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Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

05/03/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

David J. Rowlands AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Leanne Wood AM
Mike Hedges AM
Neil McEvoy AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Gareth Griffiths Pennaeth Talu am Ofal, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Paying for Care, Welsh Government
Julie Morgan AM Y Dirprwy Weinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Graeme Francis Clerc
Clerk
Kath Thomas Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Ross Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Mae hon yn fersiwn ddrafft o’r cofnod. Cyhoeddir fersiwn derfynol ymhen pum diwrnod gwaith.

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. This is a draft version of the record. The final version will be published within five working days.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:00.

The meeting began at 09:00.

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

Bore da. Good morning and welcome to the Petitions Committee. The first item is apologies and substitutions. Although we have no apologies or substitutions, we will note that Neil McEvoy has been held up in traffic and Leanne Wood will be along just a little later.

2. Deisebau newydd
2. New petitions

We start with item 2, which is new petitions. The first of these is 'Ban the use of "Hostile Architecture"'. This petition was submitted by People Over Profit, having collected 120 signatures.

An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 29 January, and she states that it is the responsibility of local authorities to determine planning applications, though 'Planning Policy Wales' should be a material consideration. However, the Minister also cautions that 'hostile architecture' features could be installed retrospectively and therefore may not be subject to any planning controls. Do the Members have any comments to make with regard to this?

Is it a big issue? I wasn't aware that—I mean, I have heard of it in other parts of the UK, especially with regard to the homeless, where spikes and things have been put up to stop people sleeping in doorways. I didn't think it was a big problem—I wasn't aware of it here, but somebody maybe could educate me better on that, but—.

I don't think—. It isn't a big issue. It was an issue in Newport last year or the year before, but it's not really a big issue. But I think sometimes it's better to deal with something before it becomes a big issue rather than after it becomes one. Can we write back to the Minister? Can we suggest that the Minister puts out a planning advice note, or a technical advice note, or whatever they want to call them, saying that overtly hostile environments would not be approvable? I know you get the answer that—in there they've said—it could be added retrospectively, but you can add an extension to your house retrospectively, but you have to get planning permission for it. The Minister could also say that, if things are being added retrospectively, then they would have to go to the planning department anyway, because, even if you get a certificate of lawful use, or lawful development, you have to get that from the planning department. So, I think the Minister could take a proactive view. I think that perhaps we can ask the Minister to do so.

Yes. I agree with you. So, the committee could write back to the Minister for Housing and Local Government to ask for her view, specifically in relation to the merits and practicality of the petition’s call for a ban or moratorium on the use of hostile architecture in Wales, and I think to make the comments as well that Mike has so eruditely expressed. Are you happy with that?

Fine. Okay. We move on to the second new petition, which is 'Guarantee fully plant-based options on every public sector menu to protect the rights of vegans and for our health, the environment and animals'. The petition was submitted by Louise Davies on behalf of the Vegan Society, having collected 1,109 signatures.

An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 29 January. The petitioner provided further comments. Do the Members have any comments to make?

I think what can be achieved easily and what becomes much more difficult to achieve—. A vegan option should be available in schools and they should be available in hospitals. I think that we perhaps could go back to the appropriate Ministers, asking that they ensure that vegan options are available, and asking how many hospitals—to the Minister of health—and schools—to the Minister of education—do not provide vegan options. It gets most difficult with the very small food outlets that you have in some places, where they probably do 100 meals a day. That does become much more difficult, and where it's also run, not by the Welsh Government itself, but by contractors outside who are running, basically, a sort of small cafe/takeaway. It becomes much more difficult there, but certainly for patients in hospitals and pupils in school the vegan option should be made available. 

09:05

Yes, I think that's true, and I think this is what the Vegan Society are actually asking for, that, in public services, this option should be available. I think we must acknowledge the fact that it's a growing option that people are taking up. So, I think that should be reflected in the fact that the local authorities et cetera should be providing a vegan option. So, the possible action is the committee could write back to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to ask if any assessment or research has been carried out by the Welsh Government in respect of the sufficiency of menu options currently available in Welsh schools and hospitals for people following a vegan diet. Are we happy with that?  

I'm happy with that, but why are we going to the Minister of environment, rather than the appropriate Ministers for health and education? 

Yes, because I notice in the last line of Lesley's letter—the Minister's letter—she says they could take their fight to these organisations directly. I think, no, really, Government does have a part to play, because, at the end of the day, the money that actually comes to fund the contracting out of these services comes ultimately from here. So, I think that, really, there should be some guidance put out by the Minister as regards people having the option. I'm not a vegan, but there are times when I don't want to eat meat, I want to have a vegan diet for whatever reason, and I think you should have that choice.  

The only thing I would add: can we also go to the Minister for Education and the Minister for health? 

Fine. I welcome Neil McEvoy to the Petitions Committee. Neil, did you want to make any comments? We're discussing the second of the new petitions before us, which is the vegan option in public places. 

Other than I think it should be available, but—. 

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

Okay, so we move on now to updates to previous petitions. The first of these is 'Unconventional Oil and Gas Planning Applications.' This petition was submitted by Councillor Arfon Jones, and was first considered in September 2015, having collected 1,547 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 17 January, and a response was received from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 15 February. Do the Members have any comments they'd like to make on this? 

The best we could hope to get is the Minister saying they will call them in. 

We've achieved as much as we can. So, I suggest we close the petition accordingly. 

Well, if there's no option but to close it, I suppose we have to do that. 

Yes. Okay. Fine. The committee agrees to close this petition.

The second of the petitions is 'Remove the compulsory aspect of Welsh Baccalaureate.' This petition was submitted by Katharine Drinkwater, and was first considered in December 2017, having collected 60 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 21 March 2018, and agreed to write to the WJEC to seek their assessment of the exercise in relation to a scratchcard win, and, in particular, whether this is an appropriate task for learners at key stage 4, and await the publication of Qualifications Wales's review into the skills challenge certificate. The review of the skills challenge certificate was published in April 2018. I think we ought to note here that the clerking team has contacted the WJEC on a number of occasions but no response to the committee's letter has been received.  

Can I just say I'm a Member of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, and I know that we're doing an in-depth inquiry into the Welsh baccalaureate at the moment? So, we're taking evidence from the WJEC, then that will ultimately end up in Plenary as a debate anyway. So, I think that provides some assurances to the petitioners that—. Although you've not had much response, it's disappointing, and I think we ought to put on record that we're disappointed that we've not received any response, because these organisations should respond. But I do know that there's a lot going on with the CYPE committee and them, so this is very much—. We've taken evidence from many within—we've interviewed students. They haven't come to their formal conclusions as yet, but it's being very thoroughly investigated through the CYPE committee, this matter. 

09:10

Hold it until the CYPE committee report. I don't want to close it now. If they're doing the work, it seems pointless us trying to do something as well.

Let's wait, and then it gives us an opportunity to raise issues when the CYPE report comes before Plenary.

Yes, and it would be good perhaps, if, once that report was published, the petitioner was to receive a copy. I think they would be very assured that we are looking at it in some depth.

Okay. That's perfectly fine.

—in stronger terms? To ignore us completely, I don't think is—

Can we write to the chair of the WJEC, rather than the chief executive?

Sorry, and can you write to the chair of the WJEC or can we write collectively? 

We'll write collectively, you as chair and us as Members—without committing Leanne, who isn't here—to the chair of the WJEC saying how disappointed we are that they're not responding. 

Out of courtesy—you know, an acknowledgement of what we're asking is not—.

Okay, we move on to the next petition, which is 'Fair Deal For Supply Teachers'. The petition was submitted by Sheila Jones and was first considered by the committee in May 2018, having collected 1,425 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 15 January, and agreed to write to the Minister for Education. A response was received from the Minister on 11 January. Do Members have any comments that they'd like to make?

There's an independent Welsh pay review body, isn't there?

They're going to consider all aspects of teachers' pay. We've got teachers up in arms across Wales at the moment through inadequate funding. I think it's a big issue, and I think, at some stage, this will feed into our bigger argument. It says here:

'We have stipulated that supply teachers must be paid at least the minimum on the qualified
teachers’ pay scale.'

The letter from the Minister is quite detailed.

Yes. We've had a legal briefing concerning the Welsh Ministers' ability to direct schools to source supply staff directly. The current legislation is that the Welsh Ministers cannot direct local authorities or individual schools to source supply staff in a certain way.

Yes, that's very interesting, and I'm sure it's factually correct, but, if the Welsh Government has no influence over supply provision, why can they have a preferred supplier? If they've got no influence over it, or no control over it, why do they have a preferred supplier? I strongly believe that this is a social equality issue, if people are being treated abysmally. This is a sort of nineteenth century way of dealing with it, not a twenty-first century way of dealing with it. I feel very sorry for those people who are working on supply who are having their money taken off them by the supply agency.

I don't think the rate of pay for supply teachers is particularly poor. What I think it is is that it's poor when they end up with somebody taking a third of their money off them—that's when it becomes poor. The Minister has said—. The legal briefing is that they have nobody to direct. If they've got nobody to direct, why do they have a preferred supplier? Can we ask them that? If you can't direct, why do you have a preferred supplier if you cannot direct?

09:15

The other thing is about the possibility of, 'Why don't they set up a public sector agency?' There is a possibility, if you would like, to invite the Minister in to explain to us why we are not doing that, because it seems incredible to me that they're using private agencies when it's perfectly feasible to set up a public body to do that. 

A public body could be set up to do it; it could do it relatively cheaply. It wouldn't be making substantial profit, as you've referenced, too, and it could run at cost. It could be run either by a single local authority, by groups of local authorities—. I don't care how they do it. I just think it needs to be done in such a way that supply teachers are treated fairly. I don't believe they are currently being treated fairly. Can we ask the Minister in to come and answer questions on it? I feel very strongly this is something that's fundamentally wrong and should not be happening. 

We welcome Leanne Wood to petitions. Leanne, we're discussing the deal for supply teachers petition. It's page 10. Do you have any—?

I have real sympathy with what's been said already and with the cause of the supply teachers. So, I agree with the course of action proposed. 

So, we're asking the—? Are we going to ask the Minister to come in?

Okay.

So, we move on to the 'Presumption in favour of rural schools'. This petition was submitted by Parents and Teachers Association of Ysgol Gymunedol Bodffordd, and was first considered in September 2018, having collected 5,215 signatures. A Plenary debate on the petition was held on 21 November 2018, and the committee last considered the petition on 15 January. A response from the Minister was received on 12 February. 

I've got to be honest: again, I've got a lot of sympathy with the petitioners on this one. I mean, it states here in the ministerial letter back:

'Individuals can also raise their concerns with the Welsh Ministers. However, the complaints process is not intended to be a substitute for the school organisation process'.

We had a flawed process set out in Aberconwy in Conwy County Borough Council where they actually made the decision before it went to cabinet in the afternoon, without actually weighing everything up. I reported it to Ministers and we got the usual stock reply, 'We don't like to get involved in individual—'. So, we lost it, and we lost three very good Welsh-medium schools as a result. 

I think the concern, particularly of the first of the petitioners, is the fact that the code of practice, which has now come into force—. There should be a retrospective thought about that when closing schools. The spirit of the code of practice—

—to get the numbers just as they want them to be. I think there should be an appeal process myself, but there we go. 

I have sympathy for people with small, rural schools. I also have a view on education, and I don't believe that it's possible to teach children between the ages of three and 11 in the same class. 

No, but I think that—. I also don't think you could take the code of practice back—. You can't have a code of practice and retrospectively implement it. That would be changing the rules halfway through the game. But I think that what we need is some clarity from the Minister—I'm sure local authorities would like it as well—on what the Minister's view—. What the Government are going to allow and not allow, and how they come to those conclusions, and you have—. You've got all sorts of problems. I mean, this is an intra-party as well as an inter-party discussion, and we're well aware of the school in the Vale of Glamorgan that all of the current ruling group in the Vale of Glamorgan don't agree with. We also know that, in some other areas, we've got very small rural schools, some of which, I would say, are non-viable. I just go back—Garnswllt was closed in Swansea by the previous Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and Conservative administration, and it was closed because it was down to 11 pupils. At what point does the presumption in favour of small rural schools end? Is a school of one viable, or as in the case we had in mid or north Wales a few years ago, they had a school with no pupils but they hung on to the procedure, therefore it couldn't be closed—? 

09:20

I think we're getting into the politics of the matter there, where what we've been asked to look at here is procedure and, for me, this case shows an anomaly. I don't understand what powers the Minister does actually have now, because if the Minister can't intervene in this, there's no point really in having the guidance in the first place. The aim is to protect rural schools. The aim is to protect the Welsh language as well, but the new code doesn't cover this particular case. So, I think we do need to ask the Minister to give us more clarity in terms of what powers are available, and if those powers are not available, then we should be looking at legislation, I would say.  

Fine. Okay, if we look at the possible actions that our clerks have suggested to us, the specific issues around the planned closure of ysgol Bodffordd fall outside the scope of the Assembly’s petitions process because they concern an individual decision made by a local authority. In reality, there is little appropriate action that the committee could take in these circumstances. Therefore, in relation to the specific circumstances of ysgol Bodffordd, the committee could advise the petitioners and others that the appropriate course of action is for them to raise their concerns directly with the Minister for Education, and request that she considers whether there is justification for her to intervene in this case, as outlined in her letter. But also, if the committee considers that a direct route for school governors to appeal should exist in the school organisation code process—and I think that's what we are in some agreement on—the committee could write to the Minister for Education to ask her to provide a response to this proposal and details of any consideration given to this option during the process of reviewing the school organisation code. Are we happy that we should do that?

Yes. Fine. 

The next petition is 'We call for the Welsh Government to encourage trusts to implement the NICE guidelines for Borderline Personality Disorder or justify why they do not do so'. The petition was submitted by Keir Harding and was first considered in May 2018, having collected 812 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 11 December, and further information was received from the petitioner on 6 February. Do Members have any comments they'd like to make?  

Yes. Well, the possible action is the committee could write to the Minister for Health and Social Services to request an update on the development of psychological therapy services, including the funding awarded to health boards, since his previous letter in June 2018. Are we content that we should do that? Yes. Fine, okay. 

We will move on to the next petition, which is 'Make learning disability training mandatory for hospital staff'. The petition was submitted by the Paul Ridd Foundation and was first considered in January 2019, having collected 5,654 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 15 January and agreed to write back to the Minister for Health and Social Services to request further details. A response from the Minister was received on 19 February.

Do we have comments that anyone would like to make? 

What would be the view of the foundation of the letter from the Minister? Do we have any information about that?

09:25

Okay, yes. Well, the petitioners welcome the actions being taken forward and considered by the Minister, and they reiterate that they consider the development of mandatory training to be the key stepping stone to achieving the aims outlined by the Minister. And I think that the Minister has pointed out, obviously, that, in England, the Department of Health and Social Care is running a public consultation on proposals to introduce mandatory learning disability and autism training for health and care staff. This closes on 12 April. So, I think the Welsh Government are awaiting the report that follows that. 

It's quite positive. It finishes off by saying

'I will look to them, in the coming months to provide me with guidance in relation to how we best support learning and development of staff in general and achieve the health improvement outcomes sought by the Paul Ridd Foundation.'

So, the committee could decide to await the expected announcement of funding to support the Improving Lives programme and the outcome of the consultation being run by the Department of health in England before deciding what further action to take on the petition. 

Yes, I think that we would have to wait for that to happen. Okay. So, we're happy with that. The committee could also take the views of other stakeholders. Do you think that it's worthwhile at this moment, or should we wait for—

Should we encourage stakeholders to respond to the consultation rather than create another—

The only point I'd make in relation to that is that that consultation is run by the Department of health in England, so it relates specifically to a duty on training on health bodies in England. So, it might be that Welsh stakeholders want to respond to that consultation, but they wouldn't apply, I would suggest. So, it may be that we want to seek the view. 

Why is there no corresponding consultation and debate going on in Wales at the same time?

Because, as I understand, the background to the UK Government's consultation is that a recommendation around mandatory training for staff in relation to learning disability awareness was made by a review programme in England. So, they recommended that the Department of health should look to introduce mandatory training, and the Department of health, in responding to that recommendation, committed to running a consultation. So, no equivalent exercise has taken place in Wales. The Welsh Government, we know, is aware of the consultation taking place in England, but has not committed to that action itself. 

Well, could one of our actions be to write again to the Minister to ask that full cognisance was taken of whatever comes out of the consultation in England, and to issue a statement to see how that principle would apply in Wales?

In Wales, yes. 

The next petition is 'Roundabout for the A477/ A4075 Junction'. The petition was submitted by Pembroke Town Council and was first considered in January 2016, having collected 597 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 13 November and agreed to allow further time for correspondence. A response was received from Pembrokeshire County Council on 20 February, and I believe you have a copy of that letter in your files. Previously, the Minister has provided a copy of a 12-month safety audit following changes to the junction, and indicated that a 36-month review would take place. This would have been due in late 2018. 

There are, obviously, concerns about this junction, both expressed by the town council, and now Pembrokeshire borough council. 

Well, could we ask for a copy of the 36-month review?

Yes. Okay. Well, the committee could write to the Minister for Economy and Transport to seek his response to the information and suggestions provided by Pembrokeshire County Council and ask for an update on further assessments made in relation to the road design and safety at the junction, including the Road Safety Authority 36-month review. 

09:30

Yes, but could we ask for a copy of the 36-month review?

Yes.

Okay, we move on to 'School Buses for School Children'. This petition was submitted by Lynne Chick, and was first considered by the committee in April 2017, having collected 1,239 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 5 June 2018, and wrote back to the Department for Transport, to reiterate that it is specifically seeking a response in relation to the non-devolved issues of whether seatbelts should be required on public service buses. A response from the Department for Transport was issued on 13 July 2018, but was not received by the committee at that time. The petitioner has also provided further comments. Do we have any comments?

Can I say something on this? This is a horrific case, and it must raise concerns in everyone, really. But this is not new either. I remember being in the Senedd, back 10 years or so ago, when there was a similar case in Cowbridge. And there was a lot of discussion and debate, there was a committee inquiry at the time, there was legislation proposed. Now, I'm not sure why it didn't cover everything, if there were good reasons as to why the full safety belts issue has not come into force. Is it worth looking at those reports again and to see what Government statements were made at the time, to see why these gaps are there in the legislation? And maybe we'd want to make some recommendations about some new legislation, either amending the existing legislation or coming up with something completely new. Because, whether you're a parent or not, this kind of thing is something that none of us want to see happen to anyone else in the future.

That's right, but which Government are we talking about here? 

Are we talking about the Welsh Government? Because, apparently, it comes under the Department for Transport, which is—

Well, it may well be that that's where the limitations were at the time.

Right, yes, okay. The matter of the seatbelts, I'm saying, certainly comes under the Department for Transport.

Yes. But there could be an argument for us to push for the devolution of some sort of measures, so that we can deal with this. I don't know what—I can't remember what the picture was now from 10 years ago, but I remember it was a debate at the time, and it may be, rather than reinvent the wheel, that we can learn something from previous debates.

My understanding is that the committee has done some investigations into this, in the earlier part of last year. You're right: at the time, and still existing now, there is an issue of the Assembly's legislative competence in this area. The Assembly has full legislative competence over dedicated school buses used for school transport, but the issue of seatbelts on public service buses, more generally, is an issue of vehicle standards, which is not devolved.

So, that's the difference here: it's a public service vehicle, not a school bus, is it?

Yes. So the petitioner is looking for those requirements around seatbelts to be extended to commercial buses, which is why the committee has previously written to the Department for Transport. There appears to be no appetite for that change. And I think the Department for Transport are pointing out that public service buses are used in a range of functions—people stand on them, for example—so they don't consider mandatory seatbelts to be a necessary issue.

But there must be some duties to protect children's safety specifically. Is there something we can involve the Children's Commissioner for Wales in with this at all? Could she make representations to the Department for Transport?

I think probably the report that you were talking about earlier probably made this recommendation about the specific buses, because I remember, around about that time, it did come in, didn't it, that you had to have safety belts fitted to buses?

Yes, but I've got to be honest: it's funny, I can't go in my car or carry passengers—and I wouldn't—without seatbelts, but you can go on to public transport and potentially sit on a bus—. On the continent, across Europe, they have seatbelts on buses. I think it's a bigger issue than just children. What's the cost of equipping all our service buses with seatbelts? I honestly—. Maybe you don't have to make them mandatory, but I just know that I think that—

09:35

Well, possibly not, but I just feel it's a bizarre loophole in the law where in vehicles, minibuses and things like that there are seatbelts, but on buses generally seatbelts are not a requirement. 

Okay, I do think that unfortunately that would fall out of the remit of the Petitions Committee—

—particularly with regard to this particular petition. I'm not sure that we could take it any further on that basis. Does anybody else have any comments on that?

We can't. Individual MPs can. I think it might be more useful for individual MPs to start taking this up with the Department for Transport. It's outside our competency and we're not going to get anywhere.

The children's commissioner does have powers to intervene on matters that are not covered by the Assembly's jurisdiction as well, though, don't they? They intervene on things like asylum cases and benefits and things like that, so I wonder if it's worth pursuing that. 

So, to take that forward, would you like us to write to the children's commissioner to seek a view on the issues behind the petition—

—and children's safety using public service buses?

And does she think she could have any influence on whether they adopt that. 

We'll move on to the next petition, which is 'Improve rail services for Chepstow'. The petition was submitted by Richard Lemon and was first considered in October 2018, having collected 260 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 27 November. A response was received from the Minister on 7 February. Given the Minister's response, which was to say that once rolling stock can be purchased then they will probably—. Although it's later than the petition would have required, I'm sure, but enhanced services will come into place from 2022. Given the response from the Cabinet Minister, I think there's probably little that we can do to carry this petition forward. Would you all agree?

Yes, fine. So, we'll close the petition.

The next petition—and I have to declare an interest here, because I was on the Standards Committee when we decided that we would not have a register for lobbyists.

The thinking behind that was the cost. One of the things was that it's a very costly affair to have a register. And because of the history, as far as we were concerned, there were very, very few complaints with regard to lobbyists that had come up over the years of the Assembly. So, they didn't think that it was cost-effective. From memory, that's one of the issues that we took. The other thing is that we looked at the Scottish register—they've done one in the Scottish Parliament—and I think referrals to that were very, very low and it didn't seem as effective as might have been expected at the beginning. 

Can you explain where the costs come from? Because isn't it just a case of—?

The setting up of the register and the administration of the register. That's what we looked at. From memory, that is, Leanne.

It would improve the transparency, wouldn't it, somewhat? We're supposed to be all about transparency—hence this building. 

I think it is an issue. I know that there are plenty of organisations that offer Assembly Members rugby tickets, for example, and yes that all has to be registered in Members' interests, but what we don't have is a picture of, on a spreadsheet, who is offering what to whom. I think that information would be quite useful.

Well, it has to be declared by Members themselves, so there is data available for that. 

But you've got to do a lot of working out to work out that X organisation has paid for 1, 2, 3 and 4.

09:40

But we thought that there is in that we have to declare, as Members, if we receive any incentives from what could be— 

It is a problem as well that if you meet with someone—. For instance, I met with the people for Orkambi; they'd asked for a meeting. Should I declare that as them lobbying me? It looked to be very, very messy on that side of it. Who and what do we declare as being lobbying? 

Can I ask a further question? Did you look at the European Parliament or not? I know that there may be issues with that. 

My understanding is that as soon as a diary entry is made for a Member of the European Parliament, there is a system there that automatically registers whether or not that is with a lobbyist, so that there's a completely transparent system within the European Parliament. Now, I know a lot is said about it being anti-democratic, but it sounds to me as if the European Parliament is a lot more democratic than we are here if they've got that kind of system. 

Well, I can't say from memory whether we actually discussed that. I know we discussed with regard to the Scottish Parliament. But, as far as we're concerned, what are the recommendations that we have in front of us? The committee could write to the Standards Committee to ask for an outline of any consideration it has previously given to the merits of introducing a statutory register of lobbyists in Wales and for information about any further work it intends to do on this issue. So, yes, we could certainly include whether we considered the legislation that's in the European Parliament for this. 

But I think it was part of that business of when you identify a lobbyist, when we are meeting them, that seemed to be a very difficult part. I know that Neil, in the past, has brought up the fact of the third sector, which hadn't occurred to me to be quite honest with you, in their lobbying activities or what could be described as lobbying activities. 

Well, there's legislation stopping trade unions and some charities from politically campaigning, for example, isn't there? So, I don't know whether that's been looked at in the course of this, and whether that could apply to organisations outside the third sector and trade unions as well. I know that was legislation the Tories brought in, I think, in 2015. 

I think there's a huge lack of transparency really. I remember when the former First Minister said that lobbyists didn't have access to Ministers, and then Ministers refused to disclose their diaries, because I wanted to cross-reference meetings that I thought that those Ministers had had with certain lobbyists, but they wouldn't disclose them. They do now. It is worth writing. I think it is an issue in Cardiff Bay. There's £16 billion-worth of public money swirling around and lots of lobbyists, and they should be on a list and there should be a lot more transparency. I'm looking at the Llywydd's comments and maybe the Llywydd has an interest to declare here as well in terms of being lobbied. It's very disappointing, as the petitioner has said. 

Can I make a few quick comments? I don't think it should cost anything because you can make the lobbyists pay. You make them pay to register. So, this is going to cost a lot of money, well, you just set how much you're going to charge them over a five-year period to pay for the setting up costs and the running costs. So, that's the first thing.

Another problem you have, of course, is that anybody could turn up at my surgery if they wish, and people do turn up. A man turned up who is not an official lobbyist, but he was there lobbying on behalf of a listed building. He's not an official lobbyist, but that's what he came along to do was lobby on behalf of a listed building. So, there are problems there. There are two groups, aren't there? There are the formal organisations, often consisting of former Assembly Members or former Assembly staff, who lobby as a way of earning their income. Then, there are those, which are organisations—20's Plenty for Us is an example, who anybody who follows Facebook or Twitter will know met with one of the Ministers yesterday, because it's on one of those pieces of social media. They are lobbying for a 20 mph speed limit. So, you have individual items like that, but you have at least two, and possibly three, major lobbying firms in Wales. I think that is something that we do need—they need to be registered and they need to register their staff so that we know who is acting on behalf of companies.

Now, I have no problem with meeting with different organisations; I always have done, but I think we also need a code of conduct. I don't think, if an organisation has something that is under discussion within the Assembly, we should meet with them, because that is lobbying trying to insert influence over policy that is currently being discussed. People lobbying on things that aren't being discussed—and 20's Plenty for Us is an example, an organisation I have a lot of sympathy with—I would see no problem with that until such time as the legislation started to root in to be implemented, at which time I don't think we should be meeting with them.

Our code of conduct needs tightening and a register is needed. If we can go back to the standards committee, we can ask them why they didn't consider charging lobbyists on a costs-recovery basis. The next thing we're going to be told is that there are legal difficulties in doing it. I know how organisations work: the first thing you tell people is it's going to be very expensive and, if that doesn't put them off, you tell them there are going to be legal difficulties.  

09:45

I want to move two things: one is we ask them—ask the commissioner—and secondly, we ask them why a European Parliament model can't be used.

Right. Okay. I will point out the European Parliament has a great deal more money than the Welsh Government but, having said that, I think you're quite right about making sure that we do have a look at that.

Okay. Can we move on to 'Ban the USE of LARSEN TRAPS (Multi Corvid Traps)'? The petition was submitted by Action Against Wildlife Persecution and was first considered in May 2018, having collected 1,943 signatures. Now, obviously, the Welsh Government pointed out that there are rules with regard to the use of these Larsen traps, also called multicorvid traps, but the petitioners are making the point that they are not really being enforced in the way that they ought to be. They point out that there are a number of cases where, obviously, they weren't being used in an appropriate manner. Do you have any other comments? 

I think we need to write to the Minister and get some responses. 

Yes. Are we happy for the actions that we take—? So, the committee could write to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs and Natural Resources Wales in order to highlight the information received and seek responses to the concerns raised about the use and regulation of Larsen traps as well as further information about any action being taken or considered in this area. Fine, thank you.

The next matter will be the evidence session—can I suggest we have a break?—which is due to start at 10 o'clock, so we'll have a break of 10 minutes. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 09:49 a 10:00.

The meeting adjourned between 09:49 and 10:00.

10:00
4. Sesiwn Ddystiolaeth: P-05-771 Ailystyried y penderfyniad i roi’r gorau i Grant Byw'n Annibynnol Cymru a’r angen i gefnogi pobl anabl i fyw'n annibynnol
4. Evidence Session - P-05-771 Reconsider the closure of the Welsh Independent Living Grant and support disabled people to live independently

Bore da. Good morning. Can I take this opportunity to thank you for coming to the committee, and can I ask you if you could introduce, obviously, yourself, for the record, and your colleague, please? 

Yes. I'm Julie Morgan, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services.

Gareth Griffiths, head of paying for care in the social services and integration directorate in Welsh Government. 

Okay. Thank you very much. As you know, we're reconsidering the closure of the Welsh independent living grant, and, as you'll be aware, the committee has been considering the petition since October 2017. The petition relates to the Welsh Government's decision in 2016 to end the Welsh independent living grant, and for recipients to be supported in future by their local authorities. You will also be aware that the committee has previously taken evidence from the petitioner, Nathan Davies, and your predecessor, Huw Irranca-Davies. Subsequently, the committee published an interim report of the evidence it has received on 21 February. We're also aware, of course, of the statement you issued on 12 February, which announced that the transition process for recipients for the Welsh independent living grant is being paused with immediate effect, and that further arrangements will be made for people to request an independent review of the assessment of their needs carried out by their local authority. Therefore, the purpose of this morning's session is for the members of the committee to ask you a number of questions in relation to this decision and your plans for implementing it. I would like to thank you again for agreeing to attend the committee at short notice to answer our questions. 

So, if I can ask the first of those questions, Deputy Minister, could you outline the recent changes you decided to make to the processes for reassessing former independent living fund and WILG recipients as they transfer to local authority provisions, and what are your reasons for making these changes? 

Well, thank you very much, Chair. The key change, which you've already mentioned, is the access to an independent assessor, and by an independent assessor, we mean someone who is independent from the local authority, who's not employed by the local authority, and it would be an independent social worker. So, what we decided was that all those people whose assessments have taken place—they should be offered the opportunity to have an independent assessor if they wanted. Many of them are satisfied with what's happened. So, we don't anticipate, probably, there'd be a huge number and that people who haven't yet finished their assessments—or who haven't started their assessments who would have access to an independent social worker.

In addition to that, we have made additional allowances in terms of money for any additional hours that are given as a result of this decision. So, those are the main decisions, and the reasons why—. Well, I think there are a number of reasons, really. There's, obviously, a very strong local group—and you said that you've heard Nathan at the committee—who feel very strongly that they want WILG restored and who feel that the thing they particularly liked about WILG was that there was a tripartite way of making an agreement and they felt that was very important, and they have made their voices heard very strongly. So, as a result of that, I have listened to what they've said, and, also, when the previous Minister—Deputy Minister—did this deep dive, it did reveal that there were a great variety of results from the local authorities, and some of them were very different in terms of how much people actually received. For the people who lost out in terms of hours, there was just a huge variety, and in some local authorities, nobody lost any hours. In others, it was as high as 43 per cent. So, it just seemed to me that it was really hard to see this disparity, and that, linked with this strong voice from Nathan and other campaigners—. I thought that we should take some action. So, that's what made me decide that we should do this.

10:05

Thank you very much, Deputy Minister. Obviously, my colleagues would like to ask you some questions as well, and perhaps with the questions that we have, if you could be concise with your answers—which you have been and that's no criticism of you—but my colleagues will be asking questions that you may be covering pre-emptively, if I can put it that way. Okay, so—[Interruption.] Yes.

[Inaudible.]—already been said. Thank you very much. I listened to your opening remarks very, very carefully, and you said that all those who have had assessments should have the opportunity to have an independent assessment. The Welsh Government has acknowledged the importance of the historic legacy with the ILF. Does that mean that the safeguards that are about to be put in place and the right to independent social worker assessment and making the additional funding available to local authorities will continue to be available to all disabled people with high support needs in the future? Or was I right in hearing you the first time—that it's only going to be available to those people who've already had assessments?

This will be available to all previous recipients of the Welsh independent living grant.

So, that's not all disabled people with high needs then.

That's not all disabled people; it's recognising the historical legacy and the historical entitlement of this particular group.

On reassessment, a number of these have very serious health needs, and their health needs may deteriorate again with time. They go through the first reassessment, are they able to apply for additional reassessments, as their health declines and their needs increase, and, if they are, will it be done through the independent assessment procedure that you've outlined?

Well, I think you're absolutely right. People's needs do change and they will change, and as I've said before, we do recognise that this is a historical group of people who have this historical entitlement and it may be that it does turn out that they do need another independent assessment, but at the moment, it's really too early to say, I think, how future care assessments of those who are affected will be undertaken, because we don't know yet what the take-up is going to be for the independent assessments. We don't know how they're going to work out and the outcomes that they'll result in, or other key factors. So, we'll have to look at that when we've found out how many people do take up this offer.

Yes, but how long will the Welsh Government fund any additional support identified by the independent assessors?

Okay. And, what will take precedent? Can you confirm that the individual assessors will be working to the relevant codes of practice under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, and that the second opinion will supercede the first opinion?

Yes. The independent social workers will need to work to the ethos of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act and the regulations and codes of practice that are under that Act. That would particularly be the code under Part 3 of the Act on care assessments and the code under Part 4 on meeting care needs. And we're discussing the practical implications of these independent assessments with local authority representatives at the moment, including how this assessment would interact with the original care assessment made by the local authority. Because many of the WILG recipients will have had an assessment already, but we are offering an independent assessment independent of that assessment.

Thank you. Good morning. How do you account for such wide differences between local authority assessment outcomes in which, for example, more than 40 per cent of individuals in Wrexham and Ceredigion were offered lower packages of care, 53 per cent in Newport, but only one in Powys and none in Monmouthshire or Anglesey?

Well, it's very difficult to actually gauge the precise reasons for the variation in the local authorities, and that's really—. I don't think people would really know why there's such a difference, and that's one of the very reasons that I did feel that a change of approach was needed, because we couldn't really find out easily why this was happening.

But I don't know—. Have you got the most recent figures on the number of WILG recipients who've had their care assessed?

10:10

It's not the complete answer, but ILF recipients across Wales were always different to the general population who got care and support from local authorities because of the history. When the ILF was formed in 1988, people were encouraged to apply and hence it was, in areas of Wales, disabled organisations and the third sector and local authorities that encouraged people to apply, more in some areas than others. So, you do have an unusual pattern of people across Wales. I think, from memory, the authority in Wales with the biggest number of recipients was actually Carmarthenshire. It wasn't any of our cities. So that in a way begins to explain part of the reason why there's a variation, but it's not the whole answer, which is why I think the Minister has decided to take this course of action. 

In terms of numbers, I can't find my table but, from memory, something like 1,300 people have been care assessed as of the end of December, of which 1,000 are already now getting their care and support from a local authority. Of those 1,000, 600-odd are getting care and support of a similar nature to what they had under the WILG. There are about 150 or so who are getting increased care and support, where the authorities have recognised that people need more to deliver their well-being outcomes, and there are something like 150 or so where there has been a reduction, and, as you will know from the deep-dive review outcome that the Minister's predecessor sent to you, there are a range of reasons why those reductions have taken place. 

I suppose for me the discrepancy and inconsistency in local authorities when we're talking about providing care to some of our most vulnerable people, and we talk, don't we, quite often about equality—. We have to bear that in mind, with all the money that's spent, all our policies, there has to be this strong line of equality. For me, that line of equality should then spread throughout local authorities in them carrying out their duties, policies and the spending of their money. So, it concerns me that there are these discrepancies. The moves that you've introduced recently, Deputy Minister, have been fantastic, but how do you think that that will eradicate some of the—. Because this isn't talking about providing care for people; it's allowing them to live equal lives as anybody without some of those vulnerabilities that they face. How confident are you that what you're doing will help to bring some of those inconsistencies in line?

I think it gives everybody the opportunity to have somebody else to look at what they're getting. So, the opportunity will certainly be there, but several points have been made to me about this by the campaigners. For example, they've said, 'How are we going to ensure that everybody actually knows about it and is able to say, "Yes, I want an independent social worker"?' So, that is a job to be done. But recognising those problems, I think this is a way to tackle it, and I'm confident that—certainly, I hope—the majority of people who have lost out and who want an independent social worker will feel that they have it looked at independently, which is what the campaigners want—this independence. So, I think it is the right move to take, and I'm confident that the situation should improve. 

The other question you asked was whether the Act was flawed. I just want to emphasise, really, that this is a very small number of people in comparison to the thousands of people who actually benefit from the Act. I think it's also important to make the point that a large majority have received either the same hours of support or more, and are satisfied, although they will have the opportunity to look at it again, even if they had the same amount or more. But this number is tiny compared to the vast majority of people who are having help from the Act, and, of course, we are evaluating the Act at the moment, so I think that's very important. And there are two ways we are doing that: first, the Measuring the Mountain project was launched last year specifically to analyse people's experience of care and support and to hear what their experiences are. So, we are actually analysing that. And then there's an independent, formal evaluation of the Act, which is being undertaken by the University of South Wales, and that's still at a very early stage. But once the full evaluation is under way, there will be published regular updates on progress and findings. So, we are looking at the Act as well in its entirety to see how it's actually operating, and listening to individuals' actual experience of care, which I think is the important thing to do. 

10:15

And I guess you'll show strong leadership where you find out the Act is not being implemented, because I can assure you, from my own casework, I still have concerns. We have an older demographic in Aberconwy, and I'm very concerned just how the Act—and I sat here whilst it was all coming through—is now being interpreted and then implemented by local authorities, given the financial constraints placed upon them. I'm pretty keen to ensure—. I know you say the numbers are minimal—

Yes, but, for me, if one person is in need of it, deserves it, and isn't receiving it, it's one person too many. 

So, moving on, given that the ILF provided individuals with money to purchase their own care, how satisfied are you that all local authorities are offering direct payments as a positive alternative to directly provided services to the people they are reassessing?

Well, local authorities do have a duty under the Act to offer direct payments to people as a means of delivering their care and support, should they want them, and they should be raised with the person at the point that their future care needs are being determined. So, they should be—. That's part of the law, that they should all be offered direct payments. And this approach is set out and reinforced in the code of practice under Part 4 of the Act on meeting care needs. And, in fact, the number of people in Wales receiving direct payments has increased since the Act came into effect in 2016 by over 1,000. So, the number of people getting direct payments is going up, and it is the law that everyone should be offered a direct payment. 

I wonder if I can ask you about timescales for some of these changes, now. I understand that some people were last reassessed in 2015, so there's a real urgent need for a new assessment now. What information can you give us about timescales so that people can actually start planning their lives, and when do you expect all of the reassessments to be completed for all former ILF recipients to be in receipt of services provided by or arranged by local authorities?

I'd have to say that we're going to do it as soon as it can be done, but it will depend on the local authorities doing it. We've written out to the local authorities explaining what we're planning and what—

There are two separate actions happening: one is a holding line with authorities, which is where, on the basis of what the Deputy Minister has decided, we've said to authorities that if people are happy with their assessment, with the outcome, and are happy to get their care and support from the authority, they can continue. We shouldn't stop everybody purely and simply because we want to introduce this, because people out there need their care and support in the way that they want it. So, that's one thing. 

The other thing we've said to them is if people are unhappy with their assessment, if they're unhappy with their outcome, then stop the assessment for the time being, stop moving them over, because they will have this offer that they can take if they want to. The other thing we've asked authorities to do is to begin to record the people who are interested. And one thing I was discussing with the Deputy Minister on Monday was we probably need to write—. We need to give authorities a letter they can give to people so that they know about the arrangements and they can now start registering with their authority that they're interested in this, because we need to gauge numbers so that we can work out exactly how many independent social workers we need, and that, of course, will influence how quickly we can get it done, because the more social workers we can arrange for—the appropriate number—the quicker we can get it done. So, that's the one thing we've done. 

And then the other thing we're doing is discussing with authorities and with social worker colleagues exactly what we need, because, when you think about it, we need independent social workers, but what's the criteria for those? They need to be well-versed in the Act, they need to be well-versed in the sorts of people we're talking about, which are not older people but predominantly people with a learning disability, and they need that experience and the qualifications, and we need to recruit them in a timely way. 

10:20

Do you think you can guarantee that they'll all be completed within a year, or maybe two years or three years? 

But I'd be disappointed if they weren't. I think they should be, yes. 

I think we would as well, Minister. I wonder if I can just say, then, that the instruction to pause the WILG transition process is an acknowledgement that the national eligibility criteria haven't prevented a national postcode lottery for citizens in need of care and support, and that, in some cases, local authorities' social work assessments have not given priority to the personal well-being outcomes of the person being assessed, and that an independent social work assessment is needed in order to restore faith in the system. I think that your actions have acknowledged all of those points. So, will you now move to set up a national fund along the lines of the Scottish ILF?     

No, we don't intend to do that. The important point to make, I think, is that a lot of people, as I think we've already said, who've had the assessments are happy with the assessments and want to carry on as they are. So, we certainly don't want to disrupt anybody who feels that they've got what they want, and that is the vast majority of the people. We think that this is the best way to move ahead, by offering the independent social workers, and so we don't see the need to set up a fund in the same way as has been done in Scotland. And, certainly, that would bring a lot of administrative costs, and we'd prefer to have the money there in order to give the additional help that may be needed. 

Well, what about the money, then, that is planned to go to local authorities to fund this? Is that going to be ring-fenced? Because the fear on the part of the campaigners was that, by the local authorities running this, because they face austerity and cuts, it would just all be absorbed by their general cuts. So, how can you make sure that the money you've allocated for this is protected for the proper purpose?   

Because what the independent social workers say needs to be the amount of help in the number of hours given, that is what the local authority will have to pay.  

Yes, and that's what we will be giving them to pay. We have set aside the money to pay them. So, this will not cost the local authority anything. 

If we do discover problems with this in the future, would you be willing to come back and answer further questions on this? 

Absolutely. The committee's obviously shown a lot of interest in this subject, and I'd be very happy to come back. You know, it's one of the first issues I've had to deal with in this job, and I'm very keen that we make sure that, as you've said, the most vulnerable people get the best care that we can give. 

One final question: will you undertake to publish the outcomes of the independent assessments? 

Well, obviously, we couldn't publish them in detail because they'd be personal to the individual, but what we could do is, certainly, I would guarantee coming to give a summary report of them to the committee. 

Thank you. How soon would you expect to be able to provide a further update on the take-up of the independent assessments, Deputy Minister? 

Well, we're in the process, as Gareth has said, of being in touch with the local authorities, and I've got a meeting with the directors soon where I hope to air this as well. But a lot of this all depends on our working with the local authorities. Can you give an estimate of when you think I—?

The Deputy Minister is meeting directors of social services this week, when we will begin to go through the detail of this. So, we will then—. We've also got a meeting with Care Inspectorate Wales, who are assisting us in terms of mechanisms we need to put in place to recruit the social workers. To a certain extent, of course, it'll depend on people themselves and how quickly they decide to send in their requests for an offer—so, that's a bit of an unknown—and how many people come forward. But as the Deputy Minister said, we clearly want to do this as quickly as we can so that people aren't left in limbo and, equally, so that all the arrangements are put in good order. 

Okay. I would like just to make a comment rather than a question to you. The variations across the local authorities really do reflect the concerns that the petitioner had right at the beginning of the petition about the way it's been implemented in England. Now, although, Gareth, you gave some explanation as to why those variations may occur, the variations are still there for those people who've actually presented themselves. And this is a concern, actually, that, with those who've presented, there are variations, and, really, should there be those variations?

10:25

Well, obviously, the reason that there are variations is one of the major reasons why I changed the course of direction. That's why I've changed the policy, partly because of those variations. So, we absolutely acknowledge that, although there are some historical reasons why there might be more recipients in one area than another, that's not enough to explain the variations. So, I'm hoping, as we go along, that we may be able to find out more about why these variations have happened. But that's a reason for changing the policy. 

Okay. Well, can I thank the Deputy Minister? And I'm sure you did actually comply with the prompt I gave you right at the beginning about being succinct with your answers, because the timing shows that, so I do thank you for that. And I do, again, thank you for coming, especially at such short notice. Obviously, there will be a transcript of what we've gone through now available to you, and we, as Members, will consider the evidence we've heard in this discussion. Thank you very much. 

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

Cynnig:

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

Motion:

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

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

So, a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are we agreed? Yes. Fine. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:27.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:27.

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