Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd

04/02/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Huw Irranca-Davies MS Dirprwyo ar ran Joyce Watson
Substitute for Joyce Watson
Janet Finch-Saunders MS
Jenny Rathbone MS
Llyr Gruffydd MS
Mike Hedges MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Neil Hamilton MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Dean Medcraft Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Dr Christianne Glossop Y Prif Swyddog Milfeddygol
Chief Veterinary Officer
Gian Marco Currado Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
John Howells Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Lesley Griffiths MS Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig
Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs
Tim Render Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Katie Wyatt Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Katy Orford Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

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.

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 15:03.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 15:03. 

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Good afternoon and welcome to the meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee. We've got one apology from Joyce Watson and we're very fortunate to have Huw Irranca-Davies substituting for her, so welcome, Huw. We also have the Minister and her officials, Gian Marco Currado, Dean Medcraft, Christianne Glossop, John Howells and Tim Render. Do any Members have any declarations of interest that they wish to make? No. Okay, well, thank you all very much.

2. Sesiwn graffu gyffredinol gyda Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig
2. General scrutiny session with the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

If the Minister's happy, we'll move straight on to questions, and the first question is from me. The European Union-UK trade and co-operation agreement, have you any views on how it's progressing?

It's progressing in many parts. For me, I suppose one of the main areas is around environmental standards impacting on trade and investment. As you know, we've said all along that we will not allow any weakening in that area. What I would like to do is not just maintain but enhance as well, so I suppose I'm continuing to work with my policies around air and water quality, emissions and environmental protections. If we are going to tackle the climate emergency and the biodiversity loss that we've seen, we need to continue to do that. Obviously, it's very important that officials continue to work very closely with the UK Government to ensure that our position is maintained and protected.

15:05

Thank you very much. European agencies: can you comment on the UK’s loss of membership of the European Environment Agency, including how it's going to affect Wales?

It’s obviously, a natural progression; when you leave the European Union, we've had to leave the European Environment Agency, for example. That's not a decision-making body; that's there to collect data and to monitor. But, again, we are going to have to have our own arrangements in place, because obviously they did the work for us before. We're going to have to do it for ourselves now. So, we're going to have to make sure we've got arrangements in place to do that, and that's what we're currently doing.

Thank you, Chair. Just coming back to the non-regression commitment. Of course, that's only in situations where weakening environmental standards would impact on trade and investment, and that's a criticism from a number of environmental organisations. So, could you tell us whether you intend to apply the non-regression principle more widely? And if you do, then which mechanism would you use to do that?

So, as you say, that's there to prevent the lowering of standards being used in a way that would distort trade flows and potentially gain competitive advantage. I suppose the wider—[Inaudible.]—firms that I can regulate, do we deem appropriate for our domestic circumstances. And another area, obviously, we've got legislation in this area that other countries haven't got—so the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, et cetera—so we will need to make sure we can deliver on our commitment there. So, at the moment, as I said in my earlier answer, officials are working to ensure that our position is to protect and enhance the future working arrangements is there. So, that's something we're currently looking at.

Okay. And in terms of enforcement of environmental standards as well, the trade and co-operation agreement, there's a mechanism for enforcement of environmental protection that's set out in it. Is that appropriate, do you think? How would that be fulfilled in Wales?

So, again, that text, unfortunately—that legal text—wasn't shared with us beforehand, so that's another piece of work we're having to do at the moment to make sure that it is—. We need to fully understand what the UK Government have agreed to, because they didn't share that legal text with us. So, we need to look if there are any practical issues that could have adverse implications, I suppose, for us. So, officials are continuing to work with the relevant UK department in relation to this, but I think it was unfortunate that they didn't share the text with us prior to agreeing it.

You're being very kind in describing it as 'unfortunate'. I'm sure we could agree on stronger wording, but there we are. Just looking at the arrangements that you're pursuing then, in relation to your proposed interim assessor for environmental governance, of course, that was something that we all expected would be able to receive and escalate citizens' complaints around breaches of environmental law. Now, it appears that that role has been changed to advise on the functioning of environmental law. So, I'm just wondering what brought about that change.

We've always said this is a stop gap. We always knew that there would be the gap that we would have to fill. So, between the end of transition and before we bring in the statutory measures that we want to do, this is just a stop gap. I suppose we had the task group, and the consideration of what would be the role was some advice I had from the task group. I think what's really important is that the opinion of the assessor is influential, and we want to refocus the interim measures to the functioning of the environmental law that will then enable the assessor to advise me as to where environmental law is not working or how it could be improved. I think it's really important that people use the existing systems that are there at the moment. I did ask, and I don't know if anybody—I suppose Gian Marco would be the person. I did ask if anybody had contacted us yet in January, and I don't think I've seen anything on that. So, I might ask Gian Marco about that. But I think the assessor, that job is more to look at the function of the environmental law, rather than looking at the individual breaches of environmental law, because there are alternative methods to be able to do that that will continue—judicial review, for instance.

But that was very different to what was being mooted earlier on in this process. That's the point I'm making.

Yes, I know. What I'm saying, I think the advice and the taskforce and looking at what we could do ahead of bringing in legislation, which, of course, we're still committed to doing; it was just that we were unable to do it during this term. Gian Marco, could you tell us if anybody has contacted us in January around this?

15:10

Thank you, Minister. No, we haven't had any contacts yet through the interim, but we're monitoring, obviously, that situation closely and we'll keep an eye on it. And, as the Minister has said, I think part of our thinking in relation to the interim has been driven by the legal framework that we have at the moment, and also our desire to look at what could be the functions for the permanent assessor, once we can pass legislation to support it.

Because, in essence, it's judicial review, isn't it? That's the redress, and that's surely beyond the reach of many, many people—maybe you could respond to that. But also, whether or not you receive complaints will largely depend on people being aware that the assessor is in existence and is there. So, I'm just wondering what's happening to promote the presence of such an assessor.

We haven't made the announcement yet, so I think that will be the first big thing, obviously. We'll make sure that that's well publicised. But you're right, judicial review is what's there now, and it's not there for everybody. And I had expected—. I must be honest, I'm quite surprised that we haven't had anything this month, then I suppose the numbers weren't particularly high, when you look at the European system. So, I think the first thing to do is make the announcement and then, obviously, to work with stakeholders to make sure that information is out there. But I do hope we can bring forward legislation in the new term, you know, as quickly as possible.

Yes. People need to know that they can do it, though. That's the point, isn't it?

I'd like to start with an easy question for you, and that is: what do you think are the key challenges in the trade and co-operation agreement for Wales in the trade in agricultural goods sector, and how do you think these should be addressed?

Well, I suppose the biggest challenge, I think—. You know, we were very pleased we hadn't got tariffs, and particularly from a red meat perspective and lamb perspective. We were very, very pleased that we didn't have tariffs. But I think one of the things that is proving very challenging—and again, we did warn about this—are the non-tariff barriers. So, particularly in cost and delays, and I think we're going to see a lot more problems. We haven't seen the expected level of issues that we thought we would, because—. And, certainly, speaking to stakeholders, I think one of the reasons is exporters thought that perhaps January would be problematic and they wouldn't perhaps export as much as they normally would. So, if we look at the ports, for instance, the traffic in the ports is probably running at 50 per cent. So, I think, as we get more into it, we will see more problems.

The paperwork, the red tape, the bureaucracy. I have been going to quite a few of what we call XO meetings, which is a UK Government meeting, where all four administrations attend, and there have been some horrific examples of where some exporters from Northern Ireland of nuts and bolts were saying that—. I think they only went once a month—to Germany, I think it was, I can't remember—but they needed one piece of paper in December and since we've left the European Union, they need 26 pieces of paper. You know, you need export health certificates, commercial invoices, HMRC reference numbers, custom export entry, and some EHCs alone need up to 20 veterinary stamps. So, you can see the bureaucracy is obviously a big issue. So, whereas I think we were all promised less red tape, we can safely say that hasn't happened. So, I think there are a lot more demands and expectations and checks, and that's leading to a lot of cost increases—significant cost increases—in some areas, I would say.

You may have seen—I saw it on the news the other night—this big sign at, I think it was Holyhead, saying, 'border ready/not border ready'. There are lots of issues around groupage, where you've got different consignments on one lorry, and lots of shipments are being delayed, which is obviously—. You will have seen the shellfish issues, with delays, not obviously arriving in the way, in the standard that we would expect. So, again, we're working very closely with the industry. I had my stakeholder round-table on Monday, and the main discussion we had was, 'You tell us what issues you're having and you're meeting, particularly in relation to export.'

Well, we have seen some egregious examples of unnecessary bureaucracy, haven't we, that have been reported in recent weeks—the shellfish consignments that were blocked because they had the wrong colour ink on the forms that were filled in, which, to most normal people, will seem utter absurdity, or the lorry driver whose ham sandwich had to be confiscated as an illegal import on the Dutch border, and so on and so forth. Do you get any sense that this kind of thing is only arising as a result of the EU's bureaucracy, or is there some kind of reciprocal difficulty the other way around on imports?

15:15

I suppose at the moment I would say it's just exports; I haven't heard anything the other way. I think the UK Government are portraying it as teething problems; I'm not so sure that is the case, I think it could be more endemic. I suppose we need to wait and see, but we are keeping a very close eye on it. The problem was, because we—. I think businesses are saying, because they didn't know what to prepare for, it's been made more difficult.

Yes, I see that. It could be, of course, that these problems are being manufactured as part of the extension of what we used to call project fear, which would be very disappointing if that is true. It's very important in these circumstances that the British Government responds in a proportionate way. As you'll know, there are provisions in the TCA for some kind of retaliatory response, if we think that this is a deliberate policy of attempting to keep out British goods or make things more difficult for British traders as an act of policy, as opposed to the teething problems that you were referring to a moment ago. So, what do you think you can do as Welsh Government to assist our traders and manufactures in Wales who are faced with these problems?

So, I think that's quite a cynical view, if you don't mind me saying. But I think what is really important is that we—. I mentioned the round-table on Monday. So, the question I was asking, 'What do you think we can do to help you'—'prepare' sounds ridiculous, because we're into February now, but we are having to because we're meeting barriers that we didn't know existed. I think the paperwork issue is something that is clearly of concern to exporters and certainly fisheries, and there are lots of issues with fisheries; we've seen more issues this week. They are incredibly concerned. So, it's what we can do for them as much as what they can do for themselves as well. So, I wouldn't say a lot of solutions came forward this week, but those discussions are ongoing, and we need to make sure we're working with the UK Government as well. As I say, maybe it is teething problems, but I am concerned it's much more, as I say, endemic than that.

I think, the EHCs, you will have heard me say many times that we are concerned about the capacity for export health certifications. And I think it was in this committee that I said that I'd agreed with the Secretary of State that all the Government vets could be trained in relation to EHCs. Christianne and I were very concerned about this from an animal health and welfare point of view, and here we are, we've had our first case, unfortunately, of avian flu in Wales, so imagine if we had taken those vets off animal health surveillance—it would cause some problems. So, I think, as we see more EHCs coming in, I think we're going to see more issues around that. So, we're doing our very best, but you can't just train people in a week to do that. So, I think it's just about working with the industry, working with stakeholders, listening to what the problems are, and doing our best to work with them and help them.

Yes, well I'm sure we're all behind you in what you're doing to ensure that you keep on top of the issues by having fruitful co-operation from all the people who might lose out if there are difficulties, and then making sure that the UK Government is able to take these problems up at a top level and do their best to sort things out. Are you happy with the sort of relationship that you have with George Eustice and other Ministers in DEFRA on issues of this kind?

I would say I've got a very good relationship with George Eustice. Obviously, we've worked together for nearly five years now, so I do think I have a good relationship with him. I'm going to choose my words carefully here. I think, at a high level, again—. So, we attend XO meetings, which are the UK Government's meetings around leaving the European Union. They were, clearly, Monday to Friday. I think they've now got into a bit of a rhythm of twice a week—in fact, I should be at one now, but I think my colleague Ken Skates is at that. So, we always attend up to the XO meetings. Sometimes, I think it's a tick-box exercise, but it is an opportunity for us to raise issues and concerns. How seriously they're taken I think is a matter for them to answer. But I would say at a DEFRA level, yes, I do have a good relationship with DEFRA. I think the inter-ministerial group, which we were—. As a Government, we—the Welsh Government was instrumental in setting that up back in November 2016, straight after the European Union referendum. It was our idea to set that up; I chaired the first one. We had the first one in Cardiff, and we've met, probably, every six weeks in those years. However, are we still talking about the same things? Yes. The issues we've had with fisheries this week are incredibly frustrating for me, because we told them it would happen, and yet here we are and we've got those issues. So, I think it's really important that we're around that table, I've always said that, and the First Minister has been very clear that we take part in all the meetings, but I do sometimes think it's a tick-box exercise.

15:20

Right. Can I ask you about the statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission? We took evidence from Tim Smith, the chairman, on 21 January, and he asserted the need for Welsh representation on this commission. Can you tell us what you intend to do to ensure that we get represented properly on it, when it's established?

So, as you know, there is currently a Trade and Agricultural Commission, which is going to become a statutory body. So, I didn't have any input into the non-statutory one, if you like. I was very, very pleased that we had the representation and both the farming unions sit on that. However, they can't discuss that with me, and I would never ask, because I know they're in a position where they can't discuss that, so when I meet them I never ask them about it. So, we get very little back from that. It is important that, when it becomes a statutory body, we have Welsh representation on it, I would say. So, I think we need to look at what the aims and the focus of the commission are. So, I hope that that would be shared with us, and I know the Counsel General has made representations around that, what will be the function of it, so I suppose we need to wait and see what that is, but I always think it's better to have representation on these sorts of fora.

Can I just move on to fisheries quickly? Can you tell me what your view is of the fisheries provisions in the final TCA and how these will impact the Welsh fishing industry? I think the fishing agreement is one of the most disappointing elements of Brexit, and a lost opportunity for us, but we are where we are and we've got five years in it before it's likely to be changed in any way. So, can you give us your initial view of these provisions?

So, I was going to use the same word as you just used, Neil. I was going to use 'disappointing', but then I was trying to think of something stronger, so you wouldn't be able to say that's an understatement, because it is an understatement. I think it's incredibly disappointing. What a huge missed opportunity for our fishers.

I think we've all seen the real-world impact of that already with shellfish. It's incredible what's happened, and I met our stakeholders on Monday; they attend the round-table. I also met them, I think, last week, and I think I met them the week before that, and I think it's safe to say, and I'm sure Gian Marco will nod, officials are now meeting the stakeholders—for the past couple of weeks—on a daily basis, because it is so worrying. I suppose one of the biggest irritations is that they failed to deliver exclusive fishing rights for UK vessels to our six to 12 nautical mile coastal zone. I think it's so disappointing that the TCA requires us to continue licensing certain EU vessels for the next five years, as you say. So, I have made my views very clear to George Eustice. We met last week about this issue.

Well, on a more positive note—though I totally agree with what you've just said, by the way—obviously, we will have a rise in our quota to 25 per cent overall, so there will be opportunities within that. Can you tell me how you will ensure that such opportunities as there are will be available to the Welsh fishing industry, in particular? We know that, last year, there were 83,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish landed from Welsh waters, but only 8,000 tonnes of that was Welsh fishermen. So, we clearly have a massive deficit there, which needs to be addressed. 

15:25

It's imperative that Welsh fishers get their fair share of—. It's a very modest additional quota uplift, I think it's fair to say. And, again, officials are working very hard. I've written to George, I've met him—I wrote to George Eustice a couple of times, and what we want can't be achieved by the current system, which favours larger vessels. So, historically, that has really disadvantaged Welsh fishers. I agree with you, I think it is incredibly disappointing that we've missed this massive opportunity to help our fishers in the way that I thought we were going to do. 

Thank you. At that point of agreement, can we move on? Janet Finch-Saunders.

Now, Minister, as you know, a broad principle of the White Paper is the need for Welsh agriculture to have a sustainable future. So, how can this be achieved alongside the draconian Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021, which, for example, could now lead to the complete loss of suckler cow herds in Wales? And what assessment have you made of the impacts to biodiversity of the loss of suckler cow herds as a result of all-Wales nitrate vulnerable zones?

Well, I don't accept that. You must realise, Janet Finch-Saunders, we do have NVZs in Wales now, and we haven't seen farms disappear, we haven't seen suckler herds disappear, so I'd like to ask you where you've made your assessment that that will happen, because—. That is not the point, anyway. We talked about this yesterday in questions. We cannot allow three agricultural pollution incidents every week to continue. I will not allow that. We cannot delay this any longer. I've worked very hard with the sector, as I said yesterday, and I'll reiterate it, to come forward with a voluntary approach, and they've failed to do that. 

For the last five years that I have been in this position—. This was one of the very first things on my desk when I became Minister in this portfolio in May 2016. There'd been a consultation on agricultural pollution, and I was asked to make a decision. I could have done the regulations then, five years ago, and I worked with the farming unions, I worked with the sector, and they said, 'Let us get a voluntary approach.' The voluntary approach hasn't worked, otherwise we wouldn't be seeing over 100 incidents every year, year on year on year. As I said, I think there's one year in the last 20 years where we have not had over 100. From my memory, it was about 96. So, as I said yesterday, nobody likes being told what to do, and I personally felt that, if you had a voluntary approach, you'd have the buy-in from the sector, and that's really what I've worked hard to do. 

Okay, but you must agree with me that now, more than ever, our Welsh agricultural sector is in urgent need of financial stability, especially in light of the fact that you are only offering £13 million to assist with water quality and farm nutrient management infrastructure when even your own regulatory impact assessment estimates that the upfront capital costs of the NVZ regs could run to £360 million. So, do you not agree that the Bill should include a baseline support payment that's open and accessible to all active farmers that underpins agriculture and, of course, our very important food production?

Let's talk about Welsh agriculture stability, shall we? So, we are receiving £137 million less from the UK Government than if we'd stayed in the European Union. We're receiving £137 million—. So really I will take no lessons in financial stability for our Welsh agricultural sector. I absolutely agree it is a very uncertain time for them, and that's why I made the statement I did on basic payments. We have found the scheme funding to do the basic payment scheme for this year, and I've also said, if the UK Government give us the funding, we will do the same for 2022. 

In relation to the costs around the agricultural pollution, as I said, there is a higher cost if we don't do anything. So, it's really important we get on top of this now. We've had long enough—they've had long enough to do this, and we need to get on top of it now.

I mentioned yesterday the dairy project that NRW have been doing for us, and I mentioned over—. I think it's around 50 per cent of the dairy farms that have been visited aren't compliant with the current regulations. Now, I am not going to give any funding for those to come up to the current regulations. What we have said is we will provide financial support and practical support to help with the new agricultural pollution—. Now, I can't commit funding for years and years to come. We said we'd start with a pot of money. We have been doing—under the rural development plan, we've been doing the farm covers, and that was something that I think it was one of the farming unions came forward with as a way of helping, when we were looking at the voluntary approach. So, we've been giving funding in relation to that too.

But what is important is that we stop the agricultural pollution incidents. They are an embarrassment for the agricultural sector, they're an embarrassment for Wales, and the agricultural sector would absolutely agree. We've all heard John Davies, the president of NFU Cymru, saying one agricultural pollution incident is one too many, and we're having on average three a week. Just think about that.

15:30

So, in the White Paper, you explain that you

'want to avoid the criminalisation of farmers and land managers wherever possible by using alternative sanctions which are more
appropriate for less serious offences.'

However, in the nitrate vulnerable zones regs, regulation 46 states that:

'any person who contravenes any provision of these Regulations is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction, or on conviction on indictment, to a fine.'

Do you realise that, whilst you're trying not to criminalise farmers in the White Paper, you are actually doing so via NVZs?

No, I don't agree. The whole point around the section in the White Paper around non-criminalisation—I'm trying to think of the word—where we're trying to bring all—. There is such disparate legislation at the moment, we're just trying to bring it all in one place. No, I don't agree with you. What you have to understand is many, many farmers don't pollute.

Why would you not want every farmer not to pollute? Why do you not have the ambition that there is no pollution, and that we bring everybody up? It's not fair on the farmers who do the right thing. We want everybody to do the right thing.

Janet, I think that you and the Minister don't agree on this.

One final point. I've been an elected Member for 10 years, and there have been a few incidents of pollution not attributed to farmers at all here locally. So, what are you doing about those?

We're doing lots of things around other forms of pollution. Look at what we're doing in relation to mines, for instance. So, you know, I'm not saying, and please don't say that I am—I'm not saying that all pollution is agricultural pollution; of course it's not. There are lots of different forms of pollution and we are doing our very best to get rid of all pollution. And as I say, I'll give you an example: the work we're doing on mines remediation.

Janet, if you'd like to move on now to decarbonisation and air quality.

Okay. So, bearing in mind the White Paper on a clean air Bill, what consideration have you given introducing a duty to take all reasonable measures to boost active travel, use of less polluting vehicles and public transport before making people pay into clean air zones?

I notice the Welsh Conservatives are having a little bit of a campaign on this. It's out to consultation, so there are lots of things. As you say, active travel is really important, and significant funding is being put into that. The clean air Bill is—I think it's still out to consultation for a while. We're looking at lots of different aspects, but we have to do something, because, again, too many people are dying because of poor air quality, and I'm sure you would agree with me on that.

Yes, but the clean air Bill White Paper correctly acknowledges that we need

'to achieve a society in which improving air quality becomes everyone's business.'

So, what discussions have you had with the Minister for Education, for instance, as to what measures can be taken to improve awareness through education in schools?

Yes, so I had discussions with every ministerial colleague before it went out to a consultation. I think I had—. Certainly, I had discussions at a Cabinet level with all colleagues. I think you're right. So, you'll see part of the consultation is working with local authorities and schools to stop cars idling outside with their engines on, for instance. So, there is a huge amount of work that's gone into the White Paper.

Again, I had hoped to bring forward a clean air Bill in this term of Government, but I've been unable to do so. But all ministerial colleagues are looking within their portfolios as to what we could do. You'll be aware that I published the clean air plan last summer, and, again, I think the education Minister was part of that discussion again. But I think there are lots of areas that we can look at to improve things—domestic burning of different types of things, for instance—but active travel is obviously a huge part of that.

And then of course, we all agree that renewable energy has a key role in decarbonisation. So, therefore, will the Minister explain why the Welsh Government is now withdrawing rate support for small-scale private hydroelectric projects in Wales, which yet again is hitting our farmers and up to 75 per cent of the Welsh hydro sector hard? It just seems a no-brainer. Why is this happening? 

15:35

Again, I think you need to look at the UK Government, who removed the feed-in tariff around hydro. I visited a farm up in north-west Wales—it wouldn't be in your constituency, but in north-west Wales—where a farmer had gone to a huge amount of effort to have a hydro scheme on his farm, wanted another one, and the farmer in the next area wanted one, but by the time they did it, it wasn't financially worth them doing it, because of the UK Government feed-in tariffs. I continue to work with the UK Government to try and get the feed-in tariffs back. Around the tax, we are looking at that, but I have been contacted by the British Hydropower Association, I have met with them, and I've just written back a couple of months ago explaining the Welsh Government's position around that. 

It might have gone from Rebecca Evans—I'm just trying to think. But yes, I'll make sure that the letter's available. 

Llyr wants to come in on that as the regional Member for that area.

You say that you are looking at it. Does that mean that you're actively considering reintroducing the rate relief? Because you say that these businesses have taken a hit from the loss of the feed-in tariff, but many of them are now going to go out of business as whole farms because of the loss of the rate relief that you have taken away. 

I think we said that we would look at it in the future. We're not actively looking at it for this financial year, but I think we did say—. I will share a copy of the letter with you. 

I've seen the letter, actually, and it doesn't give us much light at the end of the tunnel, so I still don't know whether that's a 'yes' or a 'no'. 

Are we looking at it? I think I said we would actively look at it in the future, not in this financial year.

I'm sorry, I didn't know you'd finished decarbonisation. Llyr, back to you. 

Thank you, Chair. I just want to come back to this line that you're giving us all the time about the voluntary approach around the NVZs having failed. You said this yesterday in answer to questions—that the voluntary approach had failed—and you just said now the voluntary approach hasn't worked. Which voluntary approach has been given the opportunity to work, then?

There were a few ideas that came forward. I think the main one—I can't remember the name, it was blue something—

That's right, blue flag in Pembrokeshire. So, that didn't work in the way that had been anticipated. I think that's probably—

If you look at the outcomes of that, and I've got the figures here, it's been running for five years and has reduced on average the nitrates leaving members' farms by over a tonne a farm, which far outweighs the NVZ modelling of achieving a 10 per cent reduction. Both farming unions backed it, four of the major farm co-operatives in Wales backed it. Why did you turn the other way?

I didn't turn the other way. As I say, we worked with it, but we did have—. I can think of one major incident that we did have where that had failed, and it didn't give us across Wales the reduction in agricultural pollution incidents we wanted to see. And as I said yesterday in the Chamber, there is a review clause in these regulations. I've made that very clear, that it's there, so if people want to continue to come forward with ideas, we will look at them.

So, you're already falling back on the review clause, and they're not operational yet. I mean, you're giving up on your own regulations before they've started. 

No, not at all. You see—you can't win, can you? I thought it was really important to have a review clause so that, if people come forward with bright ideas, we can put them in. I'm very happy to look at that. I'm not saying that at all.

But there have been bright ideas that have actually been operational for five years and have proven their worth, as opposed to you introducing this, which is only projected to achieve a proportion of what's already being achieved by some of these so-called failing voluntary approaches. 

So, why are we continuing to get three, on average, agricultural pollution incidents every week?

Even after these regulations are introduced, there will be these accidents happening and these incidents. Your regulations aren't going to change that. I have to say, there are more than three accidents on the roads in Wales every day; you don't close every single road in the whole of Wales, do you, to deal with that problem?

15:40

And on that very good point, it's 15:40, it's time for us to take a break. We'll return after the break for 10 minutes with Jenny Rathbone talking about the national forest and food and drink. Thank you. Let's have a 10-minute break.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:40 a 15:49.

The meeting adjourned between 15:40 and 15:49.

15:45
3. Parhau â'r sesiwn graffu gyda Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig
3. Continuation of general scrutiny session with the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

I welcome the Minister and her colleagues back to the meeting. I call Jenny Rathbone to start asking questions on the national forest.

15:50

Thank you very much. We've got these 14 exemplar sites on NRW land, mainly or perhaps all in existing forests, and then we have the community woodland scheme that's been managed by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, or the bidding for funding was managed by them. I just wondered if you could tell us how the whole national forest is going to fit together, because when we were looking at the national development framework, now badged as 'Future Wales', obviously we would have been keen to see a map as to how all these individual initiatives are going to join up. I wondered if you could tell us how far you've got on that. 

It is evolving. I think when we first started to think about a national forest, which was obviously one of the First Minister's manifesto commitments, I remember having my very first discussions with him about it, and he envisaged one national forest, and then, as the time has gone on, it became very clear that he wanted a connected one, so that you would be able to walk round, a bit like the coastal path—you would have a national forest that connects everywhere. As you say, we've got the first exemplar sites, we've got the national lottery funding. I met with them at national lottery on Monday. We just had a very brief discussion about it, but, obviously, that's something that I'm keen to get more money into in this way. 

We're engaging with a wide range of stakeholders to understand how we can best deliver it. I think it's fair to say it's going to take a long time. It's going to take years and years to get a national forest in the way that we want it. We will go out to public consultation on it eventually. I haven't got a timeline for that, but I think the advice we're getting now from our stakeholders will then obviously help the public consultation. There will be a very long-term strategy on it that will come from that consultation, and then the plans for delivering it. I think we need to see—. You've heard me say many times that we don't plant enough trees. We need to do something to make sure that we plant more trees, and I would see the national forest as part of that strategy. 

I suppose the wider extra firms 

Okay. The planning Minister gave some very firm commitments about green belts to prevent urban sprawl, so it seems to me that the national forest could play a very important part in making it clear to developers that green belt areas will simply not be available for future development. I just wondered why we've seen nothing so far on how we could use the national forest to enhance the national development framework, 'Future Wales', as well as meet the other objective, which is to have nature close to where people live. Because most of the forests mentioned—the 14 sites you mentioned—are obviously in rural areas. Perhaps the community woodland scheme addresses some of that. 

Yes, and I was pleased we were able to continue to do it during the pandemic when so many things, obviously, were stopped. Our Local Places for Nature, for instance—we've really made some good progress on that, which has been really pleasing when we've lost so much time on other things. The community woodland scheme—yes, I think that's all part of making sure that there is that connection. 

You asked me about the exemplar sites that we've got at the moment. They are existing sites, and probably—I'm trying to think; I might ask Gian Marco to come in—the majority of them are Welsh Government sites. You're nodding. Yes, I think most of them are Welsh Government sites. So, you're quite right; we are using existing sites. Gian Marco, I don't know if there's anything you can add. 

Very happy to, Minister. All the sites we've nominated so far are on the Welsh Government woodland estate. What we wanted to do was show what a site could look like to be part of the national forest. In terms of the overall strategy, it's really driven by two things. The first is that it's driven by the policy decisions that Ministers will want to make about the focus of the forest. As you've said, there are different elements to it; there are community elements, there's the possibility of extending the Welsh Government woodland estate. There are all sorts of permutations that Ministers will need to take a view on. The second big part of it is the stakeholder and community engagement and buy-in. We can't really do this unless we've got the buy-in of all the stakeholders involved.

What we've done to inform those two things is basically develop quite a powerful tool that allows us to draw on existing data to look at what the national forest could look like, depending on the policy decisions that you take, and that's what we're going to start engaging with stakeholders on, to try and get a better sense of what they would like to see as well. Combining that with ministerial decisions, we'll then be able to say, 'Okay, what we think the national forest will look like is this.' So, it's a living process, in that sense, but it's very exciting because there are lots of options as to how you might be able to do it.

15:55

Another part that I thought would be really exciting—and we're working with Keep Wales Tidy on this—is around tiny forests and incorporating tiny forests into schools, and then having that as part of the national forest. But clearly, again, COVID's put a bit of a stop on that, because obviously schools have got far more important things at the moment to be thinking about. But I think that would be really exciting, because there will be lots of children and young people who haven't got access to forests, so if we could incorporate those—. There are lots of ideas and plans, but there's been a lack of community engagement. We would have preferred to have seen a higher level of community engagement.

It would be fair to say that not many people know about the community scheme that's being managed by the lottery, and the deadline is this coming October. How are you going to ensure that all stakeholders, particularly the community, are aware of the vision that you're trying to create from this initiative?

As I mentioned, I met with the lottery and the new acting chief executive on Monday, and we talked about that. We do need to up the awareness. It's really important that we promote these as much as we can, because—

Fine. Do you want to move on to food and drink now, Jenny?

All right. Obviously, food and drink—. The COVID-19 recovery plan also mentioned the Brexit risks, and you're in the middle, obviously, of managing both of those, but particularly the latter. When do you think you might be in a position to launch a new strategy on food and drink? Because it's badged as 2021, but that's rather a long piece of string. 

I had hoped it would be 2020, but as you say, it's interesting—. I meet with the supermarkets—well, not just supermarkets but the retail forum—regularly at the moment, and as you say, it's—. I can't remember, actually, if you said Brexit before COVID and then you said the latter, but I have to say COVID-19 is obviously dominating issues in relation to food and drink at the moment, more than EU transition. I think it was at the Royal Welsh Show 2019 that we launched the new food and drink strategy, because obviously the old one ran out at the end of 2020. We achieved the target before. I had hoped to do it in 2020. I don't have a date at the moment, but I am hoping to start to pick up—. This piece of work was one of the areas that we did have to put aside during the pandemic, but it's something that I know officials have now picked up again, and we do hope to bring it forward this year; I think it's really important. I've actually got a meeting coming up, I think, next week, with the chair of the food and drink industry advisory board, Andy Richardson, so we can pick up then with him. Obviously, the board led on this work.

Okay. Poor diet is obviously one of the underlying causes of vulnerability to COVID. How do you intend to ensure that the new strategy is meeting all the objectives in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015?

With any new strategy or policy we bring forward, we have to look at the future generations Act, so the board have been focusing on that as they're bringing forward their ideas. I think you're right about—. Well, poor diet affects so many things, doesn't it? We've been doing a piece of work in relation to this—or we had been doing a piece of work, sorry, pre COVID, to ensure that this strategy does look at that. I think, in light of COVID—[Inaudible.]—clearly and that's something I will discuss—

16:00

So, when you're talking—. Sorry, did I cut across you, because the sound went?

Don't worry. I said, after I've had this meeting next week with the chair—because I haven't met him for about six or seven months, and he attends the stakeholder group—I might be able to provide more information.

Okay. In your budget paper, you talked about creating a new sustainable brand value campaign to differentiate Welsh food and drink, and you're launching it in five different countries, plus the rest of the UK. So, could you just tell us what you mean by that exactly, because going off to Dubai and Japan is not necessarily sustainable, in many people's meaning of the word?

It's not, but they're two big markets. So, Good Food is held every year, which is a massive food and drink conference—that's probably the wrong word—but it wasn't held this year, although it might've been held virtually. It's a big market for us. I went about three or four years ago, and it's a big market. It's great to be there and see lamb being sold there. We look at our important business partnerships, if you like—so, the countries that you referred to, we try and make an alignment between this and our priority export markets, if you like, so that we do get maximum value from our campaigns. There were a lot of international consumer surveys done. I think that was back probably about a year ago, maybe just at the start of the pandemic. Obviously, we have Welsh Government overseas teams working in many of these countries, so we need to consult with them and find out what the views are coming from there. We have very integrated links with Germany—Germany is one of the countries I think you're probably referring to. So, throughout this year, we've got lots of links with different campaigns there, so that would be another reason why we would choose Germany, for instance.

The international target markets are really just chosen on those factors that I've just said, really, about important—

Okay. So, can you be a bit more explicit about what you mean by 'sustainable brand value' and how you think it'll either be the same message in these very diverse countries or different?

I suppose they'll be different because every country will be bespoke, so there would be some difference around that. It's about marketing and communications and what, as you say, the potential is for sustainable values, the partnership and the growth within those countries. You know, trade plans have been really affected, as you can imagine, with COVID. Dubai is a good example, because, obviously, Expo was supposed to be held and it probably would be just about finishing now. I think that's been postponed and put forward a bit. That's a good example of where we would build a campaign around it, portraying those sustainable brand values.  

Okay. It's just that when people talk about sustainability, they talk about things like grass-fed beef or not using soya from the Amazon, or things like that, and I just don't understand exactly—. I appreciate that you're going to be flogging Welsh food in these other parts of the world, but how does that link in with sustainable brand value?

Well, I suppose sustainable—. Yes, you've just given a really good example. Our meat here in Wales is probably the most sustainably produced than in any other country in the world, so that's an excellent example of what we're portraying. Again, as part of the St David's Day food campaigns, we have a lot of those, and they'll also be linked the sustainable brand values campaign as well.

Okay. Thank you for that. The new UK geographical indications scheme has replaced the EU protected food scheme. It sounds like there's a real danger that the Welsh food brand will be lost in all that. What are you doing to mitigate that threat?

Obviously, this is the replacement scheme that was launched on 1 January. We worked very closely with the UK Government to make sure that we had up-to-date guidance, aligned guidance, for stakeholders and interested parties. We've had lots of promotional efforts. You ask any of our producers here in Wales who had that EU GI previously, they believe that it brings in a huge amount awareness of their products. So, it is really important. What we're trying to do is make sure that the ones that had it before are using the logo immediately, so that we can get that awareness and brand recognition.

We are engaging with businesses across the food and drink sector to make sure that we get more people applying. I think that we've got about three new applicants now for the new UK GI scheme. I think that it's really important that, as you say, we make sure that people are aware of that, because we wouldn't want to lose the kudos, for want of a better word. You know, Halen Môn and our lamb and our beef had that status when we were in the European Union.  

16:05

Okay. So, this would guarantee that the Denbigh plum won't lose its geographically specific name.

That's right. And, you might think, 'Oh, of course', but that was a huge amount of work, to make sure that we didn't do that. I'm pleased that we have got our own scheme now, but I think that it's not just—. You don't have to be in the European Union to have that GI scheme. A number of other countries—somewhere like Mexico—were a part of the EU one as well. So, it would be good to keep that connection also.

Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon, Minister. I'm going to turn to all things fisheries for a moment. We've all seen the very well publicised delays causing real heartache—I mean real heartache—for individual businesses around shell fisheries in Wales. With all of the planning that went on, an immense amount of planning, some of this could be foreseen but some elements couldn't. Can you just explain to the committee—and this wasn't only a Welsh issue for shell fisheries; it was a UK issue for shell fisheries—what went wrong, and who, if anybody, was to blame for this going wrong? All that planning went in, and yet still shell fisheries people were left with stuff perishing on docksides. 

Well, I think DEFRA dropped the ball, ultimately. They were the ones that did all of the negotiations. We warned them, month after month after month. As you say, it's not just Wales. Look at Scotland. Fisheries are hugely important, and my counterpart—. Again, George Eustice hasn't been Secretary of State for the whole of this term, but he's been in DEFRA. I've been in this post, and Fergus Ewing has been in his post in Scotland for the entire term, and we have warned them about it.

Of course, a huge amount of planning did go into it, but not enough. I go back to what I said in an earlier answer. We didn't know what we were planning for, and that's what businesses keep telling us. They found it incredibly arrogant of the UK Government to say, 'Well, you've had long enough to plan.' It was four and a half years, wasn't it, from the EU referendum. But, as businesses said to me, we didn't know what we were planning for. If I think about the huge amount of time that I have, but even more for officials, put into 'no deal' scenarios—months and months of work. So, wouldn't it have been better if we could have put that planning into what we actually ended up with, which was, okay, a thin deal, but a deal that we can build on? Wouldn't it have been better if we could have planned for that deal? So, I think that that is the first thing to say.

I think that, this week, with the live bivalve mollusc situation, again, we warned them. We are now left with this, which I am sure we can sort out, but how much damage is it doing? I remember sitting in meetings—and you have heard me say this in the Chamber or in this committee—. It would only take three weeks for the shellfish sector, particularly, but fisheries as a whole, to be completely destroy, if we left with no deal, for instance. Unfortunately, we are now seeing a lot of that come to fruition.

So, Minister, you were saying earlier on, in response to a previous question, that your professional relationship—your ministerial relationship—with George Eustice is good. It's been built up over many years. The same, I suspect, would apply to your relationship with Scottish Government fisheries and agricultural Ministers as well. On that basis, how on earth—how on earth—did the UK Minister/England Minister not see what was going to happen to shell fisheries not just in Wales, but around the UK? Because this is intriguing me, because the same issue applies in terms of arguments for upland hill farmers in the south-west of England, in Wales and elsewhere. Why do they not get that there are people on these fringe elements of fisheries and farming for whom, unless they hear, it could absolutely destroy their livelihoods. What's gone wrong? We've had a long, long time. Sorry for my frustration on this, but—

16:10

Yes, it is very frustrating. I do have a good relationship with the Secretary of State, and I'm sure he would say the same thing about his relationship with me and certainly Fergus Ewing as well. I suppose it's ideology. That's the only thing I can think of, because he listens to his stakeholders, just as I listen to my stakeholders, and as Fergus listens to his. So, the only thing I can think of is it's pure ideology and that kind of 'Oh well, the European Union needs us more than we need them'. That wasn't true. There are 27 of them. For me, it's blatantly clear what was going to happen, and you're right.

George Eustice, particularly around fisheries—. He represents a Cornwall constituency. And the other thing that really frustrates me is—way before I came into post—my predecessors every December all attended fisheries council. I'm sure, when you were a Minister in DEFRA, every December you'd go to fisheries. So, there was that collaboration that hadn't been in other parts of Government. We'd all go to fisheries council together, we'd all sit up all night and go through the negotiations, and so, I use that as a very, very good example of collaboration between all four UK countries. And it was something I cherished, and I always felt that we could carry on with that good relationship, but unfortunately—. So, I think that the short answer is ideology. 

Well, Minister, let me just ask, then, for those shell fisheries particularly out there, is this short term? Is it fixable? 

I am very concerned that it's not short term. One of the things that encourages me—. As I say, I met with stakeholders on Monday, and certainly Welsh shellfish is something that is very sought after in Europe and there's not—particularly in Spain—equivalence perhaps. So, you would hope that the UK Government will be able to sort it out. They've come forward with a couple of support sector schemes.

So, again, we worked on the sheep sector scheme if there was a 'no deal' and we worked very collaboratively—the four countries. So, I think that was really good collaboration between us and DEFRA. We produced a business case that was going to go to the Treasury if we had a 'no deal'. We did a similar thing for shellfish, and we were working not just necessarily if it was a 'no deal', but if it needed support in the way that it clearly does. I think it was called the shellfish support winter scheme. And officials had worked very closely on it and it was for £23 million. I remember that was the figure and it was going to go as a business case to Treasury. Suddenly, DEFRA announced a shellfish support scheme for exporters for £23 million. So, I asked for a meeting with them to say, 'Is this the same £23 million?' It was a bit of coincidence, and there's no such thing as coincidence in politics. So, that £23 million—. We had not worked on any part of that exporters scheme. We hadn't seen the text. We just knew nothing about that scheme.

So, you must remember, in all this, fisheries is wholly devolved and so any funding that's coming in any scheme should be for—. I should get my share and I can decide how we support our fishers. I think the fishers need support, the aqua culture sector needs support, the processors need support as well as the exporters. So, the scheme that DEFRA brought forward was only for exporters and I think that's wrong. I have to say, I met with George about it, I've written to him twice, I wrote to him again yesterday because clearly it's becoming even more of a concern. So, I suppose that doesn't really answer your question whether we can sort it, but I certainly hope we can. And to go back to what I was saying, it's had an immediate detrimental impact on our fisheries. 

16:15

Well, Minister, I want to move on to another topic, but what would be really helpful for the committee is if you could write, as soon as you can, with details of the clarity on what support is available from the UK Government; for what sub-sectors of the sector it is allocated for; whether there is devolved control over it; and also perhaps if there is any additional Welsh Government support that you are thinking of as well.

But time is against us, so I wonder if I could move on to—

Can I just clarify one thing? The scheme I referred to for the exporters—we won't have any part of it. The UK Government will do that. I can clarify that straight away.

Thank you, that's really helpful. Thank you.

Can we move on, briefly, to nature conservation? And, of course, we have the big Convention on Biological Diversity coming up later this year, which you will be at, and we welcome that, and we want to see Wales showing leadership. You're a signatory to the Edinburgh declaration. What is your position—and you know I've been pushing on this, as have others. What is the Welsh Government's position on, in principle, embedding, in legislation, biodiversity targets? Not the detail now—and I know we have to wait for the outcome of the COP 26 conference—but in principle, are you in favour of putting into law targets once those targets are agreed?

You're right, I have signed up to the Edinburgh declaration and, obviously, that itself doesn't include targets, but the process has provided a consultation mechanism to influence targets, which are subject to negotiation as part of the post-2020 framework at COP 15. As you say, that was postponed—COP 15—and it's going be held in China, and it's now being held in May. So, the Edinburgh process sets out high-level political aims of national and the local constituency on the new framework for the Edinburgh declaration. I signed it. It does call for strong and bold action. So, I do think we need to see what comes out. I personally—

I personally like targets myself, because I think it does give you something to aim for, and also it gives you something to miss as well, unfortunately. For me, I prefer targets. I know that sometimes you argue it gives perverse outcomes, but I do. If it was me making the decision, I would prefer targets.

Minister, that's what we want to hear. It will be you making the decision, ultimately, or whoever comes back into that post. And look, I do get the difficulty with this. You need to see what the outcome of that CBD COP is, absolutely, because they might decide, 'Here is a raft, a framework, some binding targets we want to see.' You don't want negative consequences. You'll be having all this advice from your officials, I absolutely know that.

But on air quality, on climate change, it is targets that have driven our actions.

So, Minister, it will be your decision. So, I would simply say to you, accept in principle that it's the right thing to do, and then come back and consult on what those targets should be. Not indicators, not over here somewhere in a side document, but legally binding targets.

As I say, I like targets, and if you look at our nature recovery action plan—that's aligned to the delivery of the 20 targets that are in the existing 2010 Convention of Biological Diversity framework, so, yes, I don't disagree with you.

Mike, I probably pushed the Minister as far as she can go today, but I think we're getting there.

I'd have pushed her a little bit further, about not just having targets, but having intermediate targets on the way.

Yes, and I agree with you, Mike, on that, actually. So, it's a bit like our carbon emission reduction, isn't it? It's great to set the 2050 target, but if you don't have those targets on the way, then it's not really worth it, is it? So, I agree with you on this.

Going to 80 per cent in the last year. Janet Finch-Saunders.

Just quickly on the shellfish one. I did put my hand up. You know the Menai strait used to be classed A, but now it's B, what were the reasons for that? And what are the potentials, Minister, for that being lifted?

16:20

I'm sorry, I don't have that information. I don't know if Gian Marco has anything or whether I'll need to send a note.

We can send a note with the detail.

The issues are with—. The system is regulated by the Food Standards Agency, and it's actually quite a complicated system.

Looking at reclassifying waters is not straightforward. I'll leave it at that for this session.

Okay, thank you. So, last week, in a discussion about measuring the success of the green recovery delivery partnership, Sir David Henshaw said that he wouldn't point to a classic description of what the outcomes would be. In terms of the Welsh Government, what measures are you using to chart the success of this taskforce beyond their reflective report that is due shortly?

So, as you're aware, I asked David Henshaw to chair this group for us, because it's really important, as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, that we do have a green recovery. So, they've provided me with many priority actions, and we are—. I really welcomed the report—it came out in December, actually—so, I think it's very encouraging to see the response. I think there were 168 ideas that they'd come forward with, and they're at various stages of development.

So, I suppose, for me, what needs to be done is we need to look at the climate emergency and what we can do around there. So, go back to decarbonisation, increasing resilience around the impacts of climate change, then with the decline in biodiversity that we need to reverse, and the impact of that outside of Wales. The unsustainable production and consumption, you know, looking at how we use our resources more efficiently. So, the circular economy, for instance, sustainably using our natural resources, and we need to progress far more in relation to pollution. I'm not going to go back to that, but you know my views on that. Emissions need to be reduced. We need to make sure we use materials far more responsibly. And our focus on driving a green recovery, I think, provides us with a really good opportunity for exploring new and innovative ideas to help us enhance our natural resources. So, for instance, you'll be aware of 'A Low Carbon Wales', so we need to continue to look at that, and our natural resources policy. But we've got some serious environmental issues that we need to tackle, and that's what I will be looking at. And, I think, what David's report does do is give us lots of ideas for things that we've already got in Welsh Government, if you like, where we don't have to spend lots of new money—because we haven't got lots of new money, let's be honest—but we've got pots of money now that we can mould in a different way and use in a different way, and that's my hope, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Okay. Now, the green recovery taskforce also submitted their independent report, 'Supporting the environmental sector in Wales'. Last week, they confirmed that the issue of core funding support for environmental NGOs needs looking into. Could you outline what work your department has done further to this, to look into the eNGO funding support, and have plans for the short term been drawn up or a long-term review of funding structures been planned?

So, I think we had to look at this a little bit earlier than perhaps we would have done because of COVID. So, it became very apparent very quickly that this was a part of society and life that was being affected adversely very quickly, because of the pandemic. And, certainly, when I met with stakeholders last month, they're really concerned that their fundraising, for instance, is being impacted, and we're coming into spring again now, and it's going to be impacted again. So, in fairness to NRW, I think they did a huge amount to support the sector last year, and they are happy to help us look at how we make them more resilient this year.

So, I've already taken action to respond to the recommendations that came forward. I've launched a scheme, in partnership with the National Lottery heritage fund, to strengthen the capacity of the environmental sector, because I think that's another issue: the capacity. The scheme's response to findings in the report is about the need to strengthen governance. Financial resilience is another aspect that we need to look at. Improving community engagement—you will have heard Jenny say before that lots of the schemes the public aren't aware about, so we need to look at how we engage or how they engage better with the community. I'd like to be able to support them better with their project development—so, that's another area that NRW are helping us with as well.

If we're going to meet our ambitions, we need that sector to be really strong, and our delivery partners to be integral to that. So, I know officials are also working with the environmental sector around this. It doesn't help when you only get a one-year budget from the UK Government, because I remember sitting on this committee when I was a backbencher back in 2008, I think it was, where we were told three-year funding is not great for building that capacity and that sustainability. We've only had a one-year budget as a Welsh Government this year from the UK Government, so then we could only pass on a one-year budget to them. So, I think that's another area where—I know that they would like a five-year budget, but wouldn't we all? So, it's difficult to be able to do anything more about that. I'm just going to ask Gian Marco if he can say anything more about the work officials are doing with the sector to try and—I know we're looking at developing a proposal for a more sustainable funding model. Gian Marco.

16:25

Absolutely. So, we've got a group that meets regularly with—particularly with the NGOs, to look at the challenges they've been facing, and part of the reason why we launched the scheme that the Minister mentioned, run by the Lottery, was in response to what we were hearing from them. What we're looking at now is, in effect, what does a multi-annual plan look like in relation to biodiversity, and what is the role of the sector in helping us to deliver that? What are some of the challenges they face, and what can we, as Welsh Government, do to support that? So, the work that Sir David's group has done, and the work that NRW has done, is feeding into all of that.

And then, finally, last week, delivery—thank you. Last week, delivery partnership officials said that they would look into what further steps they could take to ensure that initiatives are broadened to include young people from our rural communities. So, long-term, green-collar jobs will be an essential part of this recovery. So, what in internal targets have you set for the partnership on youth inclusion and job creation? And also, as part of our green recovery, and this sort of partnership, where do farmers feed into this, because I'm a great believer that they can do a lot for biodiversity, conservation and the environment? Thank you.

Absolutely. I always say that the beautiful landscapes that we have here in Wales—the majority of farmers, obviously, contribute to that. That's why I say—. They come forward all the time saying they are part of the solution in relation to—

—green recovery. And that's why I keep saying about agricultural pollution: we cannot continue to let it happen, because we need them to be part of that solution for green recovery. And skills is a really important issue of coming out of COVID-19 and that green recovery, and I'm also looking—. As you know, we're doing a big piece of work across Government and with—obviously, the UK Government has to be part of it—around coal tips, and the remediation of our coal tips is another area that I think will really help, and we'll need to look at what skills are going to be involved there too. So, I'm not aware of specific targets at the minute, but this is obviously an ongoing piece of work that will continue to—well, probably go into the next term of Government, obviously.

Llyr Gruffydd said at the beginning of the meeting he wanted to come in on another issue. We've got two minutes. Over to you, Llyr.

That's fine. I just wanted to pick up, really, because we haven't really given the agriculture White Paper a good airing, but in the two minutes I have, I'll focus my question. I just wanted an update, really, in terms of where we are around testing and trialling and piloting. You mentioned, I think, previously, that you think you can take some learning from existing activity, which I can understand to an extent, but I was flicking this morning through the environmental land management proposals in England, and they have a test and trials evidence report that's published regularly. They have 60 particular trials running, which they take their learning from. And in that document, they actually have a side-by-side comparison of what the countryside stewardship rates currently pay, and what, based on the work that's ongoing, the new rates under the ELM might be. And there's a range, clearly, but that certainly helps those in the sector to understand better—and you as a Government, really—the impact and the cost implications. So, are you doing anything comparative in Wales? How many trials are there, and how are you disseminating, collating and sharing this information?

16:30

Well, you've got an advantage over me, because I haven't flicked through that document for a while. The last time I looked at it, I did think they'd moved a lot towards what we're doing in Wales. So, I'd be very happy to have a look at that. I'm going to ask Tim if we are going to—. I'm always keen to learn lessons. I don't know if you've looked at the English paper to see if there's anything we can do, because I think it would be good to have that information available, not just to me but for all Members.

Yes, Minister. Both a combination of actually learning from the things that are being done in England—they're interesting tests and trials. Some are more relevant to Wales than others, because of landscape type, but we are working to learn from those. We're building on some of the things from our own trials and experiments. We're building on the modelling that we've got, and, obviously, we've done a lot of co-design with farmers, and we'll be looking to bring forward more of those sorts of experimental testing and trials in due course.

I wasn't necessarily asking you to take the learning from England. What I'm asking about is when do we get to see the data, and when do we get a better understanding, for example, of the kinds of rates that Welsh farmers—because I'm sure if those rates are what you're hoping they'll be, or what you're suggesting they might be, then maybe that'll help you in terms of pursuing this agenda. But, at the moment, we're not seeing any of this, are we?

No, so, obviously, when the consultation ends and we—. What I could do—. So, I know the official who is leading on this will have a lot of data to hand that I haven't got in front of me, but I'm very happy to send a note on that. I know we will have the specific data you talk about in relation to the trials, et cetera, and the testing. We will have that data, so I will be able to provide that in a note, Chair.

Thank you very much, and at that point, we've got to 4.30 p.m.. Can I thank you, Minister, and your officials for coming along to the committee again? It's been very helpful to us. You know you'll get a transcript and all the other things that you do. You come often enough to be fully aware of these things, so thank you again. Thank you very much, it's very much appreciated by the committee.

4. Papurau i'w nodi
4. Papers to note

Can we note the papers 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4 and 4.5? Yes.

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (vi) a (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

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

Motion:

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

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Can I move a motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting? Yes.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:32.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 16:32.