National Assembly for Wales

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Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

15/10/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jack Sargeant AM
Janet Finch-Saunders AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Leanne Wood AM
Michelle Brown AM
Neil McEvoy AM

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Graeme Francis Clerc
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 09:16.

The meeting began at 09:16.

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

Good morning, bore da. Welcome to the meeting. We do have translation facilities should you wish to speak in English or Welsh—headsets are available. 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

We move straight to new petitions: 'Rosa's Legacy: Introduce a scheme to help people access veterinary care for their companion animals', on page 34, and this petition was submitted by Linda Joyce Jones, having collected 95 signatures. The details of the petition are there for you to read. An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 3 September. A research brief has been provided and the petitioner has also provided further comments, again in your pack. How would you like to take this issue forward?

We could write to animal welfare groups in Wales and see what their views are on it, and the British Veterinary Association also. 

Yes, I'm quite keen for that. I've got a short debate on pets as companions for homelessness, so it's similar. So, I'm more than happy to commit to writing on that. 

It ties in, yes. One of the points is that the petitioner states that insurance is often not a possibility for pets with pre-existing conditions and suggests that further evidence may be available from the Companion Animal Welfare Group Wales.

Shall we write to them as well? And we could even write to the British Veterinary Association. Are we happy? Okay.

The next one is P-05-900, 'Look into the way parents are being treated by public services'. This petition was submitted by Reann Jenkins, having collected a total of 121 signatures. This petition expresses concern over the way families are sometimes treated by a range of public services. The committee deferred consideration of this petition from the previous meeting on 1 October to enable Members to consider substantial late comments received from the petitioner. An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 13 August and a research brief has been provided.

I think this is a difficult one, isn't it, because it arises out of personal circumstances relating to the family, and the Petitions Committee isn't able to look at individual cases, yet the petitioner has gone through various complaints procedures and engaged with AMs as well. I wonder if we could, perhaps, suggest the ombudsman as a way of dealing with this. It's difficult for me to see what the committee can take up from this. I've got sympathy, because I can imagine that people are not treated as well as they could be in certain circumstances, but we can only do what we can do within this committee, and we're limited in terms of taking up people's individual cases, I think, aren't we?

09:20

I'd agree fully with that. I share sympathy, but I don't think it's within the remit of this committee. 

Yes. I've just got a message from the petitioner, actually. I'd like to meet the petitioner to go through this, about what can be done on a policy level, because I know that there are particular issues that affect this family, but those issues are so widespread and I think there are institutional things that need to be done. Parents are very often disempowered, very often bullied, very often blackmailed. I'll maybe rephrase: rather than 'very often', in my experience, I see cases where that happens to parents, and I think there are systematic things that need to be done.

For example, the complaints process is not fit for purpose. Any county council engages a so-called independent person to look at a complaint, but it's the council paying the fee, so the council has the whip hand. And if any investigator is too radical, they're not going to be re-engaged on any other cases. The ombudsman, I think, is not fit for purpose as an office. He's too involved in politics, really. If there were a county councillor at the end of this complaint, then I think the ombudsman would probably take an interest, but given that we're looking at parents in need—. By all means, they can try the ombudsman, but I wouldn't be too confident of success, really. So, I think I would just like to say on behalf of the petitioner and many parents that they do feel bullied. I think one of the unfortunate things of devolution is that we've created almost a mini state that, in some respects, mirrors an East German kind of state, where people are disempowered, and I'm sure there are issues here that could come back for further discussion, so it's depersonalised and maybe we look at it more widely. 

Okay. I think moving forward quite sensibly, then, as an individual AM, you could take that forward with your constituent, perhaps. 

They didn't get a great deal of satisfaction from the Assembly Members they contacted, so they then contacted me. 

I have had a proposal by two of our members to move this forward with the petitioner in terms of the ombudsman, because we have to be very careful how we deal with our remit as a Petitions Committee. I have every sympathy for them. Indeed, as AMs, we do deal with people who come through the system and feel they've been let down by an organisation in terms of the complaints. 

I would agree with closing it as it stands, if that's the view of the committee, but—

But with the suggestion and the support for them to go forward to the ombudsman. 

Yes, but I think it could come back under a different guise. 

I can't see anywhere else for this to go, other than the ombudsman. If there's an alternative suggestion of somebody else looking at it—. It seems to me that, if somebody's not happy with a decision that's been taken at a local authority level, it's not a matter for us to take that up; it is the ombudsman's job to do that. So, I can't really see why we wouldn't take that route, unless there's an alternative. 

No, there's not really, is there? I think it would be helpful if there was a different petition, maybe, specifying what we could do as policy makers, really, and legislators. So, maybe that could come back in the future. 

All right. Thank you. So, are we clear on that? We're going to close the petition, write back to the petitioner and then advise of the mechanisms that are in place to address the concerns when they feel that complaints haven't been listened to. The ombudsman is there, and that is his role, really, to look at it, or otherwise. 

I wonder if there was a further suggestion where we could, perhaps, suggest that, if there are specific policy changes that need to be made, another petition is drafted up. The wording in this was quite vague, wasn't it, and it wasn't specific in terms of what the petitioner wanted to see changed. Perhaps a more specific petition, asking for 'x' policy to be changed in some way—. I don't know what that would be, but perhaps we could ask the petitioner to come back with another suggestion for a policy change.

09:25

Okay. No problem.

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

Thank you. So, now we move to item 3: updates to previous petitions. So, we have P-05-738, 'Public Petition for the Dinas Powys By-Pass', and this you'll find on page 55 in you pack. We considered this petition on 9 July, agreeing to write back to the Vale of Glamorgan Council to request an update on the situation with regard to funding to complete the WelTAG stage 2 study into transport options in Dinas Powys, and also for further background on the reasons for the decision not to progress with further work on the blue route option, and also to write to the Minister for Economy and Transport to ask what role the Welsh Government intends to have in the development of proposals to address transport issues in Dinas Powys.

So, we received a response on 19 August from the Minister. A response was received from the Vale of Glamorgan Council on 7 October, and the petitioner has also provided us with further comments. Anyone want to kick off the discussion on this?

So, this is a petition for the blue route, which has been already discounted as part of the process. Is that correct?

Well, yes, the petitioner argues that the decision to end consideration of the blue route at this point runs contrary to WelTAG guidance and has never been fully explained by the council. They argue that the wider route is required to provide a full solution to traffic issues between Barry and Cardiff, and they call on the committee to request that the Vale council reinstates consideration of this option.

I think it's fair to say that it's a complicated situation. So, the Vale of Glamorgan Council has been looking at a range of transport options in Dinas Powys through the WelTAG process. The blue route was a specific route proposed by the petitioner, which was longer, in my understanding, than the initial bypass option being looked at by the council. They did do some investigation of that route, but, as the petitioner refers to, that consideration of the blue route has now been discontinued. It is our understanding that the council are looking at a range of alternative options instead.

In terms of what committee could do, the petition initially was considered to be admissible to be considered by the Petitions Committee because of indications the Welsh Government had given at that time—that it might be interested in supporting or funding the development of the route. I understand that some funding was previously provided by the Government to initiate an assessment process, but, more recently, the indications from the Government have been both to turn down a request for further funding from the Vale council to do the stage 2 study, meaning that the Vale council would have to find the money from its own budget to do that. And in the Minister's most recent letter, an indication that it is purely supporting in terms of the rail franchise or changes to the bus services and—

So, more focus on public transport than road building, then.

Yes, so, I think if the petition were submitted at this point, it would be considered to be a local decision matter and probably wouldn't be admissible to come to the Petitions Committee, because the road is not a trunk road, essentially. 

Okay. Thank you for that; that's helpful. I don't think we can do much.

I think the petitioner on this shows up the lack of joined-up thinking in terms of regional transport in Wales—that this is purely a local issue, whereas anyone driving around the region knows that so many places are gridlocked, and I've got a lot of sympathy for the petitioner.

Well, given the advice, I'm not sure what can be done, really.

Well, I think, given that they're looking at more public transport solutions—rail and bus—that would probably do more to tackle some of the congestion problems than any other measure, really, so I think we should support that kind of initiative from the council. And I don't know if there's anything further we can do with this petition at all, then, in the light of that.

09:30

Does everybody agree? Okay.

Item 3.2, P-05-85, 'Remove time restrictions on the layby to the east of Crickhowell'. This was submitted by Crickhowell Town Council and was first considered in December 2018, having collected 209 signatures. We last considered this petition on 21 May, agreeing to write to Powys County Council to seek their views on the petition and the provision of parking in and around Crickhowell. A response was received from Powys County Council on 16 September. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed but have not provided further comment. How would you like to take this one forward?

Well, Chair, given, I think, that the reasons for not changing the restrictions are health and safety issues, I don't think we can take this any further. That overrides everything, doesn't it, health and safety?

Okay. So, we'll write back to the petitioner. Okay.

P-05-885, 'Accessible and Inclusive Public Transport for Citizens with Learning Disabilities in Wales'. This was collected in July 2019 by Joe Powell, having collected 203 signatures. They want all local authorities to consult with people with learning disabilities before there are any changes to bus services and bus routes in Wales. This includes changes to bus stops. We last considered this on 9 July, wrote to the Minister for Economy and Transport to share additional comments from the petitioners. We received a response on 3 September and the petitioners have also provided further comments. What action would you like to take on this issue?

Given we've got legislation coming up on this, it's a good opportunity for the petitioner to have an input into that legislation. Is there information that we can provide to the petitioner about consultation timescales, how they can have an influence into the legislative process, how they can perhaps even lobby their Assembly Members to submit specific amendments that might cover what they want to see done? I think that would be a much more effective way to engage now with this than using the petitions process.

Yes, I agree. I think individual Assembly Members anyway are going to have a clear interest in this type of amendment through a Bill, if it's not already there. So, as a committee, I don't think we can take this further forward. And obviously, in light of the legislation coming forward, we could commit individually and deal with Assembly Members across the Chamber as well.

Great. Okay. Are other Members happy with that going forward? Michelle.

Okay. So, just to confirm, you're talking about closing the petition at this point and that we will write to the petitioners to—. I can try and find out indicative dates for that legislation being introduced and, obviously, then, we can inform them about the process for influencing, say, committee scrutiny, for example, and working with Assembly Members on amendments.

Okay. Thank you. The next one is P-05-743, 'End the Exotic Pet Trade in Wales'. Now, this was first considered in March 2017, having collected 222 signatures. We last considered it this year, in July. We wrote to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to ask for an update on the timescales for developing a code of practice for primates kept as pets and also to express the committee's support for the calls to introduce a full ban on the keeping of primates as pets. A response was received on 12 August. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comment. We have had a holding response indicating that the Minister intends to write again once the Animal Welfare Network Wales has confirmed the timelines for the development of a code of practice for primates, and she also reiterates that no person may keep any dangerous wild animal, including many primates, without obtaining a licence from their local authority. Under legislation, local authorities inspect premises and consider welfare requirements.

09:35

I think we should wait for a further update from the Minister regarding the code of practice, but I also think we should go back to the Minister and ask for a response to this issue about the review of trade and importation of exotic animals for the pet trade that they've done in Scotland. Is it that we don't have the powers here to do the same as they've done, or are doing, in Scotland? I notice this is a review from 2015. I don't know what happened after that review. It could be that we don't have the same powers and we're not able to restrict the trade in the same way, but it does strike me that the Minister is addressing one narrow part of this petition and ignoring the wider question, which does need to be addressed as well, I think.

I think this petition has been under consideration for a couple of years now, and so there are earlier responses from the Government that might provide a more direct answer to that. The Government has certainly resisted calls to introduce a full ban or fuller restrictions on trade in exotic pets, and actually previously the committee has also received correspondence from the pet shop industry themselves referring to the wider impact this would have in relation to things like tropical fish as well as primates or larger wild animals.

The other thing is I did note yesterday in the Queen's Speech at Westminster a referral to a Bill that may include a ban on primates being kept as pets.

But, again, the primates angle is only one angle of what the petition is seeking here. But we can certainly look into the work that was done in Scotland and anything that's changed since then.

Yes, it would be useful to know. I've been getting some correspondence recently on puppy farms as well, and I'm not clear as to what powers the Assembly's got in relation to puppy farms. It's in this wide, broad area of animal welfare, isn't it? So, I'd just be interested to know what powers we do have here, really, to reduce some of the more harmful practices in this kind of trade, if that's possible.

I can produce a paper on that if you want. As you say, we do have wide-ranging powers in relation to animal welfare. So, we could get that specifically in relation to the puppy farms and this one as well, if you want us to tailor it.

Okay. P-05-862, 'Tackling school bullying'. This was submitted by the BlowforBradley campaign in February 2019, having collected 1,463 signatures. We last considered this on 11 June, agreeing to await the publication of revised anti-bullying guidance and toolkit later in the year, and to share with the petitioner for comment. Also, we sought the views of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, charities and school representatives on the sufficiency of current policy and regulation in relation to school bullying. Responses have been received from the NSPCC, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Action for Children, and Children in Wales. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed and we've had another response back, which is in your pack for you to read.

Can I say on this that I think there is a very strong link between bullying in school not being dealt with and the growth in mental health problems amongst young people? I would support the committee taking some further action on this, and if we could have a scrutiny session with the Minister, I think that would be really useful. Perhaps what we could do in the interim is to ask our constituents to let us know what issues they've had so that we can be informed by real experiences by the time that scrutiny session happens.

09:40

Is everybody in agreement with taking that further? Thank you, Members.

Okay, so we'll liaise with the Government about finding a date, hopefully in the next couple of meetings, where we can hold a session with the Minister. 

P-05-757, 'Remove the Obligation on Schools to Hold Acts of Religious Worship'. This came in in 2017, having collected 1,333 signatures, and was submitted by Rhiannon Shipton and Lily McAllister-Sutton. We've grouped it with P-05-765, 'Keeping Current Guidelines for Religious Assemblies', and this was submitted by Iraj Irfan and was first considered in June 2017, having collected a total of 2,231 signatures. And they want to keep religious assemblies in state schools in Wales as opt-out and wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character, while considering ways to ensure that they continue to be relevant to people of different faiths and no faith. 

We last considered both petitions on 19 June 2018, agreeing to await an update from the Minister for Education following the completion of a review by officials into this subject. No update had been received and the Chair wrote to the Minister to request one in September 2019. We received this on 4 October. The petitioners for petition P-05-757— that's the first one—on removing the obligation, have provided further comments. 

That's been a long time, hasn't it, that we've been waiting for that substantive—. Why? Have we chased it?

Yes, the committee has written several times during that time period. Early on in the consideration of this petition, the Minister indicated that officials would be looking at this issue and weighing it up on equality and human rights grounds, and they indicated that the consideration that would be given to that would be quite complicated, because these things weigh against each other, potentially, while looking at equality and human rights. Since that time, it's fair to say that the committee has been given holding responses by the Government, essentially, and, most recently, a clearer indication that no work on this will be done until after the new curriculum is put in place—perhaps it's not to say that no work will be done, but the work will not be completed until after the curriculum is in place. 

Well, I'm not surprised that the petitioners are extremely frustrated by the lack of progress on this. It's been hanging around for two years now, and it's going to hang around for another two years by the sounds of it. I think we should write and express our frustration as a committee that it's taken such a long time to deal with this. And if we can put additional pressure on the Minister, that would be quite good. I just can't understand why, in 2019, with everything that we understand about the need to include people, you would insist on one particular form of religious assembly when there are plenty of other ways that you can do this. I've got a great amount of sympathy with the petitioners, and it sounds to me as if the Minister is trying to stall. 

I think this sets a really bad precedent, because the original petition was from two young people in the sixth form, I believe, and it seems to me that, maybe, the Minister knows what the advice would be and possibly just wants to avoid it. Maybe that's me being a bit too cynical. 

I'd like to invite the Minister in, maybe, to discuss this, because I think to keep everybody waiting for so long brings the whole process into disrepute. There's an answer—give us the answer. Whether people like the answer or don't like the answer, I think it's important that we have processes of governance here and scrutiny whereby people can raise petitions and can get answers, instead of people just, I'd say, disrespectfully kicking it into the long grass. 

I believe this committee is an integral part, the functioning part, of the National Assembly for Wales, and it does beggar belief, really. Michelle. 

I think that this is a very complex issue, because of human rights law. My understanding is as well that human rights laws might result in a different result, depending on where the school is, the availability of other schools, how rural the area is, how far the children have to travel to another school. So, I think it's probably rare for me to defend the Minister, but I would, actually. I think it's a very, very thorny issue that's going to need some very, very deep legal consideration of the implications of the human rights convention and the Human Rights Act 1998. Unless, we're going to do a full in-depth inquiry on it, and bring in legal experts to give evidence, perhaps the role of this committee in this one might be a little bit more limited, unless we're going to do a big inquiry and see what the legal angle is.

09:45

I get the feeling from Members it's more the fact that the Minister is—. We've been waiting so long for this response. 

Well, she could actually say that, couldn't she, that it's such a thorny issue that it needs to be looked at in depth? So, I suppose you could say that. 

Could we enquire what they've done up until now? Maybe even a freedom of information request, actually. What have they done until now? Because if there is lots of correspondence going back and fore and if it has been given to lawyers, okay, fine— 

I'm not saying that it has been given to lawyers; what I'm saying is that we need a legal opinion about the implications of either mandating religious worship or banning it.

I think it's certainly the case that it's complex. I've got a letter in front of me that the Minister wrote to us in April 2018, which refers to the current legislative framework in this area, raising a number of complex legal issues, including human rights and equalities legislation.

'That does not mean...that there is necessarily any incompatibility but it is something my officials are exploring in detail. That work is on-going and due to its complexity it is taking some time to complete.'

And then she recognises that the subject area is obviously emotive, and there are different competing interests here and, therefore, that the analysis that the Government does needs to be as rigorous as it can be. But I'm hearing that there's a suggestion that we write back and ask for a bit more detail about what consideration exactly has been going on during this time period.

We need to understand what the time delay is all about, don't we? 

And I'd like to have an understanding of where the Minister's thinking is on this, because I think if it was something they wanted to get done, they could do it. I'm not saying it's not complicated, but it's about political will as well, isn't it? I just get the impression that they want nothing to change, but it would be useful if we could have some sense first-hand from the Minister. And if we're asking her to come in and speak to us about bullying in schools, well, maybe we could have another 10 minutes at the end of that session to drill down on this question as well.

Yes, I think that's a good idea. Okay, is everyone in agreement with that? Okay. 

P-05-865, 'Guarantee fully plant-based options on every public sector menu to protect the rights of vegans and for our health, the environment and animals'. This was first collected—this petition, I should say—in March 2019, 1,109 signatures. We last considered it on 9 July. We agreed to gather further information in relation to schools and hospitals from local authorities and health boards; we agreed to write to the Minister for Health and Social Services to ask for information over the timescale and process for refreshing the all-Wales nutrition and catering standard; and we agreed write to the Minister for environment to share the view of the committee that large-scale public sector catering providers should be required to provide a vegan and vegetarian option on their menus, and other public sector caterers should be required to provide a reason for opting out, and ask what consideration had been given to legislation.

We received the responses. We received responses from a large number of local authorities and health boards. A summary has been provided in your pack, and the petitioners have also provided further comments. So, the Minister's made it clear—. Well, the Minister for finance reiterates that public sector organisations are, indeed, themselves responsible for decisions over food and drink available in their premises, and there are no plans to legislate in this area. But they do say the officials will invite food industry representatives to share more information on plant-based options with our public sector customers.

The Minister for health provides further information on the process the Government intends to follow to refresh the all-Wales nutrition and catering standards. Health board responses indicate that vegan options are available. Some guarantee this through standard menus and other specialist menus available on request. Most indicate that they are currently working to improve options available.

The petitioners argue that making a daily vegan option mandatory is required to provide consistency and to ensure that vegan options do not need to be subject to a special request. They propose that vegetarian options in schools should be amended to become a vegan option.

09:50

I've got sympathy with this petition, because, as we've said before, I think, in relation to the climate change debate, many people are choosing a plant-based diet in order to make a big contribution to carbon emission reductions. And the Government should be encouraging that. We shouldn't be stopping people. I'm not saying that Government should be forcing everybody to become a vegan, but you certainly shouldn't have Government stopping people or putting barriers in people's way when they want to do something really positive for the climate. So, I think we should write back to the Minister to ask how the procurement service is going to promote the provision of daily vegan options on public sector menus, and I think we should ask if there are any plans to review the statutory guidance that's available to provide vegan diets in schools.

Okay. 'Free Welsh Lessons for the People of Wales'. This was submitted by Sheryl Callard in May 2019, having collected 95 signatures. We last considered this on 9 July. We wrote to the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language to ask for further details on her plans now and in the future relating to the numbers of people who will be trained to teach Welsh, and free and affordable places for Welsh learners. A response was received from the Minister on 14 August. The petitioner has been informed that the petition will be discussed but has not provided further comments.

The Minister states that 575 tutors currently teach mainstream Learn Welsh courses. The National Centre for Learning Welsh’s five-year workforce development plan has included the development of a new qualification for individuals joining the workforce from September 2019, with the aim that 30 individuals gain this annually. A common course fee of £90 applies to all providers from September 2019, with discounts of up to 100 per cent available. Around a third of 1,500 courses offered annually are currently discounted.

How would you like to take this forward?

Dwi'n cytuno â'r deisebwr. Yn fy marn i, dylai fod yn rhad ac am ddim i ddysgu Cymraeg. Nid yw e'n reit bod pobl yn talu i ddysgu Cymraeg yma yng Nghymru. Fel y deisebwr, doeddwn i ddim yn gallu siarad dim gair o Gymraeg pan oeddwn i'n blentyn achos doedd dim hawliau gyda ni i ddysgu Cymraeg yma yng Nghymru. Mae'n rhaid i ni wneud rhywbeth. Hoffwn i efallai aros am ateb y deisebwr i weld beth maen nhw'n meddwl.

I agree with the petitioner. In my opinion, Welsh lessons should be free. It's not right that people pay to learn Welsh here in Wales. Like the petitioner, I couldn't speak a word of Welsh as a child because we had no right to learn Welsh here in Wales. We have to do something. I'd like to perhaps wait for the response of the petitioner in order to see what they think.

P-05-863, 'Call on the Welsh Government to provide free sanitary products to all women in low income households.' This was submitted by Malpas Women's Institute, and was first considered in February 2019, having collected 141 signatures. Of course, we last considered this in February, agreeing to await the views of the petitioners on the response provided by the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip before considering whether to take further action on the petition. The clerking team has sought to contact the petitioner on a number of occasions over the intervening period, but no response or further information has been received.

I know that, previously, we were informed that the Government has allocated over £1 million over three years to 2020 in grant funding to local authorities to help tackle period poverty. Local authorities have been given the freedom to decide how to use the funding in their area. And the Minister described the Scottish Government commitment to universal provision in education and targeted support for low-income households as commendable, and stated that officials are in contact with their counterparts over how this is working. How would you like to take this forward?

09:55

Before we close this petition, I'd like to get some more information. My understanding is that the £1 million that is allocated by Government doesn't actually cover the cost of providing free provision for three years, plus all the other things that need to go with it, like bins, et cetera. So, I'd first of all like to know how that £1 million is actually reducing period poverty—is it at all? Is it only helping 50 per cent of the population? I'd also like to understand how the Scottish Government's commitment is panning out. How much is it costing them? I would imagine it costs a lot more than £1 million, but the population in Scotland is greater than that in Wales. So, to have some sort of understanding how this commitment to universally provide for all girls in education, that's great, because it takes the stigma away—fantastic—but it probably does cost a lot more. And I'd like to have an understanding of how the two systems work before we close this petition, because I think this is such an important issue.

I agree it's an important issue, which needs to be up the agenda. I think the Minister, in fairness, does have it within her sight, but I would also like to know how it is working in Scotland, and ask the Minister what conversations her officials have had with the Scottish Government. I'm more than happy to support that.

As well as asking the Deputy Minister in Wales then, do you want us to try and get some information directly from the Scottish Government?

Okay. 'Make baby and toddler changing available in both male/female toilets'. This was submitted by Antony Esposti and was first considered in April 2019, having collected 125 signatures. We last considered this on 2 April, agreeing to write back to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to share the petitioner’s comments and seek clarification about the reference made within design standards to baby-changing provisions not being provided in unisex toilets, and also to ask what analysis the Welsh Government intends to do with any of the local strategies produced by local authorities. Also, to ask whether the Welsh Government has held any discussions with the private sector or representative bodies over the provision of changing facilities in premises open to the public, and also to ask for information about relevant actions carried out following the Health and Social Care Committee's 2012 inquiry, 'Public health implications of inadequate public toilet facilities'.

We received a response from the Deputy Minister on 12 September, although it is dated 8 May. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed, but has not provided further comment.

I'm a bit confused with this one now. Because my understanding is that statutory guidance makes it clear that baby-changing facilities for both sexes have to be considered by local authorities, but then the Government has got no plans to formally scrutinise local toilet strategies provided by local authorities. So, they've got some rule they should be complying with, but nobody's checking whether or not they're complying with that rule. So, for me, that is a contradiction that we need to go back and ask the Government about, because I don't accept that it's not a matter for Government. The Government says that they haven't held discussions with the private sector because it would not be appropriate. Well, if the Government isn't insisting on equality and ensuring that both mothers and fathers can change their children in a safe and clean space, then I don't know who else can insist on that. It's got to be the Government's job.

10:00

Yes, just to echo what Leanne said really. I think it's such a lax response from the Government. It is their job to ensure equality and I really don't like the fact that they say that the guidance says that changing facilities accessible to both sexes should be 'considered'. Well, no, it should be obligatory; it should be mandated. It's just the everyday sexism really that we come across that only females care for children and males don't, and that the males are supposed to be the breadwinners—all that dated nonsense is reinforced by this kind of response from the Minister. It's quite shocking really. Even in this building, I don't know whether it's still here, I'll have to check, but for the baby-changing room there's an icon of a person with a skirt, which I think is quite sexist really, because dads do change babies and dads do care for children as well. Both parents should have the opportunity to do so, and both grandparents as well.

I agree with what's already been said. I think this letter is a little bit of a cop-out by the Minister. What I note is that in the second paragraph, she says,

'the Building Regulations identifies that where baby changing provision is intended, the only provision should not be located in wheelchair-accessible unisex toilets.'

So, how does that answer the petition? That's the whole point. They want the baby-changing facilities in the male and female toilets, and I think that's a perfectly reasonable request. I do think it's a little bit of a cop-out.

Okay. So, we can write back to the Deputy Minister to make those points that have been made today and ask for a further response.

Okay. P-05-724, 'Rights to Primary Health Care in Welsh'. This petition was submitted by Cymdeithas yr Iaith and was first considered in December 2016, having collected 766 signatures. We last considered it on 13 March 2018, agreeing to await the views of the petitioners and to consider the petition again, following work being undertaken by the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee on the Welsh language standards. That committee laid their report on the regulations on 13 June 2019.

The Minister for Health and Social Services responded to the committee’s recommendations on 25 July—a copy is in the meeting papers—and the petitioners have provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward?

I think given the fact that other committees are looking at this, we should pass the petitioner's comments over. I don't think there's much more our committee can do really.

I think we could support the petitioners in their request to seek a definitive assurance that the regulations will be strengthened. We've got a commitment to a review and that's great, but a review could actually weaken the regulations, couldn't it? So, at least if we could ask for a guarantee that they wouldn't be weakened and that they would, in fact, be strengthened and people's rights would be improved and increased, then apart from that, I can't see what else we could do as a committee at this stage now. 

Yes, and in part the reason for that being that the regulations themselves are now in force. They came into force on 30 May, having, as Jack has mentioned, been scrutinised already by another committee. So, the Government has this commitment to a review, and we can certainly take those points back to the Government and seek a stronger assurance that the regulations will at least remain as they are, but in practice, the Government has made that commitment to review them and it seems unlikely to be taking further action prior to that. 

10:05

Yes, I can't think where else we can go with it, to be honest.

Okay. So, shall we write to the Minister?

Okay. Moving on, P-05-732, 'Unacceptable Waiting Times for NHS patients in A&E Wrecsam/Wrexham Maelor Hospital'. This was first submitted by Charles Dodman in January 2017, having collected 14 signatures. We last considered this on 2 April, agreeing to accept Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board's offer of a further update on developments in six months. An update from the health board was received on 26 September. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comments.

The health board's update states that there is evidence of progress being made in unscheduled care, including in relation to ambulance handover times. A new managing director for the hospital has been appointed and a new acute medical unit is currently being established. Progress is also being closely monitored by the North Wales Community Health Council. So, the information we've had to date indicates a number of measures that are being taken at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, the health board is providing regular reporting to the community health council, and it is now some time since the committee has heard from the petitioner. How would you like to take this forward?

Is there anything meaningful we can do on this? Because this is an issue that—I mean, Betsi is famous.

It is, I know it is. We have got ongoing issues. But, if the petitioner is not engaging—how many times have we written?

We would have approached the petitioner each time the petition was on a committee agenda, and as I say, in the meantime, because we've been waiting for an update from the health board, which they agreed to do in six months' time, then we wouldn't have chased in that time. 

January 2017 is a long time ago. I do sympathise because I've experienced that, and I get it through the mailbox as well, issues surrounding Wrexham Maelor and so on, but I think, certainly for the three of us, this is maybe an issue we take up directly with Government as Assembly Members, with the casework that comes in. January 2017 is a long time ago to keep it pushing along. 

I think it's worth emphasising the point that the community health council is also, in its own work programme, closely scrutinising this issue. In fact, a lot of the content of the health board's update to this committee was updates it had provided to the community health council. So, there's almost a scrutiny process happening elsewhere on this.

Has the health committee looked into this, specifically in relation to Betsi?

The health committee would typically not look at something specific to a hospital in this way, to the best of my knowledge. I don't know whether they've done recent work on A&E or unscheduled care.

I don't see where we can take it if there's no engagement with the petitioner.

Okay. P-05-751, 'Recognition of Parental Alienation'. This was submitted by Families Need Fathers/Both Parents Matter Cymru. Again, another one from 2017, this was in May, having collected 2,058 signatures. We last considered this on 21 May, agreeing to accept Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru's offer of a copy of its practice guidance, following its launch. A response was received from CAFCASS Cymru on 30 August, and the petitioners have provided further comments. So, how would you like to take this forward?

I think this is an issue that probably pervades all of society in Wales. I think it's an inherent risk when parents split up. It's an incredibly thorny issue, and I think it deserves some proper consideration and scrutiny. So, yes, I think we certainly need to discuss it thoroughly.

10:10

Do you want to write back to CAFCASS Cymru, thanking them for providing a copy of the practice guidance and to ask the questions posed by the petitioners in relation to monitoring implementation and training for practitioners? Or do you want to write to the Minister? How would you like to move it forward?

I think writing to the Minister is probably not sufficient, really. It’s a really, really thorny issue.

I think there are lots of grey areas in this, and I think it certainly needs further discussion. I've done a lot of work with the parental alienation taskforce set up in the Westminster Parliament with Members of Parliament there and a legislator from the north of Ireland as well. This merits a debate, really, I think, in full Plenary. I welcome that there is some progress with CAFCASS, but I'd say not enough really. I think Both Parents Matter do highlight in their response on page 201 that a distinction between domestic abuse and alienation is suggested, but later it says that:

'the perpetration of alienating behaviours is controlling behaviour used in the continuation of domestic abuse through family court litigation'.

This is one of the things that is being pushed now by some individuals, that some decent parents that just want contact with their children are somehow abusers by going to court. Very, very few people go to court out of choice—it’s usually a last resort. And I think, as well, that Both Parents Matter flag up that:

'allegations of abuse, neglect or domestic violence are a significant feature of alienation.'

It's part of the family law game, if you like. The problem we have in Wales is that there’s very little recognition of the games that go on. So, I'd like to see a full debate in the Plenary on this, and that’s my proposal.

I think that's a good idea. I think it's something that most, if not all, Assembly Members are going to have some pretty strong opinions about. We might even manage to hold an apolitical debate.

I just want to say that I'm speaking on behalf of many, many constituents. Many, and in lots of regions, and also in many parts of the country. I get so many referrals for this now that I just have to turn them away. I've got lots of correspondence from England, and I think Wales could maybe trailblaze here on this issue.

Okay. Any other Members’ comments? There’s a proposal that we—

I'm just not sure what a debate in Plenary would achieve, really. The petition asked for there to be some formal recognition of parental alienation, and CAFCASS have amended their guidelines to do that. From this petition's perspective, I can't see what a debate in Plenary could further achieve. I know that people believe that there are wider issues that need addressing, but that's not what the petition is asking for—it's asking for this specific thing, which is being dealt with. So, I'm just not convinced that there's enough there, really, to warrant a debate in Plenary, given what the wording of the petition is.

I would welcome a debate, but I think it should be on the wider scope of CAFCASS in general. Whether it can be done through this petition, I don't know, so, okay, parental alienation, but also the other issues there are ongoing with CAFCASS that we see on a daily basis, whether that’s got scope within this petition or whether it’s a separate one.

I'd like to formally move that we put this to a debate in Plenary, because the petition talks about the Welsh Government taking specific actions, which I think could be fleshed out through a debate, really, because there are specific actions other than through CAFCASS that the Welsh Government could be taking, and I’d welcome the opportunity to touch on that during a debate.

Is it worth me, Chair, just saying something about the evidence the committee's taken to date on this petition? So, the petition's been considered for a couple of years now. Earlier on in the consideration, we held a formal evidence session with the petitioners and then we followed that up as a committee with a formal evidence session with the then Deputy Minister for Social Services, I think, and CAFCASS Cymru, which is where then the later consideration of this petition and engaging with CAFCASS over their guidance really came from, because they gave assurances in that committee session that the guidance was being looked at and there would be training for practitioners that went alongside it. So, the committee has taken a range of formal evidence on this in the past. So, I think it has looked at these issues in some detail. It also took written evidence from a range of other organisations at the time as well.

I think, in relation to the debate, I should caution that the agreement and the expectation that this committee has with the Business Committee, who's responsible for the scheduling of debates, as you know, is that it will work in the way of a normal committee. So, usually, to trigger a debate on a petition would require the committee to write a report with recommendations for the Government and it's the Government's response and that report that get debated, rather than the petition, per se. The only exception is the process that we've included where the committee has the agreement of the Business Committee to request debates on petitions with over 5,000 signatures. So, I think there may be some questions from the Business Committee if the committee wanted to trigger a debate on a petition that didn't receive 5,000 signatures, but without having gone to the action of producing that report themselves.

10:15

Could we do a report, then? That would seem sensible. 

How long ago did you say that the last evidence was taken? When did CAFCASS say that they were going to look at their guidelines?

I don't have the exact dates, I'm sorry, in front of me for that. It would have been during 2018, I would imagine, but I couldn't be more specific. 

Wouldn't we expect to see some movement, then, by now?

It was 1 May 2018.

So, 1 May 2018 from CAFCASS, I'm informed. 

A follow-up post the publication of their guidance to—?

Okay. The petitioner's comments in this case appear to be broadly supportive of the action that CAFCASS has taken. They question around training and they question around how it will be monitored in the future take-up, or, I guess, the translation of a new practice guidance into new practice by practitioners. Are those questions that could be adequately answered in written correspondence rather than another evidence session? They seem very narrow issues being raised. 

I think this is quite noteworthy: 

'The petitioners described the guidance as clear and moving in the right direction and have put these steps down to the scrutiny applied by this committee. However, they believe that it does not go far enough and are critical that the title of the document does not even reference parental alienation. The petitioners raise a number of detailed questions over the guidance, including in relation to how the impact of the guidance will be monitored and the availability of training for practitioners'. 

So, those are fairly relevant points, aren't they?

Why do we not communicate in written correspondence with CAFCASS to address those points and ask for an update, given that it was 2018? I'd support that.

Okay. So, we now have P-05-870, 'Let’s Get Every Young Heart Screened (Age 10-35)'. This was in April 2019, having collected 3,444 signatures. We last considered this on 11 June, agreeing to write to the UK National Screening Committee to raise the petitioner's suggestion that recent evidence is more favourable in relation to the potential benefits of a screening programme for sudden cardiac death syndrome and asked whether and when the committee intends to revisit its consideration of this issue, and write to the British Heart Foundation and the British Cardiovascular Society, seeking their views on the issues. Subsequent to the committee meeting, the clerking team learned that the UK National Screening Committee is currently reviewing the recommendation. This is estimated to be completed by December of this year. Responses have been received from the British Cardiovascular Society and the British Heart Foundation Cymru. The petitioners have provided further comment. How do we go forward?

10:20

I think we have to wait for that review to come back in December 2019. We can't do anything until that information is available, can we?

Okay. Do other Members agree? Yes.

P-05-892, 'Appoint a learning disability commissioner for Wales'—page 216. This was submitted by Cardiff People First in July 2019, having collected 568 signatures. We last considered this on 9 July. We wrote to the Minister for Health and Social Services to share additional information provided by the petitioners. A response was received from the Minister on 13 August. The petitioners have provided further comment. So, really, the letter from the Minister refers to provisions in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which mean that local authorities and health boards must ensure that advocacy, including self-advocacy, is available. The Minister’s view remains that a learning disability commissioner is not required at this time, and that the way to improve the lives of people with a learning disability is through the implementation of the Learning Disability—Improving Lives programme. The petitioners suggest that they are satisfied with the Government’s current intentions but that the appointment of a commissioner would provide further reassurance in the long term. They also ask several questions of the Minister, including in relation to how the implementation of the SSWB Act duties is monitored and how decisions of local authorities can be challenged. They seem pretty happy with the work so far, to date, don't they, and the responses that we've had?

I've got sympathy with the arguments that are put forward for this, because I've been doing some work recently on supporting people on the autism spectrum. And, as a result of that work, I've had quite a lot of correspondence from parents of children who are not on the autism spectrum but have learning disabilities, and feel that certain conditions get a lot of attention, and their disabled child is not getting the support that they need. So, I can see why people want an advocate for their rights, but I can also see why the Government would resist introducing another commissioner. I wonder, then, can we write to the Minister for Health and Social Services, to ask the questions about the monitoring of duties under the Act that the petitioners have proposed. I think that might go some way towards meeting what they want, although, clearly, they ultimately want a commissioner, and that's not something we're able to deliver.

I'm not a fan of commissioners, really; I don't think they do a great deal in terms of delivery. But the issues raised really concern me, and I think there is a lot of discrimination here. I think we need a Minister specifically for equalities, really. I think that's the most democratic way of looking at these matters—equalities across the board, and not—

But are you happy with the actions that have been proposed—that we write back, seeking some of those assurances and answers? Is that okay?

Right. Thank you.

That's the end of today's meeting, and the next one will be held on 5 November.

Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 10:24.

The meeting ended at 10:24.

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