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Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

07/05/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

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

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Graeme Francis Clerc
Clerk
Kath Thomas Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
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. 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 09:03.

The meeting began at 09:03.

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

Good morning, Members. I welcome you all to the meeting. There is no need to turn off mobile phones or other electronic devices, but please ensure that they are in silent mode. No apologies have been received. 

2. Deisebau newydd
2. New petitions

So, we go straight to new petitions—2.1. This petition was submitted by Sheryl Callard having collected 95 signatures. She goes on to say that when she was younger she was deprived of the right to study her native language in school, and because of that she is unable to. She believes that so many others of her generation, and even the younger generation, are deprived of the means to speak Welsh because the teaching of Welsh in schools wasn't successful with them in the past. She wants the Welsh Government to right the wrongs of the past and to show true leadership in providing free lessons. How would you like to take this back?

Forward. [Laughter.] I think we've had a reply, haven't we? Have we had a reply from the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language? Yes. So, let's see what the petitioner says about it. But, can we also write to the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language about capacity? Can I declare an interest—a potential interest? My daughter is studying Welsh in university at the moment, so may at some time be involved in teaching Welsh somewhere. So, I declare that as a potential future interest. But, I think that we need to know about capacity. It would be easy to say 'yes', but not if you're just offering something that you can't actually provide. So, can we find out about capacity, and can we find out what the petitioner says on the Minister's response?

09:05

I just think that there's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation there. If you, as the Government did a number of years ago now, declare that you want to set a target of creating 1 million Welsh speakers, then this is exactly the kind of policy that's needed to achieve that. I accept the point that we may not have enough teaching capacity within the system as things stand, but if you set about a policy aim, then the capacity issues tend to follow, don't they? The investment goes into the teacher training and all the rest of it. So, I'm supportive of the idea and the principle involved with this. I wouldn't want to set unrealistic expectations either. But, if the Government is serious about that commitment to achieve 1 million Welsh speakers, then this is the kind of policy that's needed. 

Yes, I'm of the generation that went to school and didn't learn a single word of Welsh. There was no opportunity; no opportunity at all. 

Dwi wedi bod yn lwcus ar ôl ysgol i allu dysgu Cymraeg fel oedolyn.

I have been fortunate after school to be able to learn Welsh as an adult.

So, I've been lucky to study Welsh as an adult. The Government's arguments remind me of the old Soviet plans: they're written down but they're not based in any kind of reality. I would be interested to see what the petitioner thinks about the reply because this is not an uncommon demand from constituents.

I think the reason I made my declaration was following on from what Leanne said after me, so I followed her before she said it, in that my daughter might become one of those people involved. So, I just want that to be on the record as a potential interest. 

It's much easier to learn English in Wales than it is Welsh, but we live in Wales. It's bizarre, really.

Okay, so we can await the views of the petitioner, but we can also write to the Minister to ask for that information about capacity.

Moving on to 2.2, 'Ban the sale of goods packaged in single use plastics on Transport for Wales services'. Again, the points for discussion on this one. The Minister's response acknowledges that

'We should aim to prevent or reduce unnecessary or non-recyclable plastic products and packaging where we can.' 

TfW also has a waste management plan and is taking actions such as 

'promoting the use of re-usable drinking containers by passengers and seeking to provide access to free drinking water available for refill of water bottles.'

So, your potential actions are: the committee could await the views of the petitioner on the response; or they could write to Transport for Wales to seek their views on the petition, and ask for further details of the initiatives referred to by the Minister for Economy and Transport. 

Okay, thank you. Item 2.3. This petition was submitted by Tom MacLean, having collected 55 signatures, and it's 'The Capping of Council Tax Rises in Wales'. Again, what action would you like to take further? The potential actions are: we could write to the Welsh Local Government Association to seek their views on the points raised by the petition and the potential impact of a policy to cap or limit council tax increases; or, you could understand and believe that council tax is the responsibility of local authorities. I thought that we had a cap in Wales over the years.

We had an unofficial cap at 5 per cent, which local authorities stuck under. But, that really followed on from John Redwood. There was a sort of belief that if you went above 5 per cent, you would be capped, and that carried on. But, that has disappeared now. That was totally unfair because 5 per cent on council tax in Blaenau Gwent is entirely different in absolute cost to 5 per cent on council tax in Pembrokeshire or Newport. So, I think that if we are making inquiries on this, I think they should be on whether such a cap would be an absolute amount or whether it would be a percentage. Pembrokeshire, historically, had very low council tax. I think it's still the lowest or second lowest in Wales, despite having increased it by 10 per cent or so over the last two years. Blaenau Gwent has had relatively modest rises in the last couple of years, but band D in Blaenau Gwent is still about £600 or £700 more than it is in Pembrokeshire. We need to know whether—. So, 5 per cent in Blaenau Gwent would rise substantially—£80 more. I think we need to ask as well, both the petitioner and the Welsh Government, whether it's an absolute amount or percentage, because percentages—. Would the council tax rise from just under £1,000 to just over £1,600, £1,700? 

09:10

Okay. Yes, so we'll take that action forward to establish exactly. Neil.  

I think we could write to the Welsh Local Government Association as well, and see what they've got to say. 

Yes, it would just be useful to know what the WLGA's view on this is, because I can see the arguments for and against, really, from their perspective. 

So, 2.4: 'Declare a Climate Emergency and fit all policies with zero-carbon targets'. Again, what action would you like to take forward? You'll be aware that the Welsh Government—[Interruption.]—yes, the background. An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 19 February. After this was commissioned, the petitioner requested more time to collect signatures. How would you like to take this one forward? You'll be aware that the Welsh Government declared a climate emergency on 30 April. 

I think it's the second part of the petition that's the crucial bit now—it's the action that goes behind the declaration. And so I think this is something that's still worth keeping live. Given that it's got more than 5,000 signatures now, I think it should be debated in Plenary. I accept, though, that it was quite a similar issue to the one that we raised last week, as the Plaid Cymru debate, but I still do think that there were many questions unanswered as a result of that debate. So, there are still things worth pressing the Government on, particularly in terms of those actions to achieve what they've set out with the declaration. 

Yes, I'd like an update on the latest actions and maybe hold it back a bit to debate it later on, maybe even next term, the next Assembly year—after September—to see where we are in terms of progress. Because when you said that I smiled, because they declared an emergency and then said that they weren't going to anything much policy-wise, which is just incredible, really, but very much in keeping with how this place operates. So, I'd like to keep it on the agenda and debate it after September. 

I'd like to keep it on the agenda. I'm going to say this, and I'm then going to get a huge amount of abuse on Twitter for saying it, but I think that climate change is the biggest threat that we face as people. 

You'll get a lot of abuse on Twitter for saying that, Janet, as Chair. But it is a huge thing. I don't think we can talk about climate change enough, because it's going to affect everybody and it's going to mean that we're going to face a crisis as the climate changes, as it is already. The weather is changing now, and as the climate changes there's a huge problem, and we must do everything we can to ensure that we try and stop the world temperature going up and all the associated weather changes that come with climate change. Some people confuse climate and weather. But with climate change we're getting weather change as well. So, I think that we ought to debate it. If we put it in now, and I'm sure the clerk will tell us when, but the earliest we're likely to get a debate will be June or July, wouldn't it? July, possibly.

As standard, yes, I guess we'd be looking at sometime around half term, probably slightly after half term, so early June. That would be the typical timescale, if we wrote to Business Committee to consider the request next week. 

I'd like to have it as soon as possible. It's not going away, it's only getting worse. Action needs to be taken as soon as possible. 

I'd like a little bit longer, really, because they declared an emergency. So, I'd like to give them six months to see what they do, really, before debating it.  

Even though they've made it clear that they don't intend to bring any policies.  

Over six months that would be absolutely clear, wouldn't it? I'm relaxed about it. If people want to debate it earlier, fine. But I'd like to wait just a few months and then—

I mean, it has attracted 5,000 signatures, this, and our normal policy is, isn't it, that, really, where it's over 5,000, we would be minded—?

Just one last thing, us putting it forward doesn't stop there being future debates, and I have a feeling that other political parties will raise debates on this in the future as well. So, anything we can do to try and get something done the better.

09:15

Can we get as much detail in the report as possible, then, about what they're doing, what they intend to do, and what the changes would be, or lack of changes—[Inaudible.]

When we put this to Welsh Government, they'll come back, won't they?

So, if I could suggest, I think the choices here are between writing immediately to the Business Committee to ask them to schedule that debate when there's the next space in the Assembly timetable, or write to the Government to ask for a more detailed, written overview of the actions they intend to take as a result, and consider that response before deciding whether to ask. I would anticipate there would still be time for it to be debated before the summer, based on that response, if the committee wanted to. But if you think the debate should happen as soon as possible, we should probably write now. 

I mean, the whole point about this is that's it's an emergency. I don't think, when you've got 12 years before action has to be taken before the point of no return—that's what we've been told, isn't it? I just don't think we've got six months. So, it would be useful to have a debate, being able to pin the Government down on what they've said, to have some sort of written commitment. But, to be honest with you, we have to have the debate in order to scrutinise the Government. And I fear, just like last week in the Plaid Cymru debate, we may not be able to pin the them down, and we will need to keep coming back to it. But I don't think we can wait six months.

Let's do it in July, then. But I want some details about what they're—[Inaudible.

We will seek—. Clearly, we're not going to go into debate without having all the information before us. And the Government will want to provide as much detail as they can, given we're talking about a debate in the Siambr in the Senedd.

The reason I suggested waiting was because I don't feel that anything's going to change. And rather than let them say, 'We will change. We'll do this. We'll do that' in a debate, and then, actually, nothing happens, I just wanted a bit of time to give them an opportunity to change policies. But then, again, maybe the groups can take it up then, Leanne, possibly, after we've debated it fully.

Yes, okay. So, I would support the idea of us going to debate before the summer.

'We think it's an emergency—by the way, we're going to hang on for it' does seem to be a bit of an oxymoron.

So, the conclusion is that you'll write to the Business Committee and—.

We'll write to the Business Committee at this point, and we'll write to the Government at the same time. The committee should have sight of the Government's response prior to—

Oh, yes—give them a heads up so that they've got the ability to respond. Yes. Okay.

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

'Establish Statutory Public Rights of Access to Land and Water for Recreational and Other Purposes'—this first came in in 2016, having collected 3,478 signatures. We last considered this on 25 September 2018, and we agreed to await the Minister’s response to the recent consultation. There was a statement on 4 April, however the petitioners have also provided further comments.

So, how would you like to take this forward? You could provide the petitioners’ latest comments to the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government to seek her views on the contents, whilst asking for more detail about the Government’s intended approach to resolving issues around access to inland waters. Or, in light of the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government’s statement of July this year, and the timescales for the work being commenced, you could conclude that it is apparent the Welsh Government will not bring forward access legislation prior to the next Assembly election, therefore you could consider closing the petition at this point. We've had it on now since 2016.

Go back to the Deputy Minister. But this is really two groups of people. Have we had one from the anglers yet, who are also—?

It's one of those, isn't it, where you have two sides to the argument? 

Yes, you have people who want to go out on canoes and kayaks and other boats onto rivers, and you've got the anglers who don't want them there. But let's go back to the Deputy Minister to get a response.

Okay. Right, the next one: 3.2—'Create water fountains in the centre of cities and towns to eliminate plastic waste'. Is yours printed quite small, Mike—your petition, your contents?

09:20

Yes, okay. It was first considered, having collected 149 signatures. How would you like to take this forward?

So, in your brief, just to add, it says that the committee hadn't received comments from the petitioner, but we did receive comments yesterday, so they're the additional paper you've got on the table in front of you.

Send them to the Minister—the petitioner's comments.

Yes, you could do that. You could agree to close the petition on the basis that it is difficult to see how we can take the petition forward in the absence of contact from the petitioner. Or you could write back to the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism to request an update on the outcome of the meeting between officials, community councils and the National Trust—. Oh, sorry, I've jumped ahead. Yes, so you could agree to close, because we're not hearing from the petitioner.

Yes, it's the—.

Yes. This is one thing, with climate change and the use of plastic and so on—this is a concrete thing that could be changed in cities, so I think we should send it, definitely.

Yes, and await the Minister's response again. Okay. All right.

Now, this one—I hope I say this right: 'Make the "Cofiwch Dryweryn" Mural a designated Welsh landmark'. It has collected 1,016 signatures, and the text of the petition suggests that:

'It's ridiculous that such an important landmark in 20th Century Welsh History is the subject of vandalism, while a recent Banksy work is being protected. It's time that this landmark be granted official protected site status within Wales.'

Considering this on 19 March, we agreed to write back to the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism. A response from the Deputy Minister was received on 15 April, and the petitioner has also provided further comments.

Can I just make one very brief comment? Expecting Llanrhystud Community Council to take full responsibility for this does seem a little unfair. I don't know anything about the community council, but from my knowledge of community councils they have relatively small budgets and a very small ability to raise money. Can we ask whether Ceredigion council would like to take some ownership of this? They are the major authority in the area, and I think that we could at least go to ask them if they've got any intention of doing something, but leaving it to fall on what I think is probably a relatively small community council—and I did look up its size and I didn't write it down, which was probably a mistake on my part, but a relatively small community council—to take responsibility for what many people see as part of our national history and national heritage I think is a little unfair on the community council.

Yes, I would agree with that. I think it's an opportunity for Ceredigion to take the initiative and to do something positive as a local authority. When I was deputy leader of Cardiff Council, if things came up and action needed taking, then we would do that. I remember in the last committee I said it would be great if murals started appearing all over Wales; well, they have now, so I think that's a real positive. But Mike is right—it's not fair to land it on a community council.

Okay. So, we've had a proposal to send it to Ceredigion County Council. Do you also want—? One of the other suggestions as well is to be able to write to the Welsh Government at a set time in the future to seek an update on developments and details of Cadw's involvement in this.

Definitely, yes. The Government could find some money as well to preserve this, to make it safe—it's a drop in the ocean and it needs doing.

Well, I'm just aware that there isn't a consensus view as to how best to protect that particular monument wall, and so, you know, I know there's opposition to putting a Perspex cover over it and having security there and all of that kind of thing. So, I'm quite keen to listen to what the local community's got to say, regardless of the financial position. I think Llanrhystud Community Council are quite key, given that it's within their patch, that it's their responsibility, and, obviously, the local council, the local Assembly Member, and some of the people who have been involved in painstakingly rebuilding and repainting every time it gets vandalised. There's obviously an issue here. There's a political—. Somebody's trolling people on this, I think, and trying to get a reaction. Thankfully, there's not been any kind of negative reaction. The reactions have been wholly positive, and I think that's good, and the people involved should be commended for that, but I think that we just need to be careful and not impose our view on what security should look like and override the wishes of local people, because it is in a natural environment, and it would look odd if there were a similar sort of security setup to what was put around the Banksy artwork, for example, I think.

09:25

Okay. Do you want us to write to the Welsh Government as well?

Very clear actions on that one.

'School Buses for School Children'—this was submitted by Lynne Chick in 2017. We have discussed this in committee a number of times. Because of the actions going forward that we could take—. You could write to the Minister for Economy and Transport to ask for relevant details of actions taken by Welsh Government since the commissioner's recommendation that the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008 should be reviewed. In doing so, the committee could propose that safety on public transport should be incorporated into such a review.

I know when I was sat there I was very concerned that public transport is used to take our children to school but they don't fall into the same responsibilities as regards seat belts and things like that, and some of the safety measures. Or you could establish that the actions requested by the petitioner are not devolved—and we have corresponded with the UK Government, which has already rejected the proposals. On that basis, the committee may wish to express its sympathy to the petitioner, and I think we all—. I think this committee does—. I would place on record, really, that we're deeply sorry about the circumstances that necessitated this petition. But you may wish to close the petition at this stage. It's very difficult when part of the issue isn't devolved, so we have no control over that, sadly. Or you could go and ask for this review.

I'd like a review. Given that it isn't devolved, I'd like to know what—whichever Assembly Minister is sort of responsible for this kind of area—what they're doing to push the Westminster Government to do something, because I don't think we should just close it. It's a ridiculous situation that we're faced with here and it's no good saying, 'No, it's not devolved'. If it isn't devolved, make it devolved, get on to them and sort it out. 

If only it was that simple that could you say, 'We want this to be devolved; devolve it now'. I think that—

We've asked for lots of things to be devolved that haven't been, some of which are in the process of being devolved. We've continually asked for policing to be devolved, for example, and nothing's happened, and as Leanne will know I've led debates on that in the last Assembly—and Janet will probably remember—on the importance of devolving police. So, just asking doesn't necessarily achieve it. In fact, it hasn't achieved it up until now. But I think that I'm quite happy with what Neil suggested in going back to the people concerned. 

Okay. Thank you.

The next one, 3.5, is 'Ensuring Equality of Curriculum for Welsh Medium Schools e.g. GCSE Psychology'. It collected 652 signatures in November 2017. The background: we last considered this on 29 January. We agreed to write to Qualifications Wales and the Minister for Education to share the analysis. Responses have been received from the Minister. The petitioner has also provided further comment. How would you like to take this forward? I mean, basically, the potential actions we have open to us—. The committee's now explored the specific issues in relation to the availability of GCSE psychology in detail and it is difficult to identify how the committee could take this issue further in relation to current provision. So, the options are that the committee could decide to explore further the steps being taken in relation to securing Welsh and English-medium provision from the outset under the new curriculum, for example by writing back to Qualifications Wales and the Minister for Education. Or the committee could conclude that there is little further that it is able to achieve at this stage and close. Neil.

09:30

Definitely write to Qualifications Wales and the Minister for Education.

Yes, I'd support that. I think the only other point I'd make is: why are these qualifications outside everything else that's provided within the public sector? If anybody else was not providing equality between Welsh and English there'd be a big hoo-ha about it. It is important that people take exams in the language in which they are taught—not necessarily the first language of their life, but the language that they are taught in, if only because they know technical words in that language that they don't know in English.

Okay. Thank you.

Moving on: 'Review support for asylum seekers accessing further education'. This has been with us since 2017, in December. We last considered it on 19 March. We agreed to await the views of the petitioner and to write to the Minister for Education. We wrote to the Minister; the response was received on 11 April, and the petitioner has also provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward?

We've actually done quite well on this one. The Welsh Government intends to implement the actions called for by the petition from September 2020, and states that this is not able to be brought forward. The committee could therefore close the petition, thank the petitioner for raising this matter and congratulate her for the success of the petition.

Yes. I'd go along with all of that. But can we write back to Welsh Government to ask them if they could reconsider bringing it forward to September 2019?

I think the last letter the committee wrote to the Minister asked for that action to be taken. The Minister's response was that they need a lead time of around 18 months, she feels, to make these kinds of changes. In the letter, it refers to things like changing IT systems in the Student Loans Company. They'd not be able to do that, so the Minister has stated that that can't happen. We could ask again, but—

I think we ought to. I'm not sure it's not possible. It might be difficult, it might be time consuming, it might be expensive, but I don't believe it's beyond the bounds of possibility.

Okay. So, would you like to close the petition at the same time as doing that?

Okay.

Item 3.7, 'Protecting Class Sizes in Design and Technology Classrooms and Workshops'. The background on this is that the committee last considered this last June, agreeing to await a further update from the then Cabinet Secretary for Education and views from the petitioner. The response was received from the Minister for Education on 21 March, and the petitioner has also provided further comment. Potential actions: we could decide that little more can be achieved at this stage, following the action taken by the Minister for Education; or, we could agree to write back to the Minister for Education to question how effectively the article within the 'Dysg' newsletter will be reminding school leaders to revisit risk assessments relating to design and technology classes and to ask why specific guidance in relation to this subject cannot be produced.

Okay, Mike. Supported by Neil and Leanne? Okay.

Item 3.8, 'Reintroduce educational support funding for MEAS and the TES to local authorities'. This was submitted by Unison Neath Port Talbot. It collected 334 signatures. There's quite a lot of background on this, if you wish to read through it. We last considered it on 25 September and agreed to share a copy of the Children, Young People and Education Committee's report and to write to the CYPE committee. The CYPE committee noted the letter in their meeting on 18 October. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed again and were provided with an update on the Welsh Government funding but have not provided a further response. In light of the Welsh Government’s reinstatement of grant funding for these services in 2018-19 and 2019-20, and the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s scrutiny, the committee could close the petition.

09:35

I'm all for doing that, but I hope the Government, or the education Minister, has learnt the lesson that you can't just put everything into a general grant when the amounts spent by different local authorities vary enormously. Now, funding for the minority ethnic attainment service was spent substantially in four local authorities. The funding for the Traveller education service was spent substantially in about seven or eight local authorities. Shoving it into one big grant and then putting it out under the formula meant that some local authorities were very badly treated, including Swansea, and Neil's got the same thing here in Cardiff.

Yes, but I just wanted to make that comment that they need to have learnt the lesson. You can't just put something into a grant without realising that if you have different levels of expenditure in different places, you need a different formula for putting that out, not just putting it in the grant and sending it out.

Okay.

So, we move on now to 'Presumption in favour of rural schools'. This petition was submitted by the parents and teachers association of Ysgol Gymuned Bodffordd and was first considered in September 2018, having collected 5,125 signatures. Background—again, we've done quite a lot on this. The committee previously considered the petition on 5 March and agreed to write to the petitioners to advise them that the appropriate course of action is for them to raise their concerns directly with the Minister for Education, and to write to the Minister for Education. A response was received from the Minister on 29 March. Further comments have been received from Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg and the petitioners. How would you like to take this forward?

I think there needs to be a proper appeals mechanism for cases like this. The rules have changed, basically, and given now that there is going to be a review of the process, an investigation into what happened, that's great for this particular school, but it doesn't resolve the wider issue of a lack of appeals procedure. So, I think there needs to be an appeals procedure introduced to be able to challenge the Minister on school closures, and it could be with conditions attached so that it could only focus on process, procedure, and that it could only be determined, say, by local school governors, because the Minister would be quite overwhelmed, I think, if you were able to challenge every single one on the basis of the decision itself. But I would definitely favour further investigation to see what can be done under the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 or any other potential mechanism for introducing an appeal system for situations like this. Otherwise, we are going to lose community facilities over and above just the school as is the situation in this case.

In terms of the mechanism for taking that piece of work forward, I think it might be worth noting that we're essentially be looking, potentially, at legislative scrutiny. You're looking at the Act, because the Minister has set out that they can't simply change the code or the guidance to allow an appeals process, it would need to be the legislation itself that was amended to do so. So, we might want to note the significance of the work that might be involved in looking at that in detail. Do you want to proceed to gather evidence at this stage or to maybe consider an options paper in a future meeting for how the committee could take that piece of work forward, maybe with some background as to how the appeals issue was considered when that Act was passed in the previous Assembly?

I think we need an options paper. They need to look viability as well. Sometimes, schools that are relatively large are closed as small schools. I also know the difficulty a school had where there was one pupil—actually, the local authority had difficulty in closing that school. So, there's got to be a mechanism by which schools that have reached a stage where they're unable to fulfil the national curriculum then need to be able to be closed or merged. But we also need the situation that people in schools—. And I understand there's one in the Vale of Glamorgan that is reasonably large and is being closed because it's part of a greater plan. That's the bit that worries me—not very small schools closing because they've run out of pupils, as I can understand that, but when they have this greater plan when they want to create a big school somewhere and they end up closing a lot of other schools in order to do it, even though the other schools are viable. I think that schools with one, or five, or six pupils, I think most people would say, aren't viable, because—

09:40

Can I just say, though, this is not about the numbers of pupils in schools? It’s about how much of an asset the wider school buildings or land and everything else associated with the school are and how important they are for the local community. That’s the issue with the key of this one, at the heart of this one. It’s not about the numbers at all; it's about the fact that there’s a really good community centre on the same site and that there should have been a duty to consider the impact of the closure of that as well, and that wasn’t considered. And so, procedurally, they’ve done things in a way that could have been done better, I think, in this case.

I agree entirely. I was just talking about it, rather than just this one case, in general. And Leanne is absolutely right—they also need to take into account anything else that is on the site. I mean, I have schools that have got a community centre and a library attached to them. If somebody wanted to close those, you’d lose the library and the community centre at the same time.

So, it’s important that they do look at the overall effect. But I still go back to the point that closing schools as part of a giant plan is not necessarily the best thing to do.

Yes, I agree with Mike, and that’s exactly what is happening in Pontypridd right now, where there is a proposal to close—

—good primary schools, and there’s this plan for this superschool that kids won’t be able to go to because it’s 5 or 6 miles away from them.

Okay. So, we’ll add a suggestion to raise the issue about the appeals mechanism, such as through gathering additional evidence and/or requesting a paper on the scrutiny given to this issue at the time the Act was passed. Okay? Everybody clear?

So, if we come back with a paper of options on how this could be scrutinised in the first instance—.

Okay. Now, the next two items will be considered together: 3.10, ‘Make curriculum for life lessons compulsory’, and 3.11, ‘Make political education a compulsory element of the new national curriculum’. So, how would you like to take these items forward?

Both petitions were considered on 19 March. We agreed to await the views of the petitioners on the information provided by the Minister for Education before deciding whether we can take any further action on the petitions. The petitioner for P-05-861—that’s the ‘Make political education a compulsory element’—has now submitted further comment, and no comments have been received in relation to P-05-860, ‘Make curriculum for life lessons compulsory’. So, the Minister has told the committee that the draft new curriculum will be available to schools from April for feedback, a final version will be made available in January 2020, and it will be used in schools throughout Wales by 2022. We know that that’s already been published. She has stated, however, that the curriculum cannot provide a comprehensive list of detailed content that will quickly become complicated and overcrowded.

The petitioner has welcomed the developments with the new curriculum but has expressed concerns over the timing in relation to the planned introduction of votes at 16 in time for the 2021 elections and the new curriculum in 2022. She proposes an interim solution under which the Minister could encourage schools to give basic-level lessons on political education before the new changes take effect. The Welsh bac and the current PSE curriculum both include teaching of democratic decision making and links between political decisions and pupils’ own lives. The Minister has previously noted that schools have flexibility to develop further teaching of life skills before 2022, and the petitioner also argues that political education should be elevated to the status of a compulsory subject.

So, there is quite something there for us to get into.

09:45

Can I say I share the petitioner's concerns about having to wait until 2022? I think we've made this point a number of times on this petition. If votes are introduced at 16 for the 2021 elections, then current 14-year-olds need to have some sort of information between now and then, and that's before we even start with the rest of the school population. I think there needs to be a programme for adults as well, or at least provide information for people if they want to receive it. I think that we should keep this alive. I would go along with the petitioner's suggestion to have some sort of interim solution. That could be developed through the PSE curriculum or the Welsh bac, but, whatever it is, it has to do something. 

I've got an additional concern that we've lost a lot of youth work over the last decade or so since we've had austerity politics, and previously where politics wasn't discussed in schools, there were often opportunities within youth work settings for political discussions to take place, and I know that because I've been involved in some of them myself both as a youth and as a politician later on, and they can be very, very effective. But if that youth work space doesn't exist any more, then that's another place where people are not getting opportunities to discuss political issues. So, it is a massive concern, and I am worried that people are not—. They're not empowered if they're not taking informed decisions, basically, and so I think we should continue to press the Minister on this, to bring forward the introduction of this in schools before 2022, but also to consider other ways in which young people in particular can receive that input outside the school setting.

Can I just make one final comment, perhaps, going back to the Minister? The Minister can send out, at any time, an advisory note on the PSE curriculum, and the Minister could ask for these items to be covered within the PSE curriculum. Now, that advisory note, it tends to be followed by people in receipt of it, and I would urge the Minister to do that.

Yes, to send an advisory note that PSE should include the two items we've got here.

Housing and local government, 3.12: 'We call for all premises in Wales to be awarded an Access Certificate number similar to the Food Hygiene Certificate'. This has been quite an interesting petition, and the feedback that we've had and the interaction has been really good. How would you like to take this forward now? The background is that we last considered this on 29 January. We agreed to write to the Welsh Government to welcome the consideration of actions referred to by the previous Minister. This followed the evidence session, which was, I thought, a very, very informative evidence session. An update was received from the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip on 22 March. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed, but they have not submitted further comment.

How do you want to take this forward? The Deputy Minister mentions that, in principle, the proposal fits well with the Welsh Government’s new framework on independent living, and she is keen to explore the issue further. So, you know, through this petition the Minister is now listening and keen to explore it further. Officials recently met with the petitioners and Disability Wales and have agreed to work in partnership. So, again, it's that petition that's driven this. The Deputy Minister is unable to make, however, any commitment to funding at this stage, but will ensure the committee is updated as work progresses. The committee could accept the offer of an update on progress from the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip in due course, and could seek this, and an update from the petitioners and Disability Wales, at the beginning of the autumn term. How do you want to go forward?

Okay, 3.13: 'Ban the use of "Hostile Architecture"'. This was submitted in March of this year—first considered, I mean. It was submitted by People Over Profit:

'We call on the Welsh Government to ban the use of "Hostile Architecture" by organisations to deter homeless people from seeking shelter and any other street structures designed to impede or hide the homeless.'

How would you like to take this forward? We considered this on 5 March. We agreed to write to the Minister. We asked for her views 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 also asked her to consider issuing a TAN advice note and what planning controls could be put in place. A response was received from the Minister on 27 March, which we'll all have. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed but have not submitted further comment. 

09:50

It would be useful to know what the views of homeless charities were. So, if we could try to seek their views by writing to them, I'm sure they've got some strong views. I would like to consider us introducing a ban on these, but there may be reasons for them that I can't quite see at the moment.

Yes. So, what we could do is write to the charities, take their views and offer the petitioner a chance to comment and respond to those.

Have you seen anything that gives a justification for them, other than trying to deter homeless people from being in that space? There are no other reasons, are there, as far as we know? Okay. 

Okay. Health and social services: 'Lack of support for children with disabilities at crisis'. The attempts of the petition, really, are to highlight the need for the Cwm Taf children's crisis team to recognise there is a vital need for children with disabilities to be supported through crisis and that they have the right to be treated as any other child would. 

We last considered this in June last year. We agreed to await the outcome of the petitioner’s meeting with Cwm Taf health board. Following a number of chases during the intervening period, further comments have been received from the petitioner, on 1 May. The petitioner does not confirm whether she has met with the health board. However, she does state that no significant progress has been made in relation to increased funding for CAMHS crisis services. Previously, the committee has explored two angles to the petition: the petitioner’s own family situation, through the proposed meeting between the petitioner and the health board; and wider access to crisis services.

The Minister for Health has assured the committee that children experiencing acute mental illness crisis should be seen by CAMHS crisis teams regardless of whether or not they have a learning
disability.  

You know, Chair, I deal with so many cases—and I'm sure others do as well—where people are battling with CAMHS referrals and treatment services when, half the time, you wonder whether the person should be in CAMHS in the first place and whether there's a need for another kind of dedicated service to deal with people on, say, the autism spectrum or presenting with behavioural problems, and aggression in particular. That is a particular set of skills, and it may not be a mental health problem that they've been asked to deal with. I just feel sometimes that you are trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes, where you are trying to force people through a service that isn't designed for their needs at all.

So, is there something that we can do in terms of going back not just to the health board, because I think this is a wider issue than just the local health board, notwithstanding the negative report that we had recently on this particular health board, but to go back to the health Minister and ask what plans there are to stop trying to force children and young people with—? Mental health conditions could be the secondary problem, or they may not even be the secondary problem. They may not even be a problem at all. And then they are not getting treatment and help and support for the actual condition that they have a problem with. So, if there's something we can do on that, then I think we would be making a big difference to an awful lot of people's lives.

It's not just something that affects this family; it's generic. The Minister has assured the committee that children experiencing acute mental illness crisis should be seen by CAMHS. Well, there's no opportunity to. If you work in these fields with children like this, there is no opportunity to get them seen by CAMHS. So, I'd like to ask questions of the resources, really. What are available now? I'll give you an example. In this health board area, how many professionals are available through CAMHS for children? Because when I was teaching a few years back in Merthyr, there was one person—just one. So, children could not be seen physically because there was only one individual. So, I'd like to maybe question what resource is available.

09:55

Okay. So, how do you want to take it forward? Write back to the Minister or—?

We can maybe decide to draft a letter between us with officials, being specific—asking specific questions. 

I think I'd like to go back to the Minister, but I think Leanne's raised a point that has gone through my mind on more than one occasion—

It's that, 'If there's a problem, send them to CAMHS—, it doesn't matter what the problem is', and then CAMHS gets overwhelmed. They don't get to see CAMHS, but they just get sent there. It's whether there should be an intermediate process for pupils who have some problems—

Pupils who have some problems, they have problems with their family, they have problems in school—that there's somewhere in between, where they haven't actually got something that really does need CAMHS to deal with it, but they've got something that needs somebody to deal with it. 

They just drop out the system, really. They're not dealt with in schools. If you look at children on the spectrum, there are specific needs there and they're just not being catered for. 

Okay, so we'll raise all those points in our correspondence.

So, 3.15: 'Give young people a voice when commissioning local services in Wales'. The background: we last considered this on 29 January and we agreed to write back to the Welsh Government. We requested a further legal briefing in relation to whether existing legislative requirements in this area could be strengthened. A response was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services. A legal briefing has been produced. Again, the petitioners have also provided further comments. So, how would you like to take this forward?

I would like to accept the offer of a further update on the work that's under way from the Minister for Health and Social Services and to ask for that to be done by the beginning of the autumn term. The petitioner's concerns that the working group doesn't appear to include representation from children and young people gets to the heart of the point of the petition in the first place. So, we've got to try and address that, haven't we?

Yes. Can we maybe bring in the Youth Parliament's Members and see what they make of it?

We are investigating—I think that they are looking at the ways that the Youth Parliament should best work with Assembly committees. The committee has discussed writing to the Youth Parliament on a different petition as well. I'm trying to sort out the best process by which we can seek their views and how they would do that—you know, would that be at a full meeting or a smaller group? We can certainly record that as an action and, if we can get those views, then we'll write the letter.

Fabulous.

So, 3.16: 'Save our Hospital at Prince Philip Llanelli'. The background is we held an evidence session with the petitioners on 12 February. We agreed to write to Hywel Dda University Health Board and Hywel Dda community health council to seek a response to some of the issues raised. Responses have been received from the health board and the CHC. The CHC also provided a copy of their commentary on the consultation, which has not been included in the meeting papers due to its length. The petitioners have also provided further comments. The information received does cover a wide range of services and issues. How would you like to take this forward?

For their benefit, I'd like to close it, because then they can come back to us if they have issues following the action taken by Hywel Dda health board. At the moment, if we keep this on the table, they won't be able to come back to us, will they, on issues relating to Prince Philip Hospital? So, for their benefit, and I hope they realise it is for their benefit, I'd like to close it so they can come back to us if, following the work that is being done by Hywel Dda. If they have any further problems or concerns, they can come back to us with a new petition.

Is there any sort of medium way, because they've obviously worked hard to collect 12,745 signatures? So, to close a petition and then expect them to go around and collect all those signatures again is a bit of a big ask, I think. But if there's a way of putting it in deep-freeze or something, so that should it need to be reactivated in the future, it's not something that's completely dead and can be reactivated if it needs to be—that it doesn't require any further action at this stage from committee. 

10:00

I just don't want them to be stopped from raising further problems by the fact they've got— 

They have done the work, haven't they, in collecting those signatures?

I'm fully supportive of them and fully supportive of their aims, but what is best for us to do in order to help them? If we can deep-freeze and allow them to come back with additional comments on it, depending on what Hywel Dda do—if that's possible, I'm quite happy to do that. But there's nothing further to do at the moment, but I'd like to maybe promise in the future.

And just to be clear, the restrictions, in the meantime, would be on anyone starting a new petition that was substantively similar to this one. So, it would depend exactly on the wording or the title of a new petition as to whether that was the case. 

Perhaps we should check with the petitioners that that's the course of action that they're happy with, because if they would prefer to close it so they can start again on a different basis, then we wouldn't want to be a block on that either. All of this is designed to try to help the petitioners, really.  

I think that's the point we need to get across to them. Whatever we do, we have to do what is best for them, rather than do something that we think is a good idea, which then turns out not to be beneficial for them. 

Okay, thank you. 

Thank you. And 3.17: 'Provide Child Houses in Wales for victims of child sexual abuse'. The background on this one—points of discussion—previously, the Welsh Government and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales have stated that it would be appropriate to wait for the results of a pilot to consider how the Barnahus model could be adapted in the UK, including here in Wales. This view has been shared by a recent child sexual abuse round-table meeting. However, the commissioner has also expressed concerns over current sexual abuse referral centres, and stated that she is monitoring the issue closely. The petitioner has questioned the justification for waiting before proceeding to introduce this model. She argues that there is insufficient prioritisation of child sexual abuse.

Further research has been done into the reviews of refuge provision and sexual abuse services. In January of this year, the Welsh Government stated that the previous First Minister had commissioned the Wales Centre for Public Policy to conduct the review in refuge provision. It was intended to be completed within three to six months. The scope of the review of sexual violence services review was being finalised and is far more complex.

In response to the debate brought by Bethan Sayed, the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services stated that the NHS is currently leading work to develop a sustainable model of sexual assault services for children and adults in Wales in partnership with others, to include the police, and the Government has indicated that it wishes to publish a national action plan on preventing and responding to child sexual abuse in the summer. The motion was passed by the Assembly after the Welsh Government abstained.

So, how would you like to take this further? 

Given that the Welsh Government abstained, it's probably quite clear to all of us that they're not keen to progress on the basis of the motion that was passed, but, at the end of the day, it was passed. So, they have to. We should write back to the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services to ask for an update on the work carried out by Welsh Government and NHS Wales on this review of services, but also to see what will change in the light of the vote that happened on 3 April. And I think that the comments from the children's commissioner as well are pertinent, especially her concerns around the sexual abuse referral centres. So, we definitely need to keep on the case with this issue and hold the Government to account for the statements that they've previously made in terms of wanting to see full provision on this. 

Yes. I just want to express my concern, really, with the casework that I deal with, and I just wonder, really, as the petitioner says—well, it's not taken as seriously as it should be, in my view. So, I'd agree with the petitioner there.  

Okay. All right. So, you know the actions on that one.

Public services—3.18: 'Guarantee fully plant-based options on every public sector menu to protect the rights of vegans and for our health, the environment and animals'. Background: we last considered this on 5 March. We agreed to write to the Minister for Health and Social Services and the Minister for Education to ask what assessment or research has been carried out in relation to the sufficiency of menu options currently available in Welsh hospitals and schools for people following a vegan diet. A joint response was received 4 April. The petitioners have provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward? Would you like to see further legislation? Should it be amended? We could write back to the Minister for environment.

10:05

Well, this comes under, in my view, the climate emergency declaration that was passed, which we've already touched on. It is a fact that a plant-based, vegan-based diet is more beneficial for the environment. I'm not sure about legislation. I'm not convinced that that's necessary, but there certainly should be an aim from the Government to demonstrate good practice. What the petitioners are asking for here is not that everybody's forced to eat a vegan diet but that vegan options should be available in public sector food provision. And just in the same way that we would try to cater for people of a specific faith who didn't eat particular foods or did at certain times of year and all of that kind of thing, which is good practice from an equalities point of view, then, from both an equalities and environmental point of view, it would be good practice to provide vegan food. So, if we can ask the Minister for environment to consider this as part of the climate declaration, then I think that would be quite useful.

We've had a reply:

'The menus include vegetarian and vegan foods.'

Can we ask: do all menus include vegetarian and vegan foods? I'm used to seeing things where it appears to say one thing but if you read it word by word, it doesn't actually say that. It doesn't say 'all'. So, can we find out: do all hospital menus include vegetarian and vegan food?

Okay. So, we know the actions on that one.

We are coming to the end of the meeting now. Can I just remind Members that our next meeting is on 21 May? However, there will be a debate on the committee's report on petition P-05-784, 'Prescription drug dependence and withdrawal—recognition and support', and that has been scheduled for 22 May.

Can I thank all Members for their attendance and for their contributions? And I close the meeting. Thank you. Thank you, clerk.

Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 10:08.

The meeting ended at 10:08.

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