Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd
Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd15/01/2019
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|David J. Rowlands AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AM|
|Leanne Wood AM|
|Mike Hedges AM|
|Neil McEvoy AM|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Kath Thomas||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Lisa Salkeld||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Ross Davies||Dirprwy Glerc|
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 09:17.
The meeting began at 09:17.
Bore da. Good morning, and welcome to the Petitions Committee. There are no apologies or substitutions this morning.
We will all have been made aware, over the weekend, of the passing of one of our fellow AMs, Steffan Lewis. I feel it would be appropriate for us to pause for a few moments to reflect on his life and contribution to the Senedd and Welsh politics in general. Our condolences go out to his wife and family. It is worth noting here that Steffan wishes that all Assembly business should continue as normal. So, if we could just pause for a few seconds.
Thank you for that contribution.
So, the second item on the agenda is new petitions. The first of these is 'No to any Closure of Junction 41'. This petitions was submitted by Carol Clement-Williams, having collected 473 signatures. We have the note with regard to that, which has been supplied by the secretariat. So, do you have any comments to make on—?
Just that she makes the comment on the effect of emissions. I think we should go back to the appropriate Cabinet secretaries, raising the point she makes and see what they come back with, but, as I understand—and I think it's the understanding of most Members—there's no intention now to close junction 41.
Right. I think that, obviously, the petitioner has made the comment that, by transferring it off the motorway onto the local roads, she believes that that would have a much more harmful effect on the community and the people in that area than keeping that particular junction open. So, the possible actions are that the committee could write back to the Minister for Economy and Transport to ask what assessment has been undertaken of the potential impact of increased vehicle emissions along local roads if a partial or full closure of junction 41 was implemented, and whether relevant data on emissions was collected as part of the trial closure. I don't think that that was the primary reason for closing it at that time, so, whether that data is available or not, we're not certain, but we could ask. Okay.
The next new petition is 'Make learning disability training mandatory for hospital staff'. This petition was submitted by the Paul Ridd Foundation, having collected 5,654 signatures. I think an initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 12 December, in which he points out certain implementations that have been carried out already by the Welsh Government with regard to this. But I've spoken personally to the brother and sister of Paul Ridd and it appears to me that they feel that although they had a launch of this in January 2014, it does not seem to be implemented on a cross-border—well, every one of the health boards have not implemented this in a co-ordinated fashion, and they feel that the only way that that can come about is if there's legislation to make sure that it does. Does anybody have any comments?
Can I ask a question on the fact that the UK Government made a commitment to hold a public consultation for proposals for mandatory learning disability training for all health and care staff in England? Can we have more information about what is happening with that? It makes sense to me that health staff are trained. Social services staff, or social workers, are trained and given specific training in this. The difficulty—and this is something that is, I'm sure, going to show itself to us as the Autism (Wales) Bill proceeds, if it does—is that we've got social services departments for people with mental health problems, we've got social services departments for people with learning disabilities, but with the autism spectrum, people often fall within neither of those departments. I think that it is worth looking at the whole question, and finding out what's happening with the situation in England might inform committee a bit more. But I think this is something we should definitely pursue, and given the fact that there are more than 5,000 signatures collected here, I think it's something we should consider for Plenary debate.
Yes. I think you're right. Neil.
Yes, I agree. I'd like to write some letters as well. I'm surprised to read that still, one in four healthcare professionals have never had training on learning disability or autism and two thirds want more training. Speaking as a former teacher who was trained in these kinds of things, I just find it incredible that there's such a number of staff who've not had any training at all.
The letter from the Minister is very, I'd say—what's the word?—limited in what it says. I'd like to write back to him to get more detail, maybe to ask him to take the issue more seriously, and write, also, to the ministerial advisory group. I think Leanne mentioned England, it may well be worth writing to the English NHS to see what they do there, maybe write to the English Minister and see how we compare.
That's right. Yes. Janet, do you have—?
I agree with Neil, yes.
Mike, do you agree?
I agree. Yes.
Okay. So, I think you're happy with that. And we're also saying the committee could undertake further investigations such as writing back to the Minister, our Minister for Health and Social Services, to request further details about the work being carried out in hospital settings under the Improving Lives programme and to ask for the Government's view on the value of mandatory training for hospital staff.
So, I think that, really, what the petitioners are asking for is that it should be mandatory, because it's not working in the way that it's being implemented at the moment, and I think that that's what we have to give some considerable thought to in future.
Okay. So, if I can summarise, Chair, we'll write back to the Minister for Health and Social Services in the Welsh Government and we can investigate writing directly to the ministerial advisory group as well; that may be channelled back to us by the Minister. And we will look at the situation in England. My understanding is that they announced that a consultation would take place in September, with a view that it would be completed by March, but I'm not sure whether that has commenced yet. So, we could find out some more information and bring it back to the committee.
Okay, thank you.
We move on to the next petition, which is, 'Fire sprinklers are for life, not a fast buck!' This petition was submitted by John Newman, having collected 209 signatures.
We've had a response to the petition from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 7 December. This is a petition that asks that anybody who is fitting suppression systems, fire sprinklers et cetera, should be certificated for doing that job by a third party.
Is it the case at present that anybody can install a sprinkler?
I think without any specific certificate—if they are a plumber or something like that, but he believes that there should be specific training for that, for the installations to take place. So, the committee could await—we've not had a response from the petitioner with regard to the Cabinet Minister's response to us, so the possibility is that we could await the views of the petitioner on the response received from the Welsh Government before considering whether to take further action on this petition.
That makes sense, yes.
Are we all agreed with that? I think that's the best thing.
The next petition is 'Provide Child Houses in Wales for victims of child sexual abuse'. This petition was submitted by Mayameen Meftahi, having collected 227 signatures. First of all, I'd like personally to congratulate Mayameen on the courage she's shown in bringing this petition to the committee in the first place. What the petition is asking for, basically, is that there should be a safe house for children who are leaving a home where they are being abused and that all the agencies that may be involved in dealing with that sort of abuse would be in the same building so that there's one port of call.
This is a very interesting petition as far as I'm concerned. This is something that our care system, our looked-after, national, local authority care system is meant to do, but it's clear that it's not doing what it's meant to do, and we know that there have been pressures with funding, and that would probably mean that the more extreme cases are the ones that end up in the looked-after system. So, I think that there is a gap in the system here and I think that, as a society, we've got to decide, really, whether we're interested in trying to help and facilitate children's recovery from sexual abuse or whether we want to continue to hide it away and pretend it isn't happening because it is something that's perhaps too difficult for us as a society to face.
I absolutely agree.
So, even though there is, relatively speaking, a small number of signatories to this petition, it is something I'd like us to pursue further. The Barnahus model that is in Iceland looks really interesting and the fact that something's been set up in London along those lines—I think I wouldn't mind seeing some research into exactly what kind of services they provide. Is it a residential set-up, for example, or is it more like the current sexual assault referral centres—the SARCs—that are available for adult survivors of sexual abuse? Either way, that provision should provide for children, but it clearly isn't doing that comprehensively at the moment.
I think that there is a possibility that perhaps we could visit the institutions they have in London, which would show that we are very serious about this petition. Does anybody else have any comments?
No. I agree. I think it's something that we need to move forward with, because a child, at the most vulnerable stage, when they need support, there needs to be that all-encompassing—. We have very fractured services, I'm afraid, across Wales at the moment.
Yes, I absolutely agree with everything that's been said, and noting the harm caused to the child by multiple interviews, my concern is that children in these situations also find it very difficult to have a voice, and when you actually deal with the nitty-gritty of some cases, it's absolutely shocking what you come across, and I don't mean the content of the complaints, I mean the way that the system deals with these children, or doesn't deal with them. So, I fully support this.
What I was appalled at, actually, when we were speaking to Mayameen, is that these children are often sent back, although they may go to this centre, they're often sent back to the homes where the abuse is taking place. I think that's absolutely unacceptable, and I think that we ought to—although, the petition doesn't actually call for that, but I think it ought to be brought to the attention of everybody that perhaps we should have hostels for children who find themselves in this position, so that once they are assessed and whilst the judicial process is going on, they have a safe place to go to, in the same way as, say, refuges are at the moment. I think that's very important.
Can I just add in public here, to go back to the voice aspect, some of us involved in politics, in cases like this—I declare an interest as a councillor—find that maybe when we follow up cases such as this and we want to try and get the voice of the child heard, we may very well find ourselves the victim of, let's say, for example, ombudsman complaints? If you look at the way the system is working, the voice of the child isn't being heard. There are a lot of barriers to people involved in local government, to people involved in this building, to actually trying to get action in cases. I fully support this, but I just wanted to raise that as another issue. And my comment there is an informed comment based on a live case, where allegations were made by a child and the people in the background didn't take it seriously, especially the parents, and instead of those investigations being undertaken and people being informed of the result of them, the councillor involved has found himself reported to the ombudsman.
Well, I think this is the whole idea of the Barnahus situation, that the multiple agencies that might be involved will be there on site, so that they can deal with it as a whole and take a holistic approach to the whole system.
I think it would be useful to get some additional information from the children's commissioner as well. As I started out saying, this should be the remit of local authority care services, and they are not dealing with every case, or they may not be dealing with every case that comes before them. And so, some sort of halfway house is what's needed here. But I would like to take the advice of the children's commissioner on this, because when you intervene in cases like this, you've got to do it very, very carefully, because otherwise you could cause more harm than good.
Okay. So, the possible actions open to the committee are, as you say, Leanne, that the committee could write to the Children's Commissioner for Wales to ask for her views on the petition and for further information about the relevant recommendations she made in her annual report of 2017-18, and the Welsh Government's response and their view about the petition's call for places where children can go to escape sexual abuse. And the committee could write to the Minister for Health and Social Services to ask, 'Are facilities available in Wales for the safeguarding of children who are reporting and escaping from sexual abuse?' Are we all happy?
Is the review into advice services and so on that was undertaken under the previous First Minister still ongoing, and if it is, who is responsible for doing that now? Because I understand that the Government is currently reviewing all of these services to get a picture of what the situation is in Wales, but I'm not clear now, with the recent changes, where the status of that review is.
Could we include those questions within—?
Okay, fine. Thank you.
We move on to item 3, which is updates to previous petitions. The following two items are grouped for consideration. The first is 'Allow Children in Wales to Have a Family Holiday During Term Time'. This petition was submitted by Bethany Walpole-Wroe and was first considered in July 2014, having collected 1,008 signatures. There was an associated e-petition that collected over 10,300 signatures.
The second, which we are considering at the same time, is to 'Ensure schools exercise their statutory powers under regulation 7 of The Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010 without interference or bias'. This petition was submitted by Pembrokeshire Parents Want a Say and was first considered in December 2014 having collected 812 signatures. What this particular one says is that the local authorities and educational consortia, without any threat of penalisation through school inspections—. They bring out that it's often a part of the Estyn inspections as to how many absences the school has.
I think the inspection regime is driving all of this, but we've got to recognise the link between poverty and people choosing to holiday out of the school holiday time—then to put a fine on top of that, when parents do that, is exacerbating the problem. So, I think it's sensible for us to find out more about the fixed-penalty notices, how many of those have been issued, what kind of sums we are talking about with that, and to keep a watching brief on the situation as well.
I've got some figures on that and they're startlingly high.
[Inaudible.]—share with the committee?
Yes. I'm sure we've got them somewhere on our research file. They are really concerning. Large sums of money are coming into local authorities through some of these fines.
I believe that the family holiday—you learn other skills and things, and I just think that it's pretty good. But I know families who wouldn't be able to go on holiday because it's just shocking how the holiday industry maximises during the out-of-term time.
Of course, what the petition is asking for is that the headmaster should be the person who makes—
Yes, I think they should have the discretion.
—the decision with regard to whether they should be penalised, as such. But the headmasters seem to be constrained by the fact of the advice from local education authorities and of course the Estyn inspections.
And the regional consortia.
Headmasters tend to go for penalising pupils in order to keep the figures within—
You're penalised by Estyn if you drop below a certain number. I have two points that I'd like to make. One is that you have to wait for the revised school attendance framework, which is due out sometime this year. The second point is: it often depends on the age of the child and what's happening. I don't think anybody would condone a child who's doing his GCSE exam on the Monday going on holiday on that Monday and missing his exams. Very few people would think there's much of a problem with a child in nursery missing a week to go somewhere. So, the age of the child and what they're missing I think is important, but let's wait for the framework.
Yes, and I think we ought to make the point that, obviously, if a child takes a holiday and has a bad absenteeism record anyway, then that obviously matters a great deal more to the child than if it's a child who only takes that holiday and has an exemplary record otherwise. But I take your point.
So, we want to find out some more information, Leanne, you said, with regard to the figures that are involved with the fines that are being implemented. Do we have—?
There was some research published earlier in 2018 that was commissioned by the Government, I think, as part of this review, that is published online. So, we could draw relevant figures out of that. It looks at the whole fixed-penalty notice regime, not just in relation to school holidays. But we can pull the relevant figures out of that, and provide that back to the committee at a future meeting.
Can we find out when the consultation is likely to take place as well?
Yes, I understand it's autumn this year that this is intended to be developed. I'm sure more—
I'll just ask, on those figures—do they differentiate between absences for holidays and absences for other reasons, because—
Okay. That's really important, isn't it? Because we don't want to encourage unauthorised absences for other reasons in any way, or given any signal towards that, whilst at the same time we want to be able to address this issue.
That's right. Okay, so the committee could continue to keep a watching brief on the issue, and consider the petition again when the revised school attendance framework is published for consultation later in 2019. And in so doing, the committee may wish to note the length of time for which the petitions have already been under consideration. I think it's 2014, if my memory serves me right. So, they have been a little while in the process.
It was only because we started closing petitions down—when I took over as Chair of this committee prior to you, we had 2007 and 2008 petitions that were coming in.
Okay, we move on to the next petition, which is 'Presumption in favour of rural schools'. This petition was submitted by Cymdeithas Rhieni ac Athrawon Ysgol Gymunedol Bodffordd, which is Bodffordd Parents and Teachers Association, having collected 945 signatures. The committee considered the petition for the first time on 25 September and agreed to request time for a Plenary debate. A debate was held on 21 November 2018. There has been a subsequent submission from Cymdeithas yr Iaith on 6 December.
In the proposed possible actions, there was a proposal that the committee could write to Isle of Anglesey County Council to ask for their response to concerns raised by Cymdeithas yr Iaith, but, obviously, there are some legal implications to that. Lisa, could you possibly give us a background as to what—?
I just think that Anglesey council may be reluctant to engage with the committee on this whilst—. I'm not sure, but I think the decision was made at the end of December or the end of November/beginning of December, so it's still in the period where parents or governors or teachers could judicially review the decision. So, I think whilst that's ongoing, it may well be that Anglesey council or the Minister wouldn't engage constructively with the committee on the consultation process that was followed in this particular decision.
But I think there is a more general point about what parents and teachers can do if they feel that the process hasn't been followed correctly, because, at the moment, under the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013, from where the school organisation code came, there is no process for referring a decision up to the Ministers if you feel a process hasn't been followed. There is a process for Welsh Ministers to get involved, for example—and it's in very limited circumstances—if one local authority makes a decision, the other local authority doesn't agree, or a further education organisation that could be affected by the change doesn't agree, but it's very, very limited and very specific. So, that might be something that the committee wishes to explore with the Minister, because other than judicial review, there doesn't seem to be an avenue open to the petitioners in this particular example.
Okay. Graeme, would you like to make any comments on that?
I think the other comment worth the committee being aware of is that the petition itself is generally about the school organisation code and how it's enforced by the Welsh Government, for example. The comments most recently received relate to a specific decision in relation to a school made by an individual local authority. So, the committee may wish to be aware that, if that petition had been submitted originally, it wouldn't be admissible to be considered by the Assembly. So, the committee has the scope to take any decision that it wants to in relation to considering the issue now, but a petition that relates to a decision by an individual local authority is not admissible under the Assembly's petitions process because of the democratic scrutiny processes that exist locally.
Can I just say, I think what we're talking about here, as I understand it, is a general principle about the code, and which code, whether it's been followed or not, and what the procedure is? And the school in question has been used as an example as to why the old code, or even the new code, is not fit for purpose. So, for example, the school is full, it's got the only community centre in the area, 89 per cent of the pupils are from Welsh-speaking homes—if this school isn't safe under the new code, which is meant to protect rural schools in this kind of set-up, then what is the point of the new code?
So, I accept what you're saying—if this was a petition about an individual school, we wouldn't be able to look at it, but the school in question is used, I think, as an example to show why the code is problematic. And I think the Minister has constantly said that she's got the powers to intervene if local education authorities don't keep to their statutory responsibilities, but then she refuses to specify exactly what those powers are, and when and how, and at which part of the process a complaint can be made to her for intervention. So, I think we need to go back to the Minister and ask her to address the original points in the petition, which are around process, and not allow her to be squirming on that hook by trying to make out that it's about this particular school.
We have to point out that this—
I would agree wholeheartedly on that one, simply for the fact that I actually asked for a call-in on a very badly handled school reorganisation plan, and we've lost two fantastic rural schools now in the Conwy valley. I even asked for a call-in and the Minister doesn't want to get involved.
I think we have to point out that the decision or the processes that were made with regard to this particular school were prior to the code. Although the Minister has asked that they take that code into account, it's not obligatory for them to have done it with this particular school. So—
But the point is there is no point to the new code if the example that we've been given isn't taking into account the new code.
I think there's another one in Swansea, isn't there?
I think the new code—. Mike, go on.
I think that Leanne's raised a number of issues about how and when the Minister gets involved. That is important in a general situation. Getting involved in individual schools can obviously be dangerous, and some people will talk about schools where they have some knowledge, and most people will be talking about schools where they have no knowledge, and I have no knowledge of schools on the island whatsoever. But I think it is important that we know how the code is going to be interpreted, and what the Minister is going to do afterwards. It's pointless publishing a code if you're not going to do anything to have it implemented, or accept that what the local authority has done is right. There is always the possibility that the local authority is going to do things that are right.
And it's a bit extreme to go to judicial review, isn't it, as the only other option, after the process has been completed, when, potentially, intervention earlier could solve a lot of problems and save money?
I think that one of the unfortunate things is that they've never published exactly what they consider to be a viable school in terms of numbers. I think that would be incredibly helpful, at both primary and secondary level. I have a view, which is that if a school has more than two age groups in the same class, then there is a certain problem. If it has three, then it is a serious problem. And also, in secondary schools, are they able to fulfil the national curriculum with the staffing they've got? But I think that we really—. Local authorities would like better guidelines on this. What is an adequate number?
I think it's fair to point out that the new code does include the fact that they have to take into account the community aspects of the school, as well as the school itself.
Part of their argument here is that no community impact assessment was carried out, and that's the problem with this breach of the process. And that community centre is a key aspect of that community impact assessment then, isn't it?
Particularly with this particular school as well, reading into the background. So, where do you think we might go with this?
Back to the Minister.
Okay. So, we'll write to the Minister with those points that have been raised about process—about at what point, and under what circumstances the Minister—
If she could make a public statement, clarifying exactly what her powers are to intervene, and at what point within the process, I think that would be helpful for everyone concerned.
Okay. Are we all happy? Okay, thank you.
We'll move on now to the next petition, which is 'Fair Deal For Supply Teachers'. This was submitted by Sheila Jones, and was first considered by the committee in May 2018, having collected 1,425 signatures. They are talking about things like the pay can be 40 to 60 per cent less than for other teachers. The committee last considered the petition on 13 November, and we decided to write back to the Cabinet Secretary to ask whether the Welsh Government is still giving consideration to developing an alternative model for maintaining a list of supply teachers, such as a public sector solution, alongside the work to revise the managed service framework for agency workers. A response was received from the Cabinet Secretary for Education on 7 December. The Minister stated then that she has not ruled out working with employers to support the introduction of arrangements for a centralised or regional supply arrangement in the future.
Well, 'not ruled out' is very far from actively pursuing something, isn't it? And on this argument—well, claim—that she makes that the Welsh Government is unable to direct school governing bodies or local authorities to employ supply staff directly, I don't understand why she's not got the powers to do that. Can we test that? Is there a legal view, or a research view, that we can have on that? I know it may not be possible under current legislation, but that doesn't mean that we can't change the law to make this happen. So, I'd like some further information as to the veracity of that statement, please.
I can do that.
This is a social justice issue. It is something I feel very, very strongly about. Supply teachers are treated abysmally. The amount of money paid for supply teachers is not something that is, arguably, fair. The fact it gets top-sliced by the agency makes it unfair very, very quickly. But we've got a national procurement service that has procured somebody to provide supply, so we can't direct schools, but we can tell them. I strongly believe that we ought to—well, I certainly am asking—either have a regional or a local authority-provided supply service, which would just charge the cost of organising it, rather than act as a major business, raising large sums of money for itself. I don't think it should be making profit on the work of other people.
I feel very strongly about this, and I hope we can keep on pushing it. We've got further questions here and I think we should be pushing them back to us. Why is the Cabinet Secretary—Minister—so not inclined to actually do something that needs to be done, and either have local authority, or a consortium of local authorities, get together? And even if we get them in different areas, we can point to some of the consortia in Powys, which includes other places. In urban areas, a consortium of the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff, for example, would work well; Neath Port Talbot and Swansea, and bits of Carmarthenshire—eastern Carmarthenshire—would work well. So, I think it's just a matter of letting people get consortia up together, on a local basis, within where people work. And I think that we ought to send these questions—. But I think we need to let the Minister know that we do feel—well, I feel very strongly—that it's a social justice issue: people are being very badly treated, and we shouldn't be allowing it.
Neil, did you want to come in?
Yes. I'll declare an interest as a teacher who used to work on supply, sometimes. I was working for Rhondda Cynon Taf, and I think I was getting £80 a day, and I was doing quite a specialist job in those days, with children who weren't able to go to school, so not every teacher wanted to teach those kinds of children. I really enjoyed it—they were great. So, the rate of—. I think the agency were charging a premium for me; I wasn't being given that premium. I think they were getting in the region of £150 to £160 a day; I was getting about £80, I think. So, that's £80 a day, every day, flying out of the system. And I totalled it up in my mind and made a back-of-the-fag-packet calculation, even though I don't smoke, but I thought it was probably maybe £6 million a year, lost to the system. So, what I'd like to do, if possible, is write to the supply agencies and see how much they charge—how much they pay in schools, and maybe write to the LEAs and write to the schools, if you think we could, Chair, to establish how much is being paid and how much money is flying out of the system. As Mike said, it is a social justice issue, because, after tax, with a heavy week's work, you don't have a great deal left when you've got a family and commitments and a mortgage and so on and so forth.
I'm really concerned that the—what are they called? I'm struggling for words this morning—consortia, that's the word. I'm really concerned the consortia can advise schools and actually tell schools which agency they have to use so that schools feel compelled to use one of the most expensive agencies, to my knowledge, and yet the Minister is unable to instruct or encourage people to directly employ teachers. It's a scandal, and action should be taken.
Okay, thanks. Janet.
Yes, I just think it's a national scandal. We've got a lot of bureaucracy in the education system, haven't we, with the regional consortia, and if they can't get their heads around this, I question regional consortia—
Off the record, I'm told constantly that there are sporting event tickets and there are golf days that certain, or a particular agency offers, and that's been mentioned in the Assembly before, and yet, I haven't heard anything back to counter that from the Minister or from the agency.
I think we're all in agreement. I think personally that it's quite iniquitous that, not only with the supply teachers, but also with agency nurses, I feel, that the idea of taking people out of—. And these agencies add nothing to their qualifications or anything, and then sell them back, and why the Government doesn't set up a public body or public agencies on a regional basis, as Mike says, to actually employ these supply teachers, I just honestly can't understand that.
Can we ask the Government that question?
Okay. We need to wrap up, but, Neil, very quickly.
One further comment: the scandal of this is that the system is moving the other way, because in 2015, teachers in RCT—I'd stopped doing it at this point, but at the end of 2015, teachers in RCT, who were on full-time contracts and permanent for tutoring, which is what I was doing, were privatised and they were forced to go through agencies by RCT council, and that was a scandal.
Okay, so the possible actions: the committee could refer the further questions asked by the petitioners to the Minister for Education and ask for her response. Are we happy with that or—?
Could I just ask—? If we are going to get some additional information on this, some local authorities do do it in-house. It would be good to know who they are and if they save any money from doing that.
I'd also like to know if there is a gender question here, given the gender pay gap. It is my understanding that both in nursing and teaching, the people who are more likely to be supply teachers are going to be women because of the flexibility, enabling them to care and so on. So, if there's a gender issue to this, then it may be something that we can take up with the Minister for economy as well, because we don't want to see Government pursuing policies that exacerbate the gender pay gap.
And the final point I'd just make is that, just for committee to be aware, in Denmark, I understand that they've passed legislation to make it illegal to make any kind of profit out of education, and I would guess that we don't have the powers to do something similar here, but it may be something that we could look at and then this wouldn't be allowed to be done.
Yes, fine. Neil, just on your comment about asking these agencies to disclose what they're—. I think that they'd probably be very reluctant to do that, but it doesn't stop us asking the question.
It's between £150 and £160 a day.
But we could do what you suggested, Chair, and write to the Minister, asking why she doesn't consider it suitable to have either regional or local authority provision.
Okay, we move on to the next petition, which is 'Let Welsh students have the opportunity to choose the best study option for them'. The petition was submitted by Sharon Ellis and was first considered in November 2018, having collected 127 signatures. What the petitioner asks for is that any student, wherever they choose to be educated or to go on to further education, to university, et cetera, should be funded by the Government. I think there's a clear answer from the Cabinet Secretary that there is no way that she would accept this. So, there's very little, I think, that we can do with regard to this particular petition, unfortunately. There are clear indications that this will not result in it going any further. So, in light of the unambiguous response received from the Minister for Education and the fact that there appears to be little realistic prospect of any change in this aspect of student funding policy, the committee can close the petition. Are we in agreement with that? Yes, fine. Close that petition.
The next petition was 'Unconventional Oil and Gas Planning Applications', submitted by Councillor Arfon Jones, and was first considered by the committee in September 2015, having collected 1,547 signatures. The committee last considered the petition in October 2017. We have to point out that, on 10 December 2018, the Cabinet Secretary published a written statement on petroleum extractions policy in Wales, and I believe that it more or less says that it will not be countenanced in Wales.
Does it say that, though?
Yes, that's what I was thinking.
'hydraulic fracturing...of petroleum will not be supported in Wales.'
And, the Welsh Government
'will not undertake any new petroleum licensing in Wales.'
So, what happens if a local authority passes planning permission for one, then? The point of this petition, isn't it, is that should a local authority or planning authority pass planning permission for
'Unconventional Oil and Gas development including...Shale Gas, Coal Bed Methane and Underground Coal Gasification'
then that has to be called in by the Minister.
My understanding is that it will be. The assurances now are that it will be called in and it will be denied by the Welsh Government. That's my understanding of the statements that have been made in Plenary as well as—
I think we need to be careful of the wording here.
We could ask for clarification.
We can write back and say, 'This is our understanding. Are we right?'
Good point, yes. Let's do—
You're happy with that? Fine. And then, on that clarification, we could close that petition, perhaps, the next time.
Okay, the next petition is 'End the Exotic Pet Trade in Wales'. The petition was submitted by David Sedley and was first considered in March 2017, having collected 222 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 13 November and agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs to ask specifically for an update on the consideration given to developments in England and Scotland since her previous correspondence, that she provides a definitive position from the Welsh Government as to whether a ban on the trade of exotic pets would have merit at this time, and for a list of what animals might be defined as exotic and therefore unsuitable to be kept as pets. We had a response from the Minister for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs on 12 December. In that, she states that there are no immediate plans to consider an outright ban on the trade of exotic pets. I think when we discussed this at length—Leanne, just for clarification on this—one of the main problems is that this would have to include fish.
Goldfish. The Act in 1976 that came out, where it is now an offence to keep specific animals, including certain breeds of primates and reptiles, has actually made a huge difference to the pet trade. I'll declare an interest because I was in it for many, many years. Seriously, it would be very difficult, because a budgerigar could be classed as an exotic pet and yet quite elderly people have budgerigars and things. So, I think it's quite a good response from Lesley, to be honest.
This is unusual. Seeing as Janet's defending the Minister, I'm going to be critical. I think we should have a list of animals that are exotic. I can think of no good reason why anybody should have a primate, for example.
As I said, they're banned now—
I think primates are—
I think what we really want is to find out what's the difference in regulations for exotic pets in Wales and England. How are we different? Are we different?
There are thousands of different ones, you see.
But I think that you can define it by breed, can't you, or by classification? So, you could say that fish in certain classes—all fish are allowed to be kept—. You might say that certain birds are and certain birds aren't. I mean, I would be concerned if somebody was keeping vultures. Let's just go and find out what's different between us and England. I have serious concerns about some things people keep.
Okay. So, one of the options or actions we could take is—the committee could request an assessment from the research services as to the differences between regulations on the sale of exotic pets in Wales and England.
Yes. I think that would be a good place to start.
Yes. I'll support that.
We move on to the next petition, 'Say 'NO' to pheasant shooting on Welsh public land'. This was submitted by Animal Aid and collected 12,706 signatures. We last considered this on—or the first time we considered it was on 5 June and we agreed to write to Natural Resources Wales and the Cabinet Secretary for the environment. We had a response from the Cabinet Secretary on 5 July. We've had no direct response from NRW; however the petitioner has provided a copy of correspondence received from NRW during July 2018. I think that in light of the NRW board's decision not to offer any extension to the leases for pheasant shooting rights once they expire in March 2019, following the Welsh Government's intervention, the committee could close the petition and congratulate the petitioners on the success of their campaign.
The next petition is: 'Protect children's lungs from harmful pollution whilst at school'. The petition was submitted by British Lung Foundation Cymru and was first considered in July 2018, having collected 159 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 11 December and agreed to await a response from the petitioners to the information provided by the Minister before considering whether to take any further action on the petition. A response was received from the petitioner on 19 December.
Can I just say, I was quite shocked to find that here you've got something where you've 22 local authorities—15 are looking at the levels of pollution and the other seven aren't? It begs the question: why aren't they?
It does seem strange.
Perhaps they've got very low levels of pollution—
Well, not necessarily. I mean—
—with air pollution, I've got an area of Swansea that has suffered quite badly from it. It's up to topography. It's the bottom of the valley, you've got lots of traffic coming down it and the air doesn't circulate. If you're in a rural area where you're on the flat, you've got that air movement. So, it is really about different areas, and some will have problems with it—
It would be nice to see some consistency, though.
—others won't. We could find out why the seven haven't got it, but if they happen to be areas where they don't have that sort of topography problem—.
I think the previous Minister has pointed out that detailed action will be contained in a clean air plan for Wales, intended to be published for consultation in 2019. The petitioner seems to have welcomed much of the Government's response. So, the possible actions are: the committee could write to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to seek a response to the suggestion that powers over anti-idling zones should be devolved to the local authorities.
Absolutely. This is a big issue. Parents turn up a quarter of an hour early, they sit in the car in the winter and the engines are on, you know, keeping nice and warm in the car, but when a few start doing that in a very small area, I think that is a big issue. I know that my local authority has actually put markers now where you can't park too close to schools, which is quite good, but in other areas this is happening, and it's happening a lot.
We could also speak to the Minister about concerns raised that local authorities have insufficient resources to carry out adequate monitoring and improvement of local air quality.
I mean, once children's lungs are damaged in childhood, it just follows, you know—. Once your lungs are damaged, they don't regenerate like other organs in the body, and it is a big, big issue.
Is there any role for the future generations commissioner on this? I'm just asking.
I would have thought, yes.
We could write to her and ask her if there's any role for her.
We've come so far with smoking bans and things, and then one of the biggest pollutants, car engines, you know—just on idle, when they're idling.
Well, shall we wait for a response and then we'll take matters further? I think we could ask the commissioner perhaps.
We could write to the future generations commissioner at the same time, asking if they have any views.
Yes, it wouldn't do any harm.
Or if the commissioner's office has any views.
We move on to the next petition, which is 'Introduce a License to manage land for game bird shooting in an attempt to end raptor persecution'. This was submitted by Anthony Britner and was first considered in December 2018, having collected 119 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 11 December, and agreed to await the views of the petitioner on the response received from the Minister for the environment before considering whether to take further action. A response was received from the petitioner on 4 January. Do you have any comments with regard to this? I think the petitioner is pointing out that although there are guidelines et cetera, the number of prosecutions with regard to persecution of raptors and illegal poisoning or killing of raptors—it has resulted, I think it's suggesting, in four prosecutions.
I think it would be useful to get the Minister's views on the petition's request.
Yes. Reading through it, I don't think the Minister has given an adequate response to this, to be quite honest with you. So, the committee could provide the petitioner's additional comments to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to seek her views on the matter raised and to ask that the committee be provided with a copy of the report 'A Review of the Prevention and Investigation of Wildlife Crime in Wales’.
Okay. We move on to the next petition, which is 'We need Welsh Government funding for play!!' This was submitted by RAY Ceredigion and was first considered in March 2018, having collected 328 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 1 May 2018, and agreed to await the views of the petitioners on the answers provided by the Minister before considering further action on the petition. A response from the petitioner was received on 20 December. Do we have any comments? I think the Government's stance on this is that they have provided funding to local authorities to support the fulfilment of duties in relation to play and have developed a toolkit.
So, the possible actions are that the committee could write to the Minister for Health and Social Services to ask for an update on the funding for play in the context of the budget of 2019-20, and/or the committee could write to Play Wales to seek their views on the issue raised by the petition, information about their reviews of play sufficiency assessments and action plans, and for their response to the comments made by the petitioners over their social campaign. Are we all happy to do that?
Of course, yes.
Okay, we move on to 'Save our Hospital at Prince Philip Llanelli'. This petition was submitted by Sosppan and was first considered in November 2018, having collected 12,745 signatures on paper. The committee considered the petition for the first time on 13 November 2018 and agreed to write to Hywel Dda university health board to seek their response to the petition and the comments received from the petitioners and requested an update on proposals relating to service changes at Prince Philip Hospital. A response from Hywel Dda university health board was received on 10 December, and the petitioners have also provided further comments.
The health board confirms that the preferred options of the petitioners were taken into account as part of the decisions taken on the preferred service model. A health and care strategy for the area was approved by the board on 29 November. The health board has committed to a process of continuous engagement.
I've got to be honest, having lost services at our local hospital, where we were promised all of this: general practitioner-led minor injuries unit as well as acute medical care with diagnostic support and little by little it starts and it's all been taken away now. And 12,000 petition signatories is quite a lot, really. Does this not find its way to a debate?
Could we ask them to come and address our committee first so that we can be clear as to—? The initial petition is very simple and it gives the impression that the hospital is going to close completely, doesn't it? So, we do need to be mindful about the slow leaching of services, so if they can come and express their concerns, maybe we can take it to debate after that.
Yes, it's the fact that they've taken some of the—. Absolutely.
Doesn't it qualify, though, as a debate subject, given the numbers, on that merit alone?
It does, but I think our thoughts now, before we go to the idea of putting it to a debate, are to get as much information as we can prior to that. I think that's probably the best way—
Do we just, calendar-wise, keep an eye open to see where you would slot it for a debate, should that be our overall recommendation?
That would be an issue for Business Committee to decide, if and when this committee wished to request that—
It's double the amount, isn't it? Over double the amount.
The committee did consider the option of a debate the first time you discussed this petition and at the time felt that the committee didn't have enough information particularly because decisions had very recently been taken by the local health board and that's the response we've got back now—further information from Hywel Dda health board. So, this is the second time the petition has been considered.
Okay. So, are we content that we should invite the petitioners in to get further information?
And then we can decide whether it goes to debate or not.
And if we do take it to debate, we can then really address their concerns, can't we?
Of course, yes.
Okay. The following two petitions are grouped for consideration. The first of those is 'Put an End to the Cross Border and Sub-contracting Taxi Licensing Loophole'. This petition was submitted by taxi drivers of Cardiff and was first considered in November 2017, having collected a total of 390 signatures.
We will point out that these two petitions are in direct opposition to each other. So, the second petition is 'Allow Free Movement of Taxi Drivers to Carry Out Private Hire Work Anywhere in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Taxis Without Borders and was first considered in October 2018, having collected 136 signatures. The committee last considered the petitions on 9 October. I should say that a White Paper was published on 10 December.
Both petitioners were invited to submit further comments in light of the White Paper, but it's only the first petitioner who has responded to that request. So, the committee could supply the information received to the Minister for Economy and Transport in light of the current consultation on the White Paper on improving public transport and ask whether the Welsh Government would consider limiting or preventing cross-border working in the event that it decides not to pursue a single national licensing authority in the future, and whether and how, if a national licensing authority is established, it could control the number of taxis and private hire vehicles operated in a given area.
I think that the petitioners, who are against open borders with this, are pointing out that some local authorities seem to license taxi drivers without any reference to the numbers involved. For instance, I think, Newport county council are licensing something like 500 taxi drivers, which doesn't seem to be a commercially viable situation for taxi drivers, on that basis.
First of all, can I declare an interest in the sense that I've got friends and relatives who work in the taxi industry? The thing is, most taxi journeys take place around the cities. It's cheaper to license in places like Powys than it is in Swansea and Cardiff, yet a number of people could take out Powys licences and then work in Swansea and Cardiff, which actually has an effect on the number of taxis in existence in those areas. But I think our possible actions are sensible. Can we take them?
Yes, fine. Okay with those possible actions? Yes.
How does this fit in with Uber?
It does, actually. I think the second petitioners are supporters of the Uber system.
So, this is taxi drivers versus Uber then, basically, is it?
And they're seeing a drastic reduction—Cardiff taxi drivers. The original taxi driving fraternity are seeing a huge reduction in their salaries or their receipts due to that. So, I think that's the concern. It is Uber, you're absolutely right, that they're taking into account.
Right. I can see the figures now, sorry.
Right. So, the next petition to consider is 'Male domestic violence victim support services to be independently run & funded'. The petition was submitted by FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru and was first considered by the committee in February 2018, having collected 138 signatures online.
The committee last considered the petition on 13 November when the Members considered correspondence from the Leader of the House and Chief Whip, together with further comments from the petitioner, and agreed to write back to the leader of the house to ask some specific questions: what consideration has been given by the Welsh Government to directly funding a national service to specifically support male victims; details on how the types of services that are commissioned under the new regional approach will be monitored; and information on how the methodologies of those services receiving public funding are properly accredited or evaluated. A response was received from the then leader of the house on 13 December, and the petitioners have also provided further comments.
I have every sympathy with this. I've spoken to people within FNF. I've spoken to fathers where they really do believe that there should be a separate entity.
Just a clarification about what was mentioned in the last meeting. Both Parents Matter have only ever put two petitions in in 20 years. So, I just wanted to make that clear.
I think the response from the Minister is complacent. I wanted to flag one thing up—the title, initially: violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. What isn't apparent in that title is that every single male victim of abuse comes under that title, but it's not specified, and one in three victims are male. So, it's a large minority.
I think it's very difficult for organisations serving one gender to then also seek to serve males as well. I think the discriminatory actions of Safer Wales, who run the Dyn project, need to be considered, because I'd like to know if they screen callers any longer, if they assess male victims as they used to. If they don't any longer, then, when did they stop? I think that that's a key point, because you've got the same company treating males differently to females.
The whole issue, really, is extremely serious. When you consider the high level of suicide amongst males—and I'll say this with some authority, as well, because when you are a male victim of domestic abuse and there's nowhere to turn—nowhere to turn—suicide is certainly an option. And, in this building, it is not taken seriously, because when I raised this very matter with the Minister, this very Minister, she told me to get my priorities right, because I was talking about male victims of domestic abuse. And, over the years, politically, this has done me no favours whatsoever. I'll probably declare an interest, actually, now I'm talking about it, as being a former service user of this great charity, for the experiences that I went through.
Okay. Does anybody else want to comment?
I've got great sympathy for the call for dedicated services to exist. There is a group of people who are not being properly catered for; that argument is solid. The problem I have with this petition is that I know, from my previous experience as someone who worked for Women's Aid and as a probation officer, that perpetrators can use services and present themselves as victims in order to avoid facing up to their responsibilities as perpetrators, and to continue to abuse. So, the danger is if you don't have any sort of screening process or system to try and ensure that perpetrators are not misusing services in that way, we could be providing a cover for abusers. And that's why these systems are in place, and that's why experts need to be involved in any decision making in terms of changing services. Because I am aware that that particular group of criminals can be very devious and manipulative, and it has been known that they use services in a way to continue abuse of partners.
Okay. So, you're in favour of the fact that they would have a separate organisation dealing with male victims—
In principle, yes. As long as the screening was in place.
—providing that there is a screening process in place, yes.
Again, I agree, absolutely, with a lot of what Leanne has said there. The problem with the other side of the coin, on the female side, is that there's no screening. And I don't know whether Leanne would favour screening for females who present, but the issue with this whole area is that victims, when they present, have to provide no evidence whatsoever. When you're assessed, you're supposedly assessed by experts. And the abusers do use the system, and I will say that that goes for males and it goes for females, also.
And, my major concern with things like the Survivors Empowering and Educating Services project, for example—. I wrote to them some time ago, because it was brought to my attention that an alleged perpetrator was taking part in the programme, and I offered written evidence that I was given and had in my possession, and there was no interest in taking any action whatsoever. So, the problem is that when—. And again, I'd say to Leanne, I do emphasise that this is male and female, I'm not specifying any gender here, but the problem we have—and I've been saying this for the last 10 years—is that, when people can come forward with absolute concrete evidence that they're not guilty of acting as they've been accused of acting, there is no avenue to present that evidence. And, in terms of evidence, what I mean are things like official reports, there's no avenue. I'm going slightly off—
I take your concerns, Neil, but I think we're going out of the remit of the petition, now.
But it was mentioned earlier, and I think it's essential that organisations that work with males should get the work. I'm told that Safer Wales, for example, are a shoo-in for the Cardiff contract. This is a business as well, and it's not right.
I think that we can discuss this in great detail, but what can we actually do as a Petitions Committee? I think we need to await the publication of the regional commissioning guidance, and then come back to the petition again when we receive the regional commissioning guidance. We can't make policy in here.
We can discuss it, though. I think it's important we write about the screening, because if screening is applicable to one gender, it's applicable to the other.
Can we write on the screening?
We can ask questions, can't we? So, I think the action that we will take is committee writing to Safer Wales to seek their response to the concerns raised over their approach to screening male victims, and to ask for a broader response from them, anyway, with regard to the setting-up of a separate agency for—
Can I just put on the record that any organisation that is dealing with domestic abuse would carry out an assessment of the person presenting, whether they were a woman or a man, or even a child, and that full assessment has to be carried out before they can then be referred on to other services? So, it's not right to say that screening doesn't take place for women, because it does.
You're not assessed as a perpetrator. Leanne, you're not assessed as a perpetrator.
If a full assessment has taken place, then those issues would be—if they were pertinent, they would be able to—
With the greatest of respect, you're not assessed—[Inaudible.]
I used to work in this—[Inaudible.]
I'm sorry. We agreed on the action that we're taking, and I think that we're all in agreement on that action. Are we? Okay, thank you very much. I think that brings us to the end of the meeting. Thank you, all, for your contributions. And we will be meeting again on 29 January. Thank you very much.
Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 10:31.
The meeting ended at 10:31.