussion. Do we have any comments from the committee?
This health board remains in a mess. I note the last paragraph of the letter:
'The committee will also be aware that Peter Higson, chair of the health board will be stepping down in August and that Mark Polin'—.
That's almost like saying that there's going to be better chairmanship going forward, and I actually find that quite insulting, because I know that Peter Higson, the current chairman, has worked extremely hard in trying to hold the board to account. It's been in special measures for the last two and a half years, but any failure in this health board falls under the Welsh Government and the Cabinet Secretary, I'm afraid, because they're the ones now directly involved with the running of it. So, as I say, I'm very annoyed about that paragraph, and I will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary personally and making my feelings known. I sympathise with the petitioner. I daresay if we all decided to do a petition about waiting times and the poor standards sometimes, as a result of the fiasco that our board sees—
Okay. Should we await the views of the petitioner on the latest information from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services—?
But also, where it says 'or', I think I'd put 'both'. The committee could write to the North Wales Community Health Council to ask about their awareness of concerns in relation to waiting times at Wrexham Maelor Hospital A&E department and whether they carried out any work on this issue.
Yes. I'll take a broad view of this petition. It's a very short wording, expressing real, genuine frustration at the problems that we as north Wales Assembly Members know is the reality across hospitals in north Wales. We very much sympathise with that. It's not asking for specific steps. It's a shout for help, so that we are aware. And we are aware, and we try to hold this Government to account because they are, in my opinion, failing to get to grips with a deeply troubled health board. What can we do, then, as a committee? There's no resolution to this from the Petitions Committee. I think that having this discussion and that it energises me and others to continue to take the fight to Welsh Government is useful in itself.
I think it's true to say that these matters have been raised in Plenary on a number of occasions.
And they will again this afternoon, and I will use this as ammunition this afternoon.
It may be worth if the petitioner would perhaps understand that we're listening, and that we will continue to press the Government and hold them to account. And I think if he would have confidence in us to close the petition, and rest assured that we will—because it's affecting him and the ones who signed, and it affects a huge number of my own constituents also.
I wouldn't want to close the petition yet. I remember, in 2017, when I was on the Public Accounts Committee, I was supposed to get the CVs of health board chairs, because, as far as I'm aware, many of those people who have been appointed by this Government have no background in medicine, have no background in health management whatsoever, and yet they're running our health boards. So, what I would like to do, through this committee, is ask for the qualifications of every health board chair who has been appointed in Wales. I know this petition is on the north particularly, but we all know that there are wider issues than the north and—
No, and I will just say that, on the petition we're actually discussing, Neil, with all due respect, Peter Higson is very—. He comes from a health background—
Okay, fine, but my issue is a wider one, where people are appointed in our NHS, in top positions, with absolutely no experience of the health service.
Can we move on? What is the decision of the committee as far as this is concerned? Do we close this petition at this moment?
I propose that we close it and in our letter to the petitioner just maintain that certainly the two North Wales Members who are on this committee will not stop in holding them to account until we actually get a situation where he feels confident.
—becasue there are a number of basic steps that I think it is respectful that we follow, as a committee, and one of which is to let that exchange of correspondence between different parties reach its conclusion. So, I think we certainly need to give the petitioner an opportunity to tell us what their thoughts are on the Cabinet Secretary's decision. I just think it's a bit early. I don't think there's a resolution for us in the end, but the process needs to be followed.
I think what Rhun said. What I was going to say was that our role is to act as an intermediary between the petitioners and the Welsh Government or other public services and try and get discussion and agreement between them, or to have a public debate. On Betsi Cadwaladr, my view is that the structure is wrong rather than anything else, but that's a personal view and that's not for this debate.
So, how do we go forward? The possible actions: the committee agree to await the views of the petitioner on the latest information received from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services and/or—but I would think it's 'and'—the committee could write to the North Wales Community Health Council to ask about their awareness of the concerns—
Are we happy with that? Yes. Fine, thank you.
Okay, the next petition is 'Recognition of Parental Alienation'. This petition was submitted by Families Need Fathers Both Parents Matter Cymru. It was first considered by the committee in May 2017, having collected 2,058 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 1 May, when it held an evidence session with the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care and CAFCASS Cymru, and considered detailed correspondence from a number of organisations.
I have a few things to say. One point in the Minister's letter, or the Cabinet Secretary's letter, about the Family Justice Network for Wales agreeing the Government's position, I'd like to chase that up. On page 126, the letter from Both Parents Matter states that the,
'Welsh Government / Cafcass Cymru currently have no systems in place and no structured training to recognise the emotional and psychological abuse of children through parental alienation in stark contrast to...their opposite numbers in England'.
That's one point made there.
Moving on through the letter, on page 127, they state correctly that the petition has never used the term 'syndrome', and that's largely what the Minister spoke about. So, I'd like to move on to Family Psychology Solutions, and it says that,
'It needs to be acknowledged that a child’s resistance or refusal to spending time with a parent is a psychological defence and a sign that the child has underlying psychological distress. There is often a failure to recognise this...when a child seems to be functioning well in other aspects of their life.'
There are issues with the Cascade report. I've read it, and it seems very much to come from one ideological, dogmatic point of view, I would say. That's recognised as well in the correspondence, that there are certain things they've missed out, reports they've not referred to and, for me, it's opened up more questions than answers that it's given.
In terms of the child and adolescent welfare assessment checklist, which is the tool to assess what is going on with the child and the relationship, there is no review of CAWAC. The methodology is secret; they won't share the methodology, so, therefore, how on earth can we have confidence in something that we don't know what the methodology is, we don't know how it operates, we don't know what the results are in terms of any review?
I think there's a lot to do on this petition. We need more evidence, I would say. I would like this to be open for a good while. We could invite the National Association of Alienated Parents to give their view and maybe give evidence. We should have the Children’s Commissioner for Wales in because of her ridiculous letter that she sent to us previously, barely recognising parental alienation, flying in the face of all the legal facts since 1982, since it was recognised by the courts. We should have the domestic abuse charities in to explain their positions and lack of policies in this area, such as Welsh Women’s Aid.
I’d like to check what the Government has written as well—the Minister. I think we should write to the family justice commission. Let’s get their point of view on this, because I’m not sure that they’ve come to a conclusion, or even whether they can, actually, as we’ve been told. So, I think that there's a lot of scope here to write more letters and to invite more people in to give evidence.
It would be good as well, in a closed session, I would say, to maybe get parents who say and allege that they have themselves been alienated. Because, really, this is the nub of the petition, and we should be listening to these people, because one of the major causes of male suicide are issues like this, such as parental alienation. If you invite people in, in private, their identity would not be known, and at least you’re giving those people a voice. As I've said before, I have people in my surgery, day in, day out, with issues like this, mainly men, although the number of females is unfortunately increasing now, but we should listen to these people.
Well, I must admit that my casework leads me to believe that matters are not right within the family businesses in the courts. They are certainly not transparent in what they do, because these family courts are closed; they're not even open to journalists, which I believe is wrong. My own personal experience is that, within court, you can order non-disclosure with regard to names et cetera, and why these family courts are not much more open and transparent to those people who have to use them, and to those outside those courts, I really don't know. I think that we ought to be at least raising these issues under the umbrella, I suppose, of this particular petition, because it does raise all these issues.
Can I just add one final thing? Sorry. There seems to be a disconnect between the Cabinet Secretary, the chief executive of CAFCASS Cymru and, actually, front-line practitioners, because, in the letter here, there seems to be a demand from practitioners to have training, and yet that's not recognised by the senior management. It would be a good idea if we could seek evidence anonymously from front-line practitioners who probably wouldn't be able to give the evidence on the record. But I think that we need to engage with these people and drill down a little bit more, get under the surface, and see what the situation really is, because what we were told last time, for me, with substantial experience in family courts with various cases, was a glossing over of the reality.
The petitioner is asking for greater clarity with regard to CAFCASS training and more transparency about how they train the people on the front line. Rhun.
As with so many petitions, I again argue that we take our lead in effect from the petitioner when it comes to petitions like this. I note, again, that there is a feeling amongst petitioners that a step forward has been taken, but with the exception of the issue of the training programmes. So, I think that in itself points automatically towards us needing to correspond once more, to ask for clarification and a little bit more direction on the issue of training, as raised by the petitioner.
Yes, just to reiterate, our role has got to be to act as an intermediary between the petitioner and the Welsh Government, rather than to see ourselves as an alternative education committee, environment committee or any other committee.
This is a big issue. I had a new case yesterday and I was shocked. There are children who are not living with either one or both parents, who are living in the care system, and some of the things that I've borne witness to have concerned me greatly and they take a lot of time. They're very difficult to unravel as cases, and I would like to see more transparency in the system, so I would like to endorse what Neil has said. Whether I'd go to all the lengths that you're saying—. But I certainly would like to glean more evidence and seek some assurances as to how CAFCASS works. I have so many now, coming in, and we're talking about impacts on children's lives.
Can we ask the Children, Young People and Education Committee if they have considered looking at this issue? Because we can't do justice to an inquiry like this.
The point is, Neil, we can raise the issue, but there are so many aspects of it.
But the issue is, Chair, we've not even got to the bottom of it. You have an association, the National Association of Alienated Parents, and they should be allowed to give evidence and I know they want to give evidence. The children's commissioner's position is unjustifiable. I'd like to see her sat in that chair justifying the rubbish that she's written to us. I would like the charities involved in this sector, whose behaviour again is unacceptable—they cannot justify it. They should come in here and answer for their behaviour and then we could have informed reports. We should have a debate on this in Plenary as well.
Could we do an inquiry that would be considered befitting of this committee? It may not be to the lengths that you're suggesting.
Just to cover the background of what we've done so far then. We have held an evidence session with the petitioner and with Dr Whitcombe, who has also provided written evidence again for this meeting; we've taken an evidence session with CAFCASS Cymru and with the Minister; and we have written out and had responses from all the organisations that we wrote to—whether they were charities, the children's commissioner, and other people in that sector. All of that information is published and publicly available. The purpose of using—
I think the purpose of the committee usually taking written evidence is because our timetable—meeting fortnightly, only meeting for two hours—is such that a significant inquiry would take the committee's time for a long period—
—and it would stop other petitions from being able to have that level of consideration. So, I think the previous purpose in getting written evidence from these organisations is to enable us to look at this petition, but every other petition, within a reasonable time frame as well.
Could we then, perhaps—? I propose that we write to the Children, Young People and Education Committee and ask if they've done this kind of work and, if not, would they.
I would like to write to the petitioners and see what they think, because, for me, this is one of the major issues. We're talking about children being abused and people are getting away with it, and organisations are not behaving as they should behave. There are no policies in these areas. But we've not been able to shine a light on it in this committee. If you have them here giving evidence—. I wouldn't mind looking at this for the next two years; that's how strongly I feel.
We have actually asked these people and we've had responses from a number of the charities dealing with it.
You've got a children's commissioner who's denying the existence of parental alienation almost and, as I said, you've got an organisation, Welsh Women's Aid, who has written in, and the way they operate in this area is unacceptable. There are no policies in place. So, for me, the purpose of this committee is to air matters in public and, ideally, point in the direction of some solutions. I'm sure, if you went back to the petitioners, that they would like this petition to continue. I wouldn't refer it to the committee that has been suggested.
The comments that we've got today from the petitioners and from Dr Whitcombe were in direct response to us providing the Minister's latest comments and asking for their response, both to that and to the evidence that had been given in a committee session from the Minister. So, I think, in a sense, the petitioner's views for this meeting are a response to what they they want us to do.
Just to clarify: do I need to go away and get a petition before this committee with more than 5,000 signatures to get a debate on this matter? Is that what we need to do?
Is that what we need to do? Because we've scratched the surface with this.
I agree with you, Neil, but we have to accept the remit of this committee, and the remit of this committee is to look at the individual petition that comes in front of us. We've explored practically all the avenues with regard to that. Now, we're talking about the possible actions from here on in, the extra action, which you talked about—writing to the relevant children's committee—and the committee could agree to write back to the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care to ask for further information about the intentions of the Welsh Government and CAFCASS Cymru in respect of revising pathways in relation to parental alienation, in light of the work being undertaken by CAFCASS in England. Now, when you're talking about revising pathways in relation to it, that takes in a whole gamut of possibilities, and we could explore those, given the light of the response from the Cabinet Secretary.
At the very least, we should have the children's commissioner in. We've been given written evidence that is so flawed it's embarrassing.
Well, I think that what we ought to do—. We'll do this in the first instance, see what they come back with, Neil, and we could also—. One of the aspects raised by the petitioner is the training. So, we could ask for further development training for front-line practitioners on identifying and dealing appropriately with alienating behaviours. I think that's what the petitioner really calls for as well, so we could include that—
But there's a whole in-built—. I'll say this finally on the record—thanks for bearing with me, Chair. But there's a whole in-built industry that facilitates alienation, and I think it's the job of this committee to at least ask questions about that.
Thank you. Okay. Are there any further comments on that? Fine.
Okay, the next petition, and I'm aware of the time now, and I understand, I think, that the witnesses are now here—is that right? So, if we could expedite these as soon as possible, but obviously give due consideration to the petitions. The next one is 'Lack of support for children with disabilities at crisis (there is a crisis team but they do not support children with disabilities)'. This was submitted by Rebecca Weale and was first considered in June 2017, having collected 200 signatures. Now, the committee last considered the petition on 17 April and agreed to write back to Cwm Taf University Local Health Board to request that they meet the petitioner. Now, I understand that meeting has taken place, but the petitioner has submitted extra comments, which were made available to the committee, following her meeting with Cwm Taf. Do we have—
Await to see what happens with her meeting with Cwm Taf; if she's happy at that stage, then we'll close it, but let's just see what happens there first.
No, I don't think the meeting has.
Let the meeting take place, then we'll close it if they're both satisfied. That'll be us doing our job.
Yes, fine. Are we all happy with that: to await the meeting of the petitioner with Cwm Taf and then seek her comments with regard to that meeting? Is that—? Are we happy with that? Fine. Okay.
We just have—. Do we go into private session?
I suggest, if the committee are happy, that we will quickly cover the papers to note but we won't go into private for the private consideration, because we need to move to the evidence session to have any time to complete that.
Can I just ask, though, why was it suggested that we would go into private session for item 6?
Because that's a previous request the committee made for us to prepare a detailed letter to the Government.
So, it's to consider the draft of that letter—committee correspondence.
We can do that by e-mail, though, if you like.
We can agree that.
Do you want to do the papers to note?
Good morning, bore da, and welcome again, Nathan. We've met before, obviously, and thank you for attending again this morning before the Petitions Committee so that we can have an evidence session with regard to the petition you submitted to us. As a background to that, if I can just say the committee has been considering your petition since October 2017 and has previously considered detailed correspondence from yourself and the Welsh Government over the decision to close the Welsh independent living grant. Because of the importance of this issue to a significant number of people in Wales with disabilities, and the power of your written evidence, we have invited you here today to provide further evidence about your petition and the impacts of the decision. As you will be aware, the committee will then be taking evidence from the Minister for social care, Huw Irranca-Davies, at its next meeting on 19 June, when he will have a chance to respond to the discussion that we will have today.
Okay, Nathan, now what we normally do, the normal procedure here, is that it's not an interrogation. It's simply that we will ask you questions in order that you can give the answers that we might need to take to Huw Irranca-Davies when we meet with him. You understand that, Nathan.
Now, we understand your situation, so you just take your time in answering the questions. We have a limited amount of time so if you can be as succinct with your answers as you can then we can probably get through some more information gathering with you. Do you understand and are you happy with that, Nathan?
Okay, thank you. I'll open the questioning by asking: can you tell us about your personal experience of the transition from the Welsh independent living grant to local authority provision and how it is affecting your day-to-day life?
Well, first of all I'd like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today at a time when disabled people across the UK are being victimised and silenced and ignored, really. So, I appreciate it.
Now, talking about the transition process, well, it's just been very, very stressful for me. I can only speak for myself, but I've been put under immense pressure from my local authority. They've been very quiet. I've had no contact from my social worker since December 2017. And then, funnily enough, only one hour after I'd been on the radio and the BBC published an online story, suddenly I get an e-mail from my social worker. It did appear as if the social worker had been told to shut me up and deal with me. And I don't think that's paranoia at all, because I hadn't heard anything from him for five months.
Nathan, was this social worker introduced newly to you by the local authority?
Was the social worker new, or is it one you've had before?
Oh. The social worker, yes, is a new one. The one I had in 2015—she was the one who threatened the reduction in my hours, without WILG, and she said that, without WILG, I'd only be getting 30 hours a week. Thirty hours a week is nowhere near enough. Also, about transition, one thing I should make clear is that once I heard from my social worker earlier last month, they wanted to come round and see me within two weeks. I said, 'Well, that won't be possible because I'm so busy with the campaign, obviously.' Then, i get an e-mail back from the social worker saying that if I don't comply and if I don't meet the social worker before 31 May, then they would have to consider stopping my direct payments.
Yes, thanks. Welcome, Nathan. It's really nice to see you again. I know I've met with you in my office. Even though you're not a constituent, I think it's fair to say I'm a great supporter of your campaign. Just to thank you, really, for everybody else on whose behalf that you're working.
Is it fair to say that, without the support of a fund that you don't have to jump through the hoops for, literally—the Welsh independent living grant fund—you would live a much more isolated life? This campaign, really, is, if you like, helping you now to stay away from non-isolation, but you really do need the support to help you get through the day.
Yes, my days are quite frustrating because I have support from 8.30 in the morning until 2 o'clock in the afternoon. I'm on my own between 2 o'clock and 7 o'clock in the evening. Those hours are so frustrating—they're so frustrating because I'm having to cram everything I do into the hours until 2 o'clock, and then spend all afternoon stuck, not able to communicate on the phone or able to type on my laptop. I'm just stuck inside.
I just want to see how it's decreased now as a result of the transitional changes—how it's impacted on you negatively, compared to what you had before.
Chair, can I come in on that point?
Sorry, my name's Adam Samuels. Nathan has given me and Angie permission because he's been up since 3.00 a.m. and he's got several more things. So, he's already asked us, before we came in, if we can come in on some of it.
Okay, Adam. Can I say that we're very happy for either of you to—[Inaudible.]
Yes, so just to explain that we're not trying to speak over Nathan, obviously—it is with his consent.
Yes. Nathan's currently in the situation where he's going through the transitional process. So, technically, as we speak, he's still on the WILG, and there's a process he's about to go through in terms of an assessment. And that's what he was referring to in terms of them saying, 'We'll have to come within two weeks or we'll potentially stop your payments et cetera.'
Also, a point I want to raise here is I think one of the things that the Minister may bring up is a so-called lack of complaints about this situation, and the key thing for the committee to realise and understand is that almost all people who receive this particular grant are not even in a position to be here like Nathan in terms of being able to speak and talk, and they rely entirely on a carer or a friend or something, hence why, even under the current system, it's far from perfect. To remove that system and put in a postcode lottery of a local authority is going to mean—. Well, we already know—we've got evidence from England—that that is going to mean a significantly reduced quality of life for a lot of people. So, I just wanted to explain in case it's one of the reasons.
Absolutely, Adam. And if Nathan is happy, the second part of my question was to ask if you could very quickly outline the benefits that an independent living grant had over this new living fund.
Yes. Well, Angie is experienced in the field, so I'll let Angie answer that one.
Yes, shall I answer that one? I think the main component that Nathan would like to retain is the triangular structure that was within the WILG. That meant that it was the administrators of the WILG grant, the local authority who you had the liaison with and the client in this tripartite structure, which meant, really, that if one part of that structure wasn't doing what they should be, then the other one was saying, 'Come along, jolly along—you're supposed to provide that.' So, reducing that to a linear structure, Nathan has some concerns about that, and also the potential for inconsistencies when this is devolved to local authorities, as opposed to having a centralised agency that is administering it. Those are the key concerns, really. Not that for the local authorities, perhaps, the money's not there, but just that there'll be inconsistencies in how that's interpreted from local authority to local authority.
I think one of the key areas in favour of the new structure is that it can be opened up, because the WILG is closed—it's only open to those who are currently in receipt of and were in receipt of the independent living fund. The proposal, moving forward, is that the new structure is available to anyone who meets the criteria. I think we would argue, 'Why not open up the WILG to anyone who meets the criteria? Why complicate an issue?'
Thank you very much for that explanation, Angie. Much appreciated.
Sorry, Chair, as you were asking for evidence, as I say, we do already have substantial evidence in that England brought this in and it was campaigned against and voted against by Labour in England, and in Scotland, Scottish Labour—the same—supported it, retained it, in terms of the Scottish Government. They've given us evidence and recipients have given us evidence of how it was vital that it was retained there. And in England we've had evidence back from what is now two, three years on, so we can now already say that we know what the consequences are, because we have lots of good evidence to back that up.
My question was about the evidence about the Welsh independent living grant to local authority provision. So, would you like to expand on your evidence there?
Yes, certainly. We've got some brief things that are a bit crude, but I've printed out a few things that might be of use and can be passed around. But basically, we already know, from our own freedom of information requests, that even authorities that are currently in the process of doing it genuinely don't understand the process. What I mean by that is that some have said, 'Oh, the money is ring-fenced, don't worry', but we know that the money isn't ring-fenced—that's categorically untrue.
In terms of how much it's going to cost and where that money is going to come from, it's massively different in terms of their estimates, and these people, and the authorities, are already carrying out these processes now. So, it's not what might be coming up; they're actually doing it now when they don't fully understand the concept of it. The danger of it moving to local authority is pretty self-evident in the sense that it's going to be wildly inconsistent, and we know it is because of the evidence from England, and one of the key reasons Scotland absolutely insisted on not doing this was for those reasons.
So, obviously, the primary thing is the patient's care, and if you know the consequences, even if you get the same hours in theory, it cannot not, in most cases, we would argue, have a negative impact on the recipient. So, delegating out to local authorities—that's the key thing I believe the Minister doesn't understand. Money is important—of course it's important—but as Angie pointed out, the tripartite thing, if you like, of the local authority, the Government and the recipient is what's worked well, and that's not a perfect system. Now Nathan hasn't got a carer. This is why we were delayed just getting down here between us, with neither of us who are carers. So, I'm just trying to point out that that's under WILG. Take that away—I mean, we've seen the consequences already.
Following on, really—and you've already touched on it—what's your response to the Minister's comments in his statement of 23 May that authorities are reporting that most people are receiving support similar to that they receive using their ILF payments, with no significant issues being raised? You've sort of answered it already.
Yes, well, the first thing to say is that may well be the case, but when we've requested that information, they haven't got it. So, there's nothing to back up what he says. He also says he consulted the various different disability groups. No minutes were taken in those meetings, and several people who were at those meetings have already told us that that simply wasn't the case. It may have been the case in limited amounts.
He was just asking: did you want to come in and make a comment? You don't have to.
No, you don't have to. I thought you might want to comment. It's okay.
Can I give a brief—
—response on that as well? I think we have to be clear here: the ILF was the England, or the UK national service. The WILG is the current service, and the changes are proposed. They haven't been implemented. So, for the Minister to say that people are currently in receipt of a similar level of care that they received under the ILF is quite likely true, because the changes haven't been implemented yet. So, yes, the WILG is absolutely replacing the ILF. However, we don't know what the proposed changes—. The assessments won't be completed until September. That's the deadline for assessments, so no change has been implemented yet. So, of course people are receiving what they were.
Yes, thanks, it's very quick. Could we just touch base after the committee? Because I want to check things out in my region, if it's okay. Thanks.
Which of the options that were set out in the consultation document do you think the Welsh Government should have taken in response to the closure of the independent living fund?
Which of the options—the Welsh Government put out four options, didn't they?
That's where Nathan is going to be the one—I don't want to speak on behalf of him on that particular one. Of the four options that were proposed by the Welsh Government, which do you believe—?
I do not think the four options were discussed in depth at all. One of my friends actually put together the recommendation of an ILF for Wales and this was really well supported through the consultation process. Disabled people and their families saw that as the way forward, but, unfortunately, that was only glanced at and thrown out and not really given much consideration at all. I think that is definitely the route that we need to look at. Also, we need to look at what Scotland have done with the ILF—we've got loads of recipients saying that that has worked out well for them—and the fact that Northern Ireland also run an ILF administered by Scotland. I don't understand why Wales is copying the English way when they've obviously had so much problems and so many difficulties, and yet Wales is just copying them and ignoring the good examples that are there.
Thank you very much for that, Nathan. Mike, do you have—? [Inaudible.] Fine. Rhun.
From me, thank you for such compelling and moving evidence as well. You've questioned why the Minister said that stakeholders had, on the whole, favoured the local authority payments route. Do you want to just tell us a bit more about your doubts about what was said then?
Again, this will be because—. I haven't personally spoken to those people—I want to make that clear. I don't want to mislead anybody here. Nathan has, and we do have feedback from people who are in the position of making decisions and just happened to also be in the meeting. I don't personally have their names with me now, but what they've told us is what was represented in terms of the opinion of, shall we say, collectively, for want of a better expression, the disabled community was not represented correctly when it was filtered through to how he's now seeing it, in the sense that a lot of things they don't believe—. I'm not saying anyone's lied or anything like that, but what I'm saying is it didn't match what they heard in the room, and they certainly weren't consulted to anywhere near the level that you would expect. It was more of a closed house thing, as I understand it. Nathan, you can correct me if I'm wrong. Therefore, to say that that was consultation—and then to not take any minutes. I would just question why, for something as really significant as that, you wouldn't feel that you would want to back yourself up with having some minutes. So, to make it clear, I am not accusing, and I'm sure Nathan's not accusing, anybody of doing any—it's just very confusing to make a statement like that when the feedback from the meeting from the actual people there wasn't in the same way.
It doesn't ring true. I think most people would like action to be taken on the basis of evidence. You've mentioned the specific evidence out there that you say points to there being a better system—Scotland and Northern Ireland being two of them. What are the specific elements of what they've decided to do in Scotland and Northern Ireland that you think could be replicated here and would make your life easier?
The key thing, and the the key thing with anything else, above money et cetera, is the retaining of the Government's involvement.
The centralised pound.
That is, and I'm thinking about what you said, the most important point, the return of the tripartite—the local authority, the Government—. Because without that, it becomes much, much, much, much harder to hold local authorities to account, even when the token gesture, as I would describe it, of a monitoring thing comes in—you're removing yourself, you're delegating out and removing yourself from the process. In doing that, inevitably—I don't think anyone would disagree with this—it can only be inconsistent because of the different way local authorities are run, the different levels of funding, the different priorities they have. And the other thing you must consider from that is that, with the money that's been sent over to pay for the grant for the recipients, the key aspect of that is that it's not ring-fenced, and we know from local authority cuts that it's impossible to take money from something—you can't, because you're cutting. And I don't blame local authorities for this. What pot is there left? Only the pot that's meant for the grant. So, again, it's going to deliver inconsistent results. It's not just a financial issue, and that's the key aspect I don't think they understand. If they talk and liaise with the Scottish Ministers, they will openly say it's not a financial decision.
But it's about responsibility as well. You mention the fact that Labour in England and in Scotland favour keeping the Government control, but when they're in Government in Wales they decide not to do it. What's your hunch? Is it a washing of hands and passing the responsibility on to somebody else?
Well, can I just correct that and say that, when you say 'Labour', it's a limited amount of people within Labour? At the recent Welsh conference, we won a majority, I believe—and I might be corrected—but it was the heaviest ever defeat they've received on a motion. There were only six people who voted against in a room of several hundred delegates. Even Unite the union backed us on this. Welsh MPs have openly spoken, who never criticise Welsh Labour to such an extent as this, publicly. Our own MP and Nathan's own MP Ian Lucas, and Susan Elan Jones et cetera, have been excellent, and several AMs. So, what I'm saying is when we say 'Welsh Labour', my fear is this is civil servants who are doing something that is being nodded through, and the Minister's changed halfway through the process, so he's coming in, he doesn't want to rock the boat, I'm assuming—he's assuming all the correct things have been done. So, when we say 'Welsh Labour' I have to be careful in that I'm a Labour Party member, to declare an interest—all three of us are here. However, there comes a point, of course, when party politics are not the most important thing. It's the health of an individual, and these 1,300, by the way, just to remind you, who can't even be in the position that Nathan is in.
The Minister has stated that retaining the Welsh independent living grant would perpetuate a two-tier system of provision for disabled people. Do you agree or disagree with that?
Disagree, because that's his choice.
We disagree. We've discussed this at length, because the main driver forward is inclusion of other people who would be eligible.
Well, what I would say is there's nothing to prevent them opening up the WILG to other individuals who would meet the criteria—nothing at all.
That statement is made in a way that is almost saying, 'You're not the one making the decision'. That's not commenting on some of the decisions. He can, if he wants to, and it would be sensible—because let's face it; it's an absolute no-brainer—to roll it out to everybody who is eligible, new or old, but to get rid of the people when it's on something that is not at an adequate level anyway, and then just mess around with that and remove yourselves from the process of responsibility directly, I don't understand how anyone can see how this is—. Obviously, we're heavily involved so we're biased—I totally accept that we have an agenda here—but the bottom line is I've lost a day's pay to come down today to help Nathan, because it's so important. I joined my party only three years ago. Sometimes, you have these things come along 30 years into your membership. This is so important to so many people—it's potentially life and death. It's not an exaggeration to say that.
In your letter to the committee of 28 September last year, you disputed the then Minister's assertion that, on balance, the stakeholder advisory group favoured future provision by local authorities. Do you want to enhance more on that—on the letter that you wrote in September of last year?
I wasn't there, so, again, I don't want to mislead anybody by saying I was there and this is what happened. I don't know if Nathan was at that particular meeting, but it's from direct feedback from the people who were both decision makers and people who were in the room who say that that wouldn't be anywhere like a fair representation of what was (a) discussed or (b) said. So, I can only go on second-hand information there; I don't want to mislead anyone on that point.
Should we be asking as a committee for this to be reinstated—the WILG—and, you know, put back into the hands of the Welsh Government?
Absolutely; it's a no-brainer. Even financially, it doesn't make any sense. Long term, it's going to create more issues than it solved.
If you'll excuse me, I've got to go, but you know you have my support, and if it becomes a debate I shall carry on supporting you, because you're an inspiration to us as politicians. And on that note I will just say that, if you wanted to go into politics, you would find it very difficult to do so, and we need people like you in politics.
That's what I want to do, and I need the support and the will to do that.
Just a few comments. I wanted to just comment on your robust defence of the Labour Party in Wales, but from my experience—and I declare an interest as a former Labour Party member who saw the light 15 years ago—they implement Tory policies in Wales and that's the purpose of the Labour Party. If you look at the bedroom tax, we're the only nation with a bedroom tax and the Minister here—a so-called Corbynite Minister—said it wasn't a matter for him. I just wanted to say that just in reply to your understandable faith in your party, but if you look across the board, they're implementing Tory policies left, right and centre.
Can I turn to what I think are the key issues, rather than a party political debate by somebody who was thrown out of two parties?
Point of order. I left the Labour Party. I resigned; I was not thrown out. It was my choice to leave.
On independent living, if we're going to have the Minister in, just to be clear, the question that you would like me to ask him—and tell me if I've got it wrong—is why can't we have an independent living fund in Wales to run in exactly the same way as it ran before. That's the question that you would like me to put to the Minister.
Yes, because the replies we're getting, at best, currently are: 'Let's see how things go and we'll monitor in a year'. I know Nathan doesn't mind me saying this because I asked him earlier, but Nathan has Friedreich's ataxia, the life expectancy of which is 35. Nathan is 41. He is using whatever little time he has left to fight this and that's how important it is. This is, as I say, life and death. And by the way, on your assessment of Welsh Labour, I certainly would not include our colleague here in that. It's not necessarily that I disagree with you, but I don't want to make it party political.
Okay. Can I just ask one thing? Do you think the independent living grant that was introduced in Scotland is superior to the one that was operating for you, prior to these changes?
There haven't been any changes as yet. We're in the transition period, so currently what is being received by the recipient is a care equivalent to what they were receiving under the ILF originally and that is similar to what's been implemented in Scotland. In Scotland, there's a permanence to that. In Wales, it has been a transitionary measure in order to implement changes and it is the changes that are generating the anxiety.