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Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee

20/11/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Andrew R.T. Davies AM
Jenny Rathbone AM
Joyce Watson AM
Llyr Gruffydd AM
Mike Hedges AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Neil Hamilton AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Dr Christianne Glossop Y Prif Swyddog Milfeddygol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Chief Veterinary Officer, Welsh Government
Gian Marco Currado Cyfarwyddwr, yr Amgylchedd a’r Môr, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Environment and Marine, Welsh Government
Lesley Griffiths AM Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig
Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs
Tim Render Cyfarwyddwr, yr Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Environment & Rural Affairs, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elfyn Henderson Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

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 09:15.

The meeting began at 09:15.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da, good morning. Can I welcome Members to the committee this morning? Do Members have any interests they wish to declare? No.

2. Sesiwn graffu ar TB Buchol gyda Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig
2. Scrutiny session on Bovine TB with the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

Can I welcome the Minister to the first of the two sessions with the Minister this morning, which is about bovine tuberculosis? If the Minister would like to introduce her officials.

I'll let them introduce themselves.

Tim Render, director of environment and rural affairs.

Christianne Glossop, chief veterinary officer.

Gian Marco Currado, director of environment and marine.

Thank you. If you are ready, can we move straight to questions?

It has been two years since the bovine TB eradication programme was introduced. How effective do you think the programme has been?

We, obviously, had had a TB eradication programme in place for about 10 years, and then, as you say, two years ago we brought forward a refreshed bovine TB eradication programme. I think there were two areas where we took a fundamental change. One was around the regionalisation approach, which I think has been very effective in the way that we've been able to respond quickly to any changes, for instance, that we've picked up, and also the bespoke action plans, where we've worked with herds that are in chronic breakdown, i.e. herds that have been in breakdown for over 18 months, and we've had the bespoke action plans.

So, the regionalisation approach. We had the five TB areas that are based on three levels of disease incidence, and the bespoke action plans where we've gone on to farms, worked with the farmer, worked with their private vet, alongside ourselves, to bring forward an action plan to assist in the eradication. We've had some success. Obviously, the number of herds that we're working with changes as the 18-month period, the dates, obviously, move. But I think we've got 106 drafted action plans at the moment, and 38 herds have come out of the breakdowns. So, I would say it's effective. Obviously, there's much more to do. As the emerging disease situation changes, we're able to react in a way that we weren't before. So, I would say that they are effective.

Is Wales on track to become officially tuberculosis free by 2041, although most of us sitting here probably won't be asking those questions in 2041?

Are we on track? Well, obviously, we've got targets along the way, and the way that we do that is in chunks of six years, and the reason we chose six years is because the EU currently ask us for data and statistics on a six-year cycle. So, it's 24 years from when we started it to 2041 and that's broken down into six-year quartiles. The idea of doing that was, hopefully, with the low incidence TB area, for instance, I'm hoping that will be able to be declared officially TB free much sooner. I thought that would send a very positive message if we were able to do it. So, that was another reason for the regionalisation. As I say, we've seen some significant progress since the disease was at its peak. You can't, I think, reliably forecast how the disease will play out, but, at the moment, I think those targets will be reached.

I'm going to ask about cattle movements. You previously did say that bTB is primarily spread by cattle movements, and that the voluntary approach to informed purchasing is not working. So, you have said that there are proposals being developed to make the informed purchasing mandatory. Can you provide any details to us in terms of that progress? 

09:20

We obviously took the voluntary approach first, and how we supported that was to put funding into livestock markets to be able to give farmers the information around an animal's disease history in relation to TB. And obviously, because of the voluntary approach, you can't guarantee that the information given is what it should be. So, I know officials have started to work up the mandatory way forward. They've been working very closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs around this, because obviously there's a lot of movement from England into Wales in relation to cattle. I think it's really important that we don't just work in isolation in Wales, so officials have been developing the mandatory informed purchasing system with DEFRA. 

It's very complex. We will need to go out to consultation before we can bring it in, so it's not possible to give you a timescale at the moment. We'll need legislation as well, so you can imagine that, with everything else going on, I'm not able to give you the timescale at the moment. But I go back to: people have to take considered decisions around cattle movement and the history of the cattle that they're purchasing. And I think the funding that we have put in has certainly helped. I've been to livestock markets myself where I've seen the information there. So it is really important that farmers do take those informed decisions. 

The problem here is: you've got farmers who are trying to keep their herds TB free, being very honest about their status—mostly, I can only imagine—because they don't want it, and it seems then you've got others—and I'm not saying they're farmers, they might be dealers—who are clearly not giving honest information. And it's costing the taxpayer a lot of money. This is the other issue, and all the illness in the herd and the distress that goes with that. So, how quickly do you think we can move to it being mandatory, because it seems that's the only solution here?

I don't know if you want to say anything about the discussions with DEFRA.

Okay. So, as the Minister has said, we do need to do this in collaboration with England, because it would be an unworkable system if we had different arrangements across the border. We continue to look at the technology that needs to support that, because if you're going to make a wise purchasing decision, you need access to the information. I would agree with you that it's very important that people need to provide that information, but the purchaser also needs to ask for that information, and so it's a two-way discussion.

As we look at the development of informed purchasing, we've been developing the ibTB website, where you can actually go on to a map of the United Kingdom [correction: Great Britain] and you can drill down into areas. You can look up specific farms, if you know what you're looking for, and that's helpful. We also have a requirement that all animals coming into Wales from high incidence areas are pre-movement tested. So we've got that in place. And also there's post-movement testing into north-west Wales. So we've got all of that. And they're the foundation stones of mandatory informed purchasing, but we do need the industry to work with us on this.

If we try and design a system on our own, with the best will in the world, it's going to be a clunky system and we need the industry to help us. And particularly—you mentioned dealers—we need the livestock auctioneers to help us with this as well because, within the market set-up, there's an argument that there's not time to display the relevant information. Well, purchasers need to ask for that information, and I'm sure then that the auctioneers will listen. So we're talking to all of those people. Making it mandatory is a slower burn because, as the Minister said, that's making legislation and we need to design it properly. So we haven't got a timescale, but I know you're seeing this as a top priority, Minister. 

Okay. Jenny, then Andrew, then Llyr, so we have a bit of a run here.

Okay. I just wanted to probe a little bit further. Why does the auctioneer not have the powers to say, 'Well, if we don't have the right documentation, you can't bring your animal into this market'?

No, there is certain documentation that people do need to provide. This is about the person wanting to buy animals asking for the detail, not just—. Any animal coming into a livestock market in Wales will not be from a herd with TB, because they would not be able to move, but the bigger question is, 'Well, how long ago did that herd have TB? Where is that herd? What's the history of that herd?' And that's the kind of information that doesn't come with documentation but, if I was purchasing cattle, I would want to know that. 

09:25

Okay. So what you're saying is that no cattle would enter the market without having been tested for TB, if they're from England. Because the purchaser can be told, 'Oh, my cattle are from a lovely place in Worcestershire', but that might not be the case. Somebody who's trying to do something criminal, they could lie and say it's from X, Y, Z farm, and it isn't.

Well, that's going up another gear with this, isn't it, with blatant illegal activity. But I think, in general, farms will put animals into the market with the appropriate paper work. Obviously, every animal is ear-tagged and we have a system for tracing all of that. So I think we should be satisfied that animals coming into a market are from the place they say they're from. There may be some of what you're suggesting going on, but I think that's fair. They will come having been pre-movement tested, if they are from—in England, it's different terminology—the high-risk area, or the edge area; they have to be pre-movement tested. If they come from East Anglia, they don't have to be pre-movement tested, I don't think—I need to check that. But, in the main, animals will have been pre-movement tested; they'll have certification to show that they've been pre-movement tested. The question is whether the farmer asks for that, and, in addition, whether they also ask for the history of the herd—it's not just about that one animal. We know that the skin test that is used for pre-movement testing is not 100 per cent sensitive—we know that. So knowing about the history of the herd is also important.

Okay. But given the well-discussed dangers of buying cattle that might be bringing TB into your farm, why wouldn't the purchaser ask the question? Because the economic consequences for the farmer could be pretty dire.

Absolutely. We ask ourselves that question as well.

Thank you. Andrew, I think perhaps you might want to first of all declare an interest as a—

Yes. I declare an interest, on the declaration, as a livestock keeper, especially of cattle.

I was interested in what the Minister said about, you put money into the livestock markets for information. As someone who buys cattle and goes to markets, the limited information that is available to you as a purchaser is a challenge, to say the least. And I hear what the chief vet says, that, as a purchaser, you should be asking the question. With the greatest respect, it's not as simple as that: the markets don't work like that and there's no compunction to reveal that information.

I have a degree of sympathy with the predicament that the animal health department finds itself in, but I'd just like to understand what you've got for your money. Because, at the moment, as I understand it in markets, all I see is a digital display that says the date the animal was pre-movement tested and how long is left on that date, full stop. That's it. I don't get any other information for that. So I was just wondering whether you attached any strings to that money, so that it could be used more effectively.

I can't even remember how much we gave. But the funding we gave was for the livestock markets to upgrade their facilities, to provide, as you say—. I think it was Welshpool market I went to, when we first gave the money, to see the information they gave. And I was assured—and this is in Welshpool market, on this one day—so, at that time, I was assured that that information that was displayed on the board had been upgraded, if you like. There was more information being given out, due to the funding we'd given to that particular market. I don't know if Christianne can remember how much we gave, and what the—

It was quite small—

I was going to say, it wasn't a huge amount of money. Was it £2,000 to each?

I think it was £2,000 [correction: £2,500] per market. I know that that's a reasonable amount of money. There were 10 markets that took us up on that. And it is limited; it was almost a baby step towards getting people to be interested in asking the question and seeing that information. I would agree with you, we could go much further with that and display more information.

And there would have been criteria attached. I'm very happy to send you a note, because, as I say—it was about three years ago—I can't remember the detail.

If I can just put this point over, I think there's a lack of consistency with the information that comes over. If you buy in markets in England, for example, you get the number of holdings that the animal's been on, you get the days that are left on the TB restriction. In Welsh markets, very often it's literally just when the animal was tested before pre-movement—you don't get the number of holdings, or anything. And that's a really important pre-requisite, I would suggest. So I'm a little surprised that more strings weren't attached to that money, to try and push it along, because I'm a big believer in the voluntary approach rather than the legislative approach. And maybe a revisiting of some of the actions that have been taken, rather than going down the legislative approach, might be more beneficial in this particular aspect.

Well I think it certainly would be more beneficial in the short term, anyway, because, as we've both just said, to get to that mandatory position will take time, it'll take consultation, it'll take legislation. So, certainly, that's something that we can do in the short term. And I guess what you're saying is that the information will depend and vary on markets—I don't know how many different markets you visit—and maybe it would be worth having a—

09:30

There needs to be consistency in that information, so that—. The whole point about TB control is consistency, is it not? And, when you have discrepancies, that creates problems, I think.

And I suppose that the voluntary approach—you're going to get those discrepancies, aren't you, unless it was mandatory and everybody had to do the same thing. So—

Well, unless there's a code that livestock auctioneers and farmers sign up to, which can be achieved.

Yes, I agree. So, certainly, in the short term, I think this is something we can do.

I think that's a great idea—a code would be really good. We do meet regularly with livestock auctioneers. They have different views. Different markets have different approaches. Some of them have told me, 'There is no point in us doing this—the farmers are not asking for the information.' And the farmers say, 'They won't supply the information.' So, we have to find a place where we all reach an agreement. And that's why it needs to be a co-production, really, with the industry.

Before I bring Llyr in, I'd just say, of course, the power is in the hands of the farmers. If they didn't buy off those who didn't provide the information, the information would become available very quickly. 

Yes.

Yes. I haven't got an issue with providing that information, really, but the question I'd ask is: what do you therefore say to farmers who have been diligent in following the regime that's in place—biosecurity and everything—being very careful, they go down with TB, they get out of that situation, and, of course, given the history of the herd, despite that herd now being clean, they're going to be hit by, potentially, lower value cattle as they try to get their business back on its feet? They must feel—having gone through that whole emotional rollercoaster of going down with TB, getting back on their feet—. And, if you make the system mandatory, then, clearly, they are going to be penalised again, aren't they? Whether we think it's right or wrong, that's the reality, isn't it?

Do you want me to take that? So, we're trying to eradicate bovine tuberculosis. We've got—95 per cent of herds in Wales are TB free, and we've tested them within the last 12 months, and they're TB free. We totally recognise the difficulties for the remaining 5 per cent, and we're working really hard with them to clear up TB. The Minister's talked about the action plans for the long-term breakdown herds. But, within this mix, we have to recognise that, if a herd has had TB recently, they are at higher risk of going down with TB again, and possibly even still having TB in the herd, than a herd that has never had TB. So, the cold facts are that we must encourage people to purchase taking account of all that information. And you're right, it's bound to be reflected in the price or the value of those animals. That is a sad fact.

So, just following up from there, then, what kind of impact assessment or evaluation have you done around what difference making this mandatory would make? Clearly, if there's legislation, that process would have to run its course, wouldn't it? Because we would need to understand what the impacts are, not just on those farm businesses, but, as you say, the livestock auctions, dealers—there's a wider economic impact as well, isn't there?

As part of the normal policy development process that we go through—

Yes.

No.

I've gone on to your IbTB website. It's really excellent, but it does indicate there have been quite a lot of breakouts in both last year and this year in north Wales, which is a low-TB area, and I wondered if you're able to cast any light on how these herds, which are all quite isolated from each other—they're not on top of each other—how that could have happened, given that what we're trying to do is eradicate it from north Wales altogether.

So, in the low-TB area to which you refer in north-west Wales, we've had 34 new TB breakdowns in 2018. That was an increase. I think we had 28 in 2017. There are 3,000 herds in that area, so you can see it is a small fluctuation, rather than, hopefully, a sustained trend. The 2018 increase in particular was disappointing, but, if we look over a period of time, probably a decade, we have seen a decrease in that area of about 29 per cent. We've had the latest figures, which I guess Members will have seen, for August 2019, and it was 22 new breakdowns in the low-TB area, which is 41 per cent lower when compared to the previous 12 months, so, again, we've seen a drop. I think, certainly when you look at the cattle control movements, 80 per cent of confirmed breakdowns in that area can be primarily attributed to cattle movements, so I think the conversation that we've just had around cattle movements shows how important that informed purchasing is.

It's really important that we protect that low-TB area. I mentioned before that I believed—when we were looking at the refreshed programme two years ago, we had lots of conversations about how we do protect that, because, if we can make that area TB free, and just announce that, that would just send out such a positive message.

09:35

I mean, given—. There are two blue dots on the Llŷn for this year, and given the geographical—you know, there are only two ways into the Llŷn, so you'd think it would be possible to somehow just get the Llŷn itself to ensure that no cattle movements that are TB infected are coming in.

It's in their own—. And similarly on Anglesey—you've got natural barriers.

So, in north-west Wales, following the regionalised approach, we introduced not only pre-movement testing but post-movement testing of cattle coming into that area. Those breakdowns are short-lived. I'm not saying it's good that we get the breakdowns. They're short-lived because it tends to be—as we said, 80 of that is the result of movements on. So, with the post-movement testing, we're in a position to identify that problem very quickly and then that breakdown is very often resolved. It's not as complicated as some of the long-term breakdowns, so we're doing what we can to get ahead, but, short of stopping all movements into that area, we are bound to get the odd breakdown. If you look at Scotland—officially TB free—they get some TB breakdowns as a result of cattle movements, and, once again, they've got pre- and post-movement testing. This is going to happen, and it's what we do with those breakdowns and resolving them as quickly as possible that's part of the process.

So, based on the statistics, comparing this year with last year, you're able to say that, actually, there's an improved situation in terms of increased control.

There is so far this year; I suppose we're nearly at the end of the year. And with the quarter 2 dashboard—sorry, I know we've got lots of different ways of presenting the stats—we also can say that we had 14 open TB incidents, so we've had more incidents than that, but, as I say, they're cleared up quite quickly, often within the year, within a couple of short-interval tests, which is much better than when we're trying to deal with breakdowns elsewhere.

I think one of the good things we do as well, and I'm sure Members are aware—we publish these figures monthly, so I think that helps to keep a very close eye on it, for everybody to keep a very close eye on it.

So, are both the unions, FUW and NFU, fully engaged in trying to persuade purchasers that they need to thoroughly drill down into the origin of the cattle?

Christianne had a meeting with both—. I had a meeting with both of the unions on the Wednesday and you did on the Friday. I don't think it was last week; I think it was the week before, where—. We work very closely with the unions to make sure that, obviously, they bring the concerns of their members to us, but also they know exactly how we're tackling this issue.

The challenge they have, of course, is that they represent the whole country, and, as we've already identified, there are areas with problems and individual farms with problems. But they totally recognise the importance of TB eradication and they recognise the different risk factors driving the disease in different parts of the country. So, I would say that they're as on board as they possibly can be.

Okay. So, would you say that cattle movements are now the major cause of the spread of TB?

Certainly, in—. Well, I've just mentioned the low-TB area, and we know that 80 per cent primarily can be attributed to cattle movement. In the other areas, I don't know—. Christianne, you've just found a good graph. I'm sure I've got it in here, but I couldn't find it.

09:40

Yes, so, in our high TB incidence areas, it's about 30 per cent of breakdowns that are definitely attributable to cattle movement. That doesn't mean the other breakdowns have no connection with cattle movement, but it's harder to demonstrate. When we have a breakdown, we'll try and understand the movements onto that farm and off that farm, and, if we can demonstrate that the animal that's tested positive has been moved on, then that's very straightforward. 

Sometimes, TB might have arrived with a cattle movement, but the first TB reactor is not the one that moved on, and then it's about culturing the organism, Mycobacterium bovis, and doing a whole genome sequencing. We're starting to do that now to try and understand the connection between that infection on that farm and any other parts of the country. So, we're kind of detectives, trying to work out where it's come from, and that's where we get those figures of 30 per cent. And people say, 'Well, then, 70 per cent is coming from somewhere else.' It's not as simple as that, but this is part of our investigation. On every single breakdown, we do this investigation. 

Thank you. We're moving on to badger control, which I think we're probably going to spend some time on. I'm going to stop the questions on badger control at 10 o'clock. [Laughter.] Okay. Llyr. 

Otherwise, we could probably spend the whole of the morning on it. 

Well, let's see where we go, Chair. Let's see where we go. 

I wanted to start with the Downs study, clearly, because that is giving us a clear signal or indication of the effect of badger removal in the way that they're approaching it in certain parts of England. It's a way that you've previously ruled out and I'm just wondering, given that we've seen a 67 per cent reduction in outbreaks in Gloucestershire, a 37 per cent reduction in Somerset, whether now that's something that you're considering for Wales. 

In the short term, no. Obviously, I've started to have discussions with—I think you've got the Downs paper with you, have you—Christianne around this. What I've always said is we would not have an England-style cull, where we see farmers free shooting. And I've always ruled that out. And nothing that I have seen in the three and a half years I've been in post or the discussions I've had with Christianne and the team show me that that is the correct way forward. We were expecting, I think, a report to come out from DEFRA on the back of that, but I think it's not going to come out now until after the general election. 

You say nothing has shown you. Well, I've just quoted the statistics from the Downs study, really. I mean that, surely, is some sort of compelling evidence. 

Well, it's evidence. I want to see the science behind it, and we haven't had that report ahead of the general election—it will be after. But I think the steps that we're taking, the bespoke action plan, for instance, are effective. And I will obviously look at this in much greater detail. I know Christianne had an initial meeting, I think it was with the Animal and Plant Health Agency, around this. I don't know if there's anything you want to say initially. 

Yes. It's really interesting. That Downs paper was published a few weeks ago, and I'm sure everybody's tried their hardest to read it. It's actually really complicated, because what they're trying to do is to compare the early initiated cull zones, the TB in those areas, with what they've called comparison areas. And because the culling in England has rolled out more widely since then, some of the comparison areas are now cull zones. So, when you start to read this paper—and well done if you read every word of it—it can be quite confusing. And those figures of the 66 per cent reduction in one area, in the Gloucester area, and the 37 per cent, or whatever it is, in the other area, are comparing those two cull zones with comparison areas, which have been moving. So, the exact figures, I think, are quite confusing. 

The second thing to say—. The second thing to say is it's not the only evidence that's been published recently. I don't know whether you've seen the DEFRA monitoring report, which takes the story an extra year. So, the Downs paper presents evidence from 2013 to 2017 and then the monitoring report takes us to 2018. And I think the reason for them being published about the same time is that the Downs paper is peer-reviewed and it has actually been on the table since last December but it's only been published in the last few weeks, whereas the monitoring report was published in September of this year for up to last year. And, really interestingly, if you look at the Gloucester cull zone in particular, in year 5 of culling, the TB level goes up again. Apologies, because I'm looking at a graph here—and I'm happy to share this graph with you—but if you look at the Gloucester area in particular, TB levels were coming down in Gloucester before the culling started, and then culling was introduced, and the levels continued to come down and gave that figure that you've just quoted up to the end of year 4. But if you look at the end of year 5, which is 2018, TB incidence is 5 per cent [Correction: '4 per cent'] higher than it was at the start of culling. Somerset presents a different picture, a more favourable picture, in terms of the TB incidence, where from the start of culling to the end of year 5, they've seen a 49 per cent reduction.

Now, I've been trying to present—well, I have presented this evidence to the Minister, and I'm sure you can see that it's quite confusing; it's a mixed picture. If you look at prevalence as opposed to incidence—so, that's the proportion of herds that have got TB in those two cull zones—from year 1 of culling through to the present day, or to the end of 2018, prevalence has actually gone up. So, the proportion of herds with TB has increased, although the incidence in Somerset has reduced and, indeed, was reducing before culling started. I wish I could do a slide presentation at this point, but you can see it's a very mixed picture.

The monitoring report talks about all the cull zones that are in action up until that point and, again, if you try and map it, it's very mixed. We had a presentation from somebody from the National Farmers Union in England at the regional TB eradication board annual general meeting a few weeks ago, and she presented these figures. Even in her graph, being honest about these figures, there is an upturn in some areas. And so, if we're trying to apply that to Wales, it's very difficult for us to say that, beyond all shadow of a doubt, taking this approach, should that be the direction, will definitely give us the benefit that we would be wanting to see. So, it is confusing.

Now, something really interesting in this monitoring report is the impact of culling on the surrounding areas. You'll remember from the randomised badger culling trial that in the surrounding areas, there was an increased incidence of TB. That hasn't been seen in any but one of the cull zones presented in this report. So, that's, again, evidence that was unexpected. And even Sara Downs herself is saying we mustn't read too much into any one figure here—we've got to look at it in the round. So, we're watching closely, of course we are. We're very interested in what's happening.

The Downs paper says that because other things were happening in the areas at the same time—increased biosecurity, annual testing et cetera—we can't attribute the impact to this one intervention. So, if you put all of that on the table, I'm afraid that I don't think we've got conclusive evidence that the culling in England is having the impact that perhaps some of the headlines are attracting. But we are watching it really carefully, of course we are. It's really important that the Minister is totally up to date, and that's why the monitoring report—which isn't peer reviewed; it's raw data, and you could criticise it for that—is a very important piece of the evidence base.

09:45

I also think there were conflicting findings between Ham and Downs as well, because one looked at the behaviour of badgers, one looked at the perturbation effects as well. Christianne has explained it far better than I would, but you can see it is very complex.

Yes, although I think the perturbation effects are neutralised over time, aren't they, if you're proactively culling consistently over a longer term, then—? 

Well, they haven't seen—. There's only area where they've got evidence of perturbation, although you're right, Minister, in the Ham report, or the Ham paper, which was also recently published, this was looking at radio—. So, they put global positioning system collars on badgers in four areas in Cornwall. They don't detail exactly where those areas were, but there are cull zones in Cornwall, and the implication is that these badgers were radio tracked or GPS tracked within the cull zones, and they looked at 20 farms. They looked at how far the badgers ranged, and their conclusion was that they ranged further—there was a 61 per cent increase in ranging in those badgers following culling.

So, the implication would be that, if they're ranging further, maybe they're spreading TB, but that's not been found in the evidence of the cattle. So, we've got new evidence, but it's really hard to pull out one strand, and say, 'This is definitely what we need to be doing.'

09:50

So, Minister, you said that you're looking carefully at what's happening in those areas. What kind of evidence would you need, then, to make that policy shift?

Well, obviously, the papers and the monitoring report that Christianne has referred to—as Christianne said, we're looking closely at it, to then inform our TB policy. I suppose what evidence we would look for is a bit more—not concrete, because I don't think we're ever going to get that from these.

Well, what I think was really interesting—the other thing that's interesting is that, sure, in some of these areas, the TB instances come down. It hasn't gone away—we've still got TB in these areas. And in answer to a question in that meeting in Aberystwyth—the regional board AGM—I said, 'Well, what happens now?' And the answer is supplementary culling. So, having done four years of culling in those two early areas, they're now planning to continue culling. Now, that in itself is not going to eradicate TB—we know that. If you look at the evidence from Ireland—southern Ireland—where they've significantly reduced the incidence of TB, but it's on a level now; they're kind of stuck. And they know that they can't continue to cull badgers in southern Ireland forever—they're looking at vaccination. And so, in terms of what evidence do we need, I am concerned that, after four years of significant—I mean, amazing co-operative effort between the farmers and everybody in England, and we have to admit, it's probably the best example of co-operation I've ever seen in the farming industry. Even with that, they're now saying, 'Well, we haven't eradicated disease, we've got to keep going.'

Okay, follow up on that, and then I'll bring Joyce in.

The point I was going to make was—and I've forgotten it now as well. [Laughter.] Go on, it'll come back—give me a moment, it'll come back.

Okay. Well, I haven't forgotten mine. I have a very strong view on this, so I'm going to repeat it: I won't ever support a wholesale badger cull. And I have to say this much here, now. It's a very easy thing to think in one direction that, if we get rid of the badgers, we'll get rid of TB. And everything you've just said this morning has made that perfectly clear that that won't happen.

I'm not saying that you've said it, I'm saying what I'm being told. Yet, there is lots of evidence that the Government has undermined the scientific credibility of its own research, by repeatedly changing the targets and the methods, and, as a result, no definitive scientific conclusion can be drawn from those pilot culls. And I'm reading this from an article by the Wildlife Trusts. And it is very clear to me that, at what stage do you stop—and you've talked about Ireland—killing a species, to solve a problem that you still haven't solved? So, it seems to me that there is no end to this, that the figures, in terms of culling—and you take out a whole species in the end if you carry on like this. And you'll take out that species, and you'll still have the same result. And I've heard evidence—and I've heard it in this committee—that moves from the badger species to deer, even otters I've heard mentioned. Are we then going to end up, eventually, with nothing but cattle on our land, who are still infected by TB, because we're just single-mindedly looking at it in that direction? And I'm not saying that you are, but that's my view, and I wanted to express it.

So, I think you will have heard Christianne say that, in Ireland, for instance, they're now saying, 'Well, we've done this for four years, we haven't eradicated TB.' So, they're thinking of stopping that now?

They've been culling in southern Ireland for a long period of time—it's four years in England.

So, I think you're right, but I can't comment on what the UK Government are going to do, what the Republic of Ireland are going to do. And I think it shows that we have taken the right approach in having a varied—in looking at a variety of ways of eradicating TB. You'll be aware that we had the vaccination programme, just as I came into post. Obviously, we couldn't do the final year due to the lack of availability of vaccination. We're now—you may know about our Gower area where we've been having the Gower badger vaccination pilot project, so we obviously have taken that forward over the last year or so. We had that badger vaccination grant to enable farmers to access funding in order to do that, if they want. I know that's closed for this year now, but I have to say that I think this year has probably seen the most successful take-up of that grant than the other years.

So, for this year—I'm just looking at the figures for this year—we've had 185 badgers that have been vaccinated, and we're obviously supporting, and it's industry-led—the Gower pilot project—which I think is really important. And I don't think—. And, certainly, in my discussions with the farming unions and individual farmers, of course, you get perhaps an individual farmer who might say to me, 'You need to badger cull', but I don't think I get that reaction. I think people do recognise that it's a very complex disease, and, as I say, we've seen some progress with the bespoke action plan, and I get how distressing it is—

09:55

Yes, we all do. And I spoke to a farmer last night on direct message on Twitter—somebody I know who had had a TB test recently—and I know how distressing it is and we want to eradicate it, but we all have to play our part. But I do think that the vaccination—and whilst we haven't got plans to widen it right across the country because obviously it's different in different areas, I do think the Gower is something that we need to look at carefully.

Obviously, there was the large-scale badger vaccination project that was in the intensive action area, but, again, it was alongside other cattle control measures. I don't think any one measure will do it for us. But, again, I haven't had any pressure put on me to look at other animals apart from badgers— 

—but I know in discussions with Ministers from other parts of the UK that that's not the case. And certainly in my discussions with Christianne, I don't think you've ever thought that that was a way forward.

No. So, we certainly monitor deer. You're right—mycobacterium bovis can infect any mammal including humans, and, of course, that's why we're most interested in it. And a study, quite a few years ago now, looked at the level of infection in wildlife. It wasn't a proper prevalence study; it was just wildlife sent into the lab, a bit like the 'badger found dead' survey, but with a wider range of species. And that showed that badgers by far was the species that was most infected, and deer was next and various species of deer. And then some of these other species—just incidental findings: the odd vole or a rat, but with a very minimal level of infection. But we do monitor deer, and we're working with deer stalkers in Wales so that if they are field dressing a deer, they know what to look for and they've got sampling kits and they send them in and we keep a close eye on that. We haven't found much infection in wild deer, thankfully, but we are keeping a very close eye on that.

I just wanted—you mentioned, Minister, the intensive action area, and maybe we've all forgotten that area. It's still there and those farmers are obviously still interested in this subject. Just to illustrate the point, you will recall we vaccinated there for—

Three years—was it three years? Yes, and we didn't do the fourth year. [Correction: 'Four years.'] But in that area, we started that programme, alongside additional measures, in 2012, and at the start, there were 88 open TB breakdowns, and I can tell you that at the end of March 2019—in the figures I've got here—there were 38. There's been a 57 per cent reduction in TB incidence in that area that's been sustained since we finished vaccinating, which I think is really interesting in itself. And it's not just vaccination; we know that. But that area has got a different disease picture and it's in a high incidence area.

Thank you, Chair. I think it's important just to put on the record that nobody's advocating 'taking out a whole species', which I think are the words that were used. Wholesale culling of badgers isn't what people want to see, and doing it in isolation is not a silver bullet and it would be stupid and it would be too simplistic to think that. And if we are talking about animal welfare, then let's not forget that we are actually slaughtering over 12,000 cattle every year in this country, so I think we need a bit of proportionality and balance when we consider these issues. So, I'm just wondering really if you could tell us a bit about the uptake of the cull licences for farmers in breakdown areas and where we're at with that, and what your thinking is in terms of where we go with that, really.

10:00

So, as far as I know—and I'm going to check with Christianne—there have been no licence applications at all.

No.

I'd like to talk about compensation a little bit. You mentioned earlier on the sophistication of tests for animals who'd been moved onto farms where TB is discovered. There is a lower payment cap where it's discovered that animals have been moved onto a farm and they're then infected with TB—50 per cent lower compensation than in other cases. NFU Cymru have said that this lower payment cap penalises farmers. What would your response be to that?

When we introduced the TB eradication programme back in October 2017, one of the things we did was reduce the compensation cap from £15,000 to £5,000. And, at the time, I remember saying we thought this would only affect a very small percentage of animals, and it's actually I think about 1 per cent. I think it was 65 animals—the last time the figures were published, it was 65 animals that that had counted. So, you can see, within that time, it's just affected a very small number. 

But it's still the case that those individual farmers are obviously going to be penalised for something maybe over which they've had very limited control, given what we were saying earlier on about the limited information that purchasers have available. What's the justification for distinguishing in that case, if farmers are not able to do any more than they are doing to discover whether their cattle are infected?

I think it's really important that farmers are compensated, and I think they get a reasonable level of funding in relation to that. The compensation they get is based on on-farm valuation. I think that's a much better way of doing it than the way DEFRA do it. DEFRA do it on a table-based system, don't they, to value it? We were paying out a lot more in compensation. I think we are still paying out more in compensation. What I said at the time, if I remember rightly, was, where farmers were concerned about high-value animals, look for insurance. I know it's a bit of a new area around insurance, but it is there and people can do that to protect themselves. But it does affect a very small number, as I say. It was 1 per cent. 

I realise it's a small number, but for those individuals who are affected by your decision, it's perhaps a major problem for them financially. What I'm trying to get at is what is the justification for this, given the information that you gave to the committee earlier on, and that although there's a growing sophistication of testing methods—with gene technology, and so on, you can perhaps identify origin more specific than used to be the case—I still find it difficult to understand the justification for treating some farmers differently in relation to something where they themselves, even if they had been as assiduous as is possible in circumstances, had no control over the disease that has been imported.

I think the way that we're doing it is fair. I honestly can't think of anybody who's said to me that they don't think it's fair. Obviously, if it had been affecting thousands of farmers—but it really isn't; the percentage is very small—. I did it because we as a country were paying out a lot more in compensation compared with other countries. I think we use a system that's much fairer. The valuation is still on farms. I've never been on a farm when it's been done. I don't know if Christianne can add anything in relation to talking to the farmer and the vets. I personally think it's a fairer system and I don't think there's anything that you've told me that isn't.

No. So, we have a team of monitor valuers who do this work for us. We also run a kind of taxi-rank system with those valuers, so the farmer doesn't get the same valuer every time. If a farmer isn't happy with the valuer for whatever reasons—there may be some history there—then they can go to the next one on the taxi rank. So, we try that, and we also have our monitor valuers that look at the valuations. And if they think a valuer is perhaps over-valuing or undervaluing an animal, then that's moderated as well. So, we try really hard to get that bit right.

It's expensive running an on-farm evaluation system, and it adds time into the system for removing TB reactors, because you have to arrange for the valuer to come and so on. So, it is a bit more clunky and cumbersome, but we still feel that it's a fair system.

10:05

Okay. Well, we'll leave that there for now. You've said that compensation paid to farmers is unsustainable, and the figures are £14.5 million in 2018-19, which is up from £11.7 million in 2017-18, which itself was up from £10.9 million in 2016-17. So, it's gone up by nearly 50 per cent in three years. Although £14 million is a lot of money, in the context of the Welsh Government total budget it's obviously very small. You are proposing a review of the current compensation regime, so can you tell us what the timescale for that is?

The review has started. Officials are looking at that. Obviously, I get some funding in the TB eradication programme from the EU. I think it's about £2 million to £3 million of a budget. I'm always having to look for additional funding for that budget from within my own budget. So, I think it's really important that we have the review.

I haven't set a timescale for officials for that. We'd have to have a consultation ahead of it also. As I say, with everything else going on in the department, particularly around Brexit, obviously, you can appreciate that resources—. But I do think, in the longer term, we need to look at compensation both ways, to make sure—. But I'm absolutely adamant it has to be fair. So, there's no timescale at the moment. Early discussions, I would say—

We're developing options to take to the Minister at the moment.

Obviously, I'm concerned about the use of this word 'unsustainable', given that if TB remains endemic, a compensation scheme, presumably, is going to be a permanent part of the policy structure. Nobody wants to see taxpayers' money unnecessarily spent in this area if it can be avoided, because, obviously, the opportunity cost is we could be spending it on the health service or something else that is valuable. And given that this compensation figure has been rising year in and year out over the last three or four years, if that trajectory continues, it's obviously going to become more difficult to sustain, given that you've got all sorts of pressures on your budgets. So, I fully understand that. But unless we actually do reduce the incidence of TB, then, of course, this figure is going to continue to be there in your budget, isn't it?

It's always a pressure on my budget. I always find the money within my budget. We are reducing the disease. So, the two, I hope, will continue to go hand in hand. But we have to always be looking—. Obviously, as you say, it's public money. I would rather that public money be spent on another part of my portfolio than on slaughtering cattle and having to pay compensation, of course. So, once I receive the options from officials—I would imagine it'll be some time next year—we can look at it.

I also have to bear in mind, if we do leave the EU, I will lose between £2 million and £3 million a year that we get currently from them. And at the moment, HM Treasury is not telling me that they will give me that funding that we will lose, even thought they said we wouldn't lose a penny.

Andrew's coming on to the Brexit dividend. [Laughter.]

I wouldn't be certain of that. We may not reach it. I've got three people who've promised me they've got very short supplementaries. Llyr. 

Thank you. I just feel there's a bit of a contradiction being played out here, and I know it's not one that we want to see, but you tell us that the figures are going up in terms of cattle slaughter because we're more effective in identifying bovine TB. But, of course, that means the more successful we are in identifying TB, the more unsustainable the compensation regime becomes. So, is that not an inherent contradiction that we're grappling with here?

It is. And that's what I've said—I think that the whole time I've been in this post, it's always been a pressure on my budget. And, obviously, I'll be back in front of you, I'm sure, in January on budget, and you will see that, and I always find the funding. The fact that we’re also going to lose funding as well is another pressure. But you're absolutely right—the more sophisticated the testing, the earlier we are taking these cattle out in our wish to eradicate. So, you're absolutely right.

But, going back to compensation—so, just put that aside for a second—it's about fairness and it's about the way that we spend taxpayers' money. When I reduced the cap from £15,000 to £5,000 two years ago, I think the advice I was given was that we were, perhaps, paying too much. Would you say that's fair?

10:10

On some occasions, yes.

On some occasions; not always, obviously. So, that reduction was to ensure that that wasn't occurring.

Thank you. Can I welcome a delegation into the gallery from the Sri Lankan Parliament? They're very welcome here.

I've got two very quick questions, one from Joyce Watson and one from Jenny Rathbone, before we eventually finish up with Andrew Davies.

A very quick question in terms of the payment. Yes, it's got to be fair and, yes, it's got to be consistent. In terms of the incidence having gone down but the payments having gone up—if you haven't got the answer now, we could have it in writing—is that because cattle farming has increased into megadairy farms? I just want to understand that. If that is the case, do we need to look at that? 

I think the short answer is 'no'. I think the main reason is down to the sophistication of the testing and the other tests that we do following the initial test, and taking the diseased cattle out earlier.

Absolutely. We're really looking at that in detail, because if we increase the sensitivity of our testing, which is basically what we're doing, using different tests, we're asking slightly different questions of the disease status of the animal. We've been looking really closely over the last few months at those numbers and the tests that we're using. There's a new test that's come not only online, but it's now got approval by the OIE, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and it's an antibody test, which is looking—. As I say, it's asking a slightly different question of the animal. So, we're aiming to fine-tune that process. We feel as if we're removing animals that are definitely infected, but it's possible that we're also taking some animals in that process that we maybe don't need to take. So, fine-tuning this approach actually would be win-win-win, because we would be taking fewer animals—everyone would be happier with the numbers—and we'd be paying less compensation, but we wouldn't have reduced the impact on taking out those infected animals. So, I can only say, 'Watch this space', because we're actually working up the protocol now.

We have no indication that large breakdowns are always associated with large herds. Thirty per cent [Correction: 'Around 20 per cent'] of our TB breakdowns have one TB reactor. Another 30 per cent have between two and five. The rest are the large breakdowns, but if you mapped that onto herd size, there's not a direct connection—there really isn't.

Sorry, just with that large herd, can we have some numbers, please?

Yes.

So, as far as you're aware, there is no correlation between the intensity of the cattle farming and the spread of the disease, because, obviously, in humans, we know that insanitary conditions in overcrowded situations is where TB occurs.

With respect, we see overcrowding in smaller herds. We see insanitary conditions in smaller herds.

Fine, okay. No, no, I agree—I don't think it's exclusive to megafarms. It's about the intensity. Does TB get spread in cattle that are out on the hills in all weathers?

Given that 30 per cent [Correction: 'around 20 per cent'] of our TB breakdowns only have one reactor, then, actually, TB in a lot of cases doesn't spread very much at all, regardless of the type of herd.

Yes.

Just a couple of points, if I may, just before I ask about the Brexit situation and the money from the Brexit exit process, because, obviously, you've touched on that, Minister. One thing we used to focus a lot on was movement of cattle identified with TB off farm. I can remember taking evidence in the old rural development sub-committee in Northern Ireland, and this was a critical benchmark. Have you got any figures to say how quickly we are getting the cattle, once they're identified, off farm, because that, in the Northern Ireland context, was seen as one of the big wins that they had in that area? At that time, we were very slow in Wales in taking those cattle off the farm once they were identified. We used to get regular updates on that. I haven't heard that today, I haven't.

10:15

Okay. So, my understanding is that it's within 10 days. 

So, the target is within 10 working days to remove TB reactors, and something like 98 per cent of the animals that are removed for TB reasons on farm meet that target. There is the odd occasion when it's just not possible—illness on the farm or in the family or the weather or whatever, but, under normal circumstances, and, as I say, 98 per cent—. And we monitor that on a monthly basis, so the fact we're not updating you regularly is probably because—you get updated—there is nothing to say, because we're meeting that target. 

That's very reassuring to hear that. It's the first time for a long time that I've actually heard that in context, and I think that's very helpful to know, that is, then. 

If I could move into the Brexit dividend, as I see it, when we come out of the European Union—but I hear others will want to have a debate on that—. But, in all seriousness, you do identify that just short of £3 million comes from the European funding. What discussions have you had with UK Government? I appreciate we're not sure what the make-up of that Government might be post 12 December, but what discussions have you had to date about securing funding to fill that void?

Lots. So, I've been trying to—I was going to say 'with the previous Government', but I suppose the Ministers are still in place, aren't they? Certainly, with the Treasury, we've been trying to get a guarantee, and we haven't got it, around bovine TB, or there's another disease that I can't quite think of at the moment.

I think it's transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, isn't it?

Yes, that's right—around making sure that we get that funding. So, I have not had a guarantee from the last administration.

But, equally, you haven't been told that you're not going to get it. So, at the moment, negotiations are ongoing, shall we say.

Yes. Well, there'll need—. Anyway, it doesn't matter, does it? We'll need new negotiations.

And just to be helpful and understand this, I presume you don't go on a line by line basis to Treasury. You discuss this with DEFRA, do you—or do you discuss direct with Treasury? And it's around the overall animal health settlement, it is, then. 

So, it's both. Actually, bovine TB we have had specific conversations around. But, you can imagine, there are huge discussions going around. So, I would say primarily with DEFRA. It's been very—and you will have heard me say lots of times it's been very, very difficult to get Treasury Ministers and officials round our table. So, our quadrilaterals, which have been ongoing since November 2016, we have only had a Minister dial in once and an official attend once, from Treasury, which I think is really disappointing, and I blame Treasury. I don't blame DEFRA, because they've tried equally as hard, and we've done what we could to support Michael Gove, and obviously Theresa Villiers now, to ensure we have Treasury, and we don't get that reluctance from Treasury on other parts of my portfolio, so, business, energy and industrial strategy, for instance. So, I think it is disappointing, but those discussions will have to, obviously, intensify.

And the final point. Obviously, vets play a huge part in TB eradication. Michael Gove, in his statement, when there was talk of no deal after 31 October, to the House of Commons indicated that DEFRA had trained up, in his words, I believe, many hundreds of people to take the place, if there was to be a problem with resource, of vets to undertake this animal health work. Are you aware of those numbers, and have you been involved in the discussions and deployment of those numbers? 

Secondly, when we come out of the European Union, there is the ability to obviously have lay testers, as I understand it. I'm sure I read that in some of the papers here this morning. I've been trying to busily find it, I have, but I can't refresh my mind on it. It has always struck me, as an active farmer, that a very highly trained, skilled individual such as a vet is tied up doing injections into the neck for testing. I understand they'd have to do the reading side of it, but surely that would be a welcome relief of the pressure on vets, to have lay testers deployed in the field to undertake the test. 

Okay, I'll come to Christianne about the lay testers. Just on your initial part of the question, obviously we were really concerned about the veterinary workforce, because I think 100 per cent of our vets within Government—

In abattoirs. 

—in abattoirs, sorry, are EU nationals, and a significant percentage of our own vets are too. You'll be aware that we got the profession on the shortage occupation list, and I think Welsh Government really drove that, along with organisations like the British Veterinary Association, and I'm sure you were—I know Llyr was—at the dinner where this was discussed. And I think—you know, we really pushed to make sure. However, the £30,000 threshold, I think, is too high for some vets, particularly the EU national vets that were brought in around the meat inspection part, that kind of part of their work. They don't earn £30,000. So, we're still having ongoing discussions around that. We also brought in a considerable number of vets—and I'll ask Christianne about the number—around the EHCs, the export health certificates. We brought in a number of vets—81—81 vets preparing for a 'no deal' Brexit. So, I don't know how many DEFRA did, but I think 81 for our country is a significant number. I'll ask about the lay testing. 

10:20

Yes. It's an important question and, of course, we've talked about—

What, one important question? [Laughter.]

Of course, there is a finite number of vets in the country and, as we train vets to do export health certification, should that be necessary, and if perhaps, dare I say, that's a more lucrative activity than TB testing, we could have an immediate conflict. So, we've been mindful of that. And we recognise—. And you're right, TB testing in itself, the process of injecting and measuring skin folds, it's a process and it is quite possible for—somebody with animal-handling skills and the skills around performing that kind of task should be able to do that. And, within the Animal and Plant Health Agency, we already do that. So, the animal health officers, many of them, are trained and indeed do do TB testing. 

Now, when it comes to private practice, you'll know that we've procured the services of vets in Wales to do the TB testing. And we're talking to them at length about the potential for trained technicians, working under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon, to do that work. Now, there are a number of things about the TB test that we'd have to resolve. First of all, the test chart is actually a certificate. It's signed by a veterinary surgeon to say not only have these tests been done, but that the animals are free of clinical signs of tuberculosis. So, that's happening while they're testing. So, we've been working with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to figure out how we manage that part of the process. 

We're also really keen to maintain the relationship between the private vet and the farmer, and so what we wouldn't want to do is disassociate testing, perhaps by technicians, from the veterinary practice. And so it's: can we train people? Could they work within the practice environment to do TB testing? And there is actually a pilot in England asking that question right now. Now, I've got a meeting with our veterinary delivery partners, probably next week, in Aberystwyth—I meet them regularly—where we will continue to talk about how they're seeing that, how they're feeling about that. So, we're not piloting it here, but we're keeping a close eye on it, and it's certainly part of the solution to the problem. But what we wouldn't want to do is to then create a disconnect between private vets and their clients, although they do tell me that my vision of having the cattle vet that serves that farm doing the TB testing is sometimes not what happens and that they will bring in TB testing vets to do that work. And so perhaps already we've got the model that you describe in a slightly different form and we need to really think about how we work with practices. We don't want to disrupt the fabric of veterinary practices, but it's certainly a potential solution. 

Okay. Thank you. We've managed to go eight minutes over on the first session. 

3. Sesiwn graffu gyffredinol gyda Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig
3. General scrutiny session with the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

If we're ready to move on to general scrutiny, I'd like to start with some agricultural Bill questions. You have previously told us that domestic legislation will be required after 2020. Are there any contingency plans in place if we don't get that legislation? And when is the last date possible for that legislation to come in in order for us not to have a problem?

We're in such an uncertain time around this, and, when the UK Agriculture Bill was initially drafted last year, I obviously secured for Welsh powers to be included as a temporary solution—and I made it very clear it was a temporary solution and that we would obviously be bringing forward our own Welsh agricultural Bill during the course of this term. Clearly, neither of those things happened. The UK Bill hasn't progressed in the way that we would have wanted, which has been very frustrating. I've now—. It's my intention to bring forward a White Paper, an agricultural White Paper, before the end of next year, with a view to introducing an agricultural Bill early in the next Assembly. Because of all the uncertainty—we just haven't been able to progress, with things the way they are. Obviously, the agricultural Bill has now fallen. Who knows what's going to happen after 12 December? We've got major policy work under way, I think it's fair to say, and it has been for a while. But I will not change agricultural support before everything is in place, and I've made that very clear to the agricultural sector. 

10:25

I just want to talk about the sustainable farming scheme, and I suppose top of my list this week is—having read this week that farmers generally are using second-line antibiotics, i.e. the antibiotics that are only used in hospitals where first-line antibiotics haven't worked to combat infection in humans, I just wondered if there's anything you can say about how we would tackle what has been flagged up by, certainly, the chief medical officer in England as being a serious public health risk to all of us. 

I certainly haven't seen anything with that. I don't know if Christianne—.

So, this is another good question. We've just—

This is World Antibiotics Awareness Week, and I've got a feeling—is it Wednesday today? I think this might be European Antiobiotics Awareness Day, and we are very interested in the veterinary profession to make sure that we are contributing to the 'One Health' agenda, and protecting precious antibiotics for use in humans. And, in fact, I spoke at the Learned Society of Wales last week on this very subject, and was able to quote the last chief medical officer for the UK, Dame Sally Davies, who earlier this year congratulated the veterinary profession and the farming industry on their very responsible attitude to the use of antibiotics. 

Targets have been set to reduce the use of antimicrobials in agriculture, and the target that was set was, it's a bit technical, but 50mg per kg—that's just a number—by 2020. The industry smashed that target; they came in three years early at 37mg per kg. So, as far as we're concerned, the farming industry and the veterinary profession are leading the way in responsible use of antibiotics.   

Well, that's excellent, but do you have the powers to ensure that second-line antibiotics are never used in animals? 

Okay. I don't actually know what you mean by that expression. 

Well, I mean not the antibiotics you get if you go to your GP, but those that are used only in hospitals where the first line of antibiotics hasn't been effective in eradicating the infection. 

So, maybe you're talking about the critically important antibiotics, which are used at a very minimum level within farming. 

Minimal, and only when we—. So, with antibiotics, the best way of using them is to take samples from the animal, grow the bug, and then double check the sensitivity of that organism to different antibiotics. So, you're tailoring your treatment, and that is being done more and more. Now, when you get to the point, in your expression, of second line, that would perhaps be someone—and I don't really want to get into human health, but you might use an antibiotic immediately because there's an urgent need for that, and that is not effective. At that point, you have already taken samples and you go in with something more specific. That in itself is being applied more and more in the farming industry. 

So, I think perhaps I'd like to understand better what you're referring to before I try and answer the question, but I assure you the veterinary profession and the farming industry are all over this subject. 

I think, if I've got it right, what Jenny Rathbone is talking about is the last-chance antibiotics, a small number of antibiotics, which—when normal antibiotics have failed, then they move on to the last chance ones, which were, at one stage, always successful, but now aren't always successful. I think the point that Jenny is trying to make is: are we feeding those to animals, which will further reduce the number that are effective in humans? 

So, human health always comes first, and, if you look at the history of the development of antibiotic resistance, you will see that there is more evidence of resistance developing in people and being passed to animals than the other way around. And, in fact, we were all challenged in this 'One Health' discussion last week about this. The evidence base is far more in the direction of problems in the use in humans.

10:30

Okay. But nonetheless the meat that is being cultured ends up on people's plates, and, obviously, that can develop this antibiotic resistance. That's why it's important.

So, when we use antibiotics in farm animals, there is what we call a medicine withdrawal period, and the farmer must observe that. And it's different for different antibiotics, and whether you're talking about the milk, which has to be withheld from the bulk tank, or whether the animal can be [correction: is due to be] slaughtered within a medicine withdrawal period. We then go into abattoirs and we take samples of the meat, looking for antibiotics, and that's very tightly regulated. And I would say we are on top of that; it is not the case that a piece of meat is going to be full of antibiotics.

If I can just say, at the beginning of Jenny's question, you referred to the sustainable farming scheme. So one of the things that we're looking at—. Obviously, the consultation's not long closed and we haven't even started to co-design the scheme, but one of the things we are looking at, there will be, obviously, mandatory elements within that scheme. And one of the things is around animal health and welfare. So, if a farmer can show best practice in relation to the use of antibiotics, for instance, that would be able to be part of the scheme. So just to reassure you on that.

Okay. Well, that is excellent news, because it seems to me that that is going to rise up the agenda. Obviously, there's been a lot of positive feedback from the sustainable farming scheme, certainly in the conference I went to last week, but I wondered what you can tell us, at this stage, about how the new scheme is going to support the restoration of protected species, because clearly that's a major issue.

We're not starting from scratch; we've had, obviously, schemes before around this. Obviously, we've got the new scheme, we've just been out to consultation, that will feed in, we're now moving to the co-design part of the scheme. But what we'll also do is evaluate previous schemes to determine what worked well, what we need to improve on. I'm also asking officials, obviously, to look at schemes outside of Wales, to see what we can feed into that. We've proposed within the consultation—. I'm sure you've seen the consultation, and one of the proposals within it is that the management of existing habitats could be a mandatory element of the scheme for all participants. So, again, going back to what I was saying about animal health, we'll have a variety of mandatory elements. So, management of those habitats. I think that would result in improving the condition of large quantities of habitats, right across Wales. And, again, that will obviously then support protected species, for instance. I think it's really important that we work at a collaborative landscape level, that we don't just see this at an individual level; I think it's really important we have that landscape level. And, again, I think, if you just work on an individual farm, it wouldn't have the impact on the life cycles, if you like, of those species also.

I'd like to move on to common frameworks. We're all agreed on the need for common frameworks in the UK, subsequent to leaving the EU. And you've said that these are going to be of two kinds: some will need to be legislated for, and some will be arrived at by inter-governmental agreement. You've mentioned that the UK Government's agriculture and fisheries Bill obviously is a casualty of the dissolution—it might be revived very soon, it may not, depending on the outcome of the election. I'd just like to explore how far you've got in the Welsh equivalent to that Bill. I know you've had ongoing discussions with agriculture Ministers at UK level, which you referred to also. But how far have you got in your own mind with the legislative framework, which will succeed the common agricultural policy?

So, I mentioned that it's not going to be possible to bring forward a Welsh agricultural Bill and a Welsh fisheries Bill. However, it's my intention to bring forward an agricultural White Paper before the end of 2020, with the intention of having a Bill in the next Assembly, very early on—it would be one of the first Bills. The same with fisheries. I don't think it's going to be possible to do the same in relation to a fisheries Bill as well. So those are the two pieces of legislation that you referred to. Obviously, we need to look at direct payments; we'll have to have legislation around that. Everything is just so up in the air at the moment. But that work is ongoing.

10:35

But I presume that we're all working towards, perhaps if we make a working assumption, that the Boris deal—let's call it that—is on the table and that's what will happen—[Interruption.]

Well, we have to have some working assumptions anyway. And that involves a transition period as well. So, by the end of 2021, presumably, you will need to have your legislation in place, so that needs to be prepared well in advance of the end of that transition date, because, obviously, if we don't work to that date, then we're in a vacuum. So, we have to operate on that working assumption, I assume.

No. I don't share that assumption, I'm afraid. Well, I'm not afraid: we don't.

I certainly don't agree with it, and we don't know. We don't use that as a working assumption. We, I think, plan for lots of scenarios. I think it's very difficult. All joking aside, it's really difficult to be able to plan for everything, so I think we're looking at a Welsh agricultural White Paper before the end of 2020 with a view to having a Bill early 2021, in the new Assembly, to take that forward. And I would say it'll be the same for fisheries, although I haven't looked specifically at a fisheries White Paper. That's work that's ongoing at the moment.

I also recognise that we will need legislation around direct payment schemes, obviously, so, again, we're looking at what we need to do within that. But if we did take any powers within the UK agricultural Bill or the fisheries Bill, I made it very clear that it would be transitionary. But at the moment, everything is so uncertain—

Yes, well, obviously we'll know in a few weeks' time whether something is or isn't going to happen.

Yes, and then we can look to do that. There's lots of talk about the transition period to the end of 2020 et cetera. The most important thing for me is that I have to have the ability to pay farmers. 

Yes, well, that's certainly true, but the overall agricultural and maritime fisheries regime that you want to introduce—your own policy ideas, I'm sure, are well advanced; it's merely a question of giving them legislative form. If the result of the general election continues the inconclusiveness of recent years, then we're all in trouble, aren't we?

But if there is a firm result one way or the other, you will then have a degree of certainty. So, in the early part of next year, you should be able to give us, with greater precision, an idea of the kind of Bill you subsequently want to introduce.

So, obviously, we've been out to consultation on 'Sustainable Farming and our Land', and 'Brexit and our Seas' has just closed. I'm having to go to fisheries council in Brussels next month, which I wasn't sure would be the case, but clearly we need to look at quotas for next year. All of this work is ongoing under this umbrella of uncertainty.

As regards the non-legislative common frameworks, can you give us a bit more detail on how many of these there are, at least in your mind, and what subject ares they cover, and, again, what the anticipated timescale is?

Okay, so there are 10 within my department. They cover things like marine environment, natural environment, biodiversity—that's three off the top of my head—radioactive substances—

No, no. There are 10. I know there are 10. If you need to know the 10, I can send—

If you give it to us in writing, that might be easier.

Okay. Some of them, as I said, are non-legislative—you asked specifically about non-legislative, didn't you?

So, yes, I think they're the ones that are included in the non-legislative means. Again, the discussion that we had prior to the dissolution of Parliament was that those common frameworks would be in place by the end of the transition period in 2020. Obviously, there will need to be further discussions. But certainly the delivery plan that's currently sitting with me takes us to the end of the transition period in December 2020.

Thank you. Finally then, you wrote to us on 21 August to say that you'd agreed a common set of overarching environmental principles with the UK Government post Brexit. Can you tell us a bit more about that? How will this be established? The provisions relating to the environmental principles in the UK environment Bill didn't apply to Wales, of course, so presumably even though there may be common frameworks subsequently, that doesn't mean we all have to be identical in the way we do things in England and Wales. The whole point of devolution is that you can do things differently.

Absolutely, and we have. We've got our own environment Act, which we've had since 2015. So, the model that was being proposed in the UK Government's environment Bill—and we didn't get much of a viewing of it, it came much later, but obviously now it's fallen—certainly, the model that was in the UK Government's environment Bill wasn't suitable for us in Wales. That was looking at the gaps that they had in their 25-year environmental plan. We will have different gaps. I've always said that all along that we'd have different gaps. So, we're now considering a sort of co-operative approach to environmental principles, so that you'll have a sort of coherent framework, if you like, for each administration because we can. We'll have different ways of addressing and bringing forward the measures that they will need in their particular circumstances. 

10:40

Can I just make the point that we've got 35 minutes left and we've got four other areas to cover? So, unless it's really, really—

I just wanted—. Your response to our committee report was due a week ago and it hasn't arrived, apparently. So, I just wondered whether that might—

It's either just about to come to you—. I've seen a draft of it, certainly, so it's imminent, I think it's fair to say.

I do apologise, and I will make sure I clear it as quickly as possible in my pile of work.

Marine and fisheries is rather a big area for a few minutes, but anyway. My understanding is that you have published the Welsh national marine plan last week. 

Last week, that's right. So, we do need to talk about the possibility of Brexit and the implications of that, whilst understanding quite clearly that you don't get Brexit done just by saying you're getting it done, over and out.

Being a politician, I'm going to make a political statement. That's a shock, isn't it?

So, anyway, in terms of the statement that you—. Sorry. In terms of the fact that you have published a marine plan, do you want to update us on some of the top lines within that?

Well, as I only did it a week yesterday, it's probably too soon for an update. It started straight away, I made the oral statement in the Chamber a week yesterday, and it comes into effect immediately. It's a really ambitious plan. It's something I was very keen to do. It took longer than I anticipated, because obviously Brexit—I'd love to have a chat with Andrew about getting it done, because I don't think it's going to be done for a long time, if it is indeed done.

But, I think it was really ambitious. I would have liked to have done it with much more of a fanfare than we did, but I thought it was important to get it out there, particularly as we're seeing lots of interesting renewable energy around our shores. I was out at the marine energy conference in Dublin a couple of months ago, and the developers are really looking intently. So, I think it was really important to get that plan out. It was very ambitious.

So, I am really grateful—and I would like to place this on record—for this committee's recommendations. I hope that you saw in that plan the recommendations that you brought forward displayed very clearly. So, I'm really grateful for that.

We've now got a marine planning decision-makers group. That group is going to help us for the implementation, because the really important thing now is the next step, is the implementation. So, I think, eight days on, it's a bit too soon to give you an update, but just to reassure you that that work is ongoing.

It also pre-empts all the questions I was going to ask you before you'd answered me. But having said that, have you got a contingency support scheme for fisheries? That was highlighted in the letter to committee ahead of this meeting, because there are real issues here about people being in a state of flux, potentially.

Absolutely, so that contingency support scheme for fisheries was around a new Brexit deal, and I've been very clear, and I don't think it takes much working out, that the shellfish industry in particular is extremely vulnerable to a 'no deal' Brexit. So, it's really important, just as I've worked with DEFRA and the Scottish Government around support for the sheep sector, that we looked at how we could support our fisheries in the long term, because I saw some very scary figures about how quickly businesses would go out of business. So, I think it's really important we did that. So, with DEFRA and the other devolved administrations, we had worked up a financial intervention scheme so that that could provide some funding to the vessel owners in the short term. Obviously, with the general election, those discussions will have to be picked up after 12 December.

10:45

And also, if you could describe the extent of the risk of non-compliance in fisheries following that exit, and how prepared the Welsh Government is to deal with that.

Somebody once asked me what keeps me awake at night, and that was the one thing that kept me awake at night in the light of a 'no deal' Brexit—the safeguarding of those fisheries. You'll be aware, from previous scrutiny sessions, that we'd invested significant funding in some new vessels, and I think that was probably the most pressing thing I've ever done with officials—was to make sure we had those new vessels. They're out at sea, probably, as we're sitting here, working. We will need them. But, obviously, we will need to work with the other administrations as well. So, there's been a lot of ongoing discussions with the UK Government and the Scottish Government at an official level around how we would ensure we have that, because I think there's between 30 and 40 foreign vessels fishing in our waters every day. Obviously, that could be increased following a 'no deal' Brexit, and we need to make sure that we protect our seas.

Another way, of course, is having a maximum sustainable yield for all fish stocks by 2020, which is a very short time. How many stocks in Welsh waters are being exploited at the levels that are consistent with that?

So, I mentioned earlier I'd be going out to the fisheries council where, obviously, we'll be looking at that, and we've always acknowledged that next year will be a very important year. It'll be the first year that all stocks will be managed with reference to the MSY target. It's also the first time, I think, most fish stocks will fall under a multi-annual plan, and that's where stocks won't be managed in isolation, but in relation to one another, and I think that's realty important in mixed fisheries, which, of course, we have.

So, we've worked very hard with other countries. I remember I think the first fisheries council I went to where sea bass was really of concern, so we've ensured that we've had—. We've had a raft of measures around sea bass—but, obviously, MSY is one them—and we've always implemented that to ensure we had that recovery of the stock.

There are a number of data-limited stocks, in answer to your question—notably skates and ray species. At the moment, we're currently looking at very robust scientific assessment procedures. Maybe it's not scientific, actually—just assessment procedures—so that we can set catch limits for those species at the next fisheries council.

Of course, one of the things that would change all of that—and I don’t expect anything now, but I'm just putting it on the table—is the change in our climate and the warming of the seas, which will change, and we are seeing that happening.

But one of the areas I want to talk about when we talk about maximum sustainable yield is the pot fishing—crab pots and so on. I've asked you many times—so you won't be surprised I ask you gain—to monitor how many are placed on the sea bed and how many are coming back out. I live, as you know, in Pembrokeshire, and I don't think you can go very far anywhere without finding pots along the sea bed. And we don't know how many are there, and we don't know, equally, how many of them are actually in use or discarded. Now, if we can't look at this now, then when the heck are we going to look at it? So, the question is very clear here: are we looking at it, is it included in our thinking, and what are we going to do about managing the plastic as well as the ghost fishing, as well as knowing exactly what we're doing?

You have raised this with me before, certainly in the Chamber, and it is part of our thinking. It is something we're looking at. I call it 'fisheries litter', and it shouldn't be beyond us to be able to, as you say, count them out and count them in. So, I will probably have to send a note, Chair, on this to inform.

10:50

Well, ash dieback—before I go into that, I just wanted to ask the Minister on rural development plan delivery. We're coming to the end of the rural development plan now. It was the biggest rural development plan, supposedly, brought forward—nearly £1 billion. I think the Public Accounts Committee took some evidence the other day that highlighted that there, potentially, could be a £30 million clawback, so there are areas of concern, (a) around the delivery and getting the money out, and that, (b), £30 million in any stretch is a significant sum of money, to say the least. What concerns do you have on that? 

I know I'm having a meeting next week with officials about that. My understanding is we're making good progress on getting that money out, as you say. Whilst we are coming, nearly, to the end, we've obviously got the extra three years. You know, it goes over 10years, doesn't it, even though it's a seven-year programme? So, it's probably best if I update Members following that—. It might even be—no, it can't be tomorrow. It must be next week that I'm having the meeting. We need to look at this very carefully. As you say, there's that £30 million, so if you're happy—

Could we have a note on that, then, because I think it is—?

Yes, that would be really helpful. Thank you very much.

Biodiversity in particular comes out of the rural development plan, predominantly—the schemes do. Obviously, because of the changes that the Minister envisages and the timeline—not your fault, but because, obviously, negotiations in other places have stalled and have stretched timelines—many of these schemes are coming to an end and some contracts have been rolled over. Has the Minister a view on allowing new opportunities to be created, either under the Glastir model or some of the other models that the Minister has had, given that we've gone from a seven-year rural development plant to a 10-year rural development plan now? In theory, on a lot of farms, biodiversity has come to a halt, really, because you can't get any new contracts. I think I'm correct in saying that.

Certainly, we're looking at that. Glastir, for instance, around tree planting—the last window was oversubscribed 10times, so I think it is an area where we certainly look to do that. So, again, I will update you in the same note, if that's okay.

Okay. Finally, if I could ask the point on ash dieback, in England certain local authorities and other public sector bodies have faced huge bills for containing this disease. There was a welcome piece on the news yesterday that said that, actually, a lot of research has gone into it and new plantings could actually be resistant to the fungi. But we are left with the residual plantings, obviously, that aren't resistant.

What progress has the Minister made, working with public bodies, because it affects all public bodies that have landholdings with trees on, that, potentially, could face a huge bill to clear this issue? Could you give us a taste of, maybe, some of the actions you've engaged with, with local authorities and with health boards as well, to mitigate some of the costings and some of the actions they will take to, obviously, contain the spread of ash dieback?

So, my main initiative around this is with NRW, who've cleared huge areas of diseased areas. They've been ensuring that they've been replacing them with mixed species to try and stop it from happening again. I can't think of anything I've personally done with local authorities and health boards, but Gian Marco, apparently, has got something he's going to say.

The other example I was going to flag is just that the Minister for Economy and Transport announced the green corridors on trunk roads programme. Part of that is looking at the tree species and looking at how we manage that on the trunk roads, so that's another example.

Perhaps I haven't been clear enough in my line of questioning. The ash dieback disease is a liability that is with us. I take it that future plantings will hopefully put new species in and more diverse species, but the Tree Council, I think, put a report out recently that highlighted that some local authorities in England have faced bills of £30 million or £40 million to contain this condition. That is a huge quantum of money for a particular public sector body.

I understand it falls into your portfolio, but other portfolios have to deal with this. NRW, with their plantations, obviously have the expertise. Other public bodies don't have that expertise. So, I'm trying to understand how much activity Government have put into this to, obviously, work through it. The liability, once the tree falls on something—(a) from a personal point of view, as it could kill people and, (b), to property in particular—is huge as well.

I go back to what I was saying: I, personally, can't think of any interaction I've had with—you gave two examples—local authorities and health boards. My main initiative has been with NRW, because you're quite right, if a tree is diseased, it needs to come down in case the scenario you explained happens. So, in relation to local authorities, I can't think of any authorities that have contacted—

10:55

The only other thing I would add is we are working with—part of the work we're doing with NRW is to set up, in effect, a strategic ash dieback stakeholder group that will include local authorities and the likes. We're having those conversations—

I don't believe it's started to work yet, but we're working with NRW and others to set that up.

The state of nature report this year identifies 17 per cent of species in Wales at risk of extinction, and most of the identified causes are in your portfolio. Now, it's good to see that biodiversity is one of the eight priority areas for budget setting. Well done for getting that, but can you just tell us what sort of sums of money you're going to need to tackle agricultural pollution, tree planting—you say tree planting grants are 10 times oversubscribed, but in your paper, you tell us that trees are not currently being planted in sufficient numbers, so there's a bit of an imbalance there. So, could you just tell us the size of the problem and how you're going to be able to tackle it?

It's a shame, really, that we haven't been able to publish our budget, and I'm sure when I come in January—a little teaser there—you'll all be able to see the funding that we've set aside in relation to biodiversity. In fairness, the First Minister was very, very keen to have biodiversity as one of our priorities in the budget, because you refer to the state of nature report, and I think it's been consistent now that we've seen reports that show a decline in biodiversity, not just in Wales, but globally, and we know we have to do something soon. I would say—and I've had a bit of pressure put on me to say we're in a biodiversity emergency as well as a climate emergency, and I do recognise that, so we know we have to do things differently. I think that the legislative framework that we've already got in place—the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015—again, a very prescient piece of legislation, I think, recognising synergies between biodiversity, between climate change and between sustainable development. So, we need significant funding, and the fact that this has been put in as one of our priorities, I think you will see it.

You're absolutely right, we're not planting enough trees. We have to increase that, and, obviously, again, the First Minister's manifesto around a national forest—that will help in a significant way. I think it was last week I wrote to local authorities about biodiversity duties, around section 6, because they're going to have to come forward with a report to show how that duty, which was brought forward in the environment Act, is being implemented by the and of the year. It's not just Welsh Government that's got to do that, it's all local authorities too.

We have had some really successful, innovative funding mechanisms. So, the sustainable management scheme, we've just had the enabling natural resources and well-being grant. So, again, really good take-up from local authorities, significant funding for making sure we've got wildflower meadows and things to help us with biodiversity. Going back to the sustainable farming scheme, we want to make sure that's right at the fore. So, there are already lots of farmers who are doing that, but I think it will be, again, another element of the scheme.

Initiative by local authorities and others is all very welcome, but, at the end of the day, it's got to be a whole-system approach, because, obviously, nature travels across all the boundaries. So, do you think the sustainable farming scheme is going to be sufficient to enable you to get farmers to do simple things that will make a massive difference to, for example, insects and birds by leaving verges on the sides of their fields et cetera, and also, to put a stop to the agricultural pollution that is poisoning our land and our water, as well as the loss of soil? That seems to be also another major issue.

So, the first part of your question—is the scheme enough? I think probably the majority of farmers who are already doing things to which you refer are not being rewarded for it, and I think it's really important if they're bringing forward environmental outcomes to that level, they need to be rewarded for it. So, as we set up the scheme, we'll ensure that that is sufficient.

In relation to agricultural pollution, I think we all acknowledge, and certainly the agricultural sector itself acknowledges, that we have seen too many agricultural pollution incidents this year. We've had an increase again this year in the number and we have to do do something, and I've said I'll be bringing forward regulations. There are lots of discussions ongoing at the moment. I know my officials met with one of the farming unions on Monday to discuss it. We've had the voluntary approach. I wanted the voluntary approach to work. I didn't want to bring in a mandatory approach, but unfortunately we are still seeing far too many, and it's not just agricultural pollution, it's pollution leaving our rivers devoid of fish, and we cannot continue in that way. So, there is lots of work still going on around agricultural pollution regulations, but it is really important that we crack this. 

11:00

Okay. So, the UK Environment Bill that was spiked when the general election was called included biodiversity targets. Is this something that the Welsh Government is looking at? 

No, I'm not a fan of biodiversity targets. If I thought it would be an effective method of improving biodiversity, I would do it, but I, personally, don't think that. I think if you have specific targets, they'd undermine the main objective to enhancing biodiversity in the round. We've got some really good practice. We've got the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, we've got our natural resources policy and I think if there was a scientific consensus on the evidence base in relation to biodiversity and appropriate targets, then maybe I would consider it, but, at the moment, I have seen nothing that shows me that's the case.  

Can I just seek a point of clarification, Minister? You said there's been an increase in agricultural pollution incidents. I know you and I have had this discussion before in the Chamber. The 20-year window that you look at shows actually that pollution incidents have been going down, and when they have gone up, they are within that parameter of what the averages would be for the 20—. So, I'm misunderstanding, am I, that those figures? Or is it the case that the figures do not show a large increase in agricultural pollution? And surely the voluntary code should have been given more time to bed down, which ultimately had regulator and industry buy-in? And, obviously, you've made a political choice to bring mandatory controls in.  

So, I said, I think in my answer to Jenny, that we've seen an increase in the number of incidents this year—as in, 2019. I'm just looking for the figures—the average number of incidents per year is 20, so a slightly higher average number of incidents was recorded in 2018. I haven't got the figure for this year, as yet, in front of me. I'm looking at Tim—you haven't got it either.

I think 2018 was the highest number on record for point source pollution incidents, at 194, and I think— 

Yes, it's the second highest actually, sorry. The highest annual total was recorded in 2002, with the second highest total recorded in 2018. 

But if you look at the 20-year graph, those figures are very much in line with, obviously, pollution incidents over that period, and I go back to the voluntary code that was agreed by the regulator and also by the industry that surely would have had a big impact on pushing these numbers down—what we all want to see. 

I think what we all want to see is water quality improved and at the moment it's not; it's poorer. 

Okay. Can I just remind everybody we've got 12 minutes and we've got dog breeding and climate change to cover? I'll bring Joyce Watson in on dog breeding. 

You did.  

But, for the record here, we want to know what progress you've made on improving animal welfare in dog breeding establishments since your statement on 9 October. 

So, I made my statement. You will have seen a written statement as well and, as you say, you asked me a question last week in my oral Assembly questions session, and I mentioned that that day, that Wednesday, last week, the chief veterinary officer and other of her officials were meeting with all the local authorities—well, it was 21 local authorities; Flintshire were unable to attend. Christianne and her team met with 21 of the local authorities. I was really pleased with the attendance, I have to say, and it was really important that we got them there.

I mentioned in my statement that I would be bringing forward a task and finish group from members of the Wales animal health and welfare framework group. They wrote to me straight away, as soon as that programme was aired, to offer help. So, that group met for the first time yesterday. I haven't had a note of that meeting. I don't know if Christianne's got an update, or—

11:05

No, not yet.

So, I've asked that group to report back to me by the end of this year, because we need to act quickly. So, that's the current update, since last Wednesday.

Okay. If you do your maths—and we all can do very simple maths—and the fact that people seem to buy, for some odd reason, puppies for Christmas, we're looking at a ticking time bomb now in terms of those breeding establishments for those puppies to be ready for Christmas. Therefore—I've asked you the question, but I'm going to ask it again—. I suppose there are two questions, because I'm supposed to ask you about when you're going to bring the ban of third-party sale of puppies or kittens forward, and how. I've got to ask that, because I'm expected to. But I'm also going to ask another question: when it comes to animal welfare, and the urgency that's been recognised by everybody post that programme, how are we going to tackle the inspection scheme that is failing?

So, going back to third-party sale of puppies and kittens, obviously we had the consultation and the overwhelming response was we needed to ban that practice. So, I would say the short answer is 'next year'. However, we'll get the review from this task and finish group and we'll put them together, because I think, again, you need that holistic approach. I should have also said we will be having a campaign, as I think we do most Christmasses, in the run-up to Christmas. In fact, I'm going to be videoed with my daughter's dog over the weekend to make sure that we get that campaign up and running, because I think it is really important, because people do think for some unknown reason it's really good to have a puppy as a gift at Christmas.

In answer to—sorry, I've lost my thread now.

Inspection, yes. So, I would imagine—well, I know—that the discussions that Christianne had with the local authorities last week about the inspections scheme—. So, again, you haven't got parity across the local authorities, so local authorities such as Torfaen, I think it has one puppy breeding establishment, whereas Carmarthenshire, which I know, obviously, you represent, has got 80 plus. So, one of the things I know that was discussed last week at the meeting was around this issue of maybe local authorities needing more resources the more licensed premises they have. However, and I think I said this in my answer to you last week, it's the unlicensed breeders that we really need to be after, because that's—we saw that programme, and clearly it was very distressing.

I don't know, Christianne, if you want to say anything about the meeting that you had last week.

Yes. So, the meeting was really positive, and, as we've said, we had a really good turnout. We really wanted to focus on barriers to enforcement. Now, Sarah Carr was at the meeting—she's a member of our animal health and welfare framework group—and she calls herself a general practitioner vet; she works in small animal practice in this area at the moment. And she presented to them on the work of the group reviewing the legislation, because we've got to connect these two, and I was really satisfied with the fact that some of them were invited to the meeting yesterday, so that's happening. But what we were identifying was, yes, of course we expected local authorities to talk about resourcing, but they also talked about expertise and the need for training and consistency, and we discussed how we might work together so that we could have a sort of collaborative team that would be specialists in this area.

In Monmouthshire, for example, they have someone who is a qualified dog trainer who does these inspections, whereas other local authorities don't enjoy that level of expertise. So, we talked about that, and also the role of the private vet in all of this, and the need for vets to be trained in understanding the legislation and the requirements so they can link those things together, and a closer working relationship between the vets and the local authorities. It all sounds obvious, doesn't it? But it was really useful to put all that on the table and then figure out how we can work together on it. So, I thought it was a really positive meeting. It's a step in a journey, and you're right, Minister—resources are going to come up in this area, but some local authorities are overwhelmed with these puppy breeding establishments.

The other point they made—we talked about the unlicensed breeder—was that the problem with unlicensed breeders—which, obviously, by definition, we don't necessarily know where they are—is that there are no powers of entry under the puppy breeding legislation to inspect them, because they're not licensed breeders. So, there's a bit of a catch-22 that we need to try to work our way out of in this process. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 would still apply, but you need the intelligence to go and visit those places. 

11:10

You do. I'm really glad to see that some of those actions are being taken. I suppose I have to say it, because I'm thinking it, but I don't think that vets need to be too intelligent to realise that, when they're inspecting something that looks awful, it is awful. And that's what we've seen in that programme. So, I'm not going to let them off quite that lightly, I'm afraid. I wouldn't have needed even to be a vet to know that those dogs were suffering and that something needed to be done. I know that you took action straight away, and I commend you for taking action straight away. So, whilst we've got this group and things are moving on—and I want to be positive—I also do recognise that there were vets in that system, according to that programme, who were not acting in the best interests of those animals and I don't think any amount of training for somebody that couldn't see the obvious is going to suddenly open up their eyes. So, how confident are we now, moving forward—because we want to move forward now—that those individuals are not any longer the same people inspecting the new regime?

Well, before I came into work on the Tuesday morning, Christianne had reported that programme to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons—

Yes, without even asking, Christianne had done that, because I think it's really important—. Unfortunately, it's the same in any job, isn't it? You're going to get people who aren't performing in the way that they should be. So, I think this is one of the things that the task and finish group can look at and report back to me by the end of the year. 

And—

That's great. I've got to move on. I've got to move on.

—we've got a very short period of time left, so could we perhaps move on to climate change and Llyr Gruffydd? Sorry.