National Assembly for Wales

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Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

11/06/2019

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 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. 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 09:01.

The meeting began at 09:01.

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

Good morning. Bore da. Croeso. Welcome. There is no need to turn off mobile phones or other electronic devices, but obviously please ensure that your devices are on 'silent' mode. No apologies have been received, so we'll get started with new petitions. 

2. Deisebau newydd
2. New petitions

We accepted this petition last week: P-05-880, 'Wales is Rapidly Losing its Musical Reputation and Heritage'. And this is page 40 in your pack of papers. This was submitted by Active Music Services, having collected 2,226 signatures. They're calling on the National Assembly for Wales

'to urge the Welsh Government to produce an urgent National Plan for Music Education with dedicated central funding in line with the rest of the UK. This will ensure that affordable musical instrument and vocal tuition is available as a right for all children in Wales.'

An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Education on 8 May. A research briefing on the petition and related issues has been provided. And the petitioner has also provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward?

We could write to the Welsh Local Government Association and Music Education Council to see what they've got to say on the matter. I think it is an issue. I think too many children from less well-off backgrounds have an opportunity denied to them. It's a real issue. 

I know, in my own constituency, they've withdrawn some musical services from the local authority and also parents themselves have been writing in very concerned that there isn't the availability of music lessons and things.

Chair, the petitioner has requested that we consider time for a Plenary debate. I would be in favour of that, but I would be in favour of widening the question, because the issue of music education is a pertinent one, particularly after many years of cuts; it's an easy thing to cut in a school. But there are wider questions in terms of the—. There's a reference to the wider music industry. I'm aware, for example, of a local band, the Cory Band, in my constituency, who win awards all over the world, yet there's no strategy or Government funding stream that can enable them to have a regular, sustainable income. So that's linked to this, because unless young people in school have bands and different things they can do outside of school, then it's sometimes difficult to see the point of learning an instrument in school. So, it does need to be all connected up, and I would like to see a wider strategy from the Government on music services, music education, but the wider contribution that music can make to the economy as well. 

I think so, but if we can try to focus on this call for a Plenary debate, I think we can flesh out some of the issues through that. 

I come from the choir capital of the world, Morriston, and I think that we have got a problem, not just with bands but also with choirs. The average age of a choir goes up about a year every year. That's not sustainable. So, I think a debate on the wider position of music teaching in schools and the development from schools into adulthood and adult choirs and bands. We have only one band in Morriston, but we have seven or eight choirs, depending on how you define a choir is in Morriston or not. 

09:05

But it's a cheaper way to make music, isn't it, if you sing? 

Yes, that's the point I was going to make. But you still need people to learn to sing in schools, and then for them to be taken on by the choir. With bands, it used to be that music teachers in schools would take the better musicians into their own bands. I think we do need to see it holistically, and that it's not just, 'We'll teach them until 16 and then wish them good luck.' It really does need to be seen as a means by which we can get people enjoying music for the whole of their lives. I'd better declare an interest—my daughter sings in lots of choirs, and she's going to be the arweinydd with John Morris-Jones male choir next year. So, I've got an interest in that in that respect. 

Good. So, then, we have a lot of committee support going forward to, obviously, write to the Minister, WLGA and the music—

The Music Education Council. 

Just to note in relation to a debate, as Members will be aware, there is agreement with Business Committee that petitions with over 5,000 signatures the committee will consider for debate. Obviously, this petition has not reached that level, so I think the general expectation from Business Committee, therefore, is for committees to look into something themselves, do work and potentially produce recommendations on a subject before seeking a debate.

In this case, another Assembly committee—the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee—has recently done an inquiry into music education, and published a report in the summer of last year. As a result of the recommendations that that committee made, the Government is currently conducting a feasibility study into whether funding for music services should be transferred to an arm's-length body from Government, and the issue is whether there should be a national plan for music education. So, that feasibility study is expected to be completed this summer and, in light of that, whether it might be something that the committee revisits once the Government has finished that feasibility study, and once—. It's possible that the culture committee itself may want to look at the outcome from that piece of work.   

Yes, there's no point duplicating. Okay, let's wait until that report comes out—the feasibility study—and then decide on further action from there, shall we? 

Okay. And we'll write to the other bodies that have been mentioned as well in the meantime. 

Okay. So, 2.2, page 49: 'Fix our planning system'. And this petition was submitted by Ruth Parker, having collected a total of 250 signatures. Their call is for 

'the National Assembly of Wales to urge the Welsh Government to fix our planning system; new developments need to be sustainable.'

And it goes on that

'The five year housing supply is putting undue pressure on local authorities at the cost of building unsuitable developments. The JHLAS is flawed: it does not take into account empty houses or the amount of second homes in the area.'

An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 15 May. A research briefing on the petition and related issues has been provided, and the petitioner has also provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward? 

We're seeing the Minister next week, aren't we? Can we add these questions to the ones we're asking? It would save an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing of paper. 

Thank you. 'National Welsh History Week'—this is page 63—submitted by Phil Rowe, having collected 86 signatures. And they're calling on

'the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to establish a National Welsh History Week. The aim is to create and promote a celebratory and historically accurate week of learning and educational opportunities about the history of Wales that is more honest than the sanitised British history that many of us took from school and does not seek to bias the information to offer a favourable view of any party.'

So, an initial response to the petition was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 21 May. A research briefing on the petition and related issues has been provided, and the petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed today but has not provided further comments. How would you like to go forward with this one?

09:10
3. Y wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am ddeisebau blaenorol
3. Updates to previous petitions

So, then, we move on to updates to previous to petitions. 'Asbestos in Schools'—page 71—you will note that you've had the response through. If you want a minute or two to read it, or if you have read it, let me know. Basically, it says:

'I note that the Minister intends to make "this high level information available" '—

and I know we've called previously to have more details on the risk as it stands. And it says:

'Given the health risks associated with the presence of asbestos in public buildings, we believe parents and guardians across Wales have the right; to know if asbestos is located in their school; to know whether, where asbestos is present, it is being managed in line with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012…The Committee may be aware that the issue of asbestos in public buildings in Wales is likely to be a matter to be considered by the Workforce Partnership Council and I would like to be able to update the Committee on this as well.'

So, they're saying:

'Finally as some time has passed since the petition was last considered by the Committee, I am able to provide the latest FOI response from the HSE on meso—'

it's a word I struggle with so, go on, help me out on that one; no, you're all staying quiet on that one—

'deaths in education. The issue of asbestos remains a pressing issue.'

And there's the freedom of information request. So, you could await the view of the petitioner on the commitments made by the Minister for Education before considering whether you want to take any further action, or you could agree to close the petition. 

I think we should seek the views of the petitioner before we close the petition.

So, the petitioner's comments that you've received were short and received over the weekend. I think he indicates in that that he would welcome the opportunity to respond at greater length. So, the committee could offer that opportunity to him. 

I see. So, this note is from the actual petitioner, then?

Yes, but I think he does indicate that more time to respond would be helpful. As the Chair has noted, the Minister has now committed that the Government will publish high-level information about the presence of asbestos in schools and its management. Whether that will go so far as the petitioner is calling for, and the committee has previously called for itself, we won't know until that's published. 

Okay. So, 3.2, page 74: '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. This was last considered on 5 March, and we agreed then to await the publication of the Children and Young People and Education Committee's report on the status of the Welsh bac, and to send it to the petitioner, and to write again to the WJEC to request a response on this matter, and to express disappointment at the lack of response to previous correspondence. However, we then received a response on 18 April. The CYPE report and the Welsh Government response have been published. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed today, but has not provided further comment. The WJEC have apologised for the lateness of its response. How would you like to take this forward?

Well, I think that we can't be sort of a second-guess committee for every other committee in the Assembly. What we are is an opportunity for people to raise issues and for us to raise them with Ministers. So, if another committee is dealing with it in detail, I think we should really leave it to the other committee, otherwise we'd be meeting every day because we'd be a second committee for everything. I don't think that's our role. So, I think, let's leave it; the other committee's dealt with it, and I think we should close the petition and let the people who sent this in know that it is being dealt with by a subject committee. 

09:15

Okay. Do all Members agree with that? Okay. So, that's to close the petition, and to allow the—. I am on the CYPE committee, and I know a considerable amount of work has been done on it.

But I think that, for the record, the main committees have plenty of time to do a full investigation—

—and they will have lots of witnesses and deal with it over a period of time, whereas all we really deal with is the Minister and the person sending in the petition, and possibly one other. So, I think it really is important that, if the main subject committees are dealing with something, we realise that they are going in far greater depth than we are capable of doing.

Yes. I know that we've taken evidence from parents, pupils, teachers, university heads—it's been looked at right across the board.

But you have the opportunity to go into that level of detail that we, as we've 20 petitions coming in, obviously would not have.

Okay. Thanks, committee.

So, 3.3, 'All Schools Should be Welsh Medium and Teach Welsh History'. This was submitted by Ashley Davies in 2018, October, having collected 75 signatures. And, basically, they're asking, really, that Welsh-medium schools are protected

'so as to preserve the language of our forefathers. We also ask that all schools in Wales teach Welsh history and of those that helped forge this land.'

The additional information is:

'It is a travesty that the majority of people in Wales cannot speak Welsh. What is worse than this, our history is being lost. Only the schools in the North and West where Welsh is predominantly spoken is our history preserved'.

We last considered this on 9 October, agreeing to await the views of the petitioner on the response from the Cabinet Secretary for Education, before considering whether to take any further action on the petition. In doing so, the committee also wished to seek further information from the petitioner about the statement that the history of Wales is written in the Welsh language. The petitioner provided a response on 28 May. And then, you know, you could talk about that the petitioner’s comments focus on supporting the claim that the history of Wales is written in the Welsh language. He contends that elements of Welsh history, such as Welsh laws prior to the Act of Union in 1536, are not taught in schools. We've already previously taken evidence on a petition relating to the teaching of Welsh history. This was closed in November 2018, and there was an inquiry by the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee into the teaching of Welsh history and culture. A stakeholder event was held in February, and they intend to proceed with the inquiry following the publication of the draft new curriculum.

So, how do you want to take this forward?

It's a bit like the previous petition, isn't it? Where there's already a committee looking into this, there's no point us duplicating that. So, I think it would be useful if we could inform the petitioner how to contribute to the other committee's inquiry.

Okay. Thank you.

So, 3.4, 'Tackling school bullying'. This petition was submitted by BlowforBradley campaign, and was first considered in February 2019, having collected 1,463 signatures.

'We believe that bullying in schools is often ignored and the issue is not confronted in too many cases. Schools are required to have an anti-bullying policy but too often this is merely a paperwork statement which is not acted upon.'

So they

'want the Welsh Assembly to produce a standard bullying framework which is enforceable by law. The after effects of school bullying often affects victims throughout their lives therefore changes are required as the current system is a failure. Schools often fail to record bullying incidents as such for fear of damaging their reputation and victims who speak out often find themselves punished themselves, harming their self esteem even more. We insist that bullying is recorded and acted upon as such with better recording, cctv, reporting, compulsory parental interaction.'

So, we last considered this on 2 April, and we agreed to write to the Minister for Education to request a response to the specific proposals made. A response from the Minister was received on 2 May. The clerking team has held discussions with staff supporting the Youth Parliament about how the committee can seek its views on petitions. The committee could seek views from Youth Parliament Members via regional meetings or surveys, but it will be difficult for the Parliament to provide a collective view via correspondence. How would you like to take this petition forward?

The Minister's letter states that officials are in the process of analysing the responses to the recent public consultation on revised anti-bullying guidance. There was therefore nothing further of substance that the Minister was able to add. The Minister states that the suite of guidance documents and resource toolkit will be published later this year. So, there is action coming forward.

The petitioner reiterates that the intention of the petition is to establish a standard legal framework in place to tackle bullying. He states that, under the current system, too many bullying incidents are recorded—. It's fair to say that the Welsh Government is focusing on guidance and a toolkit for schools. How do you want to take this forward?

09:20

Let's wait for the guidance and the toolkit to come out, send it to the petitioner, see what they have to say, and then hold and if they're unhappy with that then we come back to it.

Can I just say? I've got some sympathy for this view that these statements end up being just statements and sometimes they're not acted upon or followed through, and I can see why the petitioner wants to see some sort of legal framework. That may be going too far; I'm not entirely sure. But it would be perhaps useful, in the interim, while we're waiting for this guidance and toolkit to come through, to see if we can seek the views of the children's commissioner, any charities and school reps. I think, as well, the Youth Parliament—even though it might be difficult to get a view from the whole Parliament, we should definitely seek their views, because, if the Youth Parliament can't speak and give a view on something like bullying in schools then what is the point of it, really? So, I think we should go the extra mile to try and seek the views of the Youth Parliament. I'm sure many of them will have a lot to say on this. It may be that there could be other things that are introduced in schools—you know, peer support groups, those kinds of softer initiatives, rather than the hard legal framework—that we could consider asking the Minister to recommend to schools.

But we are going to still, when we get it, send it to the petitioner. 

So, 3.5, 'Ensure access to the cystic fibrosis medicine, Orkambi, as a matter of urgency'. Of course, we know that this was submitted by Rhian Barrance and was first considered in January 2018, having collected 5,117 signatures. It's been before our committee on a number of occasions, such were our concerns. We last considered this on 2 April, agreeing to keep a watching brief on developments in Wales and across the UK. We've had extra papers in about it—I believe there was a Petitions Committee in the UK Parliament last night.

Yes, a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday, triggered by the UK Petitions Committee. 

Yes, so there are—these concerns do continue to grow. But—

But there are developments on the side of the purchasers now as well—the people who need this. How can we help them with that then?

So, equally, I received a phone call yesterday from Vertex Pharmaceuticals, they'd seen that the petition was going to be discussed and seen the correspondence that the committee had received. That was to tell the committee that they are in discussions with the relevant bodies in Wales about submitting evidence about Vertex. That's what the committee has previously called on the company to do, and in fact that's what the Government says that the Minister has been asking the company to do. They indicated that they would plan to submit that evidence in the coming weeks—that was the wording given.

There's an interesting point here: the Minister wrote to Vertex in September to ask the company to submit information to the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group for appraisal, and he urges other Members to do likewise.

So, the company is saying that it intends to do so in a reasonably short timescale, as far as I can—. 

Can we wait and see what happens? Because I just think, if the company's talking to the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group, I don't think there's anything we can do in the middle bit.

09:25

If the Minister's urging us as Members, obviously, on an individual basis—whether we, as a committee, can write in.

The committee could certainly write to the company and—.

Yes, because I—. Going back to before I was Chair of this committee, there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, where the Welsh Government Minister's department was saying that it was Vertex; Vertex were blaming them, saying there was no communication. But there does seem to be—it's almost like the Minister is suggesting that they're still waiting for them to send it through. So, maybe we can write in. Okay. 

Okay. So, we'll write to Vertex.

It looks like the company are stalling for time, but I don't think that there is anything that we can do about that, is there? 

I think that in previous correspondence between the committee, the company and the Government, it became apparent that the company had been attempting to use a different mechanism by which to get these medicines appraised—

—as the door was closed by the Government in—

Is that the Westminster Government or Welsh Government? 

The Welsh Government, but I think, effectively, similar things have been happening across the UK, and that's why there has been attention on this issue at Westminster as well, and a large campaign happening in relation to the availability of Orkambi across the UK. So, it does now appear that the company intends to use the more standard route for submitting its evidence to the Government.  

The emphasis here also is to call on the company to send this in as a priority. 

Yes, we can do that but we've been asking them for a while now, haven't we, so—.

Yes.

So, 3.6: 'We need Welsh Government funding for play!!' Page 86. Submitted by RAY Ceredigion, and first considered in March 2018, having collected 328 signatures online, calling on

'the National Assembly for Wales to provide annual designated funding to provide financial support to all Local Authorities in fulfilling their duty in line with their Play Sufficiency Assessments in order to avoid further closure of open access play provision'.

We last considered this on 2 April, agreeing to write back to the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, asking her to consider adding guidance that accompanies future grants for play to ensure that local voluntary organisations receive sufficient benefit from such funding. We received a response from the Minister on 9 May, and the petitioners have also provided further comments.

The Deputy Minister notes that officials have previously encouraged communication and working with the third sector in relation to any grant funding for play. It's quite key there—the third sector, when I think there's a call here for more Government support.

The petitioners reiterate the main call in the petition, which is for the Welsh Government to provide designated funding for play to support the play sufficiency duty on local authorities, stating that previous funding has been variable and available at short notice towards the end of a financial year. So, it's threatened the sustainability of the third sector organisations.

So, actions going forward: do you feel that the response that we've had from Government is sufficient? Do you believe that we should be pressing the Welsh Government further on this?

I think that play and funding for play is something that has really taken a hit as a result of austerity policies and cuts in general. Because children don't vote and so cutting provision for children is quite easy. A few years ago, the Welsh Government passed policy that I thought gave a right to children to play, and it was part of the United Nations rights of the child. I may be getting this wrong, but I'm pretty sure that there is something in the past from a previous Welsh Government that does support the importance of play to children's development, and particularly children from more deprived backgrounds whose parents may not be able to afford to pay for play opportunities.

So, this is something that I think is a poverty issue and is something that has been affected by austerity. So, I think that it would be good if we could look into it a bit more. Can we, for example, get a research briefing to look at access to play areas and sports facilities for children and young people? Can we get a picture of what's disappeared? I know certain parks have lost elements of play equipment, for example. Is that catalogued? Do we even know? Do we even have a picture of what has been lost over the last 10 years? I think we, as a committee, if no other committee is looking at this kind of area, could perhaps get the views of the Children's Commissioner for Wales as well, and once we've got all that information, maybe put a pitch to the Minister to properly fund play facilities and play opportunities for children, especially in the most deprived communities. 

09:30

Could we maybe write to some groups as well? There was a huge battle over the Grangetown play centre in this city to keep them open, and I wonder if we can get in touch with councils as well. For example, here, there are pitches lying empty and it costs a fortune for kids to play on there. So, I wondered if there's anything we could do in terms of contacting councils to see what facilities are available, as Leanne was saying, and maybe get a price on it. 

Okay, we can take all of those actions. 

To 3.7, page 90, 'Protect children's lungs from harmful pollution whilst at school.' This was first submitted by the British Lung Foundation, considered in July 2018 with 159 signatures, and is obviously highlighting again the concerns about people in towns and cities across Wales breathing in levels of air pollution. We last considered this on 2 April, agreed to write to other groups, such as Natural Resources Wales, Public Health Wales and the Health and Safety Executive to seek their views on the petition. Responses have been received from the three organisations and the petitioners have also provided further comment. How would you like to take this forward? 

Are we expecting a draft clean air plan for Wales later this year? 

Could we wait for that and then send that out to the petitioners and ask them for their comments on that? If we go back to the Minister, all the Minister's going to say is, 'We've got a draft clean air policy coming out later this year, you have to wait for it.'

Yes. We'll wait for the policy, plan, but it's probably not going to be worth the paper it's written on, to be honest. If you look at developments across the region here, they talk about clean air and so on and so forth, yet the local development plans enable pollution right across the board. 

Okay. So, we've had a proposal. Is everyone in agreement? 

Okay. The next is 3.8, 'End the unfairness and discrimination in the financial support for victims of the contaminated blood scandals who were infected in Wales.' This was submitted by the Contaminated Whole Blood UK Group, having collected 159 signatures. This is about the difference really between—. We know that financial support has been available in the UK but doesn't come to Wales, and many categories of victims affected in Wales are potentially worse off under the scheme by £20,000 or more. We last considered this on 12 February, agreed to await a further update from the Minister for Health and Social Services in relation to the review of the scheme benefits and discretionary payment framework before considering the petition further.

The Minister for Health and Social Services published a written statement on 6 March of this year. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed today, but have not provided further comment. How would you like to take this forward? 

We can write to the petitioner again. It's fair to note that the information in the Minister's statement is quite technical. You probably need a certain amount of knowledge about the way the scheme operates in different parts of the UK and the petitioners are part of a wider campaign and will be well placed to give their reaction.

Okay. On 3.9, 'Let’s Get Every Young Heart Screened (Age 10-35)', page 108. This petition was submitted by Sharon Owen on behalf of Welsh Hearts, and was first considered in April 2019 having collected 3,444 signatures, calling on 

'the National Assembly for Wales to ask the Welsh Government to roll out a heart screening programme to all young people between 10 and 35 in Wales. Hundreds die each year in Wales from an undiagnosed heart condition and a simple ECG will identify most cardiac abnormalities so that conditions can be managed effectively.'

So, we first considered this on 2 April, and we wrote to the Minister for Health and Social Services. A response was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 16 May, and the petitioners have provided further comment. The Minister’s letter does reiterate that the UK National Screening Committee has considered screening to prevent sudden cardiac death in 12 to 39-year-olds, but has determined that it is not recommended. Therefore, this is not provided in the UK.

Current interventions focus their individual assessments of risk in higher risk populations, such as people with family links. That is an approach supported by the British Heart Foundation, and people with symptoms or concerns are advised to seek advice from their GP. The Minister also states that whole-population cardiac screening would be reconsidered should more accurate tests become available. The petitioners argue, however, that aspects of the Government’s response on the UK National Screening Committee’s advice, on which this is based, are now outdated. So, they call for a working committee to be set up to examine the evidence for a population screening programme.

09:35

Can I say we need to be dealing with the most up-to-date information on this? So, if new information has come to light since the UK National Screening Committee made its determination, I think we need to ask them to look at it again, if possible. And the petitioners have asked us to consider that, as I understand it. Also, I think we could write to the British Heart Foundation and the British Cardiovascular Society to seek their views on the matters that have been raised in the petition, and to see what they think about the potential of population screening for undiagnosed heart conditions. I don't know whether there is evidence to show where in Wales people are at greater risk of cardiovascular conditions. And if it is the case that there are, as I believe, pockets of high risk, then maybe the screening programme could be introduced as a pilot in those higher risk areas in the first instance. But before we can get to that stage, we need to ensure that the decisions are being made on the most up-to-date information. 

Yes. Just, again, disappointed by the attitude of the Minister, really. He talks about the UK. We've a Welsh NHS and I think we should be looking at this a lot more seriously.

Okay. So, we can write to the UK National Screening Committee to ask whether they intend to revisit this issue in the light of potential new evidence, and to write to the British Heart Foundation and the British Cardiovascular Society.

Yes.

Then 3.10, 'Introduce a Licence to manage land for game bird shooting in an attempt to end raptor persecution'. Page 116. We've had this since December 2018, having collected 119 signatures, and they're calling upon

'the Welsh Government to introduce a licensing scheme for game bird shooting. In order to prevent the persecution of raptors which is commonly associated with this activity.'

We last considered this on 19 March, agreeing to await the views of the petitioner on the information provided by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs. The petitioner has provided further comment. How would you like to take this forward?

I'm not sure there's any more we can do on it, is there?

I'm trying to think of something else we can do. I can't think of anything. We can keep on bouncing letters back and forth to the Minister without any great success. We've gone as far as we can go.

Okay. On 3.11, 'Introducing a Register of Lobbyists in Wales', page 119, this was submitted by the Centre for Welsh Studies. It was first considered in July 2018 having collected 55 signatures. And there's a call on the National Assembly for Wales to introduce a statutory register for lobbyists in Wales. We last considered this on 5 March, agreeing to write to the Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee to ask for an outline of any consideration the committee has previously given to the merits of introducing a statutory register of lobbyists; whether the committee looked at models for registering lobbyists in use in other places, including the European Parliament; if consideration was given to the possibility of charging individuals or organisations to register in order to manage the costs of introducing this measure; and for information about any further work it intends to do. A response from the Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee was received on 29 May. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed today, but have not provided further comment. How would you like to take this forward?

09:40

We could wait for the views of the petitioners on the information provided and consider whether to take any further action after we have their views. We generally wait for the petitioners to come back and express a view.

I would like to write to the petitioners. I think most people know that the way the lobbying industry in Wales operates is of huge concern to me. I'm very concerned about the access they do have to Ministers, despite us being told that they don't. I'm very concerned about the access they have to politicians, the influence that they wield over politicians of all parties, and, in some respects, I think the way they operate could be described as almost a pollutant to Welsh democracy. So, I would like to write back to the petitioners to see what they think, like Mike said.

I'm quite happy to do that, but I think that—. I expect to be lobbied in the next day or so by Age Cymru concerning the decision that's been made on tv licences. I expect to be lobbied on that, and they're pushing at an open door with me when they do lobby on it, because I'm on their side at the moment. We've got two groups of lobbyists, haven't we? We've got the formal groupings that act as lobbyists, and lobbyists, and public relations companies in Wales. We've also got a whole range of third sector organisations who lobby us all the time. I mean, I was lobbied by a housing group on agreeing with something that I'm absolutely in favour of, of having more public housing. I'm quite happy to do that, but I think we need to realise there's not just two or three lobbying companies; there's a whole range of third sector organisations who lobby— 

There are also third sector organisations who lobby all the time, and we're either favourable towards them or less favourable towards them. I say now that when Age Cymru lobby me about tv licences, I'm on their side 100 per cent.

Mike's right there. Lobbying is normal. It's natural. We're lobbied all the time. Whenever people speak to us and try to persuade us of something, that's a kind of lobbying. The problem that I have with certain kinds of lobbying, though, is when you pay a fee and then you have a meeting organised with a top politician, and I think that has to be registered. We need to know who's representing who, who's being paid what, and for what reason. It's a huge concern. But that's not the kind of lobbying that Mike was describing.

Okay. A proposal to write back to the petitioners.

Equality, now: 3.12, 'Gender Pay Gap Reporting', submitted by Estelle Hart in 2018, October, having collected 56 signatures. We last considered this on 19 March, agreeing to write back to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, noting the commitment she's expressed to gender equality and increased openness, but requesting a clearer indication of the timescales for reaching decisions in relation to future reporting requirements for public bodies. We received a response from the Deputy Minister on 29 April. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed today, but has not provided further comment. How would you like to take this forward?

The same thing—await the petitioner's further comments.

Thank you. On to 3.13, 'Support the M4 Relief Road Black Route'. Oh, and we've also got 'Protect the Gwent Levels and stop the proposed M4 motorway'. Both petitions were considered on 21 May when, given the First Minister’s indication that he would be in a position to announce a decision during the first week of June, Members agreed to defer their consideration until this meeting. Well, we know what we know now. How would you like to take this forward? 

09:45

We might as well close both petitions, I would say, now.

One group is happy and one group is unhappy, but there's nothing we can do. 

Now 3.15, 'More Third party rights in planning appeals'. This petition was submitted by Emma Eynon and was first considered in October 2018, having collected 59 signatures. They want to see Welsh Government 

'introduce legislation which will grant more rights for third parties to appeal on planning decisions. Currently, even those who are directly affected by planning approvals are considered as third parties to applications and have little or no rights to appeal or even to input into planning conditions. The judicial review process is aimed at developers and the time limit of six weeks to submit such an application is not suitable for community action groups. Third parties should have the same rights as a developer to appeal in planning decisions and should not have to send all communications through the elected ward member.'

We last considered this—. Well, we considered it on 19 March, agreeing to write to the Minister for Housing and Local Government to ask—. I mean, this is something we could put on the agenda for our ministerial meeting. Yes?

I mean, it's unlikely that through questioning we're going to achieve what the petitioner wants, because what they're asking for is a complete turnaround of the entire way that the planning system is organised, isn't it? But there may be some aspects where the Minister would be prepared to consider enabling third parties to have an input, because the balance is completely with the developer at the moment, isn't it? And the community is—. And it's moving away from more community input as well. It's going in the wrong direction. So, if there's anything that we can do through guidance or any other avenue to enable third parties, that would be great, but in terms of delivering what the petitioner is asking for, I think we need to do much more than question the Minister, to be honest, if we want to achieve that. 

But questioning the Minister will inform us when we come back to this petition. For the record, I don't think we should have planning inspectors. I think the council should decide. After the council has decided, if the developer doesn't like it, they go to judicial review like they have to with everything else. This unelected planning inspector who knows nothing about the area coming in and making a decision that is binding, I think, is an affront to democracy. 

Okay. So, 3.16 is 'Fire sprinklers are for life, not a fast buck!' They want to see the Welsh Government 

'amend paragraph 2.6 of Approved Document B in such a way as to make it mandatory that the design, installation and maintenance of residential and domestic fire suppression systems is conducted only by those that are members of appropriate third party certification schemes. This will ensure that such life-saving systems are correctly designed, installed and maintained by suitably qualified personnel. Sadly this is currently not the case.'

We considered this on 15 January. We agreed to await the views of the petitioner on the response from the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs before considering whether to take further action. The petitioner has now provided further comment. How would you like to take this forward? 

We've also had a comment from a third party saying that it would drive smaller companies out. I'd just like to go back to the housing and local government Minister saying the two things we've been told and ask for their comments on them.

Can we do that through questioning again or are we going to have too much to question them on?

So, this one—. I think the session we've agreed with the Minister for the next meeting in two weeks' time is focused on planning issues. This one might fall slightly outside the scope of that session, and I think we're raising four different petitions already with the Minister. 

But I think we can ask them to have a view on this. I mean, I don't know much about the whole industry, so I don't know whether smaller companies have got a serious problem with this and whether it would just allow three or four very large companies to dominate the whole industry. So, I think that we really do need the Minister's response before we take it to the next stage, unless somebody else can answer those questions for me.

09:50

Okay. I thank the committee for their proposals on those petitions.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod
4. 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.

Now we move to item 4 on the agenda, a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public for item 5. Everyone in favour? Okay. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:50.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:50.

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